The New Year began over this way with an early morning run at Shī Dà (师大), in the hope that this sort of behaviour will assume a more habitual character in 2011 than it did in 2010. But, it wasn’t only good to get out for a run, it was also good just to be part of one of those Shaanxi Normal University mornings again. I think I took as much from watching a guy practicing tàijíquán, with inspiring levels of precision and stillness, as I did from running a few short-of-breath inducing laps around the track.
It is always great to wander in through the gates at Shī Dà and to be greeted by those twisted old trees and those drooping branches of pine, especially during those early hours, although not necessarily especially on these cold days. This campus is for me the best park equivalent or natural environment to escape to in this fair city, apart from may be the grounds surrounding the Small Goose Pagoda.
As you enter the Campus from Chang’an Lu you will still find three lanes of tarmac tapering off ahead of you, but instead of being filled by spluttering traffic they are filled with student footsteps and cheerful chatter. While those uniquely gnarled old trees soon give way to carefully trimmed shrub borders and tree lined avenues, with a few twenty foot high palms seemingly along for the stroll.
There are small areas of shrubs and stone seating spaces scattered all around the campus, which contribute to the peaceful and tranquil atmosphere; an atmosphere not simply apparent in the mornings but also one that manages to be maintained even when the student masses burst onto the scene.
Up towards the main building there is an area of bamboo woodland and two or three epic sized pine trees (at least I think they’re pines), whose canopies cover the interwoven paths around the waterfall. These huge pines, when you look at them closely, almost seem to have a life of their own, though that is probably not that surprising given the length of time they have been standing there. The mock stone waterfall does leave something to be desired but the sound of the water that streams from it does often hit the spot.
In amongst the many small stone stools and tables are a couple of brightly coloured Chinese styled gazebos, that, along with those spreading pine canopies, do a good job of offering shade from the intense sun during the summer months. This time of year they just look good.
You can go off right and left from the main entrance avenue, or right and left from the main building to find a secluded spot; whether you want to take it easy, study, stroll or sit and wait for your Chinese friend to arrive. Never mind whether you have actually arranged to meet one or not, a little time sitting here will be long enough to find a Chinese companion or two.
Further back are the table tennis tables, badminton courts and the running track, the latter doubling as a community center of sorts. Here you will not only get runners, the occasional University sports class or track meet, but also every man, women and child, and their dogs, participating in a multitude of different activities. If it is early morning you will have joggers, tàijíquán exponents, female rhythmic dancers, traditional sword players, flag whirling women, up-tempo dance ensembles and a variety of martial art forms being intensely practiced.
If it isn’t early morning you’ll probably still get some of the above, though a few pick-up football games will definitely be added to the mix. This will continue into the early evening, when they will be joined by the more random participants: those running track dog walkers; fresh from the office joggers jogging in work shoes and trousers; contemplative strolling student souls and those middle-aged women walking backwards and chatting, with equal vigour, and of course those strolling student romances.
University campuses in China are still where the vast majority of the student population live, they are also where both active and retired teaching and administrative staff often live, which means they are generally quite a hub of public activity. Shī Dà is no different, it just also benefits from being well landscaped. It is a place well worth retreating to from time-to-time, whatever the weather.
You can take 600 or 603 buses, amongst others, from Nan Da Jie (South Street) in the city. Ask someone for Shī Dà, about 20-30 minutes. Taxis- just ask for Shī Dà on Chang2′ An1 Nan2 Lu- 长安南路- Chang’ An South Road. If you can get to Shī Dà Lù it is just round the corner to the left as you come out onto the main road, Cháng’ān Lù (Address: 雁塔区长安南路师大- 华东服饰广场对面)