05 August 2017

How I Ruined My Summer Vacation (2017 Edition)

As many of my dear readers may be aware, I was on vacation last month. That is my story and I'm sticking to it.

Actually, I was working - in a sense - so let's call it a working vacation. I traveled to Beijing, China for four weeks to teach a university course called "Business Writing in American Context" (Chinese translation). My course, like all those taught at the University of International Business and Economics, was taught in English. Students must be fluent enough to be successful in their classes. I went last year, as well. And the year before. Yes, it seems it is becoming a habit.

The Game of Rooms

For our stay, the university puts us up in a Chinese-style hotel across from the campus. The Yinghua Hotel ("Cherry Blossom") is, overall, a comfortable and attractive place, Chinese enough to be interesting to a Western guest. But it has its quirks, I've found in a few stays, quirks which are not necessarily because its Chinese-style. The rooms where I stayed each had twin beds, desk and chair, TV, mini-fridge, Western-style bathroom, and Chinese decor with a good view of the campus across the street.

My first year I stayed in room 424, which had great feng shui. I was able to write in my free time, finishing my novel A GIRL CALLED WOLF, which I had begun months before. I had worried how I was going to write about an Inuit orphan girl in Greenland while in China. But I got 'er done! Packing a map of Greenland and a couple reference books, plus the soundtrack of the movie that will someday be made of this book, I was all set. When I got into the zone, it did not matter where I was physically in the world, I was in Greenland in my head. (Read more about writing in a strange place here.)

Room 424 after I moved in.

Last year, I again was working on a novel, my mighty tome EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS. In fact, I wrote about half of the 233,000 word book during the month, almost ruining my laptop. When I checked in, I was assigned to room 624 but it did not have the right feng shui. Actually, it did not have the right A/C. Fortunately, the next day I was able to move back into room 424 and enjoy my writing venue once again. I came prepared, with half a novel done and a plan to finish it. I hunkered down, often typing 6+ hours a day, and came to the end of the draft before I jetted home. (Read more about writing in strange places here.)

This year was a challenge. First, I had started writing a sequel to EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS, starting with my efforts in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) event in November. Of course, I "won" by writing 50,000 words during that month. In fact, I had 57,000 words picking up the story from where the original book ended. I assumed that would be my summer project in China, as well. Then something weird happened. A chance encounter with dark esoterica, led me to consider a different sequel: a sequel to my 2014 "medically accurate" vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN. Again, a story presented itself and I decided to "play" write to see where it would go.

With about 15,000 words written and part of an outline, I left for a month in Beijing.
View from room 426 (looking southeast)

I did not get room 424, even though I had asked the powers-that-be at the university for it weeks in advance. It is my sweet spot for writing. Instead, I was given room 324. That seemed a step down from 424. In fact, at that level, all I could see was a wall. That was the butt end of the roof which stretched out from the hotel to the street. Above the wall, I could see some clouds and the tops of the taller buildings of the campus. In fact, when I first entered that room, the curtains were open and two men were crouched on that roof (the top of the wall) working on fixing an A/C unit. We waved to each other. I closed the curtains.
View from room 426 (looking east)

Immediately, I knew there would be no good feng shui in this room. Through the translation by my student assistant for this summer's class, who met me at the Beijing Capital Airport and escorted me to the hotel, I asked for another room,. Room 424 was occupied and would be for two weeks. Likely it was another summer teacher enjoying MY feng shui writing room! I fell into a deep depression. But then, thanks to the A/C not working very well, I complained again and was moved to 426 - the room next to 424. Close enough, I thought. I could absorb the 424 feng shui by osmosis, by sleeping with my head against the wall of 424. 
View from room 426 (looking northeast)

Well, 426 had good feng shui but the A/C was barely working. Even on the coldest setting I was down to undies and sweat.

Happy to be able to write, I tried to stick it out. 

Then one morning, after only a week, I was awakened by the steady drip-drip-drip sound of something leaking. The A/C unit was leaking! Water was coming down from the ceiling and making a puddle in the carpet. And as I waited until business hours to notify the appropriate personnel, the leak increased. I put down a cup, then another cup, to catch the drip. As I waited, I showered and got ready for the day, ready to tell the hotel people about the leak. I also packed up my belongings because I knew I could not stay in that room. At the least, they would be working on the problem in the room while I had to be away to teach my class.

Two men came to check on the leak. The water was coming down through a speaker (for the doorbell, I think), and so presented an electrical danger. As expected, a hotel supervisor escorted me to see a different room for my approval. I approved. So we moved my belongings to room 516. Once everything was settled, I went to my class as usual. After class, I grabbed dinner. Then I returned from the campus to the delight of my new room, where the A/C worked properly and the feng shui seemed adequate for my writing.
View from room 516 (looking left)

Room 516, where I would remain for the rest of my stay in Beijing, was slightly larger than the others. It also faced south. Rooms 424, 426, and 326 all faced east so the morning sun would awaken me and warm the room mercilessly even with the heavy curtains drawn. This 516 room was very nice. The view was of the side of the restaurant next door (FYI, I ate there last summer and this summer; excellent food and sumptuous decor inside), with all of its ventilation system on the outside, but I could still glance to the east and west from the window and know the city still existed. I could check the weather, see who came and went from the restaurant, and on weekends enjoy the soulful stylings of the karaoke parlor below.

View from room 516 
So I worked on the sequel to A DRY PATCH OF SKIN in earnest in room 516. With my class in the afternoon this year, I would get up early and type away, listening to my soundtrack, until the housekeeper knocked on the door. At check-in, I requested no housekeeper before 10 am, since I would be working in my room. So when she knocked at 10:03 (give or take a minute), I would let her in. She would see me typing and know I was not just some lazy slob who sleeps late; I was working. Just 10 minutes of straightening the room and bye-bye. Then back to writing. 

In all, I brought 72,000 words home with me at the end of the month. I completed two of the three acts, so room 516 had some decent feng shui - despite the almost constant annoyance of the chattering housekeepers in their office / hang-out room just steps away from room 516. 

Next: Arriving & Departing

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

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