Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Waterman


What I like best about my “China “experience is living in dorm with all the 外国人 (Foreigners).

Before coming here, I had lived on my own during University but in off-campus housing. In my mind dorms where were loud and obnoxious people went to find like-minded individuals. For myself, I enjoyed the privacy of living in a basement suite and the separation of school and daily life. Living in Beijing though has altered that opinion somewhat.

To start off, I by no means live in a fancy dorm. Those who live anywhere, and have an in-bedroom bathroom, are envied by us in dorm A. If you don’t hang your clothes to dry on a makeshift laundry line, or have to wait in a queue to take a shower, then you my friend are not one of us. If your washroom reminds you more of an outhouse, and you marvel at the fact that you’re not ill from the widespread lack of hygiene, then most likely you are my neighbour and we just haven’t met yet.  
But for those who aren’t, and before you begin the self-congratulations, understand that there are things you do miss out on and put together, I feel, are much better than living a solitary and disinfected life.  

For one thing, you will never get to meet the waterman.

The waterman is a thin, ambling sort of person. His face is weather-beaten and older than his years. His grin is infectious, and whenever he comes knocking on the door you can hear the music he carries with him before you see him.

After welcoming him in, he will set to work while humming a tune. After a short while he will try to ask you something in Chinese, and then in surprise ask 听不懂 (you don’t understand)?
After you affirm this statement, he will then launch into a monologue on the woes of society, the increased price of rice, and how children don’t respect their elders anymore. It could really be on anything, since the fact still stands that you don’t understand a word he’s saying. Then right before he leaves, he will ask you a simple question and wait intently for the answer. If you stumble on your reply, he will then painstakingly write out the question for you on a scrap piece of paper, and then with a jolly grin take his leave. You now have to wait an entire week to answer the question that you figured out five minutes after he left.

Last Friday, in walking back to our dorm for a movie night, my friends and I ran into the afore-mentioned waterman.

He drives a contraption that is basically a cart attached to an old motorized bicycle that has two gears. Generous as always, he offered to give me and my friends a ride. At first we refused, but since he insisted, and I dislike walking unless I’m forced to, I was the first to give in and jump on. With two girls on each side of the cart to even out the weight, we left the guys behind and zipped across campus. It was a cool evening and there was a wind to push us along. Laughing, we held on to each other and balanced precariously on the side. Every time we hit a bump, there was a moment of breathlessness, and then we would come down with a thud to find the cart still beneath us. Much too soon the ride ended and he dropped us off with a grin and went merrily on his way. Whenever I think of it, it makes me smile and I realize that living in dorm definitely has its perks.

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