China's cheapest train ticket

While new high-speed railway lines keep opening throughout China, and cheaper slower trains are replaced with faster and more expensive ones, it is nice to know that you can still go somewhere for just 1.5 yuan (about $0.25). This is the full fare from Shenyang to the nearby (16 km away) station Masanjia (马三家). According to Liao-Shen wan bao (辽沈晚报 a local newspaper in Shenyang), this is the fare class for the train no. 6366 (no letter in the name, which means it's the slowest and cheapest class), and the travel time is 42 minutes.

Admittedly, not everyone may want to travel to that particular travel destination. (Google Search is your friend...).

According to the published schedule, the train makes 3 intermediate stops between Shenyang and Masanjia; inquiring minds may want to know if the fare to some of them is even lower, but, according to Liao-Shen wan bao's fact checkers, the fare to all stations is the same 1.5 yuan.

Incidentally, this kind of local train service - 5 stations on a 10-mile section - is very rarely seen in today's China anymore. From a train, you see lots of small stations like this, with passenger platforms and everything, but when you look up a schedule web site, you see that there is no passenger service to them now. Presumably service existed years ago, but was abolished and replaced with buses. Short-distance, frequent-stop (commuter) train service, of the kind commonly seen in most European and some North American (New York, Chicago, Toronto) metropolitan areas is quite uncommon in China.


First frost, again

Sweet potatoes: in the ground...
This year, the spring in southern Indiana was very early, with shirtsleeves weather by mid-March. The first frost also came a bit earlier (around Oct 9) than the last year. Just a light patchy frost, completely killing only the "subtropical" type plants, such as the silk melon (AKA loofah 丝瓜), bitter melon (苦瓜), winter melon (冬瓜), the vines of sweet potatoes (山芋). This of course is a signal to harvest your

... and out.


Indiana University International Center: "dispersed"?

Leo R. Dowling International Center building, 1955-2012
Ms. Yuriria Rodriguez, a music graduate student from Indiana University Bloomington, raises an important issue for the university community: the "dispersal" of the university's International Center. Not having a Facebook account, I am commenting on the situation here.

Since 1955 and until the summer of 2012, IU's Leo R. Dowling International Center occupied a small, but adequate building in the heart of campus (Jordan Ave, just a block from the IU Auditorium and Herman B. Wells library). It hosted a great variety of events there: not just specialized meetings for IU's international students and faculty, but also events open to the general public, such as Friday lunch concerts, ethnic coffee hours, foreign language conversation groups, etc. I first got to visit the place exactly 20 years ago, when I was a graduate student at IU, and I have been visiting them ever since then, whenever I am in Bloomington.

This summer, the university authorities decided that fix what wasn't broken: the building apparently was needed for some other worthy cause (IU International Programs - that's about arranging a year abroad for IU students; their own building has perhaps become too small for them), and IC had to move. That would not be such a big deal if the center was to move to some other location in one piece. Alas, that was not to be the case. The "administrative" part of the center (i.e., offices for its staff, such as there is) went to Poplars (a former hotel, later turned into office building, a couple blocks west of campus); while events that required actual meeting space or performance space are to take place at a number of locations all over campus, mostly in various dorms, as it seems.

What floor are you at now?

Representatives of the affected student organizations wrote a complaining letter to the university president, and got a rather remarkable response. You see, "Despite all of our best efforts, very few domestic students venture into the International Center" (hmm... certainly not my observation), and kicking the center from its beloved building is somehow supposed to "facilitate greater interaction among domestic and international students." This seems a rather self-serving justification: maybe the residents of a particular residence hall would be more tempted to visit an event that takes place in their building, but there are, after all, maybe two dozen dorms on IUB campus; so the overall effect will be probably minuscule. On the other hand, the old (Jordan Ave) location was much more convenient for students, faculty, and staff to visit, as it was much more central. This was particularly important for events such as Friday lunch concerts: a graduate student or an IU staff member could easily enough walk to the center's old location from most major campus buildings during one's lunch break, but it is not so for the Willkie Residence Hall, to which the concerts have relocated now.

Perhaps more importantly, having such a variety of programs at the same location resulted in a certain level of synergy, as someone who came for one event would learn about others as well. If the issue was really the "visibility" to the wider university community, surely it could have been achieved in a lot of other ways - such as placing a big billboard with even announcements next to the IC, or doing more advertising on the university web site.