6:30AM: Whether it’s a day I have to get up early or not, I am awakened by the women from the community next door who come on campus and into the housing area to clean it up. They chatter like magpies as they unlock their metal carts, chains clanking hollowly, and disperse to their individual areas of responsibility. My neighbors are getting ready for and then leaving for work. Just outside my bedroom window, in the parking lot a man coughs up the effects of last night’s cigarettes, expelling the ravages from his lungs in a none too quiet gargling and spitting routine. With just a small parking lot outside my building, drivers have to get creative in stowing their cars for the night. Sometimes they block each other in and a barrage of angry cussing, punctuated by honking horns greets me in the morning.
This new apartment complex I live in has been slowly filling up over the past few months. In my building, in my stairwell I now have neighbors on the 5th and 6th floor. I can hear them as they clomp or clatter downstairs, depending on whether it is a man or a woman doing the descending. Women tend to wear fashionable footwear – heels, mostly. Men, with their more solid shoes have a more resonant tread. Keys jingle. Sometimes, someone will knock something metal, maybe their hot water thermos against the iron hand railings. The echo reverberates up and down the stairwell. Thanks to the concrete construction, every sound carries.
I have neighbors on the first floor in the stairwell next to mine. We share a wall between bathroom and bedroom. I can’t hear distinctly what they are doing, but I can’t miss the fact that they are up and about. Toilet flushing and taps running indicate that they too are getting started on their day.
If I don’t have to teach that morning, I usually manage to get back to sleep.
9AM: I wake up refreshed, thinking about how to organize my day. I’ve gotten in the habit of sitting up in bed, doing gentle stretching exercises. With my bad leg, there is no other way to exercise. The floor itself is still too cold and the concrete has no give. I might end up injuring myself again. Exercising in bed is the perfect alternative. But for about an inch of foam, it is nothing but a board, covered in fancy horsehair quilting. As I count out my reps, clatter from the offices one building over waft in, trying to distract me. I’m used to the office noises; they’ve been there almost as long as I have.
So have construction noises. On the other side of the community next door, dubbed the Over the Wall or OTW community because of the wall segregating it from ours, a new living park is under construction. In the distance I can hear the repeated thumping of a dirt compactor, the occasional whine of a grinder against metal and large trucks rumbling into the site, and then growling back out, their load dispensed. Work goes on twenty four hours a day. Construction sounds are so monotonous, so repetitive and so common they have become ubiquitous.
From 10AM till about 11, save for that constant backdrop, all is quiet and all is well. From 11:30 on, I can hear the sound of cleavers hitting cutting boards as people start preparing their midday meal. Shortly thereafter come the sounds of metal – woks coming out of cabinets, being rinsed off and put on iron gas burners. Scraping sounds, frying smells. Mostly good, but sometimes somebody will fry a fish. I tend to lose my appetite on ‘fish days’. After lunch and wash up, denoted by clattering crockery and splashing water, there is a rest period. Uncanny silence permeates. Even construction noises are stilled for the noon break.
There is no doubt I am now part of a community. That is to say: I live in a community but, being a foreigner I am not exactly a part of things. I hear a lot and see a lot. I don’t see even the elderly going out for a walk during noon rest time. It seems everyone is down for the count.