I’ve finally settled into life in Beijing…after fully re-discovering Chinese bureaucracy’s penchant for long lines, official red stamps, and flimsy multiple receipts for everything from residence permits to pencils. I’m perpetually surprised that through the frenetic inefficiency of it all, things still get done.
Luckily, my room has been a safe retreat. In fact, I’m quite intrigued by the dorm, called 勺园 — literally, “Spoon Garden.” Mostly for the benefit of my mother, I’ve created something of a virtual tour. Field trip!
My room is quite small by Harvard standards, but luxurious in comparison to the local student dorms. Though the beds lack mattresses, there are only two of them (as opposed to six). Mine is on the left, while the other is occupied by my roomate Lynn, another Chinese-American from Yale.
All foreign students are placed into this dorm in the corner of campus, and so my neighbors come from all over the world — Germany, Russia, Nigeria, Uzbekistan…but mostly Japan and Korea. There’s not much socializing in the hallways though. Perhaps because it’s so dark, or because the refrigerators are too ominous. Or maybe because it just smells funny.
The strange odors come from the bathroom facilities at the other end of the hallway. As I turn round the corner, inevitably clutching my own haphazard sheets of toilet paper, I can tell exactly when and if the trash has been taken out.
I’m not sure if the urinals were in the original design of the women’s lavatory, but I’ve discovered that they do still function. A faucet near the top of the contraption emits a small, steady stream of water, which of course splashes onto your feet. This has led me to consider whether these “urinals” are actually foot washers. I mean, doesn’t unavoidable splash seem to defeat the entire purpose of a urinal?
Adjacent to the urinal-foot washer is the lovely squat toilet. Enough said. Moving on.
Directly across from the lavatory is the general washing room, where you can brush your teeth, do laundry, and wash pots simultaneously. Most students here buy their own washing machines, which take turns scuttling around the room like hippos in search of water. I’ve learned to use a washing board and pan to clean undergarments, as well as air-dry my clothes outside.
General washing room
Oddly, I think one of the most interesting rooms here is the shower room. It smells. It’s dank. And yes, also kind of slimy. But for some reason, I find it appealing. To enter the showers, you first pass a hot water tank that reminds me of a wizened red guard from China’s recent past. The sign says, “Don’t use the hot water to wash your dirty clothes.”
Hot water tank
I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of showers. Though it’s a grody little box, it’s one of the few places that you have complete privacy in the dorm. This sentiment only grew when I discovered that most Chinese students here don’t have showers in their own dorms; they trek to public showers, paying 1 yuan each time. I’m told that wintertime, people become noticeably smellier. (Notice the graff on the door, by the way)
Obviously, life in Beijing is different. I’ve gradually become accustomed to the random smells, sights, even the smog. Adapting to China has been unbelievably smooth, and exciting. I enjoy never knowing exactly what’s around the corner.
There’s only one thing that I haven’t gotten used to: everyday at 6pm sharp, all the loudspeakers on the school’s campus crackle on. A woman’s smooth, calming voice streams through the system with the evening broadcast of happy news, happy music, and happy propaganda. I suppose some things that are best not to get used to.