Mysteries of the A/C

It’s hot in Hangzhou now, so I’m using the air conditioning.

One way that China and Japan differ from the U.S. is that since they don’t have central air/heating, you have these little wall-mounted units that only affect one room, and they each have their own remote controls. This is convenient, I suppose, but the problem is that my A/C units often don’t read the remote control’s signal. I often have to press the button quite a few times — getting closer to the unit with every push, all the while pointing the remote directly at the sensor — to get it to work.

This isn’t a big deal, except that when you change the thermostat you never know if it really registered, because the remote registers the change in a little digital readout window regardless of whether home base received the transmission. I thought these things were supposed to give off a little beep as a “roger, we read you,” but mine never does except for when it’s turned on or off. Alas, I am in a perpetual state of agonizing room temperature uncertainty.

When I first arrived in Asia, I found the lack of central heating/air barbaric. This particularly applied to winter in Japan and summer in Hangzhou. Now, however, I can appreciate that in China I can be nice and comfortable in my air-conditioned bedroom while my other room is still sweltering. In the USA the whole house would have to be air-conditioned, and that’s a major waste of power when I’m home alone, just sitting in front of the computer.

(NOTE: If you’re really bored, check out the website of my air conditioner’s manufacturer, Midea. It’s completely ridiculous in its extravagance. Keep in mind that it’s just a home appliance company. You can even see my wall-mounted A/C unit in 3D glory! The Chinese really overuse Flash and other plugin apps.)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I thought that’s the way most air conditioners were in the US. I guess it’s a northern thing (I live in Maine). Although, we don’t even get remotes! Some of the newer ones have remotes, but not all of them, and not the ones my parents have. My mom and dad (two different houses) each have two window mounted air conditioners they use to cover the main rooms of their houses.

    I also don’t assume restaurants have free refills on drinks, which you talked about in another post. Maybe Maine is secretly part of China?

    I know this was a really old post, but I just found the blog a few months ago, and it’s taking a while to catch up on all the old posts. The more I read, the more I can’t wait to go to China, and the longer I expect to stay.

  2. I think thay’s pretty much how air-conditioners work everywhere in Asia.


    The central air-conditioning system only makes sense when one also talks about a heating system (since you also need to heat the water), Countries with warmer climate don’t need to heat their water and therefore it’d be more logical to NOT have the central air-conditioning system.

  3. Lantian Says: May 3, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    Another difference is that the cooling unit is actually outside, which then sends the refridgerated air through a hose to what is basically a fan unit which is inside. This of course keeps the noise down, unlike typical US window-mounted room a/c.

    BTW Frank, I don’t think it has too much to do with whether it’s a warm or cold climate. It has to do more with building in the ductwork for central air.

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