It’s one thing to live out of a suitcase filled with summer clothes when winter is coming. It’s another thing to find out early morning that your classroom does not have a heating system. When just that night temperatures dropped to -4°C and the door to the outside gallery has been wide open all night. What followed was a 3 hour long class which left both me and the students frozen from head to toe.
It’s around this time that I find out the hard way that “living below the Yangtze” has a sudden meaning. Houses built south of the river Yangtze are typically built without a heating system, to save energy. Which is understandable when you live in the far south of China. But in Changshu temperatures can drop quite low and the nasty wind that blows over the lake chills you to the bone. While our shipment with our winter clothes was on it’s way from Dubai to China at that very moment, it would take at least another month before we could find comfort in the warm and comfy shelter of our winter coats.
More recent, I was invited to the house of my colleague/friend from university, Louisa. I was warmly welcomed into her home by her and her mother in law. It’s common for families in China to share a house together. Married couples with children live with their parents or parents in law, looking after each other and caring for each other. While Louisa and her husband are busy at work, her mother in law looks after their 3 year old daughter.
It’s a very nice and spacious house, comfortable and well decorated. But also their house did not have a heating system. While Louisa and I were enjoying a cup of tea in her room, warmed by an electric heater, her mother in law stayed in the chilled kitchen & living room downstairs. Keeping warm wearing her thick winter coat inside the house.
The pleasure of warm winter coats in and outside the classroom
So that is life below the Yangtze. Coming from the Netherlands, which has a similar winter temperature as Changshu, this would be unthinkable. We wear a warm coat in winter to go outside. But inside the house we have standard central heating. In all the rooms. We even keep the temperature at night between a comfortable 15-18°C so it’s “not so cold…” in the morning.
It’s one of the things that has amazed me in China; how Chinese people seem to be so ‘at ease’ with things even when, to me, they seem quite uncomfortable. It’s as of their mindset is more geared towards accepting “what is”. Certainly, the Chinese culture values the collective needs over the individual needs. Which is the opposite in most European countries. But with that acceptance of “what is” I also see a certain toughness, as if they can handle hardship well.
So now I understand why all clothing shops sell tons of warm winter jackets and why all the little (electric)scooters are dressed up with warm blankets covering arms and from the waist down: it’s a form of “outside” winter coat.
And for us? Well, our “hardship” ended early January when our household shipment finally arrived. We were thrilled to unpack the boxes which were so hastily packed back in April, when we had to leave Dubai in a sudden rush. Finally we can warm ourselves with our thick and comfy winter coats against the cold blowing wind. And now Spring is coming. At last.