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Office Hours, Sounds and Daily Rhythm

Gulangyu: school exercises

This week’s office is a weathered 1930’s guesthouse on a Gulangyu Island situated off the coast of the South China. Sail a junk south west and you’ed soon arrive in Hong Kong. Taiwan is literally across the straits and the city Xiamen, where most of the field research is taking place, a mere five minutes commute by ferry. It takes 10 minutes to walk from the guesthouse through the maze of high walled back alleys that criss-cross Gulangyu Island to get to the ferry docks. The general ambience of the island is tropical colonial splendor let to stew in the sea air for a good few years and the villas and mansions that dot the island are in need of some serious maintainence. 75 years ago this was the foriegn enclave and in that respect its kind of fitting that its now our home and office base.

The guesthouse is spread over three stories and has sufficient space to accommodate the 5-strong research team, two live-in residents and a Chinese housekeeper. I’m occupying one of the two bedrooms on the top floor, typing this sitting in a mosquito netted four poster Chinese double bed. The room’s furniture is much like the rest of the house – tiled floors, lots of dark wood, and a thread of red running through the blankets, blinds and many of the posters. Outside my door lies an expansive balcony with views over a large school, neighbouring villas and in the distance across the sea, Xiamen. The rainy season which was due to hit last week seems to have passed us by, though Tokyo seems to be getting its fair share this week.

Despite getting up at 5am this morning, I suspect I was not the earliest riser. Colleagues have travelled from very different time zones and I doubt their body clock’s have properly recalibrated. Based on the last few days I’d guess in my absence that: by 6 am the birdsong would be in full swing; by 7:30 the the workmen renovating the massive and run down mansion next door would start drifting into work (though they are polite enough to avoid using the power tools until later; by 8 breakfast will be served on the balcony by the housekeeper – the event of which will coincide with an alarm clock sounding in the next room; by 8:30 am the next-door school would broadcast a jingle signaling to students that the morning exercise were about to start, the students then line up on the playing field and start to perform leg shakes, arm rotations and body twists to the sound of annotated music – a Chinese equivilent to swing-two-three-four, bend-two-three-four; and that during the rest of the day the rhythm of the school (or possibly the piano museum which is reputedly nearby) is signaled with short bursts of pre-recorded piano. The frequency and nature of the broadcast alert reminds me of home: the 5 o’clock alarm sounded at a factory somewhere near the apartment in Sakura Shin Machi; and the rhythm of three minutes of workout and one minute’s rest at the kick-boxing dojo in Daikanyama.

But for now, enough with the writing, time to get some rest before the afternoon shift starts.