Water by the Buckets?

Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. This phrase can be especially true in China, where the tap water is not safe for human consumption. I have never been told why the water is not safe to drink, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it has something to do with pollution, which wraps all China’s major cities in a choking smog. That, and fecal matter.

Bottled or boiled water is the only way to get your daily H20 intake. But, on this particular morning, water was in short supply all around. The shower would not turn on. The faucet had run dry. Ashley and I only had one bucket of water between us.

Let’s back up.

We (my partner teacher Ashley and I) flew to Beijing two days ago, and then rode in a private car for three hours from the capital to Baoding. It was nearing midnight in China, and, when we made it to our apartment, we fell into a fitful sleep, punctuated by long periods of restless tossing and turning. Our bodies were attempting to adjust to the thirteen hour time difference, and mine was failing miserably.

Somehow, my body knows that it is daylight in America. It is like the wind. My body cannot see it, but it knows that it is there, mainly because the wind makes it cold.

Scientists call this bodily knowledge a circadian rhythm, the body’s natural sleep and wake cycles. This rhythm is disrupted when a body skips ahead thirteen hours. This can be demonstrated using a graph:


I would have made the Happiness a -1, but that is apparently not possible on line graphs.

Even though my body sometimes takes naps in the daylight in America, the knowledge that it is daylight in America means that my body in China cannot stand the thought of sleep. I should be water-skiing, parachuting, or bungee-jumping, thought my body. Sleeping was lame.

When I did sleep, I dreamed. I had made the mistake of watching Midnight in Paris before falling asleep on the plane. This meant that every time I dreamed, I was no longer living in the 21st century, but was actually living in Paris in the 20s. Flapper girl Jessica apparently favored long, straight black dresses with strings of pearls and a black, lacy band around her head, with a black feather protruding to one side. At least, that is what I was wearing in each dream. I digress.

The only thing that I found somewhat comforting during this fitful sleep was that I would shower in the morning. My body had been sitting on a plane for nearly 20 hours of flight time. Not only was my body ready to sky dive into the smog-filled abyss, it also smelled like it did not believe in showers.  Like showering was against its religion.

However, showering that next morning made my body feel infinitely better. In fact, my body went from 0 on the Happiness scale to a 12 (this is apparently not possible on a 1 to 10 scale either; I am an English major, not a mathematician.) I was clean and in China! AND, our teachers gave us a FREE DAY!

This notion of FREE DAY is something I am not accustomed to, especially in China. Roughly translating, a “FREE DAY” is when two American girls sit in their apartment for the whole day, splitting their time between emailing their family members and playing goldfish.

We did, however, leave the building and make a trip to the central office, where we purchased drinking water for our apartment. This did not come in bottled form, but was in a large jug for a water dispenser and cost an American dollar. The nice Chinese ladies affectionately referred to these jugs as “buckets.” I did not correct them.

This is our water dispenser.
This is our water dispenser.

My exercise for the day was carrying the jug up the four flights of stairs to our apartment.

I went to bed looking forward to repeating this cycle the next day.

But that is not what happened.

I woke up and walked into the bathroom like normal. (I say, “like normal,” but what I really mean is “like I had done yesterday and was hoping to make a pattern of doing.”) I took off my clothes and made a little pile of them outside the shower door. I flipped the switch for the water to turn on. And nothing happened.

Confused and still bleary-eyed from a better night’s sleep, I turned on the faucet. No water came out. Mind boggled, I put my clothes back on and asked Ashley, “Do you know what is happening to our water?”

Ashley, in her infinite wisdom, had taken a shower the night before. She did recall washing her hands after going to the bathroom a little before 8. The water was apparently working then.

I decided to get to the bottom of this. I walked out of our apartment and down the hall to the office. Inside, I found Ruth, the Chinese teacher who had picked us up at the airport.

Because there were men in the office and I had still yet to shower, I motioned for her to meet me outside the office door. There, I calmly explained that there was no water in our apartment, other than the water we had purchased yesterday.

Ruth smiled and shook her head. “I forgot tell you,” she said, “until, maybe, afternoon, there is no water in this building.”

I smiled and thanked her for this information. I walked to the apartment door and relayed the information to Ashley. I then used some of our fresh water to wash my face and brush my teeth, then put on a knitted hat over my oily hair. This would have to do.

I wish that I could say that I was still at a 12/10 on the happiness scale. I wish I could even say that I was a 10/10. But, I was more like an 8…or even a 7.4. I was inconvenienced by this strange water schedule. I now had to wear a cap over my head to hide my shame until the afternoon, when water would again flow from the faucets and shower heads.

But until then, I was reminded that remaining about an 8.5 on the Happiness scale was not the primary objective here. Sometimes, you dream about being a flapper girl. Sometimes the water doesn’t work. But, whatever happens, always know that you can get through just about anything with a good knitted hat.

Knitted hat
Knitted hat

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