The Chinese are marvelous builders. Anyone who has been to China and has witnessed its dynamic physical development cannot help but nod in agreement. The Great Wall, the Shanghai subway network, the Starbucks-in-a-Temple – all prime examples of what the Chinese can accomplish when they put their cute little noses to the architect’s grindstone. But in their haste in constructing, well, every apartment I have ever lived in thus far (total tally = 7), they seem to have forgotten one thing: insulation.

 Allow me to preface this by saying, my complaint has nothing to do with temperature – I’m plenty warm in the winter and plenty cool in summer (provided my air conditioning hasn’t died inexplicably). No, people often forget that insulation serves yet another entirely different but very important function. “What is this other mysterious function?” you may be scratching your head and thinking aloud. Or thinking your head and scratching aloud. Well, my friends, it’s also used for SOUNDPROOFING. Something I largely took for granted before I moved here.

In addition to marvelling at their building prowess, anyone who has been to China can also tell you that the Chinese, on the whole, are very loud talkers. On cell phones. In restaurants. On cell phones in restaurants. It’s nearly unbelievable that a people who appear so passive and docile can emit a noise of such volume. I personally believe the whole thing is just a psychological throwback to each Chinese’s need to be heard as an individual in a nation of three billion plus. I know my loudest indoor voice comes out when I’m at a family dinner of twenty-five, grappling with my inferiority complex as the baby of the bunch. I get it. The Chinese are just like me, only times a trillion. Fine. But do they have to scratch their inferiority itch at six o’clock in the morning?

Getting back to the main topic of my post, I don’t blame the Chinese and their vocal chords so much. The problem is not that my Chinese neighbors are speaking. It’s that I’m somehow listening in from across the hall and two doors down. It used to be fun. When I first moved to China, when every day was an adventure and I was excited to learn every new bit of language, I played it like a sort of game. I tried to understand the conversation (or television program) that I could hear through the wall. I gave myself 20 points for every sentence I successfully eavesdropped on and 5 points for shorter combinations of words. Of course, the game turned ugly when I moved next door to Mr. and Mrs. Nymphomaniac. Not surprisingly, the points started to matter less and less as my insomnia grew and grew. By the end of week one, the game had lost its air of innocent fun. And besides, it’s not like it’s all that hard to understand the phrase “Ai-yo” being repeated ad nauseum for an hour.

I think I’ve suffered enough. So, how bout it guys? Can we use the good-quality cement and the noiseproof insulation on my next place? How about if I throw in free English lessons for your kids once a week? Twice a week? But only for an hour. Fine. An hour and a half.

Do we have a deal?

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About Rachel

Once a great traveling-bard-slash-philosopher, Rachel lost her mandolin to a migrant kiwi picker in a roadside dice match in the Yangtze River Valley. Penniless, mandolin-less, and blindly wandering the spit-laden streets of Beijing, she's now subjugated by the man and wants to know if the NAACP will grant her official permission to sing the blues.

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  1. I’ve lived in my current apartment for 10 months and have never spoken to, seen or otherwise heard my neighbours directly next door. The only proof I have of life there is that their hanging laundry changes.

    However, I am routinely treated to the same three songs on piano for several hours a day from an unknown source in the building.

  2. I too decided to invest in a set of earplugs. But I actually found them rather difficult to locate. I even knew how to say ‘earplugs’ in Chinese. But the staff of Carrefour/Walmart/[fill-in-random-chain-store-here] usually just looked at me sort of confused and sad, shrugged their shoulders, and turned to one another with a sort of childlike bewilderment.

    In the end I came across a set quite by accident in a bedding wholesaler. And we’ve been inseparable ever since.

  3. Every time I’ve tried to buy them (knowing the Chinese as well), I’ve ended up in the electronics section with a “helpful” member of staff pointing insistently at a pack of earphones.

    Thanks for the reminder – will be grabbing a couple packs in Canada next month in preparation for Spring Festival.

  4. Yes, definitely in agreement. It sounds like my neighbors above are doing some construction from 10pm until 4am everyday… for the last four months. I used to hear all kinds of strange noises–everything from my neighbors’ showers to cooking to walking quietly. Sound just travels through these walls.

  5. I have an opera singer wannabe downstairs. I much prefer the kid practicing piano who lives next door. I’ll even take the 3-week plus renovation being on my floor over the Laaaauuuuuuuuuuaaaaa!!! every day. Funny enough, I wrote a post on insulation just a couple days ago.

    I guess it’s on all our minds… of all the things…

  6. My wife has always had luck finding earplugs at Watsons, and pretty much nowhere else. I’m just lucky enough to be able to sleep through anything.

  7. “Of course, the game turned ugly when I moved next door to Mr. and Mrs. Nymphomaniac.”

    Do you have their phone numbers?

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