A Dozen Alarm Clocks

I have two alarm clocks. More specifically, I have two alarm clocks in my room. One goes off at 8am to wake me up, the other is on snooze rotation until around 8:30am, when I debate whether I really need breakfast that morning.

Neither is really necessary, however, because outside my door I have perhaps ten more alarm clocks.

Before I explain that, let me preface with this: I really like my hotel room at the IBIS in WenJiang. The rooms are clean and comfortable, with thick curtains that block out 98% of all light. The staff is friendly, even when we can’t understand each other. I get two complementary water bottles every day, and tea, and what problems I do have (limited breakfast options, mildew smell in bathroom) are minor enough that they don’t warrant serious complaint.

My alarm clocks are the guests.

The hotel’s walls are thin, I don’t have earplugs, and Chinese people speak loudly.  This morning, at around 7am, a man started singing at the top of his lungs in the hallway. Or his room maybe – somewhere really close to me. I hear Chinese people singing all the time, and normally I approve. They just break out into song, to themselves usually, in the supermarket, or just on the street. It’s like they don’t care who listens – they just gotta sing. That has a really negative flip side – not caring who listens means not caring who can hear them. So at 7am, this guy just starts singing as loud as he pleases, and I am less than pleased. It occurs to me to never wish my life were a musical again.

A few days ago, I woke up at about the same time to screaming and shouting – full on, “The hotel is on fire!” screaming. I was just about to bolt, convinced a blown circuit had set a room ablaze,  when the screaming turned to raucous laughter. It took me a couple of minutes to process what I was hearing. A large family was playing some sort of game I guess. The rules of the game were simple – scream really loudly, and everyone laughs. Repeat for half an hour. Once, I lost my temper a little, and decided I would poke my head out of my room to at least make it clear that someone ELSE was also in the hotel, and trying to sleep thank you very much. Except no one was in the hallway – all the loud voices were in rooms, except that the doors were open wide to the hallway. Makes sense – if you want your neighbor to hear you, what better way than to open your door and yell so your voice carries?

(Answer – go into the other person’s room. Jesus, please just go have a conversation in the same room!)

Outside, about the same time as my alarm clocks, comes the faint blaring of music from…well, to be honest, I don’t know. There are carts that sort of drive about playing music, and I don’t mind them because they usually play classical music. I bet I would be less tolerant if they didn’t coincide with my wake up time.

I would simply try to start waking up earlier, except that there are frequent revelers at night who come stomping through around midnight or 1am. The Babiface nightclub is right next door, and while heavy bass actually puts me to sleep, the bombastic party-goers do not. They aren’t so bad, really, since they only come through on the weekends. They’re just a very loud chorus of voices which lasts maybe fifteen minutes. Then there’s door slamming, and if I’m unlucky some loud tv (or sex) in an adjacent room for a little while longer. The issue is that between the evening clubbers and the morning songbirds, it’s hard to get uninterrupted sleep.

If I snap, the headline will read “American teacher stuffs ‘Do Not Disturb’ card down guest’s throat”

Slightly harder to deal with is the hacking wake-up call. Almost every morning I wake to the sound of someone scraping their lungs clean of debris. This morning, that singing man paused every couple of minutes to clear his throat – and I mean this dude was iron wool-ing his lungs of mucus. Since his door was open, the sound simply filled the void.  You know how in American movies there’s that crass hillbilly who just scrapes all the phlegm in his lungs up in one monstrous noise? That’s almost everyone in China. Men, women – no children, because the air pollution hasn’t ruined their lungs yet – they all just hack. And it doesn’t matter if it’s carpet or tile, inside or out. They hack and spit, hack and spit, or occasionally just blow a snot rocket on the street. I mean, no wonder no one sits down outside without bringing a seat cover!

I’ll admit that I really don’t like it. You can clear your lungs without making it a big production number. You shouldn’t spit on carpet, at least, because it’s hard to clean. And I want to chastise the students who spit inside the school, when the door outside is maybe twelve feet away. That is disrespectful to the building.  I put up with on the streets or when I’m driving the scooter, but I admit it makes me gag a little bit at meals. I recognize, however, that this is a cultural thing, and so I don’t say anything.

According to my Surviving China guidebook, the government is pushing to stop the spitting. They’re also pushing for children to start wearing diapers, but I actually understand children going to the bathroom in the bushes more than I get mass spitting. At least with the former you save on diapers, it might be more sanitary, and you learn young to hold it. You don’t keep pooping on the streets into adulthood (though I know there are grown men who see toilets of convenience everywhere).

I do remember that for the Olympics, Beijing tried to break the habit. Good on ya, Beijing. Ah, here is the New York Times piece on the subject. All I can say is: that pressure did not reach WenJiang. Nor did diapers (again, for the most part).

But I’ll be fine – I mean, they say my dorm room is almost done. So then it will just be me and…a few hundred high school students.


Growth to date: Well, while I am maintaining tolerance I am also getting better at recognizing when I don’t like something. This is growth for me – I don’t like to admit that I’m not cool with stuff.




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