Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

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Well, April 20 has come and gone, and so they've turned off the heat in the buildings.

I knew this was going to happen, but somehow, it didn't really register (heh heh) with me. It's currently 7:45 pm and it's 48 degrees F out there, going down to 32 tonight. Tomorrow's high will be 50, and the low tomorrow night will be 30 F. My friend Liqing tells me that this April will turn out to be 6 or 7 degrees colder, on average, than last April (when they got that big snowstorm). Not massively cold, I realize, and probably several of you would forego heat in these temps anyway, but where I live, at home in my house in Lansing, it's Always Tropical. So this is a bit of an adjustment.

It's not really the temperature to which I have to adjust. It's the idea that the heat isn't pegged to the temperature, it's pegged to the calendar, and the decision is made Somewhere Else. I live in a dorm so I don't expect to control my heat, but Liqing lives in an apartment, and her building's heat has been turned off, too. She doesn't have a thermostat in her house, either. I was there in the winter and it was too hot even for me; she said that this past weekend, she spent all day both days under the covers because it was too chilly to be out and about in her rooms.

She lives in a building that's owned by the university. (They're luxury apartments; in no way would you say she's in anything remotely resembling a dorm.) I'll have to check with my friends who live in other places to see what the situation is in their homes. I'm pretty sure that nobody else has a thermostat in their apartment, either, and I'm pretty sure that most of the heat has been turned off all across the city.

I just cannot wrap my poor little frozen American head around this.

Again, it's not the temperature - it's the idea that somebody else decides for everyone when there will and will not be something as basic as heat. I've given up trying to express my astonishment to my Chinese friends; they just don't see what the issue is.

Similarly, a friend was telling me that her sister, a senior at a regional university, couldn't get online at night because the university turned off the electricity. (Actually, I'm not sure whether they turn off the electricity or the network; she said electricity but now I wonder.) Her explanation was that perhaps they had just cause, because maybe students were staying online all night and then not going to class in the daytime. I found it unusual, to say the least, that this explanation would seem to her to be reasonable.

Once I might have reacted with outrage at people having their rights abrogated in that fashion. Now I just think it's weirdly interesting. Every society has the problem of rationing resources, and it's just fascinating to see firsthand how this country addresses that problem so vastly differently than we do in North America.

Anyway, I think I'll go snuggle under the covers and read a book now. Thank heavens I haven't sent my winter pajamas home yet . . .

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