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April 15, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 4.15- A Day in Peking University


So how has life in Peking University been? It’s kind of hard to describe all at once, and even these blog posts fall very short of representing my experiences here. It’s an accumulation of various observations during the day that remind me that I’m in a country across the globe from where I’ve grown up (okay except for the pollution because that’s just a constant in-my-face reminder… and I guess the masses of Chinese faces that I see walking down the street give that away too). Things like walking through campus and noticing the communal shower complex because not every student is lucky enough to have bathrooms and showers in their dorms, for example. Smelling the smoky greasy something-on-a-stick that a vendor is selling on the street, next to a stand selling trinkets, and across from a noodle shop with a curtain draped in front of its entrance. Walking down the street and having these rickety transport wagons and rickshaw-type vehicles loaded with goods swerve around you. Noticing the contrast between a polished black BMW coasting down the street next to a student on a rusty aged bicycle that creaks with every pedal. These kind of things are probably something I’d never experience in the states, but already it’s become kind of commonplace for living on campus here.

How does the campus of Peking University compare to a campus like Stanford? While both are prestigious and considered one of the best universities in the country, it is evident to me that loads of money and alumni donations are not what makes a university great. You go to Stanford’s campus where a random modern sculpture gets erected in between Stern and Crothers in the blink of an eye, or to Huang Engineering Center where there’s a wormhole portal to MIT, or to any facility really, and you see that it’s all pristine and neat and clean. You go to 北大 (Peking University), and you see run-down buildings with dusty cracked steps, unfinished dirt and brick areas in between dining halls, and facilities like the “music center” that are on the fifth floor of a decrepit building, complete with peeling paint and all of seven classrooms for all personal, orchestral, choral, AND dance practice use on campus. Stanford probably has an unlimited landscape budget complete with modern elite sprinkler systems to keep everything lush and green. Peking University feels like it barely has enough workers to go around and hose all the withering patches of grass.*

And yet it’s the same. Campus is still filled with a bustling amount of hardworking, dedicated and probably crazy-smart students that are discovering their paths in life. Professors are honored to teach at a campus that is so rich with history and legacy. Students that you see walking down the street represent the best of students from all over China. And people don’t mind a little dust here and there: there’s a beautiful lake and plenty of random quiet garden paths to make up for it. And what’s a wobbly desk or a squeaky chair when you’re here at a university to study and learn and make friends? The pollution certainly doesn’t stop people from going to the tennis courts and learning to swing a racket. The overly crowded dining halls and non-impressive food options don’t hamper any of the student’s abilities to laugh and have a good meal with friends.

It’s a great honor to stay here. We international students have been treated with the best of the dorms here, living conditions that Peking University students would envy but nothing that the average American hasn’t experienced going to a 2 or 3 star hotel. But it’s more than enough. And for such special treatment, I certainly appreciate everything that much more.



*Okay, not all of campus here is as bad as I described. But it is significantly different than what a campus anywhere in the states would look like. Its beauty shines in ways different from just a lot of money.


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