The Print Shop [of Horror]
October 31, 2014
At Halloween, people like to talk about things that scare them: clowns, creepy kids, and things of that ilk. I am not a big horror movie fan, so I do not regularly think of such things. However, a real horror of mine is turning in a midterm paper late. And today, under an ominous and rainy Shanghai sky, I had to face my fears directly.
There was nothing particularly special about the paper—it was simply a research report, finished earlier in the week with time to spare. Upon finishing it, however, I realized I had no idea where to print anything. At my home university, every building is stocked with public printers where I can burn through paper by the ream; but in the past seven weeks, I have not once used a printer. No printer, no paper.
However, I was not uneasy yet—thanks to one of my Chinese friends, I roughly knew where I could go on campus to print. I would have an hour and fifteen minutes after my morning class, how hard could it be to find?
It turns out that, despite six weeks of class at Fudan, I still get lost easily. After bothering a local security guard and a couple of ladies that work at the campus laundry mat [Two Shirts, Three Pants, 25 Kuai!], I arrived. At this point time was becoming dear, so I knew I would have to be in and out quickly. I stepped inside, and immeaditely realized that "in and out quickly" was not going to happen.
At my home university, I am used to large, decorated, air-condition computer labs. Often, light music is playing in the background quietly and there is an air of calm and peace. Rarely are the labs full, and normally the attendant staff is able to sit at his desk and surf the internet.
At Fudan, the computer lab could be more likened to a fried rice shop during rush hour. The open-air building is roughly half the size of a living room and is heated by the humming computers crowded together along the wall like too many cattle in a pen. Printers are spread disproportionally around the room like some sort of obstacle course. Students are hovering over computers, trying to find an open seat. The staff assistant is running back and forth fixing issues with computers and pulling printed documents, all the while the laoban lounges near the door in a suit slightly too large in the shoulders.
At this point, I officially began to experience stress. Normally, my more anthropological side would be fascinated by the operations of this place. But, in the face of an impending deadline, this was the print shop of horror, and I just wanted to get out alive.
Once I had a computer, the tricky part was getting it to work. The system preferences were all in Mandarin, and I have yet to have a Chinese class that talks about how to effectively read Microsoft Word error messages. Minutes crept by as I tried ever trick known to man to make the computer work for me. I had to ask two students how to even insert the USB drive [trust me, it’s different]. Finally, upon bothering a third and final student, I managed to print—and in my enthusiasm, ended up printing more copies than necessary.
By this time, I could practically feel my watch burning on my wrist. I still had a 15-minute walk to my class, and the submission deadline was fast approaching. I delivered my prints to the staff assistant who quickly used his nearly inch-long index fingernail to count my paper. Money was changed, staplers were used, and I was out the door.
The rest of my memory is clouded by a single-mindedness focused solely on arriving on time. I kid you not, the idea of turning in a paper late is horrifying to me. At Fudan, only 30 percent of the students at maximum can receive an “A” grade in any class. If I missed a deadline this big, then I’m out of the top 30 without hesitation. And so, with two minutes to spare, I arrived.
I was clearly a bit worse-for-wear upon arrival—I was breathing heavy and had the sweaty forehead that always accompanies you outside in the balmy, humid Shanghai climate. If you have been to college, you’ve seen students who look like this; it’s the post-test/post-paper shock phase.
Without much ceremony, I dropped the paper on my professor’s desk. The professor smiled and said, “Calm down, the world is on your side. Have a clementine.”
Thanks, John Keating. Remind me to bring a printer the next time I come to Shanghai.
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