May 22, 2016

The Room

What does day-to-day life look like for an international student living at Zhejiang International University in Hangzhou? Many factors come into play, including food, physical activity, and social events–but it seemed appropriate to first introduce my dorm room: my “home away from home” so to speak. Those looking for vivid descriptions and tantalizing images of the exotic Hangzhou lifestyle may wish to wait for another post down the road. Even so, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of forming a bit of a safe haven when traveling abroad, in order to decompress after the day’s events, and Zhejiang University does a stellar job at providing such a location.

So, without further ado…

The Bed and Breakfast

Walking into the room

Here you can see the same perspective I have upon entering my room. You’ll notice that it’s a single-bed setup, with a dresser, desk, and television all provided. The view out the window is another dormitory, as you might expect. Unfortunately this image doesn’t capture the rainbow of color that appears when all the students hang their clothes to dry in the windows: it is in fact quite a beautiful sight in its own unique way!

Walking out of the room

My lovely shoes (which I dearly hope will not wear out before the end of this journey), as well as the doorway to my bathroom and the door to the hall. Yes, those little coat hangers have moose on them; just a little touch of home that the Zhejiang staff added to the room. (You think that’s special? Just wait for the description of the day-to-day room service.)

The bed

Unlike many of my peers, I am actually quite satisfied with the firmness of the bed. It is certainly more stiff than American standards (dropping a phone on the mattress yields a “klunk” noise), but since I am a back sleeper (not a side sleeper) I find it actually leaves me quite nimble getting up in the morning, rather than waking up sunken into an overly-soft mattress in some ergonomically abhorrent position. The pillow is softer than anything I’ve ever used at home.

The sheets, as it turns out, are replaced daily by the cleaning service. Hold on, did you catch that? Daily. We’re talking pillow and comforter as well: all of it is delivered fresh to the room every single day. If you happen to wander out back around four or five in the afternoon, you’ll see huge piles of the previous day’s sheets being loaded onto a truck for delivery to the washrooms. Don’t ask me why the cleaning policies are so pompous; in fact, I’ve only just begun describing the service here.

The breakfast

We’ll take a quick detour here to the pantry above my bed. My first trip to the convenience store (literally across the street from the dorm room) consisted mostly of these purchases. You can see “ten-grain bread” (which is actually white bread with ten grains sprinkled on the crust) and peanut butter and jelly: a delicious taste of home that seems to have no equivalent in typical Chinese cuisine. I also purchased some “Argentinian” raisins, which happen to be the size of golf balls and utterly mouth-watering (especially in hot cereal), as well as some powdered milk packets and high-fiber oatmeal.

But wait! I hear you cry. How can you make oatmeal and milk if you can’t drink the water in China?

Well, you see, part of the room service includes a thermos of boiling hot water delivered fresh to your room every morning.

You ask a first-world question, you get a first-world answer.

The hot water

That blue thermos you see there is a miraculous piece of technology: I’ve left it sitting there overnight, and the water within it is still steaming hot the following morning. I swear, there are no plugs and no lids other than that foil-capped cork you see on top of it. Also included in our room service package are slippers (delivered fresh for every time the previous set have been used) and a teabag and glass (for your consumption pleasure). My orange water bottle is actually metal, which means I can pour hot water into it without it melting and let it cool overnight, but I’ve actually taken to buying five-liter jugs from the C-store so that I don’t forget the temperature of the metal and burn the skin off my palm.

The wardrobe

My clothes, toiletries, laundry, and pharmacy. A woman on the bottom floor of the dorm directly behind ours offers a vertically-integrated laundry service for only around 20元 per load (~$3). You bring her a bag of dirty clothes, and 24 hours later they are washed, air-dried, folded and re-packaged for you to take back to your room. Sometimes when you walk into her shop, you can’t see the walls or floor due to the quantity of clothes all over the place. With all the rinse cycles running at once, sometimes you can’t hear her either. Being situated literally inside a college dormitory, I don’t think she’s running a risk of losing business anytime soon! I must get a picture of her shop uploaded here someday.

The bathroom entry

Don’t tell room service that I was standing on freshly-made sheets to take this masterpiece selfie.

The toiletries

Why, might you ask, do I have two sets of body wash and shampoo? Well, if they pick up your current set and detect that you’ve used it once (or maybe it leaked (or maybe there just wasn’t enough in that particular tube)) they give you another set, just in case. Also provided are fresh toothbrushes, toothpaste (herbal tea flavored–easily the best flavor I’ve ever had!), combs, and shower caps. The soap bottle in the bottom right was a c-store purchase that I use for washing out my tupperware bowl (featured above) along with boiling water. By the way, if I return home with no skin left on my hands, you’ll know why.


Delivered fresh every morning. I hear that my peers have utilized (read: exploited) this service to chop open watermelons in their dorm rooms and wipe up the mess without fearing that their shower will smell like old fruit. I don’t blame them: the watermelon sold at the c-store next to campus is stellar.


Two rolls of toilet paper, because I started to use the first roll. One morning when I first arrived I had clogged up the toilet due to my body adjusting to the new diet. That afternoon after class I planned to pick up a plunger form the c-store to fix the problem. However, when I returned to my dorm after my morning classes, I found that the cleaning staff had already unclogged the toilet for me. And left me a third roll of toilet paper.

I can’t keep up with these guys.

The drain

The whole bathroom is a shower, as can be seen by the sliding door and drain in this picture.

Warning sign

I really tried hard to put on my best “duh” face here. When translated literally, this sign says “please slip with a small heart.”

Air unit

Funny story: when I first arrived at the dorm, I couldn’t figure out how to work the air conditioning unit. No matter what buttons I pressed on the remote, the unit itself would give no perceptible response. Finally, I got so fed up that I just mashed every button at once and promptly went to bed. The next morning, I woke up in a pool of sweat. The unit was blowing out hot air. Checking the display on the remote, the current temperature was 30 degrees–Celsius. Fortunately, once the darn thing was actually blowing some kind of air out of it, jerry-rigging it to get cold air out wasn’t too big of a deal. And hey, one night in the Sahara isn’t too bad, you know?

Well, that’s all I have for now. In the near future I’ll hopefully document the food experience (trust me, there’s so much more than PB&J!), some of the areas in and around the campus, and maybe even a few more cultural excursions (to a pharmacy, of all places!).

This is Neill, signing off!

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The Middle Country Who would have guessed that one day I would be saying hello from China? Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing my best to chronicle my journey through a Study Abroad experience in Hangzhou, across the world from my Raleigh hometown.
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The Climb For just about every weekday morning here in China, I wake up around 6:00 and, after some morning prayer, I set off across campus to a little mountain trail called “The 1000 Steps” for some exercise.