Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Long Underwear For Buildings

When the weather started turning cold back in the fall, I was totally surprised to see these big, heavy green things all of a sudden hanging from doors everywhere, from restaurants to markets and places in between. They are kind of hard and scratchy on the outside, and on the inside as thick as the warmest comforter you've ever slept under (not that you'd ever want to sleep under one of these monsters!).

What these barriers mean is that, to get into or out of a place where they are hanging, you have to push them aside and sort of ram and wiggle your way through. No graceful entrances or exits during Chinese winter! (I did inadvertently use these blockades [As you can tell, I have no idea what to call them!] to cause a bit of a stir in this tiny noodle shop up in Chengde. I kind of stumbled in while at the same moment removing my woolen hat, eliciting an audible wah!...a Chinese expression of stunned approval...from the laoban. Between the blankets and my hat, I had the element of surprise on my side. All of a sudden, without warning, there I was...a waiguoren in a place that probably does not see very much foreign traffic.)

So...And here's the big question I suppose...Do these devices actually work? The key thing to remember is that many little establishments don't have any heat at all, or they do not have thermostats that would enable them to crank up the hot air...if they could afford to, that is. With this in mind, my bottom line is that many places are still pretty darn cold inside, cold enough where I have eaten a number of meals without taking my coat off. My guess, though, is that these joints would be much more at the mercy of Beijing's sometimes whipping winds if it weren't for the ugly contraptions hanging from the doors. As with many things in this country, it's function over style...And that's fine by me!

~Steve

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