Across China: A shower at home after malodorous decades

YINCHUAN, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- Every time Shi Wenliang takes a shower at home, he flashes back to the days of trudging a long, lonely path to a bath.

Living in a remote village in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, showering in the winter was a complicated ritual.

Before 2011, Shi was taken by his father to a public bathhouse in a town several kilometers two or three times each month.

"It was always a long wait," recalled the 15-year old.

"There were so many people waiting to wash themselves that the bench in the bathhouse was always full and the others had to stand or squat down to chat. When I got bored, daddy would buy me candy."

His two sisters would go to another bathhouse with mommy.

"Sometimes we could not make it back home the same day and had to stay at grandma's house. My weekend was often ruined by a shower," said Shi Wenting, his younger sister, who still nurses a grudge.

Between 2011 and 2016, the family had their baths in a company bathhouse at the coal mine where Shi's uncle worked, but still, it was not much fun.

"We had to leave in the early hours of the morning on a motor tricycle," Shi said.

"If we had to feed the goats or there was other farmwork yet to be done, we had to rush back at night," said his mother Li Fumei.

The bathing problem in China's northwestern rural areas has been there for decades, perhaps centuries.

"In summer, we used to wash in a nearby river, or warm the water under the sun, but it was impossible in winter," said Yin Huiming, another Ningxia villager.

It is even not unusual for villagers to take only three or four baths a year as they neither have water heaters at home nor public bathhouses in their villages.

Last year, the Shi family finally were able to shower at home thanks to their own solar water heater, paid for through a government scheme to improve showering facilities in rural areas.

"We only paid 420 yuan (61 U.S. dollars) for the 2,000 yuan heater, the government covered the rest," said Shi Zhanquan, the father.

The local government earmarked 200 million yuan in 2015 to install water heaters for 200,000 rural households that have difficulty taking showers in winter.

Now over 400,000 water heaters have been installed and the project is expected to cover all of Ningxia in 2018.

Easy showering has also changed life of the Shis' neighbors.

"There were few people on the square, but now it is bustling with people dancing and exercising," Li told Xinhua.

The environment is also getting better as less coals is burnt to heat up the water for a quick wash at home on cold days.

"Coal use is expected to fall by about 30,000 tonnes in Ningxia, saving at least 32 million yuan a year," said Jia Xiangfeng, head of a local energy station.

Shi Wenliang's thoughts fly further with the splashing of the hot water.

"I never imagined I could take a hot shower at home and it made me start to wonder what else is there that I have never seen. I want to study in the city and bring those things back home."

[ Editor:yfs001]