Water and Power

Water and Power

Welcome back. I’ll jump right in. On the train from Beijing to Xingtai, I foolishly had zero drinkable water with me. Between brushing my teeth and the occasional drink, over the course of two days, I had consumed the one bottle of water that the hotel had provided me. As I was settling into my new apartment, I was working so hard unpacking, wanting to get the place completely set up, that I neglected to take a couple minutes to sterilize a supply of drinking water. By the time I finally tasted that first sip of cold, fresh, safe water, my mind forgot about all other beverages entirely. Sure, the water had a funny aftertaste at first, but I’ve since stopped noticing it. I developed a whole system for my water supply. At night, I fill up my three canteens and use my SteriPen to purify the water (effectively zapping and neutralizing all the bacteria and viruses.). 90 seconds per liter. So I’ve got three liters of drinkable water in less than five minutes, longer if I want it cooled.

Three liters of liquid gold and the magic wand that makes it all possible.

Three liters of liquid gold and the magic wand that makes it all possible.

That was the first part of my routine that had to change. Those accustomed to using a Brita filter will testify it’s definitely an added step, one that you have to be purposeful and consistent about.

Here’s the second part of my routine that had to change and it’s also water-related:

West meets East.

West meets East.

On the left is the first shower I used in China, the wonderful shower at the hotel in Beijing, and a delightful transition away from the comforts of home. On the right is my current predicament: a precariously poised tank mounted on the wall with no shower curtain or partition whatsoever dividing the shower area from the rest of the bathroom. And it currently has one setting – cold. (Obviously, I understand that this is first-world privilege talking and I promise the rest of the blog will be more self-aware but for the moment, I ask that you humor me.) To break it down, this is my shower routine now:

1. First, remove the toilet paper from the bathroom, ensuring that your precious commodity doesn’t get wet.

2. Take the shower head in hand and crouch down into a tiny position so you don’t spray water all over the bathroom.

3. Then, quickly and compactly spray yourself, making sure that none gets in the eyes or mouth.

4. Turn off the water for a quick reprieve from the freezing water to lather up. Since there’s no shower curtain, you can take this moment to admire yourself in the mirror.

5. Turn the water back on and quickly rinse off.

6. You’re done! Turn the water off and be careful not to slip because despite your best efforts, there will be water covering half of the bathroom floor.

In the shower, you basically want to look like the Terminator when he arrives from the future – naked and crouched. Warning: partial nudity ahead (though, not mine thankfully, Arnold’s).

“Get to the shower!”

In truth, households and countries would probably benefit from people taking more efficient showers like this but at what cost? I’ll be the first to stand up (from my crouched position) and say that I do miss a warm, upright shower with some kind of basin.

Now, onto the second part of the equation: electricity. Being a state-governed utility in China, my apartment requires me to deposit money into an account with the state grid and the Hebei Electric Power Corporation. I then swipe an electricity card at a terminal outside my apartment, periodically reswiping in order to maintain a positive balance. My first few days, I had some trouble with the electricity. It took a while (and two electricians) to figure out that a fuse was resetting every time I plugged something into a particular outlet, even if I was abiding by the right voltage. Now, I can troubleshoot it myself and it hasn’t happened for some time.

In Xingtai, the smog, due to industry, weather flows, or just being trapped by the mountains, is as bad if not worse than Beijing. I can’t vouch for the air quality but so far, no respiratory problems. On the other hand, even in my apartment, the air can seem really thick. Plus, it just gets stuffy and hot anyway. So I’m very fortunate that I have such access to air conditioning.


Some people at work or school may say they like the temperature set at a certain degree. Myself, I’m a 23-degree kind of guy. (Celsius, of course.) That may change in the winter but it’s still hot enough to merit having it on almost constantly when I’m there. At my school, there isn’t much of an air conditioning system besides the occasional ceiling fan or open window. Even still, I sweat a lot up there which could betray confidence in my teaching abilities.

Hard to believe, but turns out, a member of my generation can survive for a few days living without access to the Internet, their cell phone, or the outside world, other than a newspaper. Being able to send an email to my parents from the Beijing hotel was a huge relief (probably more so for them). Other than that brief access, I was basically living in the 1990s for the first four days. The slightly older purveyors of this blog, I give you permission to roll your eyes. However, I am now living quite comfortably with free Wi-Fi and a pre-paid cell phone that works in all of China. And despite not having an actual cell phone plan, I can still use my iPhone to communicate with family and friends via WeChat and WhatsApp, all through WiFi. Finally – the people have struck a blow against AT&T.

In the next post, I will talk about transportation, specifically, the bike culture here and how significant it has been having access to an electric bike. Thank you for reading.

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