8:00 a.m. Chongqing, China:
The travelers in room 303 of the Yangzte River Hostel sleep peacefully amidst the morning calm. Tucked away behind layers of walls, we are immune to the tumultuous din of the city. Suddenly, a noise like a crash of plates slices through the air with piercing clarity that shatters the fragile peace of sleep: A woman in the hallway talking – no- yelling into her cell phone.
Awakened in a dreary stupor I listen helplessly to the conversation that holds me hostage against my will from the peace of sleep that I hold so dear. I do not try to understand the contents of this woman’s conversation, it’s best that I am unable to do so. The most likely inane back and forth between this screeching banshee and her cohort would only drive my festering impatient into a seething fury. I imagine this woman somehow thinks highly of herself as she hollers into the modern high tech microphone on her cellphone. As if pushing the receiving end beyond its amplification abilities and riding the cusp of distortion gives her a sense of pride.
And then, just as suddenly as it was stolen, silence returns. The air breathes a collective sigh. The now most definitely weary travelers of room 303 and I softly seal our eyes and float down slowly, like a feather, back into the peace of sleep.
No. No, not yet they say. You can’t have it. Not now. And the man lying in the bunk adjacent to mine bursts into speach at full volume. All silence is rushed out of the room like an atmosphere sucked into the vacuum of space. There was no warning call, no trumpetting melody of a ringtone. No, this man made the call, intentionally holding his fellow roommates hostage to his conversation. Murdered are my hopes to catch the precious minutes of sleep before my alarm goes off.
Amongst the many cultural differences this westerner has encountered in China, this is one that eludes my adaptation. I do not understand it, perhaps there is no understanding it. No matter where people are -in a silent building, on the train or bus, on in a quiet room full of sleepers- they feel they have the right to speak into their cellphones at full volume. Am I, as a westerner, somehow the only one vulnerable to the disturbances of this phenomenon? Or is there somehow a silent agreement regarding this not so silent act, an agreement that if one person feels its okay to disturb the personal peace of those around them, then it is okay for everyone to do the same in any situation. Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, the effect remains the same. And I am awake.