China presents an interesting juxtaposition of opulence and poverty—an increasingly prevalent occurrence in rapidly developing countries. I walk outside my apartment building on campus, and I see long rows of marble blocks waiting to be laid as sidewalks right next to a heap of rotting rubbish. I walk into our cafeteria where newly installed white marble walls and golden chandeliers greet the eye only to look into the next room to see Chinese workers without masks and often without electric equipment cutting into concrete to lay some forgotten wire. Much like a young gangly boy who in one summer gains 10 inches but whose coordination and inner maturity has not yet caught up with his body, the Chinese people want so much to claim China’s adulthood in the world of global power and prestige that it is growing faster than its own capacity. How long such growth can last I leave up to the experts to theorize.
While on the topic of façades, I will indulge in a brief description of the Sias University campus. If I were to pick one descriptor of the campus it would be eclectic. Sias embraced its international focus by trying to combine the sites and architecture of the world on one campus. We have our colonnaded Roman Plaza right off our German street of faux timber-framed white houses. The “Computer Krankenhaus” never fails to make me grin. Then I could take a jaunt over to the Russian Plaza reminiscent of Moscow. Or if Greece is on my list, then I can enjoy a stroll through a small garden loaded with Grecian statues of very wise- and just-looking men and women. Oh, and I can’t forget the central administration building. Positioned on one edge of campus, this building has two faces: on the campus side, I see a miniature replica of the white house, but if I walk through the building to the public street side, I am surprised by a miniature version of the Forbidden City as seen from Tiananmen Square. The final touch is to liberally sprinkle campus with willow trees, add a few fountains and waterfalls, two rows of fake palm trees, and little signs to keep off the grass—my favorite of which reads, “Love the grass in return for green."
Living in a culture where thousands of years of tradition reinforce the concept of keeping or saving face, the fact that the face of China is steadily, if not rapidly, changing is both exciting and frightening. The world (and probably China itself) awaits to see what face China will eventually adopt and defend.