Thursday, October 26, 2017

Interview with American-Co-Director David Davies on the HNC's Annual Wall Walk

David J. Davies is the American Co-Director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. His experience at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center includes his time as a student (1997-1998), a visiting scholar (2006), and the interim American Co-Director (2011). Co-Director Davies holds a PhD in Socio-Cultural Anthropology from the University of Washington, and has extensive research and work experience in China, and the greater East Asia region. This year, Co-Director Davies led a group from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center on a 26.2-mile walk around Nanjing – here is what he had to say about the event!

What is the Nanjing wall, and what is the Wall-Walk?

When you come to a place like the HNC, you have Chinese students and international students. The student body is made up of people who don’t come from the same geographic location in the world and don’t necessarily speak the same languages. They really only have one thing in common: they’ve all chosen this place to study. It isn’t a natural community; we shouldn’t naturally have anything in common.

But, one thing that really creates a sense of being in a community is doing something together. It is nice to do something that doesn’t involve consumption, and the easiest thing to do is walk. The Wall Walk is a ten-hour marathon-long walk around what used to be the imperial fortifications of Nanjing. There is a certain quality about that in terms of the time that you actually get to know people! By the end, you also think, I did a marathon, I walked a long way, I walked longer in some cases most people have ever walked in their life. And you realize, oh I can do that!

What does the day of the wall-walk look like? What should first time walkers expect?

 It’s almost always on a Saturday and almost always involves departing at 6am. We walk, we break for breakfast, and we walk through lunch. We get halfway by noon or one and we try to get back here so that there is a brief break before dinner. I reassure people that they can do it. Most people either decide at some point that I wasn’t telling the truth and they leave, or they say, I’m going to do this. You see this pulling together at the end, and thankfulness that it isn’t 30 miles.

What is your favorite part of the Wall Walk?
 I’ve got two places that I really like. I like walking along the south edge of the wall, because I’ve seen that neighborhood change so much over the years. What was one of the most ram-shackled parts of the city got leveled, clear cut and turned into a tourist destination. No one knows that it used to be an old neighborhood now. I also like walking along the east side when you see Zijinshan. The wall is narrow and high and you really get this sense of a boarder. But all the parts have different pieces; even all the boring parts make the interesting parts interesting.

Why should students take part?
It is fun to trace the route of what you know was originally the classic city of Nanjing! I’ve done it 7 times, for me there is an element of just enjoying a really long walk and seeing the city change over the years. Also, there is something very nice about getting a “command” of a city, by which I mean knowledge of a place.

If students didn’t go on the wall walk, their mental geography of Nanjing would be like a spider web with the HNC at the center. It’s nice in your mental map to know where the current city is, how big the traditional city was, and how the two relate now. Every time we do this there is somebody who says “we should do that again this weekend.”

Written by Alexandra Hansen, Certificate '18