Saturday, June 07, 2014

Blackouts and Water Cuts

Remember being little and the excitement and fear that came with a thunderstorm? First came the violent rain thrashing down on the roof. Then, you awaited that blood curdling clap of thunder that shook the walls of the house. And finally, if you were really lucky, the lights flickered and the power went out. Dad let slip a string of curse words as mom ran around looking for candles and flashlights.

I loved those kinds of storms. While they were frightening, a temporary blackout was a welcomed novelty. Getting by for a few hours (or sometimes just a few minutes) without electricity let me imagine myself living in olden times or exotic locales. Sitting around lit candles with my parents brought out the romantic in me, even as a 7-year-old.

Having lived and traveled in Asia for nearly a decade, I've experienced more power and water cuts than most modern-day Americans would experience in a lifetime. When I first came to China, I found the frequent power cuts somewhat charming. They inevitably happened when I was out to dinner and the waitresses would scurry around, placing a candle on eat table. Everyone would continue their meal over candlelight. It was even more romantic than those candlelit storms I spent with my mom and dad.

These days, however, the cuts fail to amuse me, they are particularly cumbersome having children and working from home. I can now appreciate why my parents cursed such occurrences. Lately, the electricity has gone off at the most inopportune times—when I'm teaching an evening class or when Ping has a mountain of homework. Even worse than the power cuts, which are becoming more and more seldom, are the frequent water cuts. Every time they happen, my heart sinks. How long will the water be off? The longest we once went was 36 hours. I dread another chance at a day and a half without water and my fear is further compounded at the thought of it while taking care of an infant.

What's it like without running water? Well, let us ponder all the things we can't easily do without water. Obviously we need water to drink, though that can easily be solved by running down to the convenience store and buying a 5 liter jug of mineral water. What is problematic is preparing meals. Food and dishes need to be washed, as do our hands. Showers are, of course, out of the question, although I can cope with a day or two without a shower. Laundry, too, has too be put off.

The biggest inconvenience that comes with a water cut, and one that may not first come to mind, is flushing the toilet. Without water, there is no way to flush. We must either use the public toilet outside our apartment or fill buckets outside at the nearest working outdoor water source. While I am pretty open minded about toilets, but going on smell alone, I know the nearby public toilet should only be used in the most dire of situations. . . such as being forced to at knife point. Needless to say, I've yet to summon the courage to enter it. So when the water stops for any significant amount of time, Ming finds various kettles, pots, and buckets to fill for our daily activities.

The past week there have already been a few water cuts. They've been making me nervous, but luckily none have lasted more than a couple hours and the water has always returned around meal time. I hope our luck doesn't run out, as I hate to have to run around looking for a decent source of water on top of washing baby clothes and sterilizing bottles. This is just another one of the challenges and uncertainties of living life in China.


Marta said...

I also realized the toilet was the main problem a few weeks ago. The water was cut in our building without prior notice and it was like that for the whole day. I couldn't take a shower and I was afraid of feeling like a number 2, hahaha.

Also last summer in our office we were having power shortages, we were only allowed a limited quantity of watts and couldn't turn the aircon on. It was like 38 degrees in the office. That's the closest I've been to hell.

rosieinbj said...

Ah, yes. . . the dreaded number 2!

I've never had a power outage when I was really desperate for AC, thank goodness; 38 degrees C is truly miserable.