Chapter 33: My Chinese Boyfriend’s Dormitory Despair

Door in a Chinese university
John, my Chinese boyfriend, was left in the dark at university when he faced a semester of dormitory despair.

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.

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4 thoughts on “Chapter 33: My Chinese Boyfriend’s Dormitory Despair

  • March 3, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Ha, I’m now a second-year graduate student in China. I understand exactly what it feels like to board in school, especially schools that have long history with run-down facilities.
    Here we have 4 roommates and 2 of them have moved outside, one for internship,the other is for relationship. We actually have no bathroom in the aparment so we have to get the guts to crawl out of the bed every night when the bladder is bulking up and scram into and back from the only public bathroom on the floor. Thanks to this poorly accomodated school, I have lost about 10 kilogram cholesterol since I signed up here from 2 years working experience.
    Basically it is mission-impossible to have a transfer if you are able to stand the long hard bureacracy, and if you can stand that, I bet you can stand terrible facilities as well .
    So my advice is would it be okay to move out of there and rent an apartment nearby so that he does not have to compromise all the rackets and inconveniences over there

    • March 4, 2010 at 12:35 am

      Hi Ranger, thanks so much for the comment. Wow, that is terrible you have no bathroom! I guess dormitory despair in China is a universal experience.

      Yes, eventually he does move out — when I come to Shanghai. If you keep following, you’ll find out how that happens. 😉

  • March 4, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    I was walking in Harbin one night with my Chinese girlfriend and this middle aged guy outside her parents apartment said something rediculously insensitive to her. She turned and shouted at him “你问题什么?”. I once got into a really violent altercation with a guy over the way he treated a girlfriend when I was in uni but this time I really couldn’t decide what to do. We were in Harbin – a pretty rough town – i could have left him a nice black eye but still run the risk of “a foreigner incident” or do what I did and pull her away. The bastard gambled right there that I was going to do nothing to him. In the end I got through it emotionally by thinking that people like him do the rest of us a favor by wearing a neon sign that says “笨蛋”.

  • March 5, 2010 at 8:02 am

    there we go again “路易”, can you stop being a teenage moron for once? why is it that every post from you consist of how you are so
    “pimp” with women and how horrible the Chinese treat their women? thats so not true in general. I think you just have a security issue here, so you feel the need to put down Chinese men while you try to tell everyone how much of a playa you are? online? is it becuz you cant get any action at home? why is it 90% of the male foreign students in China act like you? While the foreign females are at least nice. Clean up your act, or I can see someday more people will wanna kick ur ass in China.


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