This Blasted Beijing Heat

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Cat in the Hat - what can we do? Stuck inside while the sky is blue

I love Beijing in autumn and winter. They are my favourite times of year.

In autumn, there is a thick, palpable change in the thinning air. The leaves are turning and tumbling to the ground, the air temperature is dropping (surprisingly fast – if you have lived in Beijing more than a year, you’ll understand what I mean), jackets and boots are hauled out of mothballs, seasonal fruit and veg are shifting and changing welcomingly, school is starting again and the kids are raring to go. The evenings are divine and there’s more people on the streets, creating that pre-winter-hibernation buzz. Halloween drops by and the heart-warming countdown to the Festive Season begins. It’s just lovely.

In winter, I love the nip in Beijing’s air – it has a faux freshness to it. I love the skeleton nakedness of the trees, the bluish white frost of the frozen lakes and canals begging to be slipped on, the knitted beanies and puffy coats, the steamy hotpot restaurants, the occasional flutter of snow, the cramming ourselves into a warm Starbucks corner along with everyone else, and the excuses to escape somewhere tropical for a week to thaw out before returning to make tragic but awfully charming snowmen (with jiao coins for eyes), smooshed together from the slush at the bottom of our building.

Summer I don’t like so much. Nor spring, as it heralds summer and the lakes and canals thaw and become dribbly.

Summer is difficult in Beijing. There is no beach to escape to. No strong sea breeze. No darkly wooded parks to hide in. There just seems to be no shade. And for a place that can get so bitterly cold, this town sure can heat up. The heat of our first Beijing summer actually shocked me, and it seems worse each year. The heat is burning – I mean, rivers-of-sweat burning, that even a 180-beats-per-minute aerobics class can’t induce. You can’t go out in that. I mean, you can in the early morning, for a quick bide ride. And the late afternoons, once the sun dips behind the horizon, are scrumptious, even when the air is still that little bit too warm. But basically, you can forget standing in the sun between 9am-5pm. Just forget it.

Okay, okay – not that there is often enough sun to have to stand in, but lately, we’ve had a remarkable stretch of bluesky-ish days in Beijing, and it’s actually quite depressing sitting in our ivory tower, gazing at that blue sky with ice slushies in hand, pining for a small ocean and a couple of grains of sand, pawing at the windows like puppies at the pound.

So – until late August when we will have a short, four-day reprieve out of town, we will be staying indoors. We will cool it. We will turn on the aircon and hide. We’ve tried to get out in it, to get our dose of Vitamin D and tear around like maniacs on bicycles and scooters, but it almost ruins us.

Bring on autumn!!

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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