Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring Forward-Quickly!

It’s not quite spring yet, but there are days like today when it is warm enough to put a coat atop of my two layers of clothes and take a leisurely stroll outside-just to observe the environment in hopes of seeing potential signs of the new season. Besides, sitting inside my freezing apartment with no heat (except for a portable space heater to keep me warm) makes being outside seem like a much more palatable option. It’s pretty sad isn’t it, when the 38 degree temperature outside is warmer than whatever temperature it is inside your apartment!

Why no heat? Glad you asked! Most of the buildings in Northern China are made of concrete and have little or no insulation. However, most do have heating systems. Mine is boiler-radiator kind. I’m not sure if that’s even the right term for it, but you know what I’m referring to-the radiator things that are attached to the wall and have boiling water running through them to give off heat. All the apartments in my building run on the same boiler system which heats the whole building. It’s common throughout China.

On November 15th, the government workers come to every building and open up the system, which allows the water to run and start circulating through the pipes so we can all have heat for the winter. Likewise, on March 15th, the boiler system is shut down and the heat goes off! Even when the system is up and running at full capacity, there is no thermostat or way to regulate the amount of heat that comes into your apartment, so you are at the mercy of the system. if you're too hot, open a window. If you're cold, too bad! The weather in Tianjin is much the same as it is in Michigan (cold, cold, cold) except we only get a few inches of snow a couple of times a year…but the temperature is roughly the same. On top of this, Tianjin is known for its brutal winds that make the wind chill downright crazy! So needless to say, heat or not heat-it gets cold- thus the two or more layers of long johns, socks, etc. both in and outside my apartment.

Although it might sound like I’m doing a lot of whining about how difficult my life is, how my fingertips and lips have turned blue because my already poor circulation has been compromised by a less than efficient and convenient heating system---but I’m really not complaining! On the contrary, I am actually kind of grateful in a backhanded sort of way! Did you know that I am one of the lucky ones? In rural China, the countryside people heat with small bricks of coal that they must make themselves and store, so they will have a viable source of heat during the winter. The central and southern provinces of China have no heating systems at all…in any of the buildings! Granted, the weather isn’t as cold or severe, but don’t kid yourself... it is still cold! That would be like the US government saying that any place south of the Mason-Dixon line doesn't need heat. Can you imagine Americans tolerating that?

So, in this short period between March 15th and whenever spring weather really arrives I have resigned myself to the fact that I will just have to live with being cold. Could it be worse? Oh, yeah! But for at least 4 months out of the year I have heat! OK, could it be better? Sure. It’s like someone on welfare saying, “It could be worse-I could be homeless!” But the truth is, it really could be worse! Imagine the people in other parts of China who really don’t have any heat, adequate shelter, or warm clothing. You know how bad it is in our own country…now think of the percentages when you’re talking about a developing country of 1.3 billion people!
How about this? The next time you see a any sign of spring, (a robin in the yard, tulips popping up for Tulip Time or a tree budding), give thanks for all you have and send up a prayer for all who are anxiously awaiting warmer weather and a season of new beginnings!

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