‘Which is your favourite Chinese city?’
It’s a question I have asked people, friends, family and travel buddies. It’s also a question directed at me once in a while. I may pause for a moment, just to go through in my mind some of the cities I enjoyed visiting, and to be fair. Then Nanjing will inevitably appear at the forefront of my Chinese map and crystallise its prominent position.
Nanjing is a natural choice for me. After all, it is only one of the two Chinese cities in which I ever lived, albeit a long time ago. I had the good fortune of going to Nanjing University to do a postgraduate course in the mid-1980s. Decades went past yet memories of Nanjing remained and were stored in a tiny index box in my brain library, and more importantly occupying a place in my heart and soul.
A few years ago just before Chinese New Year, I flew to China for a family celebration, when I decided to pop over to Nanjing for a nostalgic stop. Accompanied by my hosts Mr and Mrs Zhang, whom I had helped when they visited the UK previously, I was able to trace some of the footsteps of my younger self. As you can see from the pictures below, I posed very happily in the the beautiful campus of my former alma mater, at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, and one of Nanjing’s must-sees: Fuzimiao.
Since that winter visit, I was able to return to Nanjing a couple of times in the last six months, last October and again in the last week of March 2018. Although still short visits as part of my work for University of Strathclyde, I got the chance to enjoy the city, and reaffirm my belief that Nanjing, after many years gone by and after I have travelled around the globe, remains securely in a very special spot in my personal world map.
I won’t go into any details of my work related activities in this travel blog, suffice to say how welcome I’ve always made to feel by staff and students from these partner institutions in and near Nanjing. I will, however, share some of the pictures taken on these stunning campuses I visited, especially in March when the camellias, cherry tress, magnolias and peach trees burst into beautiful bloom.
In the past few years, I’ve connected with many professional contacts turning into friends and whenever I go back to China, some of these friends will travel from afar, just so we can catch up face to face. My work days are reserved strictly for business, however, I do try to spare part of my weekends, where possible, for some of these very special people in my life.
Last October, Lily Wan travelled to Nanjing with her daughter to see me. She was a Visiting Academic to my previous employer in Birmingham.
This March, another Lily travelled to Nanjing. Lily Zhang was among the ten students from Shenzhen University whom I looked after when they came to Birmingham for a short student exchange programme back in December 2014. I have written about these students before, partly because of the fantastic relationship I have since established with Shenzhen University, partly because these ‘students’ who are now graduates and working in different parts of China, still fondly call me ‘Mommy’.
Lily is currently working in one of the universities in Wuhan, teaching photography and art. She’s travelled on overnight trains from Wuhan to Chengdu to see me over a year ago, and it seems that she’s made it her business to meet with me whenever I am in China and whenever she can.
Lily joined me in Nanjing for a blissful Sunday afternoon when we headed out to Xuanwu Lake next to my hotel. The sun broke through the clouds and the lake was shimmering with a cool breeze.
‘Let’s hire a boat,’ I said. I wanted to row back to my student days in Nanjing. The young girl who rowed beside me was Zhu Hui – where are you now, Hui?
Fast forward to a warm, sunny Spring day in 2018. No rowing boat available and our electronic motor boat took Lily and me further into the lake. Young, energetic and artistic, Lily made me do various poses for her camera, and as it turned out, she used various apps which made me slimmer, more fair skinned and years younger! Maybe that was one of the reasons I so enjoy spending time with students and young people. They really do make your heart sing with happiness and joy, and that happiness translates into positive vibes which you carry with you, long after good times come and go.
Like a pair of typical mother and daughter, Lily and I chatted and laughed. She told me about her boyfriend, her work with her students, talk of marriage and future aspirations. Both she and her fiancé have plans to pursue a PhD overseas before starting a family. I, of course, would like to see her in the UK, not America. Maybe, just maybe, she will want to come to Scotland and study here, as I did, many years ago. Maybe Lily, like my fictional daughter Liyuan in my ‘Journey to the West’, will follow my footsteps.
I wish that she will and I wish her well.
To end today’s post, I’m sharing a few pictures of Fuzhimiao, the Confucius Temple, day and night, on two different occasions, five years apart.