While I faced a spamming dilemma in my company in Hangzhou, my Chinese boyfriend, John, faced a dormitory dilemma at his university in Shanghai.
John lived in a men’s graduate dormitory on campus, an older brick building with four floors that stood next to the school cafeteria. John’s initial dorm room, on the second floor, had a window perched just above some large fan or boiler unit for the cafeteria that looked like a large white mushroom made of metal.
John didn’t mind sharing a room with three others, or the smell of the drab, institutional bathrooms, or even the usual 11pm lights-out, power-off policy typical of a Chinese university. But he did mind the noise of the cafeteria — from that strange unit outside the window — which disrupted his sleep every morning, around 4:30am.
I didn’t have to be there to understand, because I felt it every time he came to visit me in Hangzhou during those weekends. “This is the only time I can get a good night’s sleep,” he would confess between the covers, his complexion so sallow and his body often languid from the deprivation of rest. By November, John could hardly stand the arrangement, and I could hardly stand watching him become a specter of his former self.
“Maybe you should ask for a room change?” I suggested.
John pleaded with the school to transfer him to another room, which wasn’t easy. His university, like many in China, didn’t understand the need to accommodate students. Still, with persistence, they finally agreed to transfer him to a new dormitory room — with a new problem.
“The guy is a heavy smoker!” John lamented one evening to me, by phone. He hated tobacco use, and hated having it in his room, his only home in Shanghai, even more. The positives — that the room was quieter, and he only shared it with this one other student — literally went up in smoke.
John began a nomadic existence in the dorms, sleeping in as many as several different rooms a week. He also pleaded with the school to transfer him once again. And I watched the whole thing play out, like a Chinese tragedy.
I hated being the bystander to John’s dormitory despair. But what could I do? I didn’t have a place for him, because I didn’t live and work in Shanghai.
At least, not yet. 😉
Did you ever have to be a bystander to something that happened to your Chinese friend or lover — and feel helpless?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.