I got a fresh light bulb in my room today. It's a fluorescent bulb that makes everything in my room look pink in comparison to the thick gold incandescent glow from the living room. Our doorman arranged a pyramid of three chairs in my room and spent 10 minutes trying to get the fixture off of the ceiling.
Even though the light is uncomfortable, it's nice having a bright room past 5 p.m. It was inconvenient and creepy using my computer or cell phone to dig through my closet or shuffle around my desk to find something in the dark.
Earlier today I dropped more than $100USD to pay for half of last month's heat bill. Mind you, our university gives us a $50 monthly stipend to cover all of our utility costs. I'm angry and frustrated, because Alex and I have been thoroughly chilly since December 1. Right now, we're both sitting on my bed in flannel pants, thick socks, long sleeves, and zip-up fleece sweatshirts. Don't get me wrong, I'm comfortable at the moment but I wouldn't go as far go call our situation "cozy."
Having a dark bedroom and a huge heat bill helped me realize an interesting paradox between Chinese and American energy usage. I think both countries could take a lesson or two from one another.
Per capita, Chinese people use one-fifth of the energy that Americans do. Granted, that's keeping in mind that somewhere between 1.5 and 2 billion people live here, and a huge chunk of that population scarcely has access to electricity whatsoever. Most energy usage in China is concentrated on manufacturing and construction (no surprise there). The creature comforts of walking around your apartment barefoot in January or wearing a light cardigan in your office mid-winter are mostly forgone in exchange for 24/7 construction sites and ultra-efficient factories.
Here people think nothing of wearing parkas in doors or wearing thick, velvet pajama pant suits (yes, suits) out in public. There also seems to be much less light pollution, the bullet train ride back from Shanghai was eerily dark, especially given the millions upon millions of people who live between the two cities.
On the other hand, it's no wonder our electric bill was so expensive while our toes remain frozen: our apartment is essentially a concrete ice cube. There is no insulation and two of our windows don't even properly fit the frame. There is at least a five degree temperature difference between my feet on the floor and my head 63 inches above.
From what I've gathered, there's an arbitrary line drawn somewhere north of Hangzhou where buildings quit being constructed with insulation. In the northern tiers of the country, buildings are build to better withstand the winter (and subsequently the summers as well) but further south, the idea of insulation is apparently frivolous and unnecessary.
So here's my proposal for our two countries: America, you need to be more ok with relying on energy-efficient lights at night. And you need to be fine with accepting that running around in a tank top in your house in January (especially in the midwest) is not seasonally nor climate appropriate.
China, you need to take a breather. Slow down your construction. Broker a contract with an earth-friendly insulation company that utilizes recycled materials, like blue jeans for example. Build some concrete buildings with staying power -- the kind where people shouldn't have to spend nearly 1/3 of their monthly paycheck trying to keep the shivers away.
Collectively, we'll all use less electricity and we'll be much more comfortable. Think about it.