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Bamboo U

Posted by on May 5, 2012

I heard over the years that we Americans are supposed to be threatened by the countless graduates being pumped out of the universities over in China.

Well I figured I ought to check things out for myself. But threat schmet, I was just darned interested in seeing what a college setting out there looked like.

I had met a couple local gals a few weeks prior who talked up their campus something special. I was honored to accept their invitation to visit their campus. So I turned back the clock a few years, grabbed my book bag, and hopped on the bus one day to go commingle with the coeds at a college in China.

I had to take the city bus half-hour north through the urban-scapes of Zhuhai. At the end of the route, where city turned into country, the bus came to a stop. I got off and the bus pulled away with its noise fading, giving room for the conversation some students were having at the bus stop. I didn’t understand them, of course, and waited and looked around: I saw hedges, dorm buildings, and these chattering young adults. It was a college, alright.

Soon, my guide, Lei, a thin, young woman who studied finance, arrived with a smile:

And off we went to tour Beijing Normal University here in Zhuhai.

The campus didn’t feel as elegant as many I’d walked in America. The grounds weren’t as well groomed, but it was still nothing to sneeze at, and the lush green hills in the background made for a lovely setting.

We took the sidewalk past a bunch of guys out at the soccer field jocking it up:

Continuing on our way on the walk we looked straight ahead and saw this beaut of a building:

Looks like an abandoned sanitarium. But, nosiree, this isn't neglect. It's art! Welcome to the Art Building.

Turning further to the right, we could see another, more standard building on campus:

Pretty square, huh? Well, this is the library.

Not sure why, but given the choice we went into the library. I guess we didn’t want to get too funky on this first college visit. Apparently, the whole student body was like-minded as the parking lot outside the library was packed:

Yes, China—a nation that already loves bikes; and college—a bunch of active young adults without cars. That explains it.

Nothing screams “college”, though, like an organization’s table to recruit people or fill out some surveys. This one was set up near the high-traffic zone outside the library’s entrance:

In China, though, you’d never have anything political touted at these tables—as opposed to the U.S. where practically every table is a lesson in activism. It made me wonder what does happen to all that fire in the belly to “make a difference” that students have in college. As students get older, they tend to resign that fervor. Maybe it’s career and family responsibilities or perhaps just the reality that making a difference can be really hard. But sooner than later, it seems, maintaining one’s life becomes enough.

Inside the library was a studious, open entryway. There was sculpture near the stairwell across the way and portraits of the fathers of Chinese intellect lining the walls, inspiring thought from beyond the grave:

I wanted to see the oldest books they had and discover what sorts of historical indicators Lei could help me decipher from these reads. We took the helpful library employee away from his computer card game to see these “ancient texts” and discovered books that had worn, weathered, brittle, and discolored pages:

Be careful with that book, Brandon.

I asked Lei the print date of this book. She studied the opening pages and agreed that it was an old book, all right. All the way back to 1980. Gosh, I thought it was looked closer to 1880. Poor books here in China must have bad lifestyles; they age quickly. Actually, the absence of old texts was indicative of China’s history. I’d fill you in on the detentions and killings and book burnings in the 50’s and 60’s, but college isn’t the place to be learning details like that.

These smarty-pants were busy learning, though:

After the library, it was already lunchtime, so we walked to the dining hall with a friend of Lei’s who met us at the library:

Oh, Brandon. You and that camera of yours.

On the way, several students glided by on their bikes holding their umbrellas despite their being no downpour. They don’t like to tan there:

Can't see where they're going, but won't be sun-burned!

At the dining hall—which was a pretty typical college dining hall—I struck up a little conversation with some guys sitting nearby:

Turns out, the one on the right was to study abroad at Marquette in Milwaukee.

After a full belly of food that resembled greasy, American-Chinese food, it was time to head into the relaxing, calming environs of the lecture hall. Lei had to attend Contract Law. Whoo-hoo!

The room was white and bland—kinda like the banks in China; kinda like hospitals in China. Rows of table/desks with blue chairs connected lined the room that held about 75. Of course, the students there were surprised to see me. I did kinda stick out; I mean I was thirty. Most students wanted to lay low in the back of the room; several arrived with phones and music players buzzing; and not too many looked thrilled to be there. (Actually, and surprising to me, I’m told of a fair amount of lethargy on campuses according to my friends who teach at colleges. This went against the idea I had of the “front row” types with hands eager to raise.) Then again, this was Contract Law, right?


A young, but nonetheless professorial Professor named Wang Jian entered the room and began to lecture. He spoke and went through his powerpointed lecture in a language completely foreign to me—law:

Here’s some awesome footage of the classroom and lecture:

After being versed on the topic, I felt even better about my job prospects over there. Seriously, though, in China it was never hard for me to find work. I learned there are jobs out there, folks. You just gotta move a hemisphere.

You wouldn’t be the first American to go over there for work, or the first Minnesotan—-myself excluded. Turns out there was a handful of Minnesotans working at another nearby college: United International College(UIC) as English teachers and teaching assistants. That day, I walked over a said hello:

Maybe some of you know this guy?

His name was Jonas, and was from Grand Rapids, MN. Small world. Growing up in northern Minnesota, I had been to Grand Rapids dozens of times.

There’s actually quite a connection between China and Minnesota. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty made several trips out here to foster business interactions. The executive vice president of UIC had met with Pawlenty in the past. Students such as Jonah got to take advantage of the exchange programs and teaching opportunities as a result of these relationships.

Maybe China will be in your future, too.

As it continues to build its wealth, opportunities will rise. They’ll need more educators, entrepreneurs, entertainers.

From my year there, I discovered that a better China means a better Minnesota, America…and world.

have an awesome week,


And stay tuned for my book, “New Plateaus in China”. It’s all my experiences in China—and the lessons they taught me.

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