Year Abroad: Shanghai Weather

Having reached a rather impressive milestone of six months in Shanghai, I’ve written, not as much as I would have liked, on nightlife, studying, food and art on my Year Abroad. I thought I’d add to this short list with a topic that’s been in the news at home in Britain (floods!): Shanghai Weather!

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SEASONS

Summer Autumn Winter Spring Pollution

If you’re thinking about studying abroad in any country, you might want to take into account the seasonal weather changes as you pack your bags. There’s been an extreme range in temperature while I’ve been in this small coastal area of China, and it really does pay to be prepared.

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SUMMER

 I arrived in Shanghai during one of the hottest summers on record for this modern metropolis, when the temperatures were soaring in the high 30s, stifling the city with trapped heat. In July, it hit 40ºC on a day where news teams astounded people worldwide with footage of raw meat and eggs literally cooking on the concrete pavements of the city.

This unbearable June-July heat lasted right into early September, where our classes were attended in shorts and T-shirts (at least by us baking Brits), Chinese men walked around bearing some impressive pot bellies, and locals kept a little towel at hand to mop up the sweat (gross, but kind of effective?). Water bottles and light clothing are a must – but make sure you take a cardigan or jacket if you’re planning on taking the metro or popping into restaurants or department stores, the air-con tends to be on the strong side. Yay for tan, but, yeah… sweaty.

AUTUMN

“What autumn?” is probably the right question here. Apart from the slow, slow decent of the temperatures from summer months, it’s common to hear from the locals that there is no Autumn in Shanghai. In reality, what arrived was a sudden downpour of rain and a sudden drop in temperature of about 10ºC, I was hoping that these days of chilly, brisk temperatures would last to be Shanghai’s winter, but boy was I wrong… Winter was coming.

TOP TIP: As the cold sets in, invest in one of these tea-flasks that you’ll see the locals walking around clutching. A plastic one can be as cheap as 10¥, and of course, glass versions can reach right up to 150¥. Traditionally, locals drink a lot of hot beverages, including plain hot water and tea, and with the temperature dropping rapidly it’s not hard to see why. Hot water dispensers are something you’ll see around school buildings, cafeterias and even on public trains – and don’t be surprised in restaurants when people ask if you want warm or cold water, they even offer ‘room temperature’ beer… An acquired taste, I think.

WINTER

 Cold. It is cold. Big winter jackets, accessories to cover ever extremity, and yes long-johns, will be things you’ll be wanting for the Shanghai winter. Perhaps hard to pin down exactly what it is about Shanghai’s winters that seem so bitter, but contributing factors definitely include a blistering cold wind, and frequent heavy downpours that last days on end.

Winters are far from mild, and this year even saw a brief flurry of snow in late January. In addition, living below the line drawn in the country which defines which houses get proper indoor heating (radiators, rather than air conditioners that double as heaters) means that inside concrete apartment blocks can be difficult to keep warm. Get your thick duvets and Chinese-style padded PJs on for warmth!

TOP TIP: If your looking to jazz up your bed with something 100% authentic Chinese-style, try buying a 拉舍尔毛毯 – it’s a thick, heavy bed throw that will cost you about 100¥ for a single bed sized cover – and boy are they warm! Only downside is, they come in particularly bold prints… You certainly won’t miss them in store anyway.

SPRING

Up-date to come, if spring ever arrives that is…. but for now, it’s late February and when it’s not cold and raining, things are looking up with the daily temperature  highs creeping slowly towards double digits. According to hearsay, the temperature won’t really start picking up until late April or May, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for earlier.

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SPECIAL FEATURE

Shanghai Pollution Cartoon: Pollution Cloud

In December 2013, news of Shanghai weather hit the international news scene again, but this time it wasn’t for record-breaking heat and the novelty of BBQs on the city street, it was for the record-breaking levels of pollution in the city. The 6th of December saw the levels of pollution in the city soaring above the marks of unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous, right off the scale itself to what was guessed to be around the high 600s in the AQI (or Air Quality Index). What does this mean?

Well, to put it into context, my hometown of Belfast rarely rises above 30AQI, let alone above 50AQI (which marks the border from ‘Good’ into ‘Moderate’).  For those of you in London, you’re looking at between 30s-120s, on a bad day –  that’s touching into what’s marked as ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.’  Paris similarily stays below 100, while New York varies between 30s-150s.

As for the numbers, hold your breath, but from what I understand, they grade the concentration of pollutants in the air made up of readings of PM2.5, PM10,  SO2, NO2, O3, and CO particles. For those of you with a better grasp of maths, check out Wiki’s page on Air Quality Index for a breakdown of how readings are taken and final AQI numbers calculated. And for everyone, below is a more simple demonstration of what the difference between around 60AQI and top-of-the-scale 500AQI looks like in real life.

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Shanghai Pollution demonstrated by my classmate. These photos, taken less than four months apart, show the change in visibility from the top of our 23 floor dormitory.
Shanghai Pollution demonstrated by my classmate. These photos, taken less than four months apart, show the change in visibility from the top of our 23 floor dormitory.

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It’s a pretty shocking wake-up call for anyone who’s thinking about what their quality of life will be if they move into a modern city with air quality problems, and it’s not just Shanghai that you should think about. Many cities across China, and the rest of the world (India, Egypt, Middle East, Mexico, to name names outright),  are also suffering from industrial levels of pollution, booming population and lack of air quality control. It may not be the first thing you think of when you’re researching places to live, but from here on in, it’s going to be something I do – check the daily pollution where you are →  http://aqicn.org/city/shanghai/

TOP TIPS

 There are some precautionary measures you can take if you’re thinking of studying in China in the near future.

1. At the very least, get a  PM2.5 Protection Mask  口罩 (Kǒuzhào)as soon as you arrive in China. Don’t wait for government pollution warnings, don’t wait for everyone else to tell you to get one, by that time masks are really hard to buy as they sell out fast. They cost around 40-50¥ in your local convenience store, and come with three disposable filters which can help filter the smallest PM2.5 particles. For more industrial masks, try Taobao (China’s answer to Amazon.com).

2. Download the aqicn.org Air Pollution Index App for your smart phone. It’s free, and means that you’re always able to get an accurate reading for what you’re breathing in so you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s worth going running today…

Short term effects: I’ve noticed are a particular smell when the pollution is bad that seeps into your clothes, and at its worst a sore throat, and sorry for the gross detail, but blow your nose and the snot comes out a particularly strange grey (I did actually end up asking friends about this, and we had laughed about it with a bit of dark humour… no pun intended).  Long term effects are fairly detailed, so I’d direct you to Google for those.

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That’s all I have to say so far about weather here in Shanghai, but hopefully there’s some detail there that’ll help you prepare for your trip, be it a holiday or long term stay. Feel free to ask questions below, me and the rest of the internet world will do our best to answer them!

Until next time,

Charlotte xx

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China: Journey to the Mountain

 

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Journey to the Mountain

#1 Gate to the clouds

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It’s a great, heaving breath I take as I step out of a tiny Chinese bus at our first stop on our upwards journey of 3,099m:
the Gate to Mount Emei, one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China.

It’s been a stomach-churning drive to this point, but the air is clear, crisp and fresh. It’s a rush of oxygen that comes as a huge relief, not only because of my all-too-familiar feeling of car-sickness, but after a month in China, I’m craving any kind of air that doesn’t feel like a dice with a slow, carbon-monoxide death.

With much reluctance, but greatly refreshed, that I step back on the bus to cross under the arch towards the Emei summit.

Our next stop is the Gondola at the base of the mountain, that departs from within a beautiful, deep-coloured wood building. Unfortunately, however, it’s under repair this time of year, and we’re herded towards the second back-up gondola leaves from behind this beautiful wooden building.

The aptly-named back-up gondola is a tiny, creaky plastic box – a relic from the 80s – which two foreigners can just about squeeze into. For the love of God, do not shake the box. We ascend through five minutes of cloud over tiny, paintbrush trees until we suddenly, with an artistic bust of sunshine, break the clouds…

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#2 Golden Elephant Peak

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The first section of the walk after the death-defying gondola ride takes us to base of Samantabhadra Statue Peak. It’s a stunning eruption that pierces into a swathe of blue sky – the likes of which I haven’t seen much of in China so far.

All along that steep incline towards the glimmering monument, people of all ages, and from all over the world climb the steps at times puffing almost shoulder to shoulder.

All different people, looking, in reverence and revery, and resting tired feet in the passing cloud.

Beautiful.

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Lack of Oxygen:
Peak of Emei Mountain, Chengdu, 3099m

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At the summit of Emei Mountain is this moment of real breathlessness.

The second, and unfortunately not final, terrifying rickety bus across the side of Emei mountain, took us to a  – then unreassuringly under-renovation – cable car, which took full running-jump into the tiny carriage, and proceeded to leak and rock us over proper Chinese mountains and sheer cliffs as the peak began rising up out of an endless sea of clouds.

At the summit rises three monolithic structures, atop an avenue of white-and-gold elephant lined steps: a goliathan gold buddha-elephant-spike, a golden temple, and a silver nunnery. They’re floating in and out of passing clouds, and there are these sudden bursts of gold reflections when the clouds break and the sunlight strikes the shining metal.
The Golden Summit.

All along the upward climb people were silently praying, periodically stopping to force their foreheads to the solid concrete steps, and to put smoking incense sticks and fat red candles on racks – the wax dripping everywhere, big sooty orange flames. People  were dirty, an end of pilgrimage dirt that suited their tired, reverent faces. A brilliant dirt, next to the gleaming temples in the sun and clear, thin air.

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We stayed for several hours, before beginning the quiet, slow decent to the base town.

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Mount Emei:
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China
Pǔxián Púsà (普賢菩薩)
First Buddhist Temple in China
Earliest extant reference to the Shaolin Monastery

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Beijing, TUESC: The Summer Palace

A Note On Pollution

I’m getting blasé about the sheer level of smog/overcast/pollution here in Beijing and even looking at the U.S. State Air Quality Guide – constantly assuring me the concoction of chemicals in the air I’m breathing in is a big fat red ‘Unhealthy’ – is something that I’ve resigned myself to as being consistently depressing. Most of my fellow Brit volunteers have a mild cough, with one insisting he’s snot is black with pollution.

Not really feeling like checking the medical accuracy of this fact myself, I’ll just report it here and leave it to your readerly decision on its possible validity.

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Summer Palace

However, this weekend the girls have braved the sweltering Beijing summer heat on a rare, what sort-of could be classified as clear, day to explore the city’s Summer Palace!

From the elderly gentlemen practicing water calligraphy that evaporates almost instantly from the stone grey paving round the lake (which I half-expect to be steaming in this Saharan temperature), to the Chinese hawkers selling hats (with remarkable English speaking skills) and actors in full traditional regalia including beard, it’s a cultural paradise enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

Even in the smouldering heat, the boats on the lakes make small circles loaded with barely shaded tourists and the heat burdened ant-lines of marching tourists make their way to the steps of the Palace itself, located a 15-20min walk up steep steps – depending on your relative fitness and willingness to swim with sweat.

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Thank goodness I was in excellent company, Emma and Ellie ♥ Exeter travel companions!

Suggestions:
Pick a non-weekend, and go in winter.

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Light relief!

Three wide-eyed girls and the cutest, chubby Chinese triplets known to man. I’ve actually never seen triplets before. We were innocently ‘Aww-ing’ and ‘Ahh-ing’ watching these little guys being attacked by a hoard of snap-happy Chinese tourists when suddenly we found ourselves being shepherded into centre-shot – in what must have been our five minutes of Chinese fame we were trapped sitting against the back-drop of a sandy-stoned, ancient Chinese temple, being blinded by the sun and flashes of cameras that did not need to have the flash on (Chinese-tourist speciality).

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Three exhausted foreigners and their new favourite way to eat cucumbers! This lovely lady saved us from melting completely when we bought three shaved, cooled cucumbers in a stick 小黃瓜 (xiǎo huángguā) for great refreshment; brought down from near-heat stroke by the absurdity of these salad fruit, served only in slices of course, (we’re Brits, after all) on a stick was enough to warrant a snap.

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Definitely worth the trip!

…But I can’t even remember how we got home.

Too hot.

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