I’d like to establish the fact that while despite growing up in New England, I’ve lived in my fair share of warm places. I lived in South Carolina during summer (with a car with no a/c), stayed in very tropical hot places like Australia and Indonesia, and survived my fair share of heat waves. I mean, hell, I’ve lived here, in southern China, for 4 years.
But the thing is I’ve never spend my summers here. I usually leave early/mid july and come back end of August. And I’ve always thought end of June/beginning of July was one of the hottest months. Boy was I ever wrong. Now here, at the end of July, I’ve been dealing with daily temps way over 100. This week alone the forecast is between 104-106 degrees. And that’s just the actual temperature. The heat index is holding at a steady 119-120 every friggin day.
And I’m dying.
I have Northern/Eastern European ancestry. My body is just not made to survive these kinds of temps. Give me a down jacket and -30 degrees and I have no problem. But in this heat? I’m like a sputtering jalopy that overheats every 5 miles.
In fact, I’m prone to heat sickness and living here has only made me more sensitive. A few years ago, when we had to teach class late June class (in classrooms with no a/c) I actually got heat exhaustion and got really sick. First comes the diarrhea, then the dizziness, then the puking and at that point I’m done for a few days.
The other night, at my friend Jason’s house, the a/c actually broke at about 9pm. I woke up at 2 am sweating profusely and feeling like I was suffocating in the heat. I had to go out to the kitchen, drink some ice water and try to calm down. I went back into the stuffy bedroom (no fan) and lasted only a few minutes before I was sweated out. I ended up sleeping on the cool kitchen tile floor, under a ceiling fan. Or more accurately, I lied there. Sleep was hard to come by.
But with a job and friends to see, I can’t stay inside with the a/c everyday. So me and everyone living here has to come up with ways to cope with the heat. Here are some:
Drink, drink, drink:
I go through several bottles of water a day, but my favorite drink is a cold milk tea. They have special drinks during the summertime to help people cool down, such as xi gua bing, watermelon juice, but my favorite is just the normal lemon iced tea. There is a milk tea shop between where I live and where I work so I usually end up going there a few times a day. Unfortunately the workers are the biggest bunch of chuckleheads and just getting an iced tea can take forever.
Look for shade anywhere:
The streets where I live don’t have many trees and people are forced to walk right next to the buildings for just a tiny sliver of shade. The intersections are the worst as sometimes you need to wait 4-5 minutes for the light to change and there is nothing to protect you from the unrelenting sun. Until one day I noticed several people standing about 20 feet away from the intersection in the shade of the subway entrance building. I then began notice not only walkers, but people on bikes waiting 30-60 feet away from the intersections in bits of shade. It’s now my new strategy too. I might be far away from the intersection but it’s worth it to be in a the shade for a few minutes.
If you can’t find shade, make your own:
Carrying around an umbrella in the sun is popular because Chinese people think pale/white skin is most attractive, so they don’t want to get tan. But these days even I’m thinking of carrying it as you have your own shade. The stretch of road between my house and my job (which I walk 4 times a day) is absolutely devoid of any shade and I’ve been looking at the umbrella holders a bit jealously. We’ll see if I cave in and start carrying one too.
Carry a fan:
If you can’t find shade, using a fan helps a bit. Luckily China has a long tradition of fans. You don’t even need to buy one, people stand on the streets handing out fans with advertising on it, and restaurants have them waiting at every table. It’s great marketing and I have several stashed in all my bags ready to use.
Get out of the sun and into a cafe:
Luckily Hangzhou has some amazing cafe’s and they all pump their a/c. Almost everyday I spend a few hours in a cafe studying, writing or hanging out with friends. I’ve been doing some exploring for new cafes and have a few favorites within a 5 minute walk from my house. Spending a few hours in a cafe isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it in this weather.
You can see I’ve come up with some ways to cope, but there’s no getting around the truth: summer in southern China is hell.