Monday, January 19, 2009

Dorm Life

Living in a dorm for the first time in almost five years has required a bit of an adjustment.  As I wrote previously, I'm living at Lee Hysan Hall, an undergraduate dorm.  The building is more than a bit run-down - a grimy exterior houses a predictably institutional interior.  I'm not too close to campus, and there's little of note in the immediate area: two more residence halls in the same complex, a 7 Eleven (one of the few in China that does not sell alcohol), and, across the street, a hospital with a Starbucks and a decent cafeteria.  The one thing that this dorm really has going for it, though, is the view (pictured).  We're on a hill fairly high above the rest of the city, facing west across the East Lamma Channel.  Our common room has a beautiful view of the water, and at any given time the channel is full of bulk carriers and other cargo ships headed toward Victoria Harbor, very much a reminder that Hong Kong remains a vibrant and bustling port city.  

Most floors are coed, although mine seems to be largely, if not entirely, male.  As I mentioned earlier, there's a strong sense of hall spirit and tradition.  At the risk of sounding antisocial, I'll admit that I've taken the advice that was given to me by other foreign students and deliberately avoided this.  By way of explanation, I'll recount a few stories:

On my third day here, I met another foreign student who explained the concept of Water Games to me.  The paint on the walls in his hallway is uniformly worn away to a spot a few inches above the floor.  Apparently once a semester the local students clog up all the toilets, stop up the sinks and shower drains, and run all the water to flood the hallway (it occurs to me that the substance on the floor in the field hockey story, recounted in an earlier post, may have actually been water mistaken for beer, or perhaps a mix).  This is Water Games.  I don't think they do this on my floor, though, as the paint doesn't seem to be worn away.  The entire concept sounds unbelievably unhygienic and dangerous.  Buildings generally aren't made to be flooded multiple times per year.

He also told me that another popular pastime is to open a window, stand some distance back, and take turns trying to kick a soccer ball out the window.  Whoever kicks the ball out the window must then go outside to retrieve it, while the other students try to pour liquids on and throw things at him while he's doing so.  This would explain why there's a chair stuck in a tree outside, about twenty feet below the window to our common room.

Last week, I came home late, stepped off the elevator, and saw a group of students standing in a cluster near the door to the common room.  A leg was sticking out of the huddle at a weird angle, a few feet above the floor.  They turned to look at me, and I quickly made my way to my room - it seemed like the safest thing to do.  I asked my roommate Sai what they were doing, and he laughed, and told me I'd find out, because they did it to everybody and they'd do it to me soon enough.  I told him that they most certainly would not, and that I would really like to know what they were doing so I could avoid it.  Initially refusing to tell me, he relented soon enough and explained the "bicycle" to me.  Since then, I haven't quite looked at the local students the same way, and learning to understand Cantonese has taken on a new urgency for me.  They all speak English, but I need to know what they're saying to each other when I'm around.

Two nights ago, I was watching a movie in the common room with a couple of other exchange students, when we gradually became aware of students congregating in the hallway outside, near the elevators - the same spot where I had witnessed some poor soul being bicycled earlier.  Fortunately for us, we weren't on their agenda (although one of the other exchange students is a water polo player, and I'm fairly sure I overheard the phrase "he's too tall" in the midst of the local students' conversation).  Venturing out into the hallway, we witnessed another bicycling incident.  We went back into the common room and turned the volume up on the TV, but it continued for some time.  At various points people ran into the common room excitedly, and ran back out into the hallway with such diverse items as soy sauce, an empty water bottle, and a birthday cake.

This isn't something I expected to deal with as a second-year law student.  I'm making an effort to stay pretty much under the radar around the dorm.  I generally leave the dorm somewhat early in the morning, and don't see a whole lot of the local students - they seem to only start coming out of their rooms and filling the hallways around 10:45pm, and they stay there until around 4 or 5am.  With the aid of earplugs, I haven't had any trouble sleeping yet.  All the same, I remain vaguely concerned about the bicycle.  

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