Saturday, 29 December 2012

Dorm life


There's only two Americans in my dorm. I'm the only Canadian, which is enlivening and vaguely isolating at the same time. There's an Englishman, four Italians, two Finns, a Lithuanian...it's like a cross-section of Europe, except also we have two Korean-born Koreans and a half-Chinese zainichi. We might as well have extraterritoriality, because if you were abducted and woke up inside this building, you'd never know you were in Japan. With all the multiculturalism, you might think it was Canada, which would make the upstairs Quebec, except more Chinese. Of all the nationalities populating this place, Chinese, and a litany of people who will get angry if you call them Chinese, are by far the most numerous, and for some reason have all been quarantined to the same area. But their presence at least makes sense; not only do they have the most representatives worldwide, but, for a variety of reasons, there are more Chinese in Japan than any other flavour of foreigner. Yet strangely, the European sector is one-third German.

Statistically, it follows that my roommate is German. I was strongly hoping that shared occupancy meant maybe like a shared bathroom and more cramped, but partitioned, sleeping quarters. Unfortunately, it does not. It means that I am straight-up sleeping in the same room as another guy (and a mostly naked stranger at that), and that took a couple of nights to get over. It also means that three or four times a night one or the other of us will leap out of bed prepared to fight for our lives, only to find that the noise we heard was merely our counterpart rolling over in his sleep. Sneaking out of the room without waking the other is impossible; we don't even try anymore.

That said, I barely even notice the inconvenience, because my room is really just a sleeping spot, a “place for my stuff,” and not much else. We don't even have Internet in our rooms, frankly a brilliant move on management's part. Without it, we are forced to emerge from our caves and congregate in the common room, where we inevitably socialize. I have to admit, if not for that I wouldn't know the names of half the people here. Actually, wait, let me think...yeah, actually I still don't, so what does that tell you.

Built for perhaps half as many people as like to use it simultaneously, the common room's floor is a clusterfuck of converter-laden cables and cords, every possible seat is occupied and several new ones improvised, and at any given time one may see a number of meals lying around in varying stages of preparation, the individual components of one dish sometimes laid on surfaces across the room from each other, wherever room can be found or created. Nearly the entirety of our home lives takes place in this space. It's the site of daily debriefs, continuing Internet adventures, blossoming love, studying, worrying, discussions, arguments movies, music, macking, and, overall, friendship. It may spring from no more than confluent flukes of geography and circumstance, but hell, what friendship doesn't. It cultivates an energy that won't let you go to bed, and an atmosphere that ensures you don't want to.

Everyone is always welcome at all times. (Well, except for one guy...everywhere has one of those, though, right?) People from all different nations and backgrounds mingle indiscriminately. Friends are made among people who would never even have met. We all have our spots; I occupy an entire couch on my own, Big Finn and Cough Medicine share the one across from me. There's constant cooperation and collaboration. People study together, plan trips and excursions together, and work together to solve those everyday problems that magically become so much more complex when you're trying to solve them in a foreign country. There's a sense of familiarity and trust. Computers are left blatantly hanging about, and if you point your ear down the hall throughout the day, you are sure to hear the sound of unlocked doors swinging shut. Most significantly, we share unity of purpose. To some degree, everybody is here to experience Japan, and, meanwhile, to better themselves. And because the demarcations in Japanese ability are so clear, there isn't even any friendly competition to distract from this feeling. More than mere housemates, we're companions on a journey.

Not everything about the dorm is loveable, no doubt about that. But those are complaints I'd rather save for another post.

Because overall, it really is great living in this house.

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