So there I was in China. I was rooming with Gordon. Our room was on the 5th floor but the air conditioning didn’t work so we were moved down to the fourth. Natasha, one of the young adults from Hong Kong who came to help interpret for us, was across the hall from us. The rest of the team was up on 5th floor together. At the far end of the 5th floor from us was a tiny little fridge stocked full of bottled water. This little apartment sized fridge (maybe dorm room size) was working overtime. We were banned from drinking the local water and we were told we needed to drink at least 4 bottles of water each day. Walking up to our rooms and down from our rooms used up about one bottle of water each way in sweat.
One of our team got a little over-zealous and made sure they had water that was good and cold ALL the time by writing her name on bottles lined up in the back of the freezer section. This created a dilemma since we couldn’t take HER bottles and we couldn’t fit more in to get ours cold. Gordon solved the dilemma by taking some of her bottles and writing her name on a new warm one every time he took a bottle out.
The weather was hot and humid except when it rained. When it rained it was hot and wet. It rained for a few minutes almost ever day. Some days it rained for hours. In the Midwest this usually broke the humidity. In Shantou it just sort of enhanced it. When you got up in the morning you were sweating, all day long you were sweating, every time you left the room into the non-air-conditioned hall you started to sweat. The only time I actually didn’t notice I was sweating was in the shower.
Our ‘dorm’ room was a single room with two twin beds, a desk and a dresser with a TV on it. We had a balcony that looked out on an old run down building and the surrounding apartment/dorm buildings. Everything was in the same blah white cement. Later we found out that the old, run down building was a school that had been on that site at the time of the revolution. It was ransacked and left in that condition on purpose.
In our room we had a bathroom that was a 5X7 box with a drain in the floor and hose on the wall that turned the entire room into our shower: toilet, sink and all. Very nice. I could brush my teeth, use the toilet and wash my hair all at once. What a time saver. Below the sink/counter was a drain in the floor for the water run off- remember, if something can go down, something can come up…more on that later – a small, electric water heater tank on the wall held our shower water and it would always be hot if we remembered to turn it on every day. Under the sink there was also a big bucket with a bowl/lid. After day two we discovered it’s purpose when we were scolded for flushing our used toilet paper down the potty. “What were we thinking?!! Used toilet paper goes in the bucket, not in the toilet!” So we learned about composting in Shantou.
Maid service came in every day (hey, missions is tough work), not so much to clean anything but to turn off anything we had left on – like the air conditioning for water heater.
We had a thermos of hot water and two covered tea cups. The maids refilled the thermos each day with fresh boiled water. The two beds came complete with mosquito netting and we had a TV. TV. My dear mother, the T.V. This sweet little box became our tutor and entertainer. Every morning we would get our exercise by watching a man on the English channel do kung-fu with a spear (just to clarify: the guy on tv had the spear). We watched U.S. movies in English and U.S. movies in mandarin. We watched local news and national news. Most of all I enjoyed watching amazing kung-fu soap operas that made “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” seem boring.
Rooming with someone can either bring you closer or can make you go postal. For me and Gordon it was a time to get closer. He looked after me, I looked after him and we learned more about each other than we really wanted to know. Two guys can’t collect used toilet paper in the bucket in their john without a little bonding happening. The sites, the sounds, the smells, the stories…I’ve never laughed so much! Eventually we became a little too comfortable with each other though. One day as we were standing up changing from our humidity soaked clothes to our less humidity soaked clothes there was a knock at the door. It was one of the lady’s on our team. “Come in!” Gordon yelled and then opened the door, standing behind it. He was out of view but I was a deer in the headlights ’til I dove behind the bed, pants around my ankles, taken completely by surprise.
My ying to his yang came when I left our two tea cups uncovered one night when we went to bed. We had had some instant coffee that came in little packets with sugar and fake cream right in the packet. We enjoyed the coffee before bed and when I put the cups back on the table I forgot to put the covers on the cups. Next morning Gordon came out of the shower room and looked down at the table where our cups sat. Sitting in our cups, looking back at Gordon were two giant cockroaches. They seemed to be enjoying our coffee left-overs and hardly reacted when Gordon screamed. Yes…screamed. No cockroaches on PEI. Eventually the roaches morning coffee was cut short and we traced their entry back to the drain in our bathroom. We covered the drain with our bucket and Gordon was able to relax a little and sleep with both eyes closed…until he spotted one crawling under our front door… but that’s a story for another time…