Grad­u­ates misty-eyed over good times on funky-din­ers row

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - ByLUO WANG­SHU

When Liu Han thinks of cof­fee shops, “lux­u­ri­ous” is the word that al­ways springs to mind. “They weren’t very popular 10 or 15 years ago, and we spent most of our time talk­ing about Shake­speare and our fu­tures at food stalls or in shabby din­ers near the cam­pus,” she said, re­call­ing her “trea­sured four years” as a stu­dent at Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity.

In the days be­fore cam­pus cof­fee shops, stu­dents got to­gether at small din­ers, most them of them fea­tur­ing shish ke­bab, or tea­houses and snack bars to study, so­cial­ize, and or­ga­nize cam­pus ac­tiv­i­ties.

For gen­er­a­tions of Chi­nese stu­dents, th­ese places played the same role as cam­pus cof­fee bars in the West. From 2000 to 2010, one of the most popular haunts was “West Gate Chicken Wings”, or WGCW, the col­lec­tive name for a row of small din­ers near the west gates of Pek­ing and Ts­inghua Uni­ver­si­ties that of­fered bar­be­cued chicken wings.

Cheng Jie, a 30-year-old who stud­ied at Ts­inghua from 2003 to 2010, has fond mem­o­ries of the glory days of WGCW: “The din­ers were cramped, noisy, and slightly shabby. They were al­ways full of smoke and the smell of beer, but I’ve never tasted bet­ter chicken wings since. Of course, that could just be my mem­ory of a mix­ture of youth and pas­sion.

“I heard my room­mates’ tear­ful love sto­ries over the spicy chicken wings. They claimed their eyes were wa­ter­ing be­cause of the hot spices, but … . They could also say the same thing about me, of course,” she said, re­call­ing that the row of din­ers was a fa­vorite post-re­hearsal spot for mem­bers of the lo­cal orches­tra.

“Cof­fee shops are too fancy. It would be em­bar­rass­ing to be ex­tremely loud and crazy in one of them, but be­ing loud and crazy are syn­ony­mous with stu­dent life,” she said.

Cheng and her col­lege peers still hold re­unions at WGCW. “It’s like we revert to be­ing stu­dents when we meet up for those din­ners, even though we’re all dressed in smart cloth­ing, suits and ties and so on. It’s like a taste of our youth,” she said.

Chain tea­houses were also popular with col­lege stu­dents in the “old days”. In the first se­mes­ter of his se­nior year in 2007, Wang Rui spent nearly ev­ery evening in a tea­house called Be For Time near Bei­jing Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity.

“I was work­ing on my grad­u­a­tion pro­gram, and also work­ing as a statis­tic an­a­lyst in­tern in a hos­pi­tal. That meant I had to study at night, but the dorm’s lights were turned off at 11:30 pm, so BFT was my best study area af­ter mid­night,” the 31-yearold math grad­u­ate said, adding that he only spent 18 yuan ($2.90) each visit, and of­ten spent the whole night study­ing while sip­ping end­less free re­fills.

“I still felt tired when I see BFT on the street now,” he said.

Founded in Shang­hai in 1998, Be For Time now has more than 100 out­lets na­tion­wide, many of them near col­leges.

Liang Suyao dis­cov­ered the de­lights of cam­pus cof­fee shops when she stud­ied in the United States af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Bei­jing Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity in 2007. In Bei­jing, Liang was also a fan of Be For Time, and in the US she de­vel­oped the habit of sit­ting in the cam­pus cof­fee shop to fin­ish her day’s read­ing.

PROVIDEDTOCHINA DAILY

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