Our current spring weather is proving to be quite the luxury after the unusually frigid cold of winter. Although our skies are still overcast a majority of the time, we are now experiencing refreshing warmer temperatures and damp earthy smells of April, accompanied by the scents and sights of the many flowering trees throughout our apartment complex.
The Sichuan University campus is especially lovely now as all the ornamental trees display their pink, white, red and purple splendors for the public. It’s not unusual to see many students, faculty and outside visitors strolling about the grounds, soaking in the beauty of spring while outside this huge enclosure races the heavy, polluting traffic of Chengdu’s concrete city. Chinese cities are not beautiful and while Chengdu is better than most, it’s still not exactly what you would consider pretty.
Little Flower and I can often be seen walking around the campus on our usual routes. The 3-wheeled pedicab drivers on the school grounds know us now. They wait by our West Gate entrance for students or teachers to pay for a 2-4 yuan (25-50 cent) ride to destinations across school. We wave to one another as I walk by. I never take pedicabs as I like to walk my 20-minutes to class every morning but it’s nice to know they are there in case I’m too late to make it to class on time without their help. I once asked one of them how much he made a month. His reply surprised me: 2,000 – 3,000 yuan (about $250- 375 US) is quite a lot in China. Taxi drivers make just as much but they must pay for gas and vehicle rental, plus damages to the taxi if something happens. For pedicab drivers, everything goes in pocket since everyone owns their own pedicab. I’m sure there’s a license fee for university access but surely it can’t be much.
Although there are wide roads and small streets that snake throughout the campus, the car traffic is light as only faculty with vehicles are allowed to drive through the gates. True, more and more people in China can afford private cars but the number is much less than in the States. Because of this, I often allow Little Flower off leash to trot along beside me as we make our way through tangled, overgrown sitting gardens or little side paths that weave between both new classroom buildings and the still old, decrepit faculty and student housing. (Like many school employees in China, teachers with families live on campus in old concrete apartment buildings. Rental is cheap with an option to buy, which some do and then rent out to students while they live in fancy apartments off campus.)
For walks, LF and I head to the stadium area as it’s the place to be for people watching. On the weekends, the wide fields surrounding the enclosed track-and-field are filled with kite-flyers, tea café patrons seated at outdoor tables and family picnickers. Children race about among their parents or grandparents and student couples, seated on the grass, cuddle in one another’s arms. Years ago, such open displays of affection would never have been allowed by university officials but in the China of today, it’s not unusual to see such sights. The more “embarrassing” public kissing is still somewhat of a rare occurrence but a gentle, innocent hugging and nuzzling is becoming quite the thing among boyfriend-girlfriend pairs. Bolder displays of love cause stares and might even draw to their side elderly grannies, or even security guards, snapping reprimands and shaming them into behaving themselves.
Little Flower is always drawn to young people closely seated together because they are usually munching on something or feeding one another snacks. Several times on campus walks, I look for her around my feet only to find she has dashed off across the grass to position herself in front of some couple, chewing on something that LF thinks she needs. Her eagerness for food is all too apparent as her little body fidgets, the tail wags, ears push forward and her bright eyes look longingly as potato chips, cookies, and sandwiches go from hand to mouth. And if the increased fidgeting doesn’t bring about a goodie, she’ll give several pathetic whines along with an insistent bark to draw attention. The last resort is to stand upright on her hind legs, bringing her eye to eye with her seated companions. That adorable trick no one can resist and has gotten her anything from Chinese favorite picnic foods, such as puckery, pickled chicken feet and hard-boiled quail eggs, to more modern eats such as sweet bread buns and cookies. One thing’s for certain: After a campus tour, LF always comes home a bit fatter than when we left.