Chinese Stories in English
Lyin' in Winter
Laopo and I have spent the last few years living in Liuzhou during the summer and Arizona or Florida during the winter. Not paradise, maybe, but still pretty nice. Then Laopo talked me into spending two years here in Liuzhou. Or more to the point, two winters.
Not that she had to talk very hard. Liuzhou is a great town and I enjoy living here, but I had to show some resistance for appearances sake. We went back and forth for a few days: I'd tell her all the things I miss about the States when we're in Liuzhou, and she'd remind me of the things I miss about Liuzhou when we're in the States. Finally I magnanimously let her throw me into the briar patch. I conveniently ignored what I didn't like about the idea, namely, Liuzhou's winter weather.
When the temperature dips into the 30s, as it often does, Liuzhou is downright chilly. Unlike north China, the buildings here are not heated. Also, the concrete, tile and brick used in construction immediately suck all the warmth out of the air, so the temperature indoors is often colder than outside. You can spend the whole winter without ever getting a chance to warm up.
As recently as ten years ago, if you wanted to heat your residence, burning charcoal indoors was almost the only alternative. Every year there were reports of people dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.
The cold isn't the only problem, though. This winter from December 20 (when I started keeping track) through January 28, the average daytime high was 53˚F and the overnight low was 49˚F, a difference of 4˚F. That dreary sameness makes it seem colder than it really is.
We did have a warm spell from the end of January through February 7th. Daytime highs got into the 70s, and even 81˚F one day. The locals were amazed, and I almost felt like I was back in Florida! Well, almost. Then, from February 8th through yesterday, it was back to average temperatures of 53˚F high and 47˚F low.
A couple of days this week were marginally warmer, what the locals refer to as "South Wind Days". Super-moist air blows up from the South China Sea and hits the cold air here, and the result is condensation on steroids. The ground is sodden, and water drips from the trees and buildings. Everything outside is soaking wet, as though it had just been raining, even if it hasn't rained in days. Everything inside is wet, too, with puddles of water on the floor, if you happen to leave a window open overnight.
Well, that's enough complaining. Winter will be over soon, and then I can start griping about the heat. (I can tell summer is coming because the stores already have their stocks of mosquito netting out on display.)
I did know what I was getting into, coming to Liuzhou for the winter, because I had previously spent two winters here. The first was 2004-05. That autumn had been unusually warm and I was able to get by with just a light jacket. The jacket was made in the USA and I bought it at a Jeans West outlet here in Liuzhou. Clothing made in the USA and purchased in China! How ironic can you get?
I went back to the States late in December that year and returned to Liuzhou at the end of January, expecting to still have nice weather. I quickly learned how wrong I was. Fortunately Laopo had warned me to bring lots of warm clothes and, even more fortunately, I had listened to her for a change. First thing when I got back, I went around to every appliance store in town looking for electric space heaters and an electric blanket. There were none to be found. Every store said they had had a few last month but were sold out. The next winter (2005-06) I made sure to get to the stores early.
In the few short years since then, a combination of rising incomes and an increased supply of electricity from a new dam have considerably improved people's lives. The stores are now well-stocked with space heaters, electric blankets and hand warmers. Many people even have wall air conditioners with a heating function. Central heating is available, too, although few people have it.
Not everyone can afford such luxuries. There are still occasional reports of people dying from carbon monoxide poisoning because they felt the need to burn charcoal indoors. See our translation of the newspaper article indexed as Burning Charcoal, the first story on this page.
2/23/2013 Liuzhou Laowai wrote: This has been the strangest winter I've experienced here. Certainly the coldest December. Then that very warm period at the beginning of February. Most odd.
But the greyness is wearying.
By the way, most of the carbon monoxide deaths these days are from people using their gas water heaters and taking showers in unventilated spaces.
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