My Room

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I shared a room at the foreign students‘ dormitory with Takabatake-san, a Japanese student who was a couple of years older than I and didn’t speak any Chinese or English at first. It took months until we could communicate on more than a basic level in Chinese. He had brought his guitar from Japan and let me play until I bought a Chinese guitar for myself. I made a sketch of our room in my diary, later:

Note that we had heating in our room! An absolute luxury, as Shanghai is South of the Changjiang (Yangzi) river, and therefore „Southern China“, and traditionally there was NO HEATING South of the river.

The tiny round thingy is my thermos can. Hot water, or kaishui, is available everywhere in China, all the time. There was a large boiler on each floor where we could fill up the two liter thermos provided to each student, to make tea.

There were common showers and bathrooms on every floor. Chinese porcelain hole-in-the-ground sitting toilets that often got clogged. A pity it never occurred to me to take a picture! There was a laundry lady on the ground floor of the dorm where you could get your clothes washed and dried for a few cents a piece. But the laundry and drying process was definitely not optimized for „delicate textiles“, and so most of us decided to hand-wash our clothes ourselves lest they would be ruined in a short time.

An Anecdote

Many years later, in 2002, I backpack-traveled with my husband in China for four weeks. As we traveled „the rough way“, with only one backpack each I decreed: „Let’s only pack underwear for a couple of days, and buy inexpensive underwear when we arrive. We can give it up when we leave.“ And so we did. At a Beijing street market each of us bought about ten pairs of hand-sewn cotton briefs in comfortable sizes but truly strange colors for next to no money. But, quite unexpectedly, these beasts lasted forever! We actually kept and used them for several years, caught between embarrassment about their color and qualms of binning perfectly fine underwear, before we finally decided to retire them in a clothes recycling container.

So, this is what our room looked like:

Note the mosquito net over the bed. Basically, during summer you had the choice between suffocation under the mosquito net or being eaten alive by mosquitos. You can also see my red thermos and the water filter on the shelf. The tap water had a hideous smell and tasted terrible.

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The Fudan Foreign Students Campus

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After the arrival the new students settled down in the foreign students‘ compound.

It was located outside the university campus, had its own wall around it, and there was a gate with a guard, that was closed at 11 p.m. There was still a guard inside, but if you arrived past 11, you were reported and reprimanded. On the map above it is the walled compound in the top-right corner.

I can remember language class placement tests and an official welcome event, with the head of Fudan University attending and welcoming the new foreign students.

Also, we were assigned our final room and roommate. I happened to share a room with a Japanese student – Takabatake-san.

View from my room’s window to the middle school on the other side of the road

This is what the campus looked like:

My room was on the top floor (5th floor – China counts floors the same way as Americans) in the building right from the gate.

Later during the school year an artificial mountain was added in the rubble field you can see on the pictures. The gabled building in the background was the canteen, with an activity room on the top floor which offered, among other things, a table tennis table, board games, and a piano.

Here you can see the lunch tickets for the foreign students‘ canteen and the regular canteen on the campus.

The main university campus was already decorated for National Day on October 1st:

The Chinese students‘ dormitories look beautiful and romantic from the outside. But they had big eight-bed room dormitories with bunk beds. So our two-bed rooms were actually quite a luxury.

An Anecdote

While I was there we experienced a heat wave. Many of the dorm dwellers gathered for the Chinese evening news in front of the color TV in the dorm lobby every night. And as it got hotter by the day we watched the weather forecast for the next day going up from 37 °C to 38 to 39 to 39,5… And that’s where it stayed for the next few days. We were wondering… Until a second year student explained: There obviously was a law stating that workers could stay home when the temperature rose to 40 degrees and above. So, magically, it never did! Can anyone confirm or debunk this?

We were about 400 foreign students at our compound at Fudan from literally all around the world: 200 Japanese students, a lot of Americans, Germans being the second largest group, including three form the soon-to-be disappearing GDR – who would have thought, just two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall?! – Australians, French, British, Belgian, Italian, … as well as a couple of Africans, I think from Benin, two Russians and even two North-Koreans.

After a couple of weeks everyone was fraternizing, except for the North Koreans. The Japanese were mostly keeping to themselves. But as I was placed in the highest language class with the students from the GDR and Russia, and had a Japanese tongwu I was on good terms with them all.

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