My New Year’s Resolution: To Become a Rebel and a Rulebreaker

I never set out to become a rule-breaker (especially not in communist China…eeek!). But this upcoming week, I will be breaking two major school rules (and blogging publically about it, too!) all for the sake of having a Happy New Year. But don’t judge me just yet! Read this post and see if you wouldn’t do the same thing…

It started last week when Justin and I were in the middle of making our Christmas Eve plans. Anyone who read my last post knows that I was feeling very sad and homesick. The prospect of spending Christmas without family, without a tree or pretty twinkle lights, and without The Fonz was just too much. I decided that at the very least, I would enjoy going to a Christmas Eve service (in English) and singing some carols with fellow believers to celebrate the holiday. Justin agreed, and we made some tentative plans to spend the weekend in Hangzhou, which is about an hour from here, and home to the closest English-speaking Christian church that we know about. However, many of the students (and even some teachers) who heard about these plans became very upset. They kept protesting that they were throwing a Christmas Eve party at school in one of the classrooms and that we should attend. “You simply must come!” they cried. We weren’t too keen on going to this party…after all, most people in America know to throw a party earlier during the week because they know that people want to travel during the holidays. But finally, our friend The Prince let it slip that maybe, possibly, we were the only reason that they were even throwing this party in the first place. He had been instructed not to say anything, but he put it to us this way, “If you do not go to the party, there will be no party!” When we realized that we were the guests of honor, we decided to give up on our Hangzhou plans and opted to stay in Huzhou. We did end up attending a Chinese church service on Christmas Day, but there were no carols, not much mention of Christmas at all, and the pastor delivered a seventy-minute long sermon (no joke! I timed him!) that we couldn’t understand a word of, so it just wasn’t the same.

To temper all of this, we received the pleasant news that our American friend, Joel, who has just finished teaching English for a year at a university in Tianjin, is going to come visit us in Huzhou on his way out of China. Justin and Joel are very good friends; they spend lots of time talking to each other on the phone or on Skype every day (it’s really very cute), so Justin received this new development with much jubilation and immediately started making plans for Joel’s stay. Joel’s plan was to travel from Beijing to Shanghai by bullet train. Then he could travel from Shanghai to Huzhou by bus, and we could meet him at the bus station. However, it dawned on us that Joel was planning to travel during New Year’s weekend. So if we actually travelled to Shanghai to meet him, we could spend New Year’s Eve downtown instead of in boring Huzhou (where most people attest that they will be waiting to celebrate the Chinese New Year on January twenty-third, rather than the New Year that the rest of the world celebrates). When I realized that I could be in downtown Shanghai, watching fireworks over The Bund and wearing a silly New Year’s hat along with the rest of the western tourists, it was my turn to become jubilant. “This will be the best New Year’s EVER!” I sang, doing a little happy dance in the living room of our apartment.

That is, until our college stepped in. The administrators of the school made a last-minute decision that they would like to give everyone a New Year’s holiday on Monday and Tuesday (January second and January third, respectively). This would be fine, if it wasn’t the week for the students to take final exams. So in order to go through with this holiday without disturbing the exam schedule, they also decided that we will hold class on Saturday to make up for the Tuesday classes being missed (I’m not sure what is to be done about the Monday classes being missed). Which means, as the English teachers in our department informed me only two weeks ago, that I will have to spend New Year’s Eve in Huzhou. But they did console me by inviting me to a little New Year’s Eve party that they’re holding in one of the classrooms on campus. Grrr….

How can they possibly take away my Saturday AND my New Year’s Eve holiday? It doesn’t even make sense….especially since we’ve had the semester calendar since September and they just recently decided to make the change. What if I’d already purchased my bus ticket to Shanghai? (I hadn’t of course, but what if I had?) So there was nothing for me to do, obviously, but to announce to my class this past Tuesday, “I have decided that we will NOT be having class on Saturday…you can all sleep in as late as you want.” Everyone erupted into cheers and applause, and no goody-two-shoes has reported me to the Dean (yet), and I made arrangements on a different day next week for them to complete their final exam. So I’m all set to spend the best New Year’s Eve ever in Shanghai! If those English teachers will ever stop inviting us to their parties. I think they must suspect us of foul play, because they keep insisting that we come to their parties because they know that we will be in town on that day because I have classes…but we fell for that trick once already. All we can do is just hem and haw and give vague answers like, “We’ll think about it!” or “We’ll definitely keep that in mind! But we’re very busy that weekend….”

But our New Year’s rule-breaking doesn’t end there. We also needed to make sleeping arrangements for Joel while he’s here. We have plenty of room in our apartment, we just needed to find him a bed. We figured that a college like this with so many dormitories probably has a whole warehouse full of unused twin beds somewhere. It would be easy to borrow one for just a week, right? Wrong. Nothing is easy in China. Rather than bother the teachers in our English department, who are constantly answering our silly questions, teaching us new Chinese words, and helping us book train tickets and plane tickets, we decided to ask the maintenance lady in charge of our dorm. She didn’t know where they kept the extra beds, so she called the school secretary, Grace, who is already on holiday out-of-town and couldn’t be reached. We tried asking another person on staff, who also ended up calling Grace, to no avail. We tried asking the people who live in our building if they have any spare furniture. We tried asking for students’ assistance. No one seemed to be able to help.

Finally, after English Corner a few days ago, one of Justin’s students seemed really eager to help us solve our problem. We were eyeing a couch that sits in the back of the English Corner classroom, and thought maybe we could borrow it for a few days and then bring it back. The student translated this question into Chinese for a lady in an office next door, and she said we absolutely could not remove the couch. Another man in the same office overheard the conversation and got involved, and Justin explained the situation with the help of his student to translate. The next thing we knew, this man was calling the Dean to sort out the matter! He went straight to the top of the food chain! He took down our phone number and told us he would be in touch, and we thanked him for his trouble. We thought we had finally found a bed for Joel to sleep in. Wrong.

We received a disturbing phone call from Hebe, a teacher in the English department, only moments after leaving that man’s office. She was very upset, and said, “Why didn’t you tell me you had a friend coming to stay?!” To be honest, we had forgotten to ask for her help, though we always meant to mention it once we realized that getting an extra bed would be more difficult than we thought. Apparently, the man with whom we consulted was an arch-enemy of  the ladies in the English department. They’ve had a long-standing rivalry/open hostility with each other. When he discovered that we were having a friend over to stay in our dorm (which is apparently against the school rules), he called the Dean, not to help us, but to get Hebe into trouble. While he was hanging up the phone with the Dean and taking down our number (again, not to help us, but to track us), the Dean was calling Hebe and chewing her out for not informing the foreigners of the school rules. Hebe was upset not just that she was in trouble with the Dean, but also that we asked that horrible man for help instead of asking her. Justin spent a full twenty minutes on the phone trying to explain and apologize, and the phone call ended with her asserting that we absolutely cannot have Joel stay in our apartment because the Dean is having us watched very carefully now.

I understand why the students have a rule against allowing other students to stay in their dorm rooms. I’m pretty sure Florida State University (or any school, for that matter) has a similar policy, though I recall it being broken on a regular basis by many of the students. But we are teachers, for crying out loud! And this is probably the only time that anyone will ever come to Huzhou to stay with us, and it’s only for a few days. Where else is Joel supposed to stay? Are we supposed to force him into paying for a hotel downtown for the entire week? And we were excited to have Joel stay with us; it was going to be like a party (I’ll avoid saying “slumber party” because I know Justin wouldn’t like that term). The Prince did kindly offer to allow Joel to sleep in the extra bed in his six-person, broom-closet-sized dorm room, but we politely declined, as that would still be a breach of the rules anyways.

Can you guess what we did? We went downtown to the Tesco and bought Joel a mattress/bed roll for the floor in the office (we wanted an air mattress, but that’s apparently something else that’s impossible to find in China). We bought an extra blanket for him, and we’re going to have him stay here, just like we originally planned. And it’s going to be the best New Year’s ever, whether our school likes it or not.

Am I really out of line in breaking these rules? What do you think?

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