As I arrived to the kindergarten in the countryside this morning, I realized how many things that are now “norm” for me in China. Things, I would either not accept or probably complain about in America. It is also funny how I refer to my country as America and not the United States. I often get the deer in the headlights look if I say the United States and then usually say 美国 Meiguo followed by America. I had originally planned on a post about Moscow to follow up my visa experience, but as I sit in the office at Teeny Oak Kindergarten in Yaozhai wearing my coat, sipping hot water and typing with cold fingers, the plan shifted.
When it comes to heat in China for the winter, it is either feast or famine. The kindergarten, unlike my apartment, has individual units in each room. Smaller rooms have wall “air conditioning” units while larger rooms have bigger free standing units. The units in the classroom only get turned on during certain hours. Roughly 8 am to 12 noon then 2 pm to about 4:30 pm and they are not to be set above 23 celsius or a reasonable 73.4 degrees.
Now some of the children come to school looking like they walked out of “A Christmas Story”. You know the scene, the one where the kid waddles because he has so many layers under his snowsuit and when he falls down, he can’t get up. Okay, I am sure you have a visual by now. As far as the offices in the 3 kindergartens I visit, they have yet to have any heat turned on. When I asked why the principal of the school where I am currently writing this told me she is rarely in the office so she doesn’t turn it on. I explained to her that in America we turn the heat on and leave it on, adjusting as needed, but, I would never sit in an office wearing my coat if there were heat available. She pretty much shrugged it off while telling me she was also cold. Now, my kindergarten in the other countryside, JiangLou, usually escort me to a room and turn on the heat, just for me, but by the time it warms up to comfortable it is usually time to give lessons. As for the kindergarten in the city, I am never in the office long enough to worry about the heat. Although, I know that the accounting person is in there the majority of the day, never has the heat been on while I was there. It is also not unusual to have entrance doors open in winter which means the hallways are always cold. When you see people in my photos wearing coats indoors, it is just a “norm” here. Even in rooms that are heated or somewhat heated, people still wear coats.
Now, as far as my apartment, heat goes on November 15th and off sometime in March. You know how you people in Ohio can have the heat and air on in the same day? Not happening here! If it happens to be one of those days where you just want to take the chill out because it got a little cold overnight, forget about it. But, let me tell you this, when it does come on, you get heat. When I was in the tiny studio in Qingdao, I think I spent most of the winter with my window cracked. Here, in Dong’e, my apartment is quite large, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, living room, dining room and kitchen. It also has large floor to ceiling windows in most of the rooms, so it isn’t quite the sauna I had in Qingdao. I do tend to keep the bathroom window cracked to let some air in as it is still quite warm. Warm being you can sit in a t-shirt and be comfortable. The best part is the heat is hot water in the floor. Getting out of bed barefoot, I step on nice warm porcelain tile.
I do have to tell you that on November 15th, I didn’t have any heat. Not to be one to complain right away, I did a bit of investigating. Sure enough, the valve on the heating unit was perpendicular. Luckily, thanks to Steve Alexander teaching me the ropes about heating a building the size of the Trumbull County YMCA, I turned the valve to the correct position and waited. Hmmmmm, the next morning, still no heat! Come to find out, my whole district (as they call my complex) didn’t have heat. The factory that supplies our water did not get the pressure and water temperature up to what was needed in time for the November 15th “heat”. The said, “give it a couple days”. A “couple days” turned into a week. Okay, I am getting stories relayed to me from 3rd party sources, etc., time to take the bull by the horns and go to the office myself. Thank God for google translate and also that the word fuck/fucking is universal. “Insert apologies here if I have offended anyone!” Needless to say, the crazy, yellow-haired foreigner, got some attention. They sent the maintenance person to my apartment and he bled the lines. Again, give it a day or two, you are on the 24th floor, the hot water has to get up there. I will admit, the radiator, got slightly warm almost immediately, but and that should be a capital BUT, it was cold by morning. Okay, let me go about my business and see what happens…….NOTHING! So, we arrive at day 12 (I feel like I should insert the McKenzie Brother’s 12 days of Christmas here, eh, Cathy?). Day 12, no heat. I had a plugin heater that heated the space within 2 feet around me. Back to the office, I go. Sorry, yes I dropped a few more F-bombs, well, at least I knew they understood that word. Then with the help of google translate, I explained I had guests coming in 4 days. Crazy, yellow-haired foreigner had the attention of the district manager. He took me and showed me the stats for the water entering the district, it was still below pressure, the temperature had reached 45, that’s Celsius, and it should be 60. Give it a couple days……to which I responded, are you F’ing kidding me, my heating unit is cold, it has no warm/hot water coming to it. He finally accompanied me to my apartment. Guess what, the main valve from the hallway to my apartment was off. He apologized, turned it on, bled my lines again, which in my bathroom there is a wall unit that, well, gave him a shower, in his suit and tie. It should start to warm up by tomorrow he told me. Later that evening a maintenance man knocked on my door to check the situation as he did the next day also. My guests arrived for Thanksgiving and all was warm and cozy. Feast or famine…..
I had intended this post to have a little more variety and it ends up all about heat. In closing, here are a few other “norms” in China that wouldn’t fly in America. Taxi drivers smoke, they do open the window, but bottom line, they smoke. I once had a taxi driver watching a movie while he drove me to the kindergarten in Qingdao. People smoke on buses. They say no smoking but move to the back, open a window and have at it, because no one will say anything. People smoke in restaurants. Expect hot water when you go to a restaurant. Don’t even think about asking for冷水 bingshui or cold/ice water. Napkins or tissues, bring your own unless you are in a better restaurant. The same goes for toilet paper, bring your own, this applies to EVERYWHERE! There is no such thing as a queue and forget ladies first. It’s every man/woman/child for themselves.
I could ramble on and on, but as I sit here, too warm in my fleece (the adult beverage may also have a slight warming effect) finishing this post that I started when I was wearing my coat and typing with freezing fingers at the kindergarten, you may ask, why do I do it? Why do I put up with some crazy things in a country I only know a few words of the language? Truthfully, in the beginning, it was an escape. Why do I stay? Because I can, but more importantly, I am seeing the world from a different perspective. I want to experience as much as I can. Yes, it does your soul good to be riding your scooter down the road and the little old man who does bike/scooter repairs gets a huge grin when you zoom by and wave to him. Have you ever literally been knocked off your feet by 15 4-year-olds who all try to hug you at the same time? Have you walked out on a still night and looked at the stars and listened to the deafening silence and realized, WOW, I am sleeping on base camp at Mount Everest?
Here are a few “travel” words that sum it all up for me. Peripatetic, a person who spends his time wandering. Querencia, a place where one feels safe, a place where one feels at home. Sturmfrei, The freedom of being alone and having the ability to do what you want. Novaturient, a desire to alter your life; the feeling that pushes you to travel. Strikhedonia, the joy of being able to say “the hell with it”. Solivagant, wandering alone! Fernweh, an urge to travel even stronger than wanderlust. Eudaimonia, the contented happy state you feel when you travel. Why? I am happy and content and yearning for new adventures!