Le Corbusier called houses machines à habiter, machines for living in. I’ve been busy learning how exactly my ‘machine’ works and I’ve found out it’s actually a machine à procrastiner.
Every day, I allocate a few hours to work or job hunting, and every day I end up doing odd jobs around the house. This seems to be a common experience amongst my neighbours, who chuckle and tell me the work on the house will never end.
One day I spend on my knees, varnishing the concrete floors downstairs. I’ve discovered how to clear concrete spatters from the kitchen tiles. Every day I have been cooking, for myself and a couple of times for my neighbours and visiting friends. I’ve started to grow herbs from scratch, I’ve built a compost pile in the garden and I’m making pickles. Most recently, I’ve been figuring out how to stay warm.
It’s been cloudy the last couple of days, and that means the temperature drops to around freezing. This was to be expected, as we have entered the ‘minor cold’ phase of the lunar calendar. China has an interesting system when it comes to central heating: only houses north of the so-called Qin Huai line have it – a leftover from a 1950’s energy-saving measure. This means that everyone who lives below this line will suffer the cold indoors as much as outdoors. Three walls of my house are about a metre thick. But, the front of the house is made of wood and full of draughty gaps. The tiled roof is high and has zero insulation.
I stay warm with electrical blankets, a life-saving 80-litre hot water tank and heating lamps in my bathroom. Most houses here rely on solar-heated hot water, meaning they don’t have hot water on the days you need it the most. The villagers are suffering the cold stoically, making fires outside to warm their hands. I make a fire inside, in the wood-burning stove that is the fiery heart of my kitchen.
Instead of working, I’m googling things like ‘how to sharpen an axe’ as I need to chop down my little pile of firewood to stove-sized bits. This new lifestyle is somewhat similar to bicycle travel, in the sense that you are grateful for small luxuries such as a hot shower and a warm bed for the night. It’s basic, uncomplicated, and satisfying.
Machine à procrastiner
In a way, the cold today is saving me from giving in to more procrastination. It is no weather to work in the garden or to spend time away from the fire. So, today I leave the house be. I got a big pot of soup going, I’m tending to the fire, and getting some actual work done. I’m preparing for the next series of cultural events, starting after the upcoming Chinese New Year.
Until then, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy getting my hands dirty working on my rough and ready – and simply beautiful – machine à procrastiner. I mean, what could possibly be more fun than building a fire?