Recently I have been reading some “illustration books” drawn by a Japanese artist Takagi Naoko (高木直子)。Her books, especially those about her staying alone in Tokyo to fight for her career, remind me of some of my own experience living and studying alone for my master degree in the States.
The first day I arrived in the states was already remarkable. After a long flight of somewhere between sixteen and twenty hours with layover and a few changes of flights, I took the shuttle bus from the airport to school. Another two hours or so I finally arrived school, where I would spend for the next two and a half years.
I applied for a school apartment (because I was a poor student and was not going to drive) but the request was declined. Instead I was forced to stay at the residential building for international students. If there were a place called “hell”, I knew where it was now: the very old and run-down building was like a prison settlement where each student was assigned to one single small old room (prison cell) with no bathroom inside. Just a small closest, a bunk bed, and an old study table close to a tiny window.
I thought to myself, there was no way at the opposite side of heaven I would be living here for the rest of my graduate study.
After I left my belongings in my room (there was not a lot of luggage since I went there alone and did not want to bring anything too heavy to carry myself), I went outside to walk around and get familiar with the campus. It was all spacious and delightful, and quite a nice weather in the late August. I found my music school and there was a Chinese diner close by. It was called “Dragon” (in fact, all the Chinese restaurants in the States or even Europe are either “Dragon” or “Great Wall” or “Panda” etc). I went inside and decided to have some food. I looked at the menu that hanged up high at the register and found the price was not cheap compared to Hong Kong dollars (at the beginning of staying outside Hong Kong, I would convert all the prices into HK dollar and find everything expensive until I got used to it and started counting things in US dollar). I ordered a box of rice with a dish I could not recall quite clearly now; I believe it was something that resembled chicken pieces with celery. It was around five “bucks” (i.e. slang for US dollars). I did not eat it there as I was not used to eating alone outside yet, which eventually I did as that was the way to survive out there alone among many things.
The following detail might be disturbing to some so please brace yourself from the opportunity to be grossed out: I took the food back to my “prison cell” and ate half of it as I was not that hungry. I also intended to keep half of the food for the next day as, one, I wanted to save money, and two, I was not sure if I could find that diner, which was far from my residential building, again the next day.
After the dinner, it was time to take a shower. The floor which my room was on had two big bathrooms cum toilets. I went to check and find both to be bathrooms with “Men” ‘s sign at the door. I did not want to take the risk of using any of them and therefore had to bring everything for shower use and walk down the staircase in order to go to the floor below with a bathroom for “Women”.
It was time to go to bed. I did not bring any bedsheets or quilt. It was quite chilly at night and the one thing I had to cover myself up was that fat green coat I bought for winter purpose. It was however not big enough and I had to curl myself shorter to keep warm.
That was the first day of my life in the States.
P.S. Going downstairs in the middle of the night to use the restroom was scary. I did not find any other residents on my floor or the floor below.