Friday, January 18, 2008

Frozen Breath in the Bedroom

On the face of it, the situation could be worse. My toes and face are slowly freezing off, but as long as I curl awkwardly beneath a comforter not made to cover a 6'3 body, the rest of me should be fine.

In China, there is a line of demarcation dividing north and south that is of similar importance to other great and arbitrary historical lines--Mason-Dixon, Maginot, etc. This line more or less follows the sluggish Yellow River as it carries its freight of clay and raw sewage from the interior of the country to the sea. This line determines which cities will receive government-supplied indoor steam-heating, and which of them won't. The heating apparently requires a surge of activity from the many coal power plants, so at no extra cost an insulating blanket of obscures the northern cities of China from the cold skies above (and any spy satellites therein).

Alas, Chongqing--along with Shanghai, Wuhan, Hangzhou, and others--rests below this line, but not quite deep enough into the tropical zones in southern China that it couldn't use such intervention against the fingers of chill that even now claw their way beneath my manifold covers.

I won't be so rude as to suggest, as my roommate did to his girlfriend, that to see one's breath inside one's home was not something that happens in developed countries. I suppose this problem doesn't often occur in many-malled suburbia, but there's no need to be insulting. The Chinese are well known for their spendthrift even many years after they've immigrated to the 'land of opportunity'. They are raised to believe that it is the height of waste to heat one's home if not absolutely necessary. A warm coat and long underwear are a onetime cost, but heat is an ongoing drain on finances.

Perhaps more important for consideration: Frigid living-rooms mean that the energy footprint of even an upper-class Chinese household on a wintry day is only a fraction of that of a US household. In an age where we should all be thinking more clearly about what kind of planet we wish to live in, and what manner of lifestyle might be necessary in order to sustain it in that state, maybe this is a habit worth encouraging, retaining, or adopting. If only I weren't so accustomed to the luxury of lolling about my room in shorts and short-sleeves while sub-Siberian temperatures prevail outside and snowy-winged devils crash frozen to the sidewalks--as often did happen in the town of my birth. Then, I prided myself on waltzing through the falling snow in short-sleeves, only possible because I started and ended my foray engulfed in indoor warmth.

Now, I'll have to content myself with new pastimes: breath-sculpting koalas, kings, and cacti in the air of my bedroom while I hibernate beneath the covers. If doing my part for energy efficiency means remaining torpid and inactive for half the year, who am I to argue?


Linda said...

well, it's about 5 F tonight in the town of your birth

Bai Hai Feng (AKA: Bruce) said...

True, Michigan gets much colder than Chongqing ever will (god forbid another Ice Age), but Michiganders can cozy up around their central heating, while the average Chinese family has no indoor heating and tends to open the windows in order to let the "fresh" air in. :-) Enjoy the warmth!