My not-so-new anymore little nest here in Beijing is getting rather cosy despite the onset of winter. This is mainly due to the fact that the main heating system which has now finally been turned on in my otherwise modest building number 5, is underfloor heating. (Here goes another exciting blog post from Vicky). Underfloor heating is a prime example of one of China’s many mind-bending paradoxes, the decision to have the treadmills in the smoking area of the gym to name but one other. Where I once considered it a rather extravagant addition for the particularly soft middle class, a real treat for those who feel under-indulged by radiators alone, underfloor heating is really very ordinary, very putong, here in China, a country where down the road, the number one University does not even provide toilet paper, or soap, or in fact an actual toilet, in any of its numerous and less than fragrant weishengjian.
On the brighter side though, there’s this:
Chinese pancake lunches in the sun with Jack, Raquel, Henrietta, Sophia and Maddy are soo ideal. Everyone here enjoys a bit of bing in their life after four hours class from 8am.
I mention building number five in particular, to stress that I don’t live in the fake building number five- you will find very few number four buildings in Chinese residential complexes or fourth floors or apartment number fours because of the way the Chinese word for four is phonetically the same as the word for death (si). Death is also associated with the colour white – does this render all modern marriages doomed? Does Dido need to rethink the colour scheme for her flags? The answer, peng you men, is literally blowing in the wind; a cold, dry carbon-festooned wind, a wind of change perhaps – of course the emerging generation is inevitably less dictated by the wives tales and suspicions of old. But old habits die hard, (woah, is that an English chengyu?), and as a result here there are two number five buildings and two number fifteens.
I live in a shared flat with a Korean guy called Marvin, a French guy called Tanguy and an elusive Chinese girl called Cathy. They’re all really nice. This is us having a Korean barbecue with another Chinese friend of Cathy’s who was very eager to practice his English.
There has been much trepidation amongst foreign students here about the immanent Beijing winter. Not only has Christmas effectively been cancelled this year, but Wudaokou (the studently area I live in) has become a pit of confusion and fraught anxiety about when the heating of Beijing, a feature which sets it apart from most other Chinese cities, is to be officially turned on. Apart from a lucky few, there is no option of putting your heating on early, oh no. There is no idle trip to the thermostat. We must wait for the government. Just like the Hyenas waited for the signal from Scar to get the herd on the move towards the gorge in the Lion King. The party decides when to set the coal fires burning, and now they’re burning, the whole of the city is suffering from the fabled ‘autumn cold’ as a result from the difficult temperature adjustment process. Panda-monium.
Pollution in Beijing is also avidly discussed amongst students here – we sometimes need a break from studying. The pollution count for the day makes for classic conversation fall-back. We arm ourselves with the official US embassy Beijing Air Quality app on our mobile phones and strangely, a sort of morbid excitement about reporting a high pollution count is often what is masked behind fear and dread (kongpa). They say there was one day last winter when the count reached 900… (80 in London is considered very worrying) Such rumours are indeed secretly thrilling but are surely only to turn into a grim, post-apocolyptic style reality only too soon and face masks may need to be bought. Also there is always one -usually a Japanese girl- in every class who keeps their mask on throughout the lesson too which I sometimes feel irrationally annoyed about. It’s sad that you can’t see people smile behind them but I suppose it’s a small price to pay to keep yo’ lungs happy. Classic Beijing.