Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Strange Reversal

The weather forecasters in China are marveling that this is, and will be one of the coldest winters on record for the whole country. ChinaDaily.com reports that South China has seen record cold temperatures, which have caused a spike in electrical consumption, as opposed to Northern China, which is used to cold temperatures and uses coal or oil to heat homes. Sam has imparted that these 4 snowfalls we’ve had so far this season are unlike anything he’s seen in his somewhat young 29 years; the typical snowfall for Wuhan is usually one small snowfall per season.

I don’t care about all these statistics. I’m just tired of being cold.

I remember watching so many National Geographic shows, Lorne Greene’s Wild America and so many other nature shows whose refrain was the animals’ constant quest for food. To listen to them tell it, some animals’ sole purpose is to seek food morning, noon and night. Unless it was a nocturnal animal that sought food only from dusk till dawn.

I seek warmth with the same single-mindedness that those animals reportedly seek food. I have bought fuzzy slippers and wooly socks, make use of a water bottle and a thick quilt, wear thermal underwear like a second skin… and none of that is enough. I have resorted to running the heater full time in my room even though the maximum temperature it achieves is 65 degrees Fahrenheit – 20 degrees warmer than the rest of the house. I’ve forsaken my desk. As I write this, my faithful laptop is on my bed tray which spans my lap so that I can keep my legs covered while I write.

It is but a small consolation that winter will be over soon. I am cold now. NOW is the time that matters.

I’ve tried doing what the Chinese do to keep warm: keep moving. That helps some, but not when the wind is so bitterly cold that I end up nauseated, my nose running and my ears ringing. Besides, my top half stays nice and warm, thanks to the many layers of clothing I can get away with under my parka, but my bottom half only has two layers covering it. My legs may as well be naked, for all the cold protection I have on.

In conversation with Sam, he showed me that he wears fuzzy, lined shoes with his woolen socks. He also has fuzzy lined longjohns, but I only had to take his word for that. He didn’t show me those. It appears that the Chinese people keep themselves warm rather than heating their space, as I’ve mentioned before. Sam might have been gently chastising me for running my heater ‘round the clock.

Not because of any inducement of Sam’s, but I decided to go seek fuzzy undergarments for myself. The motivation came on the day I was playing badminton outdoors in 30-degree weather in an attempt to generate warmth. With Chinese people getting bigger and bigger, there might just be lined longjohns for me somewhere in Wuhan, I reasoned.

The next day I went out, full of purpose. I was going to find fuzzy longjohns if I had to stay out all day to do it! Fortunately I did not have to stay out all day to do it; I found quality fuzzy longjohns at the very first place I came to: ever lovin’, ever trusting Wal-Mart.

I need to remark here on a strange fashion trend these Chinese girls are wearing. All the fashionistas are wearing shorts with spandex tights beneath and high-heeled shoes or knee boots. Since I first saw this style running around campus I had to wonder: how are these girls staying warm with just a pair of tights covering their legs? Come to find out, they are fuzzy, lined tights and they are just as warm as toast! I know, because I bought a pair.

That is the first of two strange reversals. After putting on my fuzzy lined tights under my jeans, my bottom half is now warmer than my upper half, no matter what I wear on my upper half. I might never take my fuzzy lined tights off.

The second reversal is equally strange. I will tell you about it now.

Sam stays on campus three nights per week because his commute is nearly 2 hours and not practicable when he teaches an early class. His quarters are two doors down from mine and nowhere near as lavish: one simple room with a Chinese type bed – a twin bed frame with a board covered by a thin pad, a desk and an old-fashioned wash room. No heat source whatsoever.

I should clarify that, when I say it is cold here, I mean it is below freezing overnight. The mercury hovers around in the 20’s, and his walls are just as concrete as mine. Meaning that they trap the cold just as much as mine do.

I find it inhumane to expect anyone to sleep in those conditions. Even though Sam has a heating pad on his bed, all of the heat is promptly leached out of it by the chill in the room. I offered Sam the parabolic heater I had bought for myself. He did not protest or fight with me at all over the idea; indeed he sent me a text message that afternoon asking if I were home so he could borrow that heater.

Now that is an even stranger reversal than my legs being warm and my upper half being cold.

As luck would have it I was not home at that time because I was out buying fuzzy lined tights. But as soon as I got home, I made sure he got the heater. We shared some good conversation and a shot of Bai Jiu with a hot tea chaser, and then off he went to enjoy some heat in his room.

When I saw him this morning he was strutting like a prince. I asked him how he slept and he crowed that he slept the best he had in days, thanks to that heater. He even intimated that he was going to go buy a heater for his wife, Penny, so that she can sleep as well.

What have I done? I’ve turned this traditional Chinese man into a consumer! He’s going to go buy a heater! What’s next? GASP! Air conditioning this summer???

And that could be seen as the third and strangest reversal: while I’m out buying fuzzy tights to emulate the Chinese, he’s going out buying heaters to mimic the Americans.

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