Here in the consular section, I am caught in the middle of an office dispute. Two factions at war: we can call them the Heat Wave and the Cold Front. What’s at stake is the optimal office temperature. The battlefield is the Holy Thermostat of Shenyang.
We work in an open office. The interview windows are along one wall, and the officers and local staff all have desks in a big open office (I’d post a photo, but regulations prohibit that). During interviews, the room is very noisy, as you can imagine. In spite of the high noise level, noise is not the source of the dispute. We find a way to work through the cacophony of interviews. But the temperature of the office is another thing. Another big thing.
The dress code for officers “on the line” (conducting visa interviews) is business attire. For men, that means suit and tie. Locally-Engaged Staff (LES) can wear business casual attire.
When we officers are standing at the interview window in our suits, we get hot. But many LES, wearing a sleeveless shirt and a short skirt, sitting at their desks in an air-conditioned room, get cold.
You start to understand the source of conflict now, right?
The officers, wearing several layers of clothes, complain that the office is too hot, and ask for the A/C to be adjusted to make the room cooler. The Facilities Manager (an American officer) asks the maintenance crew to make the room cooler. The LES, dress more sensibly for the summer weather, complain to the senior LES that the room is too cold. The senior LES — who I suspect actually runs the consular section, if not the entire consulate — then asks the maintenance crew directly (bypassing the FM) to make the room less cool.
Back and forth we went, the temperature of the room swinging up and down like the forehead of a feverish child. Battle cries echoed through the office. Snarls from the LES when the room cooled. Howls from the Officers when the room warmed up. The layer of civilization that governs interaction with our fellow man was wearing thin. Bloodshed seemed inevitable.
I recall Captain Picard’s famous line, uttered when he captained the Starship Enterprise into a life-and-death battle: “We have engaged the Borg.”
The Facilities Manager, a reasonable and even-tempered man, was (understandably) getting tired of the back-and-forth. He directed the installation of a thermostat control near the interview windows. It’s a nifty control box with an LCD display and buttons for adjusting the temperature up and down.
Hooray! Dance of joy! The officers win the war! we think to ourselves. We can set the office temperature to whatever we want! Suck it, LES!
The victory parade was thrown prematurely, though.
It came to light that the thermostat, with its fancy LCD display and responsive temperature controls, is not actually connected to the temperature control. It was installed as prop, possibly to give the officers the illusion that we were in control of the temperature. Maybe the thinking was that if we thought that we were making the room cooler, that we would feel cooler.
The thermostat is just a placebo. A placebostat, if you will. No matter how much we bang on the buttons, we can not change the temperature of the office.
I suspect that the LES know that the thermostat is fake, but they’re hiding it well. No smirks or guffaws as we feverishly punch the buttons, muttering obsenities to ourselves. It seems that the officers have lost the battle.
It is summer now, and it’s hot outside. It will not always be hot, though. Air conditioning will not always be a useful weapon of war. Summer’s influence on the temperature of the office, and on the clothing choices of the LES, will not last forever. We officers have begun silently chanting that famous line from Game of Thrones:
Winter is coming.