Our formal schedule listed August 26th, Monday, as the start of school.
But I’ve been back now for 4 days and the campus is still vacant. No students. No administrators. No teachers.
Only the workers are busy with last minute preparations before students finally do arrive. New lamp posts are being fitted with fresh light bulbs. The sports field is finally getting that much needed haircut it so deserves. Buckling pavements are being fixed and dormitories are having a last going-over before being officially released for occupancy.
I have asked the gate keepers, the dormitory monitors, and the campus shop keepers when school will, indeed, start and I am getting the same answer: “Bu yiding (boo ee-ding). Not certain. It hasn’t been announced yet.”
Such is China, where last minute changes are always to be expected and everything is often an up-in-the-air affair. I’m sure eventually, the school website will offer students information on exactly when everyone is to arrive but for now, it’s “bu yiding.”
I will be here about 10 days before packing a suitcase and heading off to Chengdu for language study. I’m to pay tuition on September 3rd, take care of permanent visa business by Sept. 5, have a placement test on Sept. 11, a morning orientation on Sept.12 and start classes on Sept 15.
Before then, I’m hoping to meet the new Peace Corp members who should be arriving to teach at our school.
And what will I be up to, aside from swimming every day and weeding out my apartment of unnecessary items (clothing and old lesson plans)?
Well, already, I’ve been up to a bit of mischief
Mischievous Acts to Start Out the School Year
An empty campus and jetlag has emboldened me to perform mischievous acts, in the name of goldfish.
Let me explain.
The school’s library has a hidden courtyard which boasts a tall, majestic, Chinese rock formation surrounded by murky water. It could be considered a fountain except for the lack of liquid spew. The encased cement “pond” is only filled by a trickling plastic pipe.
Weeds, unkempt bushes and trash have filled the surrounding area since I arrived 11 years ago. It was also blocked off to the public. Most of us only saw this courtyard during meetings in the lecture halls, which exited into the open-air 2nd floor walkways that overlooked the thing.
But over a month ago, before I left for America, the courtyard was getting a facelift. All the weeds and shrubs were pulled out. Grass seeds were strewn across the plowed dirt. A walkway was laid and the water pump in the rock formation had been fixed to allow circulation and refilling of the fountain’s enclosure.
Touring the place on Monday, I saw the gate had been unlocked to allow easy access, trees had been planted and classrooms made out of the empty rooms lining the ground floor of the library.
Students having lessons entered and left via the now grassy lawn, an inviting scenic spot which allowed for sitting during breaks and meditation early morning or late evening.
Such a glorious transformation!
But something was missing: the goldfish.
No artistic, Chinese rocky formation surrounded by water is complete without goldfish. The Forbidden City has them. The many ancient, famous gardens located throughout the country have them. So why not our little Luzhou campus?
And who better to stealthily stock this newly renovated fountain than the foreigner?
The Luzhou Bird and Fish Market
So it was that Tuesday, after a very nice pool swim early morning, I was off to the bird and fish market of this small city.
Number 216 bus dropped me off in the back alleyways of old Luzhou where I wound my way through the crowded clothes stalls and the vegetable and meat markets before arriving at my destination: the bird and fish sellers.
Visiting this fascinating place is a nostalgic journey into ancient China. The few 100-year-old buildings left standing are located here with rickety wooden structures still existing, although probably not for long if modernization has its say. On one side, numerous birds can be purchased for a dollar or two (canaries, parakeets, Chinese indigenous song birds) and on the other, fish and fish supplies.
Looking over the many tubs filled with golden mini-carp, it was difficult to choose which shop to go to. I cruised the line of sellers, asking prices and checking the liveliness of what was swimming in the water, until I found a decent array of what I was looking for. I purchased 12 energetic goldfish for 16 cents each, about $2.00 in all, and off I went with my prize to stock the courtyard fountain.
With our campus still vacant, there was no one to discover my clandestine maneuver when I stealthily delivered our 12 fish into their new home.
They clumped together in a tight school before finally darting away into the depths of the sunken mountainesque sculpture.
They were gone in a few seconds but certainly not forgotten.
I’ve visited them every day to find only one belly-up. (I quickly removed it.) The others are often hidden out of sight except for a brave three. These three breezily zip about, pecking at algae and chasing water bugs skimming the surface. Obviously, their new home is a huge hit.
Students Still to Come
Now that the fish are settling in, it’s time for students to arrive and likewise settle into school life once again. How surprised they’ll be to find the library’s courtyard not only a pleasant place to visit but filled with an enjoyable array of colorful goldfish to watch as well.
And therein lies the mystery of the Luzhou campus: Just how did those goldfish get into that fountain, anyhow?
Gee, I have not a clue.
From along the Yangtze, here’s wishing you Ping An (peace) for your day.