Being woken up at 7:30 on a Saturday morning is one thing. But being woken up by ear-splitting muzak driven from a musical fountain about thirty yards from your window at 7:30 on a Saturday morning is something else entirely.
When the Office spoke excitedly about the musical fountain's new addition to SAU's campus last fall, the mood was unanimously optimistic. It was a big investment on the part of the school—a fountain about the size and scope of that opposite Radio City Music Hall in New York's Midtown, featuring speakers the height of vending machines and dozens of jets of colored water that set off like fireworks to the tune of each song. It's not to say that the school couldn't have used that money on other, more-pressing concerns, like mitigating 200-person lectures to more manageable class sizes, or renovating scores of over-capacity and under-inspected student dormitories on campus. But we all agreed that it had enormous potential and would go a long way in helping to beautify the area of campus between the old-style foreigner living quarters and the more-modern English majors building.
The musical fountain on campus, its noon-time clear-spray jets in full force.
That was until we heard it. Freshmen orientation at SAU, much like that at Oberlin, involves brightly-colored banners, local businesses tabling for new cell phone plans and bank accounts (with unbelievable incentives!), and a procession of bright-eyed first-years toting over-sized luggage to their new dormitories. What Oberlin doesn't have is a soundtrack to narrate such surroundings. Beginning at 7:30 and continuing at a stretch with only minimal breaks every three or four hours until sundown, the musical fountain churned out an exalting playlist of no more than eight or nine MIDI-inspired remixes of songs on loop that, truth be told, don't even sound that good as originals. It was like this awful Catch-22—leaving the house only intensified the volume of the music, but being inside wasn't enough to drown it out to any suitable degree. It may have been the first time in my life when locking myself indoors no longer passed as a feasible escape plan.
Hearing each song close to 40 times made memorizing the entire line-up quite effortless (especially when compared with actually listening through them):
Kenny G - “Forever in Love”
Stevie Wonder - “I Just Called to Say I Love You”
Selena - “I Could Fall in Love”
Celine Dion - “My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from “Titanic”)”
Ray Orbison - “Pretty Woman”
Henry Mancini - “Moon River”
Wham! - “Careless Whisper”
Kenny G - “Going Home”
Like the worst day at the dentist's office or the longest possible elevator ride, so too did orientation weekend come to pass here at SAU. If they had only decided to vary the set-list slightly—even with songs that were equally stomach-churning—it would have truly been a godsend. I felt like Alex in a newly-imagined A Clockwork Orange—ears fixed to my reverberating windows, blood boiling from the relentless saccharine refrains just beyond my control. More than once I contemplated sneaking into the tech booth with a wire cutter and shorting the power on that brazenly-expensive piece of equipment. It just seemed to confirm what I already knew about China—that the concept of privacy is less an afterthought than it is a fantasy and individuals, whether they like it or not, will eventually succumb to the will of authority. At the end of the day, there was a part of me that absolutely despised it all. And a part that found me transfixed and wanting more.