Saturday 2 October 2004, Undergraduate Year 1, Cambridge, England

The first days attending a new school, whether it was my schools in China, Warminster, Hurtwood or LSE, had never been dull for me. Cambridge proved to be no exception.

When I opened the door of my room the first time, I got quite a shock: it was enormous. Along the four walls, there were a bed, a table, a sink, two wardrobes, two book shelves, two sofa sets, a tea table. Then in the middle of the room, there was still a ton of space. This one room didn’t feel much smaller than my parents’ apartment in China in fact. Did I somehow get the largest room in the whole college?

A college issued map, just in case we got lost. I lived in the yellow highlighted room at the bottom, just above the Sainsbury’s

After three years in England, I had got used to things that were smaller but smarter. My summer accommodation at LSE was a good example. The room was just big enough to contain a single bed (UK size single, not US), a desk and a wardrobe. Toilet, sinks and kitchen are further down the hallway for everyone living in the corridor to share. Sitting on the edge of the bed in my room, I could almost reach everything in the room, including opening the door. Very efficient indeed.

When I read Trinity’s “White Book”, there was a rule that forbid parties of more than ten people to be held in students’ rooms. I thought that was totally unnecessary. How could ten people possibly all fit into one room anyway? Based on my LSE accommodation, no one would be able to turn around even if they all managed to squeeze in. That would be a very awkward party. But now I saw where the rule was coming from. Ten people could fit in this room easily.

Beside the size of student’s rooms, from what I had read in the past few months, Trinity was a different kind of place in other areas as well. I had somehow hit a gold mine. What a great college selection strategy! The college was the home of titans like Sir Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon, royals like Prince Charles and then more recently 32 Nobel Laureates. Its own endowment—the one beside the university fund shared by all colleges—was more than £1 billion, nearly double the amount of the second largest and nearly 100 times more than the smallest. In the similar fashion of the Sun never set on the British Empire’s soil, it was rumored that one could walk from Cambridge to London without leaving Trinity’s land.

That phrase “all colleges are equal” I read in Cambridge’s prospectus back then must be written by a fan of George Orwell. Just like his infamous line “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”, the prospectus gave a big hint that some colleges were more equal than others as well. It might have added that Trinity was the most equal one amongst all. No wonder it attracted the best professors and students worldwide. And occasionally a couple of ignorant ones, of course.

A visit to a third-year students’ accommodation also put me back into ease. He didn’t have one room but a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen and even a walk-in wardrobe. I didn’t get the largest room in the college after all. Nowhere near.