Monday, November 15, 2010

And Who is Going to Pay for That?

With the arrival of colder temperatures, I grow more and more concerned about warmth. The classrooms are not heated at all – I’ll be teaching in my parka in the dead of winter! My apartment, for all that it is very clammy because of concrete walls and the wet weather, is actually fairly well insulated: the temperature has not dropped below 64 degrees Fahrenheit in weeks. I have to confess that I am a wimp when it comes to cold. I like to be comfortable.

But still: 64 is a little bit cold. I’ve already broken out the thermal underwear and flannels. The question remains: who is going to pay for all of the heat my fragile self will need to keep warm this winter?

The University puts an extra 200Yuan in my paycheck each month for utilities. Here’s the way it works: if I spend less than that allowance on utilities, the balance goes into my bank account. If I ‘spend’ over that amount, I am required to pay for what I used beyond what my allowance covers. As this is my first winter here, I wonder how much cold I can tolerate within my budget limits and what I can do about keeping warm using a minimum of utilities.
Or, conversely: how much utilities actually cost and how much climate comfort I can afford for myself.

The obvious answer is: Why, as much money as you have, silly! But I don’t want to spend my entire paycheck on utilities. I don’t think anyone would.

I do have a few reference points. I have not exceeded my utilities allowance yet, even when I ran the air conditioner a few days and nights while it was hot outside. The closest I got was 178Yuan, and that was when I was being wasteful, and when I was sitting at home all of the time.

I have to have a plan. Here it is:

Insulate: I can’t do anything much about the concrete walls, but I can certainly insulate the single-paned windows. To that end I plan on covering them, either with plastic or with… shower curtains! Shower curtains are lively and colorful, and they are thicker than the plastic sheeting available at the various stores. As my windows are coated and I can’t look outside with the windows closed anyway, why not cover them with lovely, colorful shower curtains?

Of course, that does affect the amount of light I get in the apartment, so there is another utility expenditure…

Lights: all lighting is kept to a minimum, and whatever lighting I do have is fluorescent. Not to say that I live like a mole in semi darkness, but why leave a lamp burning in the living room when my time is nearly all spent in the bedroom? And speaking of space…

I keep the door to the bedroom closed in order to trap heat in that room. Not to say that I hate my living room – I don’t; I just seldom spend any time there. Therefore I’m not concerned with that space’s temperature as I am with the temperature in the space I actively use. To that end…

I bought a wonderful parabolic space heater. It looks just like a portable, oscillating fan except it packs 1,000 Watts of heat! I can set it to turn its wonderful little heating head, or keep it focused right on me as I sit at my desk, writing to you. I have done a trial run with my heater and found it to be most effective with maximum heat on and turning back and forth to spread the heat around the room.

Before I make use of my wonderful space heater, I will make ample use of my hot water bottle. Yes, even now I sit, old-maidenish with my hot water bottle in my lap, writing to you. I read somewhere that, dollar for dollar, the electric kettle is the best appliance for the money. I simply use my electric kettle to boil the water to fill my hot water bottle and put said bottle in my lap to keep my abdomen, legs and hands warm. When the bottle cools down I pour the water back into the kettle and reheat it. That works well as long as I’m wearing…

Fuzzy slippers: I bought a pair of fake-fur lined, soled house slippers to wear. The floors being concrete under the laminate, any other house shoe just let the cold pass right through them. These fuzzy booties keep not only my feet but also my ankles warm, extra protection to go along with…

Wooly socks: While shopping at Chicony’s a few weeks back I found the most enticing pair of woolen socks in the world. They are the color of apricots and, by some mercy do in fact stretch enough to cover my feet and reach beyond my ankles. Simply tucking my thermal underwear into the socks and putting the hot water bottle on my lap virtually guarantees my lower extremities all of the warmth I can stand. Of course, if my feet do get cold while I sit and type, I can simply remove my fuzzy slippers and put my feet directly on the hot water bottle, after putting the hot water bottle on a box to keep it insulated from that cold, cold floor.

Incidentally, sleeping with the hot water bottle is also quite comfortable. Matter of fact, my bed was so warm when I did a trial run that I did not sleep well that night.

So far, I’m really being economical about utility usage. I don’t foresee having to use my space heater except in the direst of cold, and I don’t plan on using the heaters that came with the apartment at all as they are incredibly inefficient – I think I already wrote about that. But what about taking a shower? I am not looking forward to disrobing in a cold bathroom to shower, especially with my hot water tank running out of hot water mid-shower. Therefore…

Washing hair: Wash hair separately from washing body. I lean over the bathtub while fully clothed and wet my hair, and then turn the water off to lather. Turn water back on to rinse, and then it is off while I use conditioner on my hair. Turn water on one final time to rinse that, and hair washing is over, with the satisfaction of having used only as much water as I actually need.

Bathing is a different matter. Bathing entails running a shallow bath and washing, and then using the flexible showerhead to rinse off. However bathing will have the added expense of using the heat lamps above the tub. I really cannot talk myself into shivering through getting clean.

What can I do to stay warm while conserving utilities beyond these precautionary measures?

My dear friend Ann offered up a very valuable suggestion: make heating packs. Sew some rice into a wash cloth to form a packet and heat the packets up in the microwave. They are the equivalent of those nifty chemically activated heat packs you can find in any store’s sports section. Put one in each of my gloves before heading out the door to keep my hands extra warm. Hold on to them while in the classroom so that I can still write on the board, all while keeping my hands toasty warm.

Finally: foreseeing I would not find shoes in my size here, before I left the States I bought my winter shoes and boots. I deliberately selected a half size larger than I normally wear so that I can wear an extra pair of socks to keep my feet warm while out and about.

It has been cold enough to wear these larger shoes, but not so cold that I need to wear two pair of socks. So these shoes are unusually large and ungainly, and yesterday they caused me to trip and fall (again!), scratching my knees up so badly through my jeans that I now have a lovely patch of road rash on each knee. Quite painful, really. Neither knee had completely healed from the last fall I took a few weeks back, when I ended up in the mud puddle (see ‘Would You Like Those with Mud or Dust entry, earlier in this blog). I think my knees are fed up with being scratched and bruised.

But this is not about my clown shoes or my bruised and abraded knees. It is about conserving utilities and keeping warm. So I’ll leave you to contemplate these ideas and I’ll turn off my computer now, to conserve electricity.

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