Mom and Dad, I get it.
It's all so clear to me, suddenly. That panicked look on your face when you found that someone had left the front door open in the dead cold of a Michigan winter? Makes perfect sense. All those times you freaked when we left the lights on in empty rooms? Totally and utterly reasonable. Turning the air conditioning off on those humid summer nights when the heat made getting a little shut eye an exercise in futility? Not so sadistic after all.
And what could be the reason for my sudden revelation, you ask? Simple: that classic American rite of passage, getting your own apartment, a step into adulthood I've had the fortune to experience in Beijing.
Yes indeed, I have finally entered the world of grown-up freedom, responsibility, and well, problems. The freedom has been nice; there's something enchanting about walking out the door without having to tell anyone in excruciating detail exactly where you will be, whom you will be with, and when you will be home. The price for all of this glorious beholden-to-no-one-ness has been shouldering responsibility for my own life and living space, hence my sudden realization that your parental obsession with conserving power may not have been quite so ridiculous after all.
When you're paying your own electrical bills, that light switch on the wall is no longer just a device to open a circuit and illuminate a room; it's a direct portal to your wallet, something I prefer to keep closed. It's an even more present concern in China than it is in the United States, where the electrical bill is a theoretical expense, an apparition that materializes monthly in that dreaded envelope. Until it comes, you may have little idea of exactly what you'll be paying that month.
In China, electricity isn't something you get on credit - it's pay-as-you-go. You take a little electronic card to the bank and pay to have credits put on it. Then, you insert it into a meter outside your door and it loads the credits onto a red LED display that shows how much you have left. This provides a real incentive to horde electricity: it's kind of like watching your car slowly run out of gas, and driving like an old lady to stretch as many miles out of a tank as possible.
And so, I find myself turning into something I promised myself I would never become: my parents. But don't blame me if you find me sweating shirtless in a completely darkened apartment. It's the electricity meter's fault.
|About the author:
Matt Doran is an award-winning American newspaper journalist and an undergraduate student at Albion College. He is currently a polisher for China Daily Website and is on summer break from Beijing Foreign Studies University, where he will resume his study of Chinese in the fall.