Let there be heat!

It’s getting cold here. Really cold. The nights drop down to about 40 degrees every night here. My feet take about 2 hours to warm up in my sleeping bag and big blanket each night after going to bed. I leave my computer on for warmth. In a genius effort to save energy, the Chinese government prohibits any building from turning on the heat until November 15. Everyone has a big metal coil in their rooms and when the heat turns on, you can’t turn it off. It’s a recirculating system, so any effort to turn off your heat would prohibit anyone else from getting heat. Even then, it would be either on or off. So how do you regulate your heat? Simply open your window and let the biting cold in. Too hot still? Open your window more. Like I said, it’s devilishly clever and efficient.

And Beijing is slowly changing. Whereas in the summer, each day attacked with the ferocity of one million angry bees, the beautiful blue skied autumn mornings begin with a sharply cold-freshness. As I walk to class each day, bright orange and red leaves casually float down from Beijing’s many towering trees and land where they please. Millions of multi-colored leaves dot the green fields and cracked sidewalks; roses bloom with a humble yet vibrant intensity. And I am left in awe at the beauty around me as I meander through the tiny and chaotic streets. People with bright red cheeks hurry by, sometimes bundled up in three or four sweaters and a jacket, and the old men (of course) skate around on bicycles with their morning trash finds tied to the back.

And the hocking up of vast amounts of phlegm from the back of nearly every Chinese person’s throat echos through the morning.

Oh, you don’t know about the phlegm? Well, it’s quite simple, really. Lots of people Chinese people like to spit – Everywhere and extremely loudly. Massive globs of snot dot the sidewalk in every which direction (in stark contrast to the natural beauty of the leaves) and you casually have to reroute your path around them as you go. You can’t avoid it and it alone drives many westerners nuts here. People hock (imagine the loudest possible way you could hock phlegm from the back of your throat) and loudly “phfleww!” it out of their mouths from wherever they happen to be: the bus window, the front door of a store, the toilet – I’ve even had a taxi driver stop and open the door to spit.

I just got back from a haircut. It’s quite a process and is always draining. Today has been pretty relaxing, seeing as I got back from a Halloween party at 1:00AM and slept until 3:00PM (that’s right, I slept 14 hours!). I had lunch, got coffee where I ran into some girls I know from Spain and chatted with them for a while. Then I got a haircut.

A haircut in China is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced (especially if you don’t know Chinese. You walk in, sit down and have them wash your hair while you are sitting in a chair. They put shampoo in your hair and squirt water in it while they massage your scalp for about 20 minutes or so. Then they take you to the sink, rinse your hair, then take you back to the chair and give you a massage for about 30 minutes and try to talk to you (which doesn’t go over too well seeing as I can say about 6 words). Then you finally get your hair cut, your hair washed and scalp massaged again and your hair blowdried. The whole process takes about an hour and 20 minutes and you spend a considerable amount of time with 3-4 people. And at the end, you pay a whopping 15 yuan (about $1.80).

In other news, my roommate came up with a GENIUS solution to our water problems. You may recall that we have been having problems with the shower. It just randomly shuts off in the middle of your shower for minutes at a time. But there is a faucet in the bathroom that always has water pressure. The problem was that the water heater is all the way in the kitchen, so how were we to get the water from the bathroom to there without any plumbing knowledge. Solution? Reinforced tube and scotch tape, my friend. I came home one day to find that Brad had bought a bag of Y-joints, tape, fittings, clamps and reinforced tubing. I came home the next day to find that he had run the reinforced tubing through the wall, over the pipes leading to the kitchen, through the cabinet and hooked it up to the water heater via a Y-connector. A tear almost came to my eye at the sheer beauty of the whole system. Granted, it does drip and we don’t leave the pressure on when we are gone just in case the clamps burst under the pressure and fill the apartment with water – but it solved the problem and we now take uninterrupted showers (although it still changes from hot to cold occasionally). I LOVE IT!

Did you hear? Colin Powell just visited Beijing! He crashed at my place for a few days but I eventually had to ask him to leave after he outstayed his welcome. From what I gather, he was here to discuss the Taiwan issue. In case you weren’t aware, tensions are high between Taiwan and Mainland China. China says that Taiwan in part of China, and Taiwan says (off the record) that they are an independent country. The US is an ally of both China and Taiwan and is trying to play a friend to both at the same time.

So if you ask your average Chinese person what they think about the whole thing, they will most likely reply that Taiwan is a part of China and that they are all Chinese. It is as simple as that for them.

So I’ve been asking around. I’ve met a few people (some Communist party members, even) who say that there is a lot more to it than that. More than anything, it is in China’s strategic interest to maintain open and free access to the Pacific Ocean. America already has China boxed in so to speak in the northern area with South Korea and Japan and is trying to do the same with Taiwan.

China has stated publicly that it will not let the Olympics in 2008 stop them from pursuing Taiwan if they were to publicly state that they were a separate country. But it is more likely that any drama would wait until after the Olympics.

What’s my opinion? I haven’t one. All throughout history, power has prevailed. What will happen with Taiwan? It depends on whoever’s alliance is the most powerful. What should happen with Taiwan? “Should” doesn’t exist. Should the leaves fall from the trees?

Should the sky be blue? Whatever happens, happens. Whatever is, is. I am merely an observer.

It’s funny. My speech has changed since being in Beijing. For one, I use a lot more UK English words. “Bloody”, “clever”, “quite”, “has got”, and “ill” (to name a few) are all everyday words for me now. In addition, I also speak in the present tense a lot more. Most languages use the present tense a lot more than we do in English. As do the Chinese, and it’s a constant battle to get my students to think in the past or future tenses. But now I catch myself saying “so where do you go now?” or “what do you do now?” instead of “where are you going to go now?” It’s pretty funny. It’s always a challenge when teaching English to correct actual mistakes. It may be that the student merely learned UK instead of American English. One big difference is the UK people’s tendency to say “the group/team/government/country have (instead of has) said that they will change their policy”. They say “have” or “do” instead of “has” or “does” when referring to something that comprises of many individuals – even though it’s just one group or team. Crazy, eh? So when a Chinese student says that, it could be that they are either mistakenly conjugating the sentence, or are using UK English.

Well, it’s time to watch a DVD and read The Economist. HAPPY HALLOWEEN

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