Wednesday, 12 August 2009

How're U Doing?

One of my concerns is whether USM is really up there in front when it comes to sustainability. Are universities elsewhere already far ahead that it’s makes no sense trying to claim a front seat. Or in our case, claiming that we will become world renown by choosing the sustainability platform. If you search the web you will find many universities with various efforts, with a few claiming efforts dating back 10 years. Or more. So can USM really claim that we are really forging the path under our APEX U transformation plan? Well, in the last few hours I found out that even though hundreds or perhaps thousands of universities have signed and made commitments for climate change and sustainable development, most have no idea what it really means. Just about everyone is struggling to operationalise the ideals. So, I am comforted in two ways. One, USM is out in front. Two, I was quite right in bugging USM to walk the talk. When the time comes, we will have to show proof that we have indeed moved towards sustainability. I have no doubt that it is impossible to achieve sustainability in the near term. Definitely not in 5 years. Not even in 20. We have not even agreed on how we should measure “having achieved sustainability”.

Ah, so how is Chicago? As usual, my preferred mode to see the city is to walk. Very carbon-neutral, eh? According to the clock on my notebook, it is 1.20 pm Wednesday in Penang. According to the hotel room alarm clock it is 12.22 am Wednesday. So I am about 13 hours behind. Jetlag is always a problem for me.

There’s no WIFI in the hotel rooms; they only have cable Internet in the rooms. WIFI is available in the public areas like lobby, charged thru the credit card at USD6.90 for one hour – then you get logged out. Hhmm, maybe that’s a good model cause I then don’t spend too much time online (am writing this on word-processor first before going to upload; will save me precious online time). But it’s cheaper if you use the cable Internet which only USD14 for 24 hours. But you don’t need 24 hours online, right. Go see the city!

Which is what I did after going to sleep at 4 am, forcing myself to get up at about 8 am. Skipped breakfast (actually skipped dinner the previous night too) and started walking towards the Navy Pier which is almost like the Pier 49 of San Francisco. Along the way spent sometime wondering in the Millenium Park. Its got some lovely public art but I think the most important thing is the activities they organise. This month there are some free concerts. You can even watch them rehearse. And the open air auditorium is really cool. It has the formal amphitheatre-style seating in the front and then at the back is a green lawn. What’s unique about the auditorium is the wire-meash steel structure “covering” the theatre. And hanging down are speakers and just from the cello guy rehearsing you can hear it crisp and clear. And you know these Americans are sun-worshippers. So you will find them on deck chairs or lying down on blankets on the green lawn (saw pictures of theses).

It's called the Jay Pritzler Pavilion but I call it the Amphitecture +

When I saw this sign on the right (which are a many around the park), I started looking around for those famous banners we have on our campus. I couldn't find any. Could this be one of our solutions? Moveable, very personal (eye-level), readable (no dangering to moving vehicles and drivers), reusable.

If you are wondering why this picture is so blurry, its because the public like to touch it. The poor worker has to continuously wipe it. This is a reflection of me in a public art entitle the Cloud Gate at the Millenium Park. I think a drop of mercury is how I would describe it but with a "gate" at the base.

Along the way to the Navy Pier, saw a bunch of tourists practicing on the Segway. Maybe I will try one if I have the time. They market it as carbon-neutral tourism of course. Another carbon-neutral sightseeing is by bicycle. This is really big here. You can do it on your own or in guided tours. There’s even paddy cabs for familyies where four people can paddle at the same time, with space for another two smaller kids up front. I am not so sure people do it for the carbon. Just a new market I think. The hop-on-hop-off buses are doing roaring business but I am avoiding them. I get annoyed with all the yakity yak after 15 minutes. Boat rides and boat tourss are also big business, with one boat ride along the Chicago River called the Architectural Tour. Yes, Chicago has many significant architectural masterpieces dating back more than 100 years. Way back in the 1800s they were already constructing buildings more than 10 storeys high using steel frames.

Cycling tours has become big business.

And Navy Pier? Lot’s stuff there. But honestly, a tourist from Malaysia will probably complain –“nothing to do one”. Lot’s of people just enjoy walking or cycling or riding the boats with families and friends. Or have food. Of course, what is America without the beer. There’s the famous ferris wheel; largest one around or something. Modelled after the one at the first World Expo held in Chicago – ages ago. Remember reading about it during my doctoral studies. The World Expo was used to showcase modern living.

Can you guess what this is? It's called the Prius Solar Garden. Anyone?

Oh, yes food. Went to this place at the Pier plagiarising from the Forrest Gump movie. Since I had skipped dinner and breakfast I ordered salad and clam chowder and steamed mussels. Was I surprised when the food came. Huge. To my surprise I finished all except for the bread which I took back (the waitress offered a container which I declined). With a drink, that cost me about RM100. The exchange rate is terrible. Oh, the mussel was quite bland, even with the butter and some other dip. I thought it was not fresh enough.

And for dinner, we went to a Mediterranean restaurant. We, as in Harold (my host) and his wife and son, and Shih Chung from Taiwan. Guess what? We had mussels again but this was way better. And lots of other food, shared. And I had my first glass of gin and tonic – not bad.

Ah, not just dinner. We are networking.

Tomorrow, we have a pre-conference workshop to visit a couple of campuses to check out their green buildings. Harold and I agreed that the green building certification is a scam. Well, to be fair, we did not use the term “scam”, but you know what I mean. What’s more important is for universities to understand the motives behind green buildings. Will let you know what I think about the local examples after the tour.

BTW, I have been told to keep my presentation (Friday) strictly to seven minutes. So, you students reading this … take note.

You won't get to see this on your normal tourist package. While walking to the Navy Pier, I got into some deadends and discovered this elevator and stairs to get down to the street below. See what I see? The private spaces (balcony gardens) has merged into a sort of semi-public space. I love this.

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