The other day, I found myself wandering the periphery of Tianamen Square trying to figure out how to enter. I had no idea it was so surrounded by busy roads so wide that they could easily be considered expressways. The tunnels are the way in, security check included. In the process of wandering, I ran into a guy who called himself Tom. He is a middle school history teacher on one of the cities outside Beijing, returning to Beijing for some training and now seeing the sights. He and I hung out for a while, and he showed me the ropes at Tianamen, and the old part of the city just to the south. We stopped at a shop for a beer and a bite to eat when he told me about Friday nights at Renmin University, the regular event called English Corner. English Corner at Renmin University happens every Friday night, starting about 8pm.
Friday evening I was on my own and not terribly far from Renmin, relatively speaking, I decided to go to English Corner. It was about a 25 RMB taxi ride, so not very close either. I arrived shortly after 8pm at the east gate entrance to the University.
I entered and found the park area, just inside. It was dark, but the open space in the middle of the park was very crowded, and, as expected, everyone was speaking English, various levels. People were in groups of various sizes, some very large, actively discussing. Inhibited to interrupt any of the goings on, I nearly circled the whole area before finding someone alone. I said ‘hello’ and we started talking. I soon found myself surrounded by at least 5 or 6 people, which peaked later at some higher number. We talked about photography, art, politics, philosophy, opinions and attitudes, comparing China and the USA. I was like a celebrity, talking constantly and constantly being surrounded by the curious and the engaged conversationalists. Many were engaged with very thoughtful, challenging questions. I handed out many of my business cards, and received a couple in exchange.
I’m not usually good at standing for long periods of time, and I knew some time had passed when the crowd starting thinning out, but I was surprised to find out it was nearly midnight when I looked at the clock. Nearly four hours had passed since I had arrived!
To anyone traveling to Beijing: reserve your Friday night for this! Highly recommended.