Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Layer Reprieve

In the U.S. and in China, the weather is warming up. No big surprise, but I keep up with the weather in several regions of America because people I love live there. In Dallas, my old stomping grounds, the weather patterns mirror those of Wuhan. If Dallas has bad weather, so does Wuhan. If Wuhan has snow, so does Dallas.

Dallas has been in the 70’s this week. What a refreshing change from the cold and the ice and the wind and the gray skies! Wuhan has not quite made it to the 70’s, but one day we had a nice, blue sky and sunshine. What a treat in this industrial zone whose skies mostly reflect yellowish pollution emissions!

I’ve put away my fuzzy longjohns. Mercifully. I was tired of walking around, padded like a hockey player. I am back into thin longjohns which afford me a little more flexibility. I still wear longjohns, but it was only while I was out one day and I realized that I was too warm did I stop to think that, maybe, I can ditch another layer of clothing.

I have to say that the temperature in my apartment is misleading. The mercury still reports only 56 degrees Fahrenheit, unless I run the heater. That is significant when you figure that, just two weeks ago it dipped down to 45 with the heater off. By comparison, 56 is not that bad. But it also means that it is warming up outside.

These concrete walls are approximately 20 centimeters thick. They retain cold like a refrigerator. Fortunately that works well for the summer: the apartment stays nice and cool. Unfortunately it does not work so well for the winter. It takes a lot of sunny days and ambient warmth to heat up my apartment. So, the thermometer registering ten degrees more is quite a feat. Not really enough to keep me warm; I still need a hot water bottle in my lap and a heating pad for my feet while I write, but if I just keep moving, things are OK. A strange phenomenon is that I think I’m now used to being cold. 56 or 57 seems like a heat wave and I no longer park myself in front of the heater. I get dressed like a normal person does instead of under my quilt. Haven’t done that in a while.

Another welcome change: I have hot water for a 4 minute shower now instead of just a 3 minute shower. It seems that, even though I insulated the hot water pipes myself, I was losing a lot of heat because the hot water line is exposed and runs along the north wall of my apartment. I take that extra minute of showering as a good sign that spring and warmer weather is on its way.

Getting ready to go out is where the confusion comes in. Because it is still a bit chilly in here, I dress like it is cold outside: longjohns, leg warmers, two pair of socks, and several layers of shirts and sweaters. The only matter of debate is whether I will wear my parka or one of my lighter jackets.

I’ve been known to step out in a jacket only to return and grab my parka. Conversely, I’ve left the house in my parka and decided a jacket is more appropriate. It is hard to decide how much protection from cold I will need on any given day from inside my apartment.

But, that beautiful, sunny day did not leave me ambivalent at all. For once, I knew exactly how to dress. After my shower, made more soothing by that extra, blessed minute, I put on some jeans, a cami, a long sleeved blouse and a sweater. Two pair of socks still, but only a jacket to top things off.

I could not believe how good it felt to have denim against my skin again! I actually walked around my bedroom, just reveling in the feel of my jeans moving against my legs with no protective thermal layer between them.

Strange, the things that make one giddy.

Sadly, nearly as soon as I left campus it started to rain. A gentle spring rain, but rain nevertheless. The temperature did not dip down and cause me to run home and add layers, but it did put a damper on my outing, which did not last nearly long enough.

My mission was to find a bookstore reputed to sell books written in English. I did indeed find that bookstore, cleverly concealed by a mobile phone store. You have to go into the cell phone shop to access the elevator that will get you to the bookstore. And, once you get to the bookstore on the fourth floor, there are only classics, in several editions. If you are hungry to read literature, heaven awaits. If you are looking for more contemporary tomes, giving up the quest is a good idea. There is nothing modern in that book shop. Although, I did find some surprising titles such as Fahrenheit 451, which speaks out against censorship and government control. Strange to find that in China.

After browsing the bookshelves and selecting a few titles, there was nothing left to do but head home. It was after 6PM, it was raining, the streets and buses were crowded. And I resented all of it. Nothing to see, nothing to do, nowhere to go but home. AGAIN. I did not want to be home. I got off the overcrowded bus and walked the few kilometers back to campus in the rain and the mud. I was still thrilling about not wearing longjohns and wanted to maximize the moment.

It was nearly 8PM when I finally did make it back to campus. I was not even tired, just frustrated at knowing there was nothing more to do than eat, sit on the couch and watch a movie, or surf the ‘Net.

In Wuhan, one must take simple pleasures, such as the feel of denim on bare skin, and try to make that feeling last all day. There’s not much else here.

Next week forecasts steady rain and lower temperatures. On Tuesday we are supposed to be back in the 30’s for a high. I suppose I will layer myself in clothing again, but I will cherish this one day where, for a few hours, I got a layer reprieve.

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