China Isn’t a Communist Country … Oh, Wait

Quick lads! Protect the heating!

Quick lads! Protect the heating!

My understanding of China is constantly evolving; I can never lock down what is really going on here, and as such have a tendency to act a bit daft when trying to maintain serious conversations with China enthusiasts. My China conversations go something like this:

“China, yeah, change”
“Definitely, most people think the turning point was Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, but I believe it had more to do with unrest in the educated classes, don’t you think?”
“Yes”
“I mean, what are your thoughts on the opening up policies?”
“Yes”
“That isn’t an answer”
“Did you ever have a My Little Pony?”
Person walks away to find an age-appropriate adult.

One point I do maintain is that China is definitely not a communist country. Sure it has its moments: When the electricity for my entire apartment block gets turned off between the hours of 8am and 7pm for unspecified “maintenance”, I tend to lean more towards communist era China. But when I throw down obscene amounts of money on a Michelin-star restaurant meal, I think: “Phht, whoever says China is stuck in an old regime should taste these figs!”

I shop at H&M, I buy coffee from Starbucks, I pick up organic soap from my local health food store. China loves commerce and I love spending money on crap, it’s the perfect relationship. But there is one thing that doesn’t compute with my “There’s no way China is a communist country” stance. Heating.

Like Stalinist Russia, the government still controls the heating in Beijing’s apartment buildings. It turns on and off the same time every year, without fail and with complete disregard to how freezing it is outside.

For the past three bitter winters I’ve sat in my tiled apartment — which as a side note seems to be the standard Asian approach to interior decorating. If there’s a flat indoor surface to be found, I guarantee you someone is tiling it as we speak. Every room in a Chinese house looks like an ill-conceived bathroom and does nothing for you insulation wise.

And so it has always been. I sit on the couch wearing every piece of clothing I own, waiting for that merciful day when the government decrees it’s okay for me to be warm. But no longer! No longer will my toes turn an odd shade of blue. No longer will I walk from room to room draped in two doonas, looking something akin to Emperor Palpatine. No, this year my husband discovered something amazing, something never before seen in any of our three apartments in China. He found reverse cycle air-conditioning. Take that China!

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