Today is the mid-autumn day in China. It is the day when the moon is experiencing the eighth full phase in the Chinese lunar calendar. It is a traditional Chinese festival in which relatives and close friends reunite. The reunion is, on the one hand, to celebrate the harvest in the autumn as the Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo, and on the other hand, to provide an opportunity to gather relatives and close friends together as the Thanksgiving in western Countries. The tradition snack prepared for this particular day is the mooncake. A typical mooncake is a round pastry which resembles the moon and has the implication of reunion, perfection, and happiness. This festival has been listed as an “intangible culture heritage” in China and made as a public holiday. In the past 28 years, I have spent more than four years in three cities and celebrated this festival. These past experiences, I think, are the nodes which can artfully connect my mundane life and my academic life.
I was born in Chengdu which is famous for its temperament of leisure and comfort. I spent 18 years in Chengdu before college and have strong sense of affiliation and nostalgia for this city. Now most of my classmates from middle schools have started to work across China. So that means, at the same time I am writing the acknowledgement, some of them are on the way back to the hometown. During the last 10 years I spent outside Chengdu, they told me the development in Chengdu from time to time. The leisure city in my memory has changed tremendously in the last decade. Road tunnels, large shopping malls, and high-tech zones sprouted out and the city expanded ceaselessly. While the real sprit of the city, life enjoyment with playing Mahjong under the shade of trees, eating dedicate Szechuan cuisine in the midnights, and drinking jasmine tea in public parks faded away over time.
I spent 6 years in Beijing for the undergraduate and master degree’s study. Beijing is, by all means, a complex city. In my opinion, it tries very hard to work as the center of commerce, culture, and politics simultaneously. It also bears too much burden of history and development at the same time. In Beijing, we can find a distinctive residential system, Hutong, in which ordinary people live in a crowded and humble accommodation but with higher level of interactions among neighbors. Staying under the same roof is rather an emotional expression and means more mutual support rather than tolerating the disadvantages. In the meantime, skyscrapers and post-modern buildings grew constantly, like the Olympic stadium (the Bird Nest and the Water Cube), and the central television building. Visiting the CBD in Beijing in rush time would be a disaster for a “foreigner” in this city, regardless of any transport methods you choose. You will experience either “people mountain people sea” if you choose the subway, or terrible traffic jam if you choose taxi, or detrimental air and noise even if you choose walk or bicycle. It seems there are always dilemmas about the land-use issues in Beijing. During major festivals and public holidays, Beijing is facing the extensive challenges of accommodation, transportation and safety to cater all the tourists and nostalgic migrants.
In the last four years, I was living and studying in Waterloo, a pretty “small” city in Canada (However, Waterloo region was ranked as number two on the performance of economy among Canadian urban centers). Even if it is a relative small city, diversity sprawls out the whole city. It has a large amount of international students here since it has two well-known universities. It works as a new hub for the high-tech development in Canada surrounding the flagship blackberry company, RIM. It also has a heritage of German immigrants. The district along the University Avenue between University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University was described as a “student ghetto” with occasional vandalism and accidents in two years ago. And recently several high rise condominiums in the same district are in the final stage of construction and ready to welcome the increasing amount of students here. Homeowners used to work in RIM are moving out the city due to the layoff and a restrictive requirement of a rental housing license. During the festival, my Chinese fellow students are gathering together, eating mooncakes bought from local Chinese grocery stores in Waterloo or Toronto, tele-communicating with friends and relatives in the other half of the Earth planet, and enjoying festival shows online.
It seems the land use continuously change in all the three cities, whether it is large or small. Also it looks like people can embrace the traditional customs and modern technologies at the same time. When new conflicts emerge and hamper our development, we – human beings – are adept at adjusting and improving. This is also true in academic development. A Ph.D study is a path toward improving the academic knowledge in a specific narrow way with innovative methods and results. It is not a leisure path, and therefore I want to express my sincere appreciation to all the people helping me during this path.
First and foremost, I want to express my gratitude to my Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. Dawn Parker. In the past three years, her enthusiasm, knowledge and encouragement always inspire me to hurdle the obstacles in completing all the research. She gave a first impression of strictness in my comprehensive exam. But after she became my supervisor and I took her elaborately prepared course, I start to find that she really care about students. And ainsightfuls discussion with her becomes weekly intellectual challenge and enjoyment, which guide the path for me to be an independent researcher with integrity.
I would also like to thank my former supervisor, Dr. Jonathan Li, for helping me getting through the first year, the toughest year, in Canada. With his consistent support and help, I gradually adapted to the life in Canada and successfully passed the comprehensive exam. In addition, I am indebted to many colleagues for their generously help. I am especially grateful to Shipeng Sun, Tatiana Filatova, and Derek Robinson. Because of your kind assistances in reviewing and commenting on my work, I am able to finish the Ph.D study with fruitful outputs. All of you are great persons who are not reluctant to share your experiences in not only academic sphere but also social activities. I really enjoy spending time with all of you, and love your sense of humor. I am hoping we can continue our collaboration in the future.
I wish to thank many colleagues in University of Waterloo, University of Michigan and Beijing Normal University, who provides a simulating environment to learn and to growth. They are Dr. Peter Deadman, Raymond Cabrera, Tianyi Yang, and Calvin Pritchard from UW, Dr. Dan Brown from UM, Dr. Peijun Shi and Dr. Chunyang He from BNU. In particular, I want to thank the secretaries in the department of environment and school of planning, Lynn Finch, Susie Castela, Lori McConnell, Edie Cardwell, for your assistances in various ways. I also want to thank the funding provided by the department, the graduate office in UW, and the China Scholarship Council for helping me pursuing a Ph.D degree as an international student.
Friends play a really important role in accompanying me accomplishing the fifty-month living in Canada regardless of where you are living. It would be a really tough journey to study abroad without the funny and happy time spending with all of you. Among all the friends, Miao Jiang, Yuanming Shu, Yue Dou, Suo Huang, Zhenzhong Si, Quan Long, Jianqing Wang, Xi Yang, George Xie, Yi Yin, Yiqiao Zhou, Zhen Li, Yuanyuan Zhao, Yang Yang, Zhifeng Liu and Tiechun Wang deserve special mention.
Lastly, and most importantly, I wish to thank my parents, Zeyuan Huang and Biying Xie. They bore me, raised me, supported me, taught me, and loved me. To them I dedicate this thesis.