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With rows of umbrellas parked in the entrance, the library seems to be providing a safe haven for the students of Beijing International Studies University (BISU 北京第二外国语学院) during one of Beijing’s rare rain falls. Inside the red brick building, the two floors circle around a central hall, which is lit up by a polygon sky light, made to look like an enormous crystal.

On the second floor is a room lined with shelf after shelf of Chinese fiction. Mouth watering, and I’m not allowed to borrow a single volume, as I’m not strictly a student here, but working in the Dean’s office. The shelves are ugly gray ones, but the books are all used and creased and lovely, they’d make any plastic rack look homely.

Along every walk way and every wall there are tables filled with notebooks, tea cups, mobile phones and stacks of books mainly on oral English, tourism and how to write good papers. It feels like a common living room, and in a way that just what it is. I sit down with The Semiotics of Exile in Literature by Hong Zeng, and sink in for a few hours.

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