A frequent traveler, Kourosh Houshmand built on a lifetime of trips between East and West upon entering the Yenching Academy of PKU (YCA). Within Beijing, he quickly found his home through the restaurants of the city, carving out a personal nostalgia. Memory itself strikes Kourosh as an ephemeral quality. He notes that remembering Jingyuan is a subjective task – drawn from what appeared worth noticing at the time versus what becomes important in retrospect – and one that is ever-changing.
Q: What were your impressions of the architecture of Jingyuan?
A: I remember at first, I had such a visceral reaction to how calm and peaceful Jingyuan felt. I was almost in disbelief that it was a space that I can use whenever I wanted. Sometimes, we would hang out outside, have lunch there. It really was a sanctuary. As soon as you stepped through those ancient doors, you just felt like you were in a garden and fully protected, encapsulated. What a beautiful sanctuary that was.
From a layperson’s view, those red doors of Jingyuan were stunning. They were so unlike what I had seen before. The double doors, the doorknobs, it felt like you have gained access to this jewel. They are so small and there is a big step to enter past them — it almost feels like an accomplishment to get in. Not because they are intimidating, but because they represent a border if you will. I also loved the ivory draping the walls of the balcony and the stunning courtyard feel. There is a lot of beautiful greenery in that courtyard.
I was not conscious of the idea of symmetry or the architecture at the time of being there.
Q: What role did Jingyuan play in your life on campus?
A: After classes, the Jingyuan courtyard became a bit of a hangout spot for a few minutes as people moved to their next activity. It was a meeting point and a multi-use space. It made the academic part of going to class a really stunning experience.
Jingyuan was a bit less ad-hoc, events tended to take place around classes or around other main events. The time I spent in Jingyuan was largely to study or to find some space to do some work.
Q: How well did you learn the history of the site?
A: I wish I knew more about the history of the site because it was so beautiful. I do remember we had a bit of an opening tour, but so much of Beijing and PKU is for you to explore.
Q: How did your experiences on campus, and at Jingyuan in particular, situate your larger experience living in Beijing?
A: In Beijing, I gained a sense of humility about the complex socio-economic and political concepts writ large. It humbled me to gain such a varied perspective in my academic and personal life. It forced me to inquire more deeply into my own values and systems. These takeaways were not just about China, although it is a complex space and should be treated as such. It broadened my scope both personally and academically. That was a huge takeaway from my time in general.