When I push out my apartment building front door, there is something about this campus that reminds me a bit of a video game. It is big and you wind this way and that across it, keeping to whatever shade you can find. Little men in blue shirts, security guards, ride bicycles up and down the paths and disappear into guard booths and buildings. In the game you would avoid them like frogger avoids cars or mario avoids rolling barrels (as you can see, I’m up on the latest games). Every now and then a smiling woman with a straw hat pops up from the bushes brandishing shears and says, “Good morning!” or “Hallow!” or just smiles.
But the real story is the heat. To be outside is to be hot. To be inside is to destroy the planet with blasting AC. When the sun is completely free of vapor obstruction it burns down upon the humans with abandon. I often bow my head as I trudge across the long basketball court area. In a way, it’s so hot and the air so heavy it is like moving through snow up to my thighs.
The sky talks about raining. It flashes. It rumbles. But it is all talk. When rain finally does fall, it is wonderful but the air is still hot, the sun usually still burns a moment later and the rain does not linger.
I cross the big campus in the morning and head past the Commons where the students are eating breakfast to the building with a nice library downstairs and an IT office. I head upstairs to room 203. (My apartment is 202. My classroom is 203. I never noticed that until now.) The door is already open to my classroom. My TA Gary or Vicky has been here already to unlock it and turn on the AC. I have at least three AC units I mess with in my apartment and two more in my classroom and they each have remotes and buttons to press, all in Chinese, and they are all slightly different. Invariably, I hold up a remote and try top right, then top left, then bottom right, bottom left. If I am really loose and just going for it, I sometimes get it the first try. If I am tired or in a rush, sometimes no button will work. I cycle through all of them twice and wonder about a frosty demise. If I walk away from it and come back, it will turn off first try.
There is also construction happening all over campus. There is construction happening all over China and all over campus. They are building a soccer field here. You have never seen more progress in so little time. They work day and night, scooping dirt, adding rocks for drainage, creating the next layer and the next. I joked they would be playing on it by the end of camp, and it’s really not that far fetched. It was just mounds of rock and dirt when we arrived.
Downstairs from where the kids eat, they are renovating a huge room. In the Main Hall at the school entrance, walls are being moved. Meanwhile, in the visible horizon, there are high rises being built, cranes between them. As you drive into downtown Nansha, you pass construction site after site, and half the roads are closed off, being worked on. It’s a boom. I’m reading “Postcards from Tomorrow Square” by James Fallows and in it he, perhaps by quoting someone else, makes the point that China has been in an economic boom for 15 years and that anyone under 30 has spent their adult life knowing only the boom (You like da boom, I like da boom…). The Cultural Revolution ended over thirty years ago.
At the end of the day, I push my way into the apartment building and head past my colleague Laury’s door. It is dripping wet. Why? Because he has the AC going in there and the hot air is meeting the cold air at his door. This large, dripping wet door looks like something out of the Shining. I turn and head up the stairs to my apartment, turn the key click click to the left, swing open the door, and head in to liberate my feet from warm shoes.
I have traversed the campus once again.
I have survived the heat and taught a good class.
I have made it to the next level of the game.