Thursday, January 12, 2012

Staring at the ceiling

One of the most curious phenomena to be spawned by the emergence of middle-class affluence in China over the past decade or so has been an obsession with interior design.

This is an art - or a science, or a blend of the two - that has had to be created here more or less ab nihilo. So, its hallmarks tend to be complexity rather than elegance, and fiddliness rather than functionality.

Now, these light fittings in my new apartment really look rather good: quite modernist, even a bit Art Deco-ish, instead of the cod Louis Quatorze multiple sconces and chandelier arrangements that central light fittings here so often attempt. But they are still woefully impractical. Like almost all Chinese light fittings I've ever seen, they are bolted to the wall or ceiling in elaborate, obscure, and nonsensical ways, which make it virtually impossible ever to change a failed bulb.* 

*  Even if you do manage to dismantle one of these confounded light fittings without causing injury to yourself or it, you might not be able to find a replacement bulb, anyway. There doesn't seem to be any standardization of light fittings. Most apartments have a bewildering variety of regular incandescent bulbs, energy-saving bulbs, and neon strips, in all kinds of different shapes, sizes, and wattages, and with screw, bayonet and clip-in mounts. In my last - fairly small - apartment, I counted 11 different kinds of light bulb in use. Even the two circular neon strips, the main central lights in the bedroom and the study, which appeared to have identical fittings/shades, proved upon examination to be of different sizes and mountings. My bedroom light failed a couple of months after I moved in; and I could not find a supermarket or hardware store for two or three miles in any direction that could give me a replacement for it. Since I don't do anything in my bedroom other than sleep, this was not such a big problem; I learned to go to bed in the dark. After nearly two years of that, I am having difficulty reprogramming myself to remember that light is once again an option at bedtime in my new place.

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