The car was parked next to a large pile of rubble. A building that once stood, abandoned, is now gone. My attention was so focused on the change that it took several minutes of walking before I saw everything else: the deep ravine that swallowed an entire backhoe, the scaffolding surrounding the English Department, the workers using pushcarts to move furniture out of the Administration building and the man chipping away at the same building to expose the bricks underneath. All of these were signs of a college that is constantly changing. There were other signs too: The new ping pong tables stacked next to the old court, a basketball court renovation that includes new hoops, new courts and the fancy benches that surround them, and the ubiquitous marketing of cell phones and drinking water delivery services. The campus is a tent city where one cell phone company gives away free knick-knacks with the purchase of a new phone while their neighbor tries to think of another strategy.
This is a new campus; the best debris from broken buildings being moved to new construction sites off campus, business not conducted in legal zones because it’s worth the risk, considering the penalties. I would even like to make a case that I’m experiencing a microcosm of China. I don’t know why, but the contradictions seem to justify it. The new and the old stand together. The constant drive for development.
The day it took to get back proved to be an interesting transformation. On a plane with Chinese and Americans, bound for Beijing, I found the atmosphere to be a blend of English and Chinese. Most of the Chinese people on the flight also spoke English. The Chinese flight attendants spoke with near-native proficiency. On the plane from Beijing to Guiyang, however, I suspect the flight attendants were reading the English guidelines from a placard (I also had the awkward feeling that they were reading those guidelines just for me, as I was the only foreigner on the plane). While the plane taxied towards the terminal the people unfastened their seatbelts and began pulling their luggage from the overhead compartments despite the specific request not to do so. I knew, then, that I had arrived, but when I stood up and saw 10 passengers unabashedly staring at me I was absolutely certain.
The last couple of days have been a focus upon preparing for my semester. The freshmen have not yet arrived for their military training, but my sophomores are already attending classes and wondering about the upcoming year. Some students have decided to move off campus so that they can cook for themselves: a luxury not granted to dorm-dwellers. I saw students carrying a thermos, reminding me that a bar of soap, some hot water and a cloth are the only things one needs to delay a shower indefinitely. There were distant echoes of an ominous winter, but the sun blocked out all of those thoughts.
Going for a run I discovered Anshun once again. I found the many staring people sitting outside their shops (converted from their homes). The rice paddies still seem to crowd the city and not the other way around. Down a rural street, surrounded by fields, I am running. Up ahead, children are swimming in an irrigation lake to escape the heat. A child, perhaps as a joke, begins running along with me, burdened by his backpack. We speak a bit in Chinese and he invites me to swim. I decline and he waves goodbye, veering toward the small lake. I try to think about a new year.