Rude awakening

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 12:00am

It's three o'clock in the morning and the temperature hovers near the freezing point. All is quiet in Harnwell College House, the apartment building where I have a room at the University of Pennsylvania. The soft breathing of exhausted students is unbroken - until a shrill alarm wails through the corridors. It's the fire alarm.

Rushing out of the rooms in various states of dress - or undress - students huddle in the stairwell awaiting further instructions.

Minutes later, a voice booms through the speakers: 'You may now return to your rooms.' It's a false alarm: the third one in two weeks.

Now, I have no idea if this is any way comparable to the horror stories I've heard about Orientation Camp in the student dormitories at University of Hong Kong - 'They're insane,' divulged one friend of mine who refuses to be named - but being woken in the middle of the night right before an exam isn't exactly ideal.

I am often woken at odd hours by my roommate's broken alarm clock, which makes me deeply empathise with my friend who, the other day, was woken up by his roommate screaming, 'There's a dead mouse in my room.' Apparently, his roommate discovered the presence of the mouse after trying to work out what the smell of decay was.

The unreliable maintenance services said they would be unable to clean it up until a few days later, so my friend and the rest of his roommates tried to devise an approach to extricate the mouse themselves. Finally, after a good hour, they entered the room in surgeon's masks to peer under the mattress where the dead mouse was sighted.

As the roommate cautiously neared the danger area, his face contorted inexplicably: 'Oh, it's just some duct tape.' This, of course, led to the question of where the smell was coming from.

At any rate, random critters are not unfamiliar guests in student dormitories. From ferocious squirrels to flying insects on a suicide mission to the nearest burning bulb, Penn students are well equipped to deal with any creepy-crawly lifeform sent their way. Broken alarm clocks, drunken pranks, or odd smells galore; we can deal with it all. And, perhaps, part of the college experience is learning to deal with these things instead of running to your parents at the first hint of several pairs of legs protruding from an infinitely squashable 'siu keung'.

Ms Yeung is studying at the University of Pennsylvania