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Wednesday, 30 June 2010


By Johna Ferguson

I’m not really into buildings and their construction, but I have seen at times how houses are built in the States. First the foundation is poured and then 2x4s are used for framing the walls with window and door entries. Insulation is put in between the studs and then outer and inner walls are affixed.

Here in China where I live, houses are built of bricks. Buildings have steel reinforcement rods in them, but not housing units. In my city, as in many other Chinese cities, many people live in six-story tall buildings. These buildings have maybe five different entrances, called gates here, and no elevators. The walls are brick and then plastered over on the outside and sometimes with added tiles for decoration.

On the inside the bricks are covered with a thin layer of plaster and then painted. The floors are cement also and therefore so are the ceilings. In other words, you live in a solid, cold, brick/cement enclosure without any insulation.

The unit we live in is in a three-story building and we live on the first floor, thus we have the surrounding yard but then there is nothing between our floors and the dirt below; just a small crawl space, no insulation. We do have hardwood or tile covering our floors, no rugs, but they still remain cold in the winter when the temperatures get so low. Most of the time, I wear down booties to keep my feet warm.

The walls are also very cold when you touch or lean against them. I am continually surprised at their icy solidness. It makes hanging pictures very difficult; have you ever tried to nail into cement? Thus, most people’s walls are bare, ours included.

We do have double-paned windows but they are made differently than others I’ve had in Seattle. Here, unskilled workers put two pieces of glass together with a small space in between and place them in your frames. They are not really sealed together so water condenses in between the glass and the view out on some days is quite obscured. Also, the workers often don’t clean the glass before putting them together, so there may be lots of finger prints to further mar your outlook.

Here in Qingdao, most of the living places have red tile roofs which makes for a very European feeling when you look out over them all. There are few trees left, so no shingles are available and asphalt roofing takes oil and there is also a shortage of that here. Even the telephone poles and fence posts are made of cement.

We have radiators in our rooms for central hot water heat when it is on from November 5 to April 5. We have ceiling fans for cooling in the summer besides air conditioner/heaters when needed. Like now, when the heat has been turned off the temperature at night is 43F and in the morning our rooms are only 50F, so it’s on with the electric heaters. But then, lots of families don’t have the money to buy them or pay for the electric bills so they just wear more layers.

Now as it gets warmer, the house still stays cold, but come the middle of July everything will then be too hot, the temperture and the humidity too high, so it’s on with air conditioners.

Life at times is a challenge, even for me, but then he who wants to grow old quickly will not accept challenges, and he who wants to stay young will search them out. I plan on being in the second group for as long as possible.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Johna - I couldn't agree more. Act and feel younger than our age until we cease to exist! - Sandy

i don't think my old bones could take a Chinese apartment. I hate being cold and I am grateful that I live in the sun belt.


I really enjoy your essays on what it is like to live in China.

You are a very good writer;excellent at descriptions and detail.

I got the chills just reading about your apartment in Winter; brrr.I think you are lucky to live on the first floor though. No steps and can you have a little garden?

I've read with interest your stories on living in China. Did you ever say why you moved there?


I have to ask the same question Estelle asked.

Please tell us why you moved to China...

Estelle and Nancy: I moved to China in 1985 to start a new life after my husband divorced me. I liked the country so I saayed and stayed.

Estelle and Nancy, Thank you for getting the info. Ronni: See how easy that was?

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