Fall is coming to an end and winter is blowing into Beijing. We do mostly the same things as we do during wintertime in the States - pile on the clothes, big coats, and scarves and gloves - although I ride my bike much more often in Beijing. There is one thing, however, that is unique to the remnants of a centrally-planned state: heat. While you might check your pilot light and program your thermostat in the U.S. when the temperatures drop, in Beijing we wait. We wait for the heat to be turned on.
Someone at some time decided that Chang Jiang (the Yangtze River, which means "long river") would be an arbitrarily good dividing line between the "hot" part of China and the "cold" part. I'm not really sure which big men decided that it doesn't get cold enough in southern and western China to warrant heat, but after traveling to parts of China in November without heat I feel that these men were mistaken in their decision! The result is that urban centers north of the line rely on a central heating system and everyone south of the line does without or makes do with electric space heaters. This massive centralized heating system pipes hot water from local heating stations into radiators in Beijing homes and other cities. Not only is the line randomly chosen and not based on average winter temperatures, but the date when the heat goes on and off is also arbitrary. We were told that our heat would come on on November 15 this year, but there was much rejoicing when the pipes in my room were warm tonight!