“Winter is coming,” says George R.R. Martin in A Game of Thrones. Winter is here and it means it, I realized on Friday, January 22nd, 2016 when I returned home from work and found out that there was no electricity in my building. Unable to cook, I went out searching for food and felt the electricity in the air; the air was cold; on my skin, I could feel how freezing it was getting, and my feet informed me of the icy night that followed.
I took a deep breath and continued moving forward. Moving backwards is not a choice when the day is about to end, and a new day is about to be born. All of a sudden, an itchy sensation on my nose made me realize the snow flakes falling from the sky, rhythmically, peacefully, unemotionally, solely doing what they were meant to do: let me know it was going to be a cold night. And so it was.
I woke up on Saturday morning; -17 Celsius the thermometer read. Without electricity, the only light I could see was struggling sunlight that could make it through the dark clouds of winter in Qingdao. A sigh. Blankets were my best friends and embraced me like a mother embraces a child. Resignation. I got up and rushed to the bathroom to wash my face. The floor was full of data about the cold night that has just ended- it was indeed winter.
Once I was at the sink, in the bathroom, a second deep breath; I manned up and readied my face for the cold water than would soon make me get goose bumps and possibly curse, in Spanish, of course, it’s always more interesting in my mother tongue. However, to my surprise no water came out.
After a couple of calls to the building’s management, with my broken Chinese, I finally understood that the water pipes had frozen and water could not go up or down the 18th floor, where I lived. The beauty of Laoshan district now felt demolished by the absence of water and electricity, which also meant no heat.
A few hours went by and only electricity came back from its journey. At least I could be warm; yet, it was the absence of water that scared me. I could always go and take a shower at a friend’s house- which I did and thank my friends and colleagues for opening their homes to me; but it was using the toilet that worried me. As a result, I became a frequent customer of Starbucks and malls (luckily there are a few nearby), just to use the toilet.
I got angry; I was feeling depressed; I was disappointed. There was nothing that could be done about the situation in my building. In my desperation, it occurred to me that I had to move out. My school understood the situation and was very supportive to help me look for a new apartment. In less than a week I saw at least 5 places and had identified the ideal place that would return happiness to me. Easier said than done, always.
Money is not everything in life, but I love how it can help us gain perspective and get a reality check. As I was doing math on what I would pay to move (clearly the school would pay part of it) I realized that in my excitement to get my comfort back I had not thought about the monetary implications. Was this the cost of happiness?
And this is where my reflection took place.
As a genuine educator who happens to be an expat (a term I detest), I dislike how some teachers working abroad feel as though they are celebrities and behave in a way they would never behave in their countries. Many of us are working in schools in which we are encouraging students to be compassionate, empathetic, kindhearted; and aware of their rights, responsibilities, and privileges, and here I was acting like a spoiled child who was not able to endure hardship for a few days. Here I was, unable to act like Brian in Hatchet, showing how resourceful I can be in unfamiliar and unwanted circumstances. Here I was, the ATL lover and advocate, unable to thinking creatively and solve a problem that had to do with basic and most essential needs.
When I saw the figure of money that needed to be paid for me to be in a place with comfort, I couldn’t help but convert Chinese Yuan into Mexican Pesos and reflect on how wrong it would be to pay that amount of money that a common individual in China or my homeland would never afford to do if he or she was in my situation. I would not even entertain the idea of moving out if I were in my country!
I remained silent for a moment; I kept drinking my coffee; I felt strange. It was not guilt; it was the feeling of responsibility that comes with learning and remaining a learner.
I have decided to act like Brian in Hatchet and like Karana in The Island of the Blue Dolphins. I want to prove to myself that I can be resourceful, so that I can have first hand experience on this specific situation, just in case students and I need to talk about it one day. I will then feel truthful.
And by the way, “Nothing burns like the cold,” George R.R. Martin also says in A Game of Thrones.