I realized I have yet to mention the fairly recent installation of hot water heaters at Qi Yuan. It's maybe not the biggest thing to hit Shiyan, but it is the fruit of a long fought battle between the foreigners and the school. For years we've had to arrange our shower times around the "regularly scheduled" and generally undependable hot water availability times. What this really means is that we've had to learn to drop everything and run to the bathrooms as soon as we hear that loud, apocalyptic-sounding groan coming from the water pipes as the heat begins to flow. We've also learned to cope with missed showers (what's one more day?) and handle scalding hot water melting our skin when we do get them. Last month, though, our daily routines were forever altered when the school finally installed hot water heaters in each of our bathrooms. No more looking at our watch every five minutes when we're at someone else's school to make sure we haven't missed the hot water. No more avoiding exercising before 8 pm knowing there's no way to clean up after (well, there's always cold showers available, but, really, why put ourselves through that?). No more feeling shame when friends are unable to clean up after arriving from other cities having spent hours on nasty trains - the filth of which can only be washed away. But now our school has brought us into the modern age, and we are grateful. I say all this after my mid-day shower, a new experience for me.
While on the topic of change, Shiyan is seeing its fair share of it in recent months. I should put a disclaimer here and say that it's possible Shiyan isn't changing as much as I think. Perhaps I'm just getting to know her better. It's been almost two years since I first moved here, and before coming I was warned to not expect to find too many foreign things. It was a warranted warning since I don't consider KFC or McDonald's the western things I would choose to have readily available. Last year we trekked all over the city for butter. This year most supermarkets have it most of the time. We even discovered shortening at a local bakery which has greatly increased the number of foods from back home we can now make. This year alone we have discovered flavored coffee creamers (hazelnut, vanilla, and something else), rocky road and cookies and cream ice cream, Dr. Pepper and Cream Soda (on one occasion and never again, but I'm remaining hopeful), a wine shop with imported brands, a store that sells jeans in real people sizes, and real, fresh milk (again only on one occasion, but it's a beginning). These new finds are a far cry from the warnings we were given to bring shoe-laces with us (as Chinese people don't wear laced shoes?) and underwear and enough pants to survive a year of China wear and tear (I've had two pairs of pants die already, and two more are on their deathbeds). There are still those clutch ingredients we have yet to spot in our supermarkets which will continue to demand our periodic visits to the "big" cities to acquire them (cheese, namely, and other things we don't know we miss until we're standing in the foreign aisle at Metro entranced by such novelties as...Graham crackers and...Nutella). But, give Shiyan a couple more years; she's catching up.