Saturday, August 25, 2007

Chinese Roomates and stifling summer nights

In the middle of the summer, I moved yet again. My roommate called and told me (for reasons that I to still do not understand) that we had to move the following day by 8:00AM. I stayed for a week on my friend's couch while we we waited to move in to the new place, this time with my two more Chinese girls, none of whom spoke English. To maters more confusing, one had a Northeastern accent (kind of like a Boston accent), and one had a Southern accent. Me, who has only learned standard Mandarin dialect and accent, struggled every moment that I was home!

The apartment was small, two bedrooms, one small kitchen, no seating area, and a shower room which doubled as the toilet with a door that grew mushrooms because of the moisture! Good thing rent was only 300 yuan a person (~40 bucks per month)!

I shared a bedroom with the southern gal. Lights out girl chatter was stifled as it usually ended in frustration soon after it began! However, I gained a bit more of perspective about the issues facing my generation of Chinese youth. Things like: When your boyfriend asks you to marry him (because by this age you better well be on your way to marriage), will you live with his parents? This is something that is quickly changing in China. My roommates said that they have changed their minds’ about this just in the past year. Now they would opt for independence and privacy rather than a more traditional live in situation.

Romantic relationships among my age group are consistently serious. It is not at all uncommon to see a young couple wearing matching outfits. I’m told this is a way of to demonstrate their closeness and sincerity. You’d have to pay me to do that! One friend (24) said “The next girlfriend I have must be my last girlfriend,” meaning it would end in marriage. I thought that weddings were a big deal in the US. But they are a really big deal here! Twice my roommates’ recently married friends came to our tiny apartment to share their ENTIRE wedding day video, which records the whole day's events. We sat on the bed in our pajamas and discussed every detail of the plans and outcomes etc. I felt as though I was taking part in a modern Chinese girlfriend ritual, one that was probably happening in thousands of groups of girlfriends that very same night.

I feel that I adjusted well to the constant straining for comprehension, sharing of bedrooms, squat toilet, and fungus on the door. The thing that I could not stand was sleeping in dead air. It was the middle of the summer and my roommate insisted on turning off the air-con and fans at night and sealing up all the windows. She said we would catch a cold if we had wind coming through the room. I lay there in my underwear, sweating, chocking on thick air, and tried to remember more comfortable summer sleeping arrangements. My bedroom in Ohio with all three screened windows open listening to crickets on a hot Midwest summer night. Or, sleeping on the trail we just made in the Sawtooths stairing at stars upon stars and feeling the cool evening inversion set in. Or, solo on a ridgeline in the Olympics smelling snow chilled pine! And then, with no warning, my roommate threw a blanket over me, saying something about how I must cover my stomach or I will get sick. I drew the cultural sensitivity line there. Not a chance!

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