Heating in China and the Snickers Effect

January 30, 2013
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On some cold mornings in Xiuning, I eat a Snickers for breakfast, while I’m still lying in bed.  Don’t judge me.  It’s cold, and that’s the only thing that can motivate me to not go back to sleep.

Currently, I’m in Boston, staying with a friend, and when I got up this morning, I ate both of the mini snickers bars that I found in his candy bowl.  Old habits die hard.  When I bit into the first one, I became very confused.  Are Chinese snickers harder and chewier than American ones?  Why were these candy bars so soft?  Then, it hit me.  I’ve basically been eating frozen snickers in China.

The Chinese government provides heating North of the Huai River-Qinling Mountain line.  Below that line, the government provides no infrastructure for central heating.  In my room in China, there is a little, electric air conditioning system.  But when temperatures approach freezing, the condensation on the outside of the machine freezes, the fan stops turning, and the thing stops working.  In other words, I only have heating when it’s not cold.

I have long told people (parroting what others have told me) “I am just below the North-South Divide in China.  Today, I decided to actually look at a map, find the Huai River, and determine how far South I really am.  Turns out I’m about 250 miles south.  I don’t know if that really qualifies as “just barely” South.  I think I’ll keep calling it that, though, because that’s what it feels like.

At least I have a few more weeks of indoor heating and eating non-frozen snickers before I go back there.  And hey, how much longer can it possibly stay cold for?  If only I weren’t asking that same question in mid March last year.


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January 28, 2013
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In China, people always comment on how comfortable our house is.  I thought it was weird, until I started doing it myself.  As it turns out, when you’re really cold all the time, and you suddenly walk into a home that is detectable warmer than the outside (and most buildings, since buildings aren’t usually heated in Xiuning), you really notice that difference.  My parents’ house is so comfortable.  So is this Starbucks.  And they have Pumpkin Spice flavor still!  Yes!

It might be cold here, but at least I don’t feel like this even when I’m indoors.  The picture in that link, by the way, is from a zoo in Anhui Province.

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Small world

January 25, 2013
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Last night, I was swimming in a dark pool, looking up at the stars through palm leaves, watching bats swoop across the moon.  Tonight (just one day, but more than 24 hours later), I am relaxing in suburban Indiana.  The world is small, and my life is really, really wonderful.

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Fake trees

January 18, 2013
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This is Singapore Gardens by the Bay. It has fake, environmentally friendly trees. It also has an indoor cloud forest.



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Not just any continental breakfast

January 18, 2013

Good morning from the dining room of the Singapore Holiday Inn Atriums.

When I walked in in my faded jeans, pigtails, and unevenly cuffed shirt, I was welcomed by a suave man in a suit who asked me if I would like coffee or tea and escorted me to a large table overlooking the city.  He also checked my room number, just to be sure.

I let some nutella dissolve in a strong cup of European style coffee as I looked over the buffet.

Fresh bread, croissants, chocolate croissants and raisin rolls with plenty of butter and nutella.  Indian food.  Dim sum.  Stir fry, two kinds of fried rice, fried noodles.  Three kinds of soup.  Hot and cold cereal.  Fresh fruit slices.  Pancakes, eggs of all kinds to order, hashbrowns, bacon, 6 kinds of breakfast meats.  Yogurt.  A juice bar including fresh mango juice.

I’ll never be rich, and I don’t want to be either.  But every once in a while, it gives me unbounded joy to  pretend for a few hours.  Especially when Yale picks up the bill.

Wish you were here mom.  You would love this!

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Swimming pools, movie stars: the xiuning hillbillies

January 17, 2013
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Tonight, we swam on a rooftop. I didn’t have a swim suit to bring, so i swam in my underwear. Swimming in Singapore is like floating on a river through a forest of skyscrapers. The view was amazing.


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Hello, blog (without VPN!)

January 16, 2013
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Wow.  It always feels way to easy when I’m outside of China and can get on my blog jumping through all the hoops of VPN usage.

Sabrina and I arrived, took a cab, and are now in a beautiful hotel!  I’m wearing a dress, having camomile tea, exploring the (relatively) uncensored internet, and looking forward to swimming in the pool on the roof!  Vacation has begun.  These chilblains will be gone in two days or less.

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Students’ view of discrimination

January 16, 2013
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For my final project with my kids, I made them write a proposal for a psych study that would reveal subconscious discrimination.  Here are the groups of people my students suspect are subconsciously discriminated against:

Poor people

Ugly people

Short people

Bald people

Fat people

People with AIDS

“Sissy Boys” (I made them change their wording and they ended up with “boys who act like girls and care a lot about their clothing.”)

Street sweepers

Migrant workers

Blue collar workers

People of the same sex



They came up with some interesting experiments that ranged from observing where people choose to sit on a crowded bus with only two open seats, to observing how people with identical resumés were treated in interviews, to observing how people react when being “accidentally” bumped into by someone in the street.

Then, I had them do “peer review,” and it was fun to watch them yell at each other.  “Your experiment is worthless!  The meaning is not clear!  This is not persuasive!”  Science.  🙂


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Adventure to Shanghai

January 16, 2013
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Trains stop a lot.

That’s why it takes 13+ hours to get from Tunxi to Shanghai by train, but only 6 hours by bus.  I guess the route is also a little round about, but the important thing in this story is the fact that they stop a lot.

The names of cities are announced as the train rolls into their stations, but about two-thirds of the time, I can’t hear them because the train is rather loud and the speaker system rather old.  I always wondered what would happen if I accidentally got off at the wrong stop.  The station names are not clearly displayed on the platforms, so it always seemed like something that could happen, especially to me.

Well, it did happen today.  After 13 hours on the train, and a conductor telling me “上海快到了,不要睡啊!“ (We’ll be in Shanghai soon.  Stop sleeping!), Sabrina and I got off at the next stop.

As we left the station, nobody looked at our tickets.  They’re supposed to do that, but I guess they see that part of their job as optional.  Now, where’s the subway…  We were immediately barraged by drivers of illegal cabs and buses asking us where we were going and if we wanted a cab.  “不要!我们坐地铁!“ (We don’t want it!  We’re taking the subway.)  But the subway was nowhere to be found.  The station didn’t even look familiar.  Finally, a woman asked me if I wanted to go to Shanghai.

“这不是上海吗?!” (This isn’t Shanghai!?)

Turns out it was 昆山 Kunshan, and there’s nothing in Kunshan but a giant, jade, reclining Buddha.

It had finally happened.  On a day with a tight schedule, I’d wandered off the train in the wrong city.  The train was gone.  The city looked dead.  The illegal cab drivers were delighted.

With a plane to Singapore leaving in a matter of hours from a different city, Sabrina and I took the only option available to us.  A “black cab.”  We bargained the price down from 600元 to 500元。Expensive, but not actually much of a rip off, considering the high tolls on the highway, and the sheer distance we needed to go.  At this point, there was nothing to do but relax and be glad I wouldn’t have to haul my 50 pound suitcase, my duffel bag, and my backpack through the entire Shanghai subway system.  We’d be dropped right at the terminal.

So, I now know what happens if you get off the train in the wrong place.  It’s not the end of the world.  It’s not even the end of the day–we were in Shanghai before 10am.  Plus, I can add another city to the list of places I’ve been.  Now that I’ve had the experience once, though, I don’t think I’ll repeat it.

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Butter has come to Tunxi

January 13, 2013
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The day has come.  The biggest, fanciest grocery store in Tunxi now carries butter and cheddar cheese.

This place can no longer be considered remote.

Gone are the days of butter-trips to Hangzhou.  Gone are the days of hauling a backpack of butter and cheese on an overnight train from Shanghai.  Gone are the days of modifying every single recipe I attempt.

Things will never be the same.

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