Thursday, October 23, 2014

Preparing for a long winter

Leeks drying outside (with trash collectors in background)

My favorite season is here, but soon it will give way to Chengde's sub-zero winter. Having grown up in a place with long, cold winters, I actually don't mind winter here that much. My hometown is, in fact, the second coldest major US city, beaten out only by Minneapolis. As anyone from a cold climate can attest, before winter, it is important to prepare. First prepare your state of mind. Seasonal depression is for real. Next, get out your snowblowers, salt, plows, tire chains, boots, ice auger, and snow shovels—you're gonna need them. Most importantly, be sure to have some money put aside for your heating bill. Keeping warm is not cheap.

more leeks

As opposed to the US where heating is paid monthly by usage, in China the price is calculated by the square meter and it's paid for upfront. We just paid ours last week. Our 63 square meter apartment (680 square feet) cost 1500 RMB (about US$250) to heat for the winter, half of which we'll be reimbursed for by Ming's work. Unfortunately, we have no control over when the heat will be turned on, though it is usually the first week of November. We also don't get to dictate the temperature. While I am now anxiously anticipating the arrival of indoor heat, I don't dare complain too much, as the situation in southern China—any place south of the Yangtze River—is far worse. People don't have indoor heating. Southerners have to get by with space heaters, air-conditioners (they have a heating function, who knew this was possible?), and many layers of clothes.

drying cabbage

In addition to paying the annual heating bill, I've noticed people doing other things to prepare for winter. These days, everyone seems to be heading to the grocer's to stock up on leeks and cabbage. I am afraid to visit the supermarket lately because the entire vegetable section is overrun by elderly women filling their carts with bundles of leeks. Every direction I look there are people drying out vegetables for the winter. Ming and I have never bothered to do this. I wonder if anyone under the age of 50 even bothers. I understand the desire to save some money, as the price of veggies obviously peaks during winter months, but I'm not sure if the cost soars high enough to warrant this kind of hoarding.

I just thought this was cute.
Another sure indicator that cold weather is setting in is long underwear (thermals). Despite being from a cold weather climate, I never owned a pair of long underwear before coming to China. My understanding was that long underwear is the sort of thing for ice fisherman and snowmobilers, people who are winter sports enthusiasts. In this part of China, thermals are the very foundation of a person's wardrobe from September to May. If you aren't wearing them, prepare for a verbal thrashing. Only an idiot would be caught without this essential layer of warmth. I am a convert; I wear them all the time now, both indoors and out.

What about you? Do you do anything to prepare for winters? Or are you lucky enough to live in a place without winter?


Constance - Foreign Sanctuary said...

I love all the pictures of the vegetables drying for those colder days of winter. I was rather amazed by how you pay you electric bill upfront and you don't determine when the heat is turned on or what the temperature will be. Definitely a different (but way cheaper) system!

rosieinbj said...

Paying upfront takes out a lot of the guesswork and it does save money, I think. October and April are rough though because the heat is off yet it's quite cold inside–often even colder than outside!

Anonymous said...

Bwaaaaah! I am unlucky enough to live in the "south" (if Yangtze delta is the south, then what is Guangdong? The super south? haha). Winters are awful here. I used to love winter in Beijing, with the snow and the heating. Here I hate it. We only have the hot air conditioning (hot air goes up so the floor and my feet are always freezing) and a lousy radiator that gives away a funny smell.

I am not a big fan of thermals as I feel like the Michelin monster but in January/February 真的没办法,it's either that or dying.

Sarah - Diariesofayangxifu said...

I am 'lucky' enough to live in the super south, down in Guilin, where I'm still waiting for daytime temperatures to fall below 25 so I can feel some semblance of Autumn... and go out without sweating.

Although when I hear that you Northerners are already suffering in October I suppose I really shouldn't be taking it for granted!

I enjoyed my Nanjing winter (south, i.e. literally on the south bank of the Yangtze) a few years ago, buying booty slippers, warm dressing gowns and such things, much like home, but for inside as well as outside.

Ahhh how being away from home turns things upside down!