I can’t say what got me started, but I was rummaging around my attic full of memories of China and came across this image, which I really love. This group of students is getting ready for the Spring Festival holiday – the lunar new year – dateline January, 1988. They’re ready to head back to their homes in the rural counties surrounding the city of Beijing. They are part way through a two year teacher training program offered at the Beijing Foreign Languages Normal College (北京外国语师范学院). In fact it has been so long, I am not sure I have the Chinese name of the institution right, not that it matters, the program has morphed and been absorbed by some enormous university level entity that is part of the Beijing Municipality. I was there as an exchange Chinese student / language teacher in an afterthought of a program connected with University of Massachusetts at Boston. I had been in China for several months and would be heading for my first trip to Hong Kong in several days. At the time this college was far from being a prestigious school and none of these students were particularly looking forward to becoming poorly paid teachers in rural public schools. Of course even a two year teacher training program from a low end college gave these young people considerably more education than the vast majority of Chinese their age. These were exciting times in Beijing 1988 – China was opening up and for these students, the sky was the limit, or so most of them believed. A year and several months later, the excitement and optimism came to an end on June 4, 1989. I have not seen or kept in touch with any of these people. They’re all around 50 now – I wonder how life in China has treated them over the years. For those of you old enough to remember, this is from a scan of a Kodachrome slide shot with a fully manual Nikon FM2.
The view of the Bell Tower (钟楼 or Zhonglou) also used to be great from my friend’s deck where I took the photo of the Drum Tower that was my last post. Unfortunately, the city of Beijing recently built a tower for power lines that sits directly between the deck and the Bell Tower. Sort of spoils the view. Alas. This image was taken from ground level.
The Bell Tower sits across a small, open plaza from the Drum Tower. In this late afternoon photo, the sun is low in the sky and tourists have headed back to their hotels. The plaza becomes a comfortable place for neighborhood people to hang out and relax. Talk about sitting in the shadow of history!
The first Bell Tower was built in the 13th century, but the building was destroyed a few years later, as was the second tower built to replace it. The building now standing was completed in 1745 during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty. Of all the monuments that remain of Beijing’s imperial past, this one may be my favorite.
I keep working through the pictures I took on my travels to China and Vietnam. I am not as prolific as some with the camera – my shooting habits are still not a lot different than they were back in the days of film – but I still got back to Thailand with somewhat more than two thousand images I took during the six week trip. I shot the equivalent of 58 rolls of 36 exposure 35mm film, some 1.4 rolls a day on average. About right for me. In any case, after a couple of weeks looking at Vietnam pictures, I have gone back to looking at China images and found some I want to post.
I have a friend in Beijing who is living in a ping fang (平房 or one story house) with a deck on the roof that overlooks Gulou (鼓楼, the Drum Tower). We sipped tea and visited on the deck on a near perfect, early autumn Beijing afternoon. The first drum tower was built in the 13th century during the reign of Kublai Khan of the Yuan dynasty. The building in the photo was originally built in the 15th century by the Ming dynasty Yongle Emperor. The drums inside the building, of which only one remains, were used to announce the official time.
The old imperial college (guozijian / 国子监) and Beijing’s Confucius temple are along this gorgeous tree-lined street. The site of occasional horn-honking traffic jams, the street is nonetheless reasonably peaceful most of the time. I had peace, quiet, and a truly beautiful, blue-sky Beijing day for my visit. The banner – almost impossible to translate into anything but stilted English – says something like “the sacred locale of the national academy, bringing virtue to the entire world”.