The courtyard of our home
8am – Alex’s parents prepare breakfast for us. Breakfast is typically corn porridge, which is nice and warm, and some stir-fried vegetables. We eat a lot of cabbage, since they grow it themselves and it’s always on hand. It’s also incredibly fresh and incredibly sweet. A great combination. We eat our meal, as we eat practically every meal, outside in the courtyard on a short, square table. An assortment of different chairs and stools lie around the yard, and I grab one and sit down at the table. Since there isn’t central heating, I guess it’s about as cold outside as it is inside, so it doesn’t make much of a difference to eat at the taller dining table indoors.
8:30am – After breakfast, the hours before lunch are usually spent pacing around the courtyard. Partly as an effort to stay warm, and partly to pass the time. Alex spends this time chatting with his family. As I can only understand bits and pieces of their local dialect, I soon find myself tuning out. I’ve discovered that it is indeed possible for me to go hours without speaking, as is common when I am in the village. Particularly because nobody actually talks to me, just about me.
10am – In order to pass the time before lunch and stay warm, I’ve created a routine the past several visits to my in-laws’ home of having a morning coffee. I still have some leftover instant Nestle coffee from my visit in October, so I add some hot water and sit in the courtyard reading news on my phone.
12:30pm – Lunchtime. Another porridge (usually rice porridge) and stir-fried vegetables. Today’s stir-fry includes fresh cabbage and carrots.
5pm – Most of the afternoon is spent in the courtyard. I alternate between reading on my phone and pretend-boxing with Alex to stay warm. The weather is warmer than Beijing but still way too cold for my California-raised body. Luckily, the sun was out today, so I grab a chair and “sunbathe” in the 20-something degree Fahrenheit weather. It’s been a pretty low-key day, which is nice after a full day of traveling.
The solar-powered water heater on the roof
8pm – After dinner (more porridge and stir-fry), I get to shower off the dirt and grime from our previous day’s travels. Alex’s home was renovated before we got married, which is the custom, and there is a small building across the courtyard with a squat toilet and a big shower room. It’s a private bathroom, if I wasn’t clear. I remember my visits to the village before we got married and were blessed with a new home. The bathroom was also outdoors, but was more of an outhouse with no shower. It was literally a small brick building slightly taller than me with a bucket. Yep, just a bucket. I gained a lot of respect for village-folk like my in-laws who spent years dumping out their own waste. Oh, and the bucket apparently was for #1 only. I learned the hard way that there’s a separate place to take a crap.
Back to the present. It’s always a gamble whether or not we can shower here, especially in the winter. Something that’s super cool about village housing is that almost all the houses here use a solar-powered water heater. It’s this really big unit that sits on the roof and has multiple pipes lined up next to each other. It almost look like a musical instrument. For an area where most people don’t have internet or know how to use it, they’re surprisingly ahead of their time. The solar-powered water heater is used for the simplest reason, though: to save money on electricity. On a day like today, where the sky was clear and the sun shone brightly, the water reached 50 degrees, meaning the temperature was just right for us to shower in.
After my shower, I go inside and spend the rest of the evening watching some TV. I can’t understand a lot of what we’re watching, but I’m just grateful to be cuddling next to Alex under a blanket.
10pm – Just as in Beijing, by 10pm it’s lights out for us. I don’t know if it’s getting older, or being married, but I don’t mind if it means I get more sleep each night. Bedtime is the only time of day when I’m truly warm. Our bed is covered with two down quilts. When I snuggle into bed, my hands and feet are still icicles, but after about 15 minutes, I start to warm up and settle into a deep sleep.