No matter where you live, there are things that keep you from getting your ZZZs. Here are nine things that have disturbed our slumber while living in China.
1. Drinking games
There’s nothing like old men shouting numbers in Cantonese to rouse you out of deep sleep. The more they drink, the louder they get, until it doesn’t matter that they’re in a completely separate building from you—they sound like they’re in your very own living room. Late night drinking games often lead to noise #2…
2. Strangers puking outside your window
Have you ever been woken by the sound of someone vomiting? I’m not talking about a family member or roommate tossing their cookies in the hall bathroom, I’m talking about complete strangers pausing under your window to barf before continuing their homeward stumble. I wasn’t shocked when we could hear it from our second-story apartment, but a couple weeks ago, a guy woke us with his retching from seven floors away. Dude. Time to lay off the baijiu.
The annoying, whining buzz in your ear is enough to wake you a little, but what makes you fly out of bed, turn on the lights, and start swatting like a madman is the knowledge that you are about to become the victim of a beastly little bloodsucker. It’s you or him.
It’s one thing to have a single rooster start crowing at 4 a.m. (“daybreak” is apparently a broad term) when you’re staying at Granny’s farm in Indiana, or with your eco-conscious hipster buddies in Portland. It’s another to have a chorus of roosters calling out from the balconies of multi-story apartment buildings in urban China, the sound echoing off the cement and tile walls.
5. The neighbors’ plumbing
In many Chinese apartments, the washing machine is located in the master bathroom, which means it’s almost directly above your head if you’re sleeping in the master bedroom of the apartment below. Thanks to all-concrete construction, when your upstairs neighbors decide to do a load at midnight, you get to be privy to every mechanical gyration of their machine.
And that’s not the only bathroom sound that can wake you up. We lived in one apartment where the upstairs neighbors had EPIC flushes that were so violent, they made the pipes in our bathroom shake, and water spray out of our toilet. Garde loo!
There’s never any question if it’s an auspicious day. Whether it’s a minor holiday, the grand opening of a store, or the day of someone’s wedding, the neighbors will be sure to let you know with at least one round of firecrackers at dawn. If you’re lucky enough to live in the same stairwell as the celebrators, you have zero chance of sleeping past 6 a.m. And if it’s a major holiday like Chun Jie, well, the entire country will make sure you don’t get to bed before 1 a.m.
For a few weeks, there was a line of a dozen dump trucks hauling loads of dirt away from the empty lot next to our building. It wouldn’t have been a big deal except that they worked from about 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. We could feel the rumbling in our bones, and didn’t get great sleep that month.
(The irony was that around that time, we got in trouble for making too much noise in our own apartment. We were drilling holes in the concrete walls to install shelves, and apparently it was past regular zhuangxiu hours: we were working around 6:30 p.m. Sigh.)
8. Elderly people stimulating their qi
I was totally confounded in one apartment complex when I heard early morning rhythmic slaps and grunts coming from the sidewalks below. Eventually I was out of bed early enough to peek outside and discover the source. It was elderly men and women, stimulating their qi by slapping their own arms and backs over and over and over as they walked on the pebble path near our building. The grunter turned out to be a guy who was repeatedly slamming his back into a tree almost directly under our bedroom window, like a bear trying to scratch an itch. Or break the tree.
9. Military PT
If you live close enough to a college or a military location, there may be loudspeakers blaring the national anthem bright and early…much earlier than you were hoping to get up. We lived on a school campus for a while, and got pretty used to having that song as our morning alarm. After the music came the recorded drill sargeant, verbally walking the students through their morning exercises at high volume. “Yubei….qi!”