White Person Problems

On a run near Jiawugang

We recently received word of a projected electricity outage. For five days, the electricity would be turned off from 8am to 6pm. I didn’t ask why; it’s rare enough to get information about an event, change, or agenda item (or really anything) before said event actually occurs, so I figured I would simply take the news in stride and prepare for five days of unpluggedness.

below Amnye Taklung

below Amnye Taklung

Only later did I start think about what the implications for my life and job. Having no computer or internet I can deal with for some time. Lights are nice, but I can use candles and headlamps for several days. But it was only when I went running that I started to ponder the additional aspects of my life that the outage would affect:

  • No cooking. While I have a hotplate, toaster oven and teakettle, all are electric. Having no electricity will confine me to a raw diet of the half-shriveled early spring produce available at street markets. Or raw meat. I won’t even be able to make tsamba or anything else requiring water, because:
  • No purified water. I purify water by boiling it. Which requires electricity. Without, I’ll have to buy half-liter water bottles at stores.
  • No hot water. No tea, no hot drinks of any kind, and:
  • No showers. I could take a cold shower, but – as the heat was turned off weeks ago – I would immediately get hypothermia in my icebox of an apartment. I would die alone, and nobody would notice until I started missing classes…
  • No photocopies. A lack of electricity would prevent us from making copies of worksheets or even printing out worksheets we had made ourselves, effectively limiting us to our textbooks (or no-paper exercises) for the duration of the outage. Which is too bad, as we have some quality material in the pipeline that would simple have to wait or go unused.
  • No access to the library catalog. We would have to keep a paper catalog and then spend hours updating the computerized catalog when the power turned back on.
  • Night class in the dark. If the outage went at all late, we would have to teach our 1.5 hour evening class in full darkness – not an ideal teaching situation. Or maybe night class would be cancelled, which would be the best of all possible situations. That being said, the best of all possible situations rarely (or never) happens, so I’ll stick with the dark classroom motif.
  • No phones. After a couple of days, everyone’s cell phones would die. Which would complete our severing from the rest of the world – including other school teachers and friends. Which is nice sometimes.

And now, having written this long list of things I wouldn’t have without electricity, I feel ashamed. I’m just another white male whining about temporarily withheld luxuries. I’m whining about being forced to experience a simpler life, a way of life similar to that many of my students experienced for years while growing up. I will be forced to, for a time, be without.

the gorge above town

Which is in many ways an excellent situation with many positives, such as forcing me to read more, or meet more local friends, or even increased opportunities for meditation practice. But at the same time, I struggle to simplify my life beyond a certain point. I truly enjoy having few possessions and living simply, but I also find that I tell myself all this while continuing to be surrounded by machines on which I depend even for food and drink – the necessities of life. Where have we all come; what has happened to us that we need machines to provide us with the basic needs of life? That we have lost the capacity, or the will, or – more likely – both the capacity and will to provide for ourselves?

And this is my White Person Problem for the week. I will be without electricity – a resource on which I habitually depend for my food, water, warmth, and work (not to mention comfort). And, despite my love for the simple life, you can be assured that I’ll be complaining about this outage every day it continues.

RG - getting so big these days...

That is, if it occurs at all. It was supposed to start this morning – and, fourteen hours later, it has yet to begin. Maybe I won’t get my meditation practice in after all.

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2 Responses to White Person Problems

  1. S. T Lloyd says:

    Reading this takes me back to my Peace Corps experiences. At least you got notification. Whenever this happened to me (which it did periodically) I was already prepared, but still had the same complaints that you did. The good thing was that my host family had gas furnaces so I could still enjoy hot bucket baths at least. Ah, bucket baths.. that was often the highlight of my days…

  2. Kailah says:

    This happened here last spring for 10 days, during month 5 of no running water. Except we found out (as we all often do) through rampant rumor than through any kind of official announceement. I panicked in similar ways. (Though I have a gas stove.) BUT keep in mind you should still have electricity at night and in the early morning, to print worksheets, charge your phone, etc. Or at least some of those times during the 5 days. 加油。

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