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!



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.



 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.


“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.


 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.


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.



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.


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.


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 →


 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

2. Download the 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.


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

Music: Summer Tunes

Hope this summer check-in finds you enjoying the glorious summer freedom, whether you’re choosing to spend it productively (you poor, tea-serving interns…) or sun worshipping (you poor, lazy buggers). Either way, here’s some tunes that you may not have heard to stick in your ears for three minutes of zoning out… whether that’s well earned or not!

The Girl: Gabrielle Alpin

You may have noticed this young sprite in the soundtrack of shows such as Made In Chelsea, but if you haven’t stopped to appreciate the clarity of her voice, and the drive of her nineteen year old self, I order you to do so right now.

Where to start? Here with ‘Home,’ then for a sense of her personality, have a listen to her impromptu motorway sing-song covering ‘It Ain’t Me Babe‘ caught on video in a delightfully still summer traffic jam. And if you’re feeling adventurous, check out this interesting collaboration with Bastille covering ‘Dreams’ – strangely catchy mix of two very different artists, but it works.

The Boys: Hudson Taylor

This dreamy, Dublin brothers duo had me at… well their cute photo, but their music is well up to par with some simple but heart-skipping harmonies, and heartfelt lyrics to match. This Irish lilt is known to set me off on a sad day, so watch out for ‘Won’t Back Down.’  But it’s not all slow and solemn, in their eclectic mix is some fab folk-style beats and and quirky lyrics.

Where to start?  ‘Trouble Town’  is a brilliant, beautiful taster to get you going, and mix that up with ‘Chasing Rubies’, ‘Drop of Smoke’. Also, sit down and listen to the lingering chords in ‘Won’t Back Down’ and ‘Hideaway‘; breath-taking simplicity. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you if you happen to get teary…

Got summer daylight to catch, so it’s over and out from me, but plug those earphones in, follow those links, and bask in some summer-esque tunes folks.

Reblog of Summer Tunes, written by me for Razz My Berries Magazine
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Beijing, TUESC: Forbidden City

Forbidden City

It’s a predictably hot day when Emma, Ellie and I chose to visit one of Beijing’s most coveted set of historical buildings: The Forbidden City.


Rivulets of sweat run happily down my back, my umbrella is up, Chinese-style, and my back-pack of water feels a lot heavier than a litre of water duly should, but nothing can overshadow the sheer scale of the endless courtyards, alleys and royal buildings in the elaborate 15th century complex of beautiful, painted-wood roofing. As we file in under a huge portrait of President Mao, we’re battling with the people towards a small dark tunnel: the entrance to the city itself. It’s hard to believe, given the addition of thousands of tourists, whistles, tour-group speakers and jiggling flags, that this entire area was once a secluded, palace of secrecy and royalty.

Instead of talking the main bee-line up the middle of the complex, we soon veer off to shaded side roads, back alleys of the servants and noticeably less crowded; from these bubbles of quiet. we observing the vast cobbled courtyard space into which the bottleneck of tourists tumble ant-like, and sweating, admiring their hundreds in a space once reserved for ceremonial events and special dignitaries.


The contents of the exhibitions here are definitely undermined by the misty glass-cum-plastic that divides the sticky fingers and foreheads from what is possibly antique furniture – though it’s hard to tell in the dim rooms, a stark contrast from the blinding sun outside.

Having visited the National Palace Museum in Taipei, which houses many of the original artefacts from the Forbidden City, evacuated after a long trek across the country of China over to the small Formosan Island by Chiang Kai Chek and his followers following the Civil War in China, it is not hard to see that the two heritage sites offer very different experiences. In my opinion, The Forbidden City demonstrates the sheer vastness of the architecture and demonstrates the immense power of space and place in politics and society, whereas for the contents and details of the internal wealth, art and culture, it is best to look to the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

However the souvenir shops and exhibitions in the Forbidden City offer excellent air-conned relief from the scorching morning sun.



Chinese Chat

As a last anecdote of the day, a man in his late fifties, thin as a bean pole and wearing heavily clothes as sun-bleached as his skin is tanned, calls out to me with a flash of white teeth and astoundingly well-accented English.

It’s hard to displace the shock of the apparent incongruity of his appearance and his Oxford-style English within the wall of the Forbidden City, and his alarming tendency to peer very closely into my face when speaking knocks me straight out of my historical reverie. But while his enthusiasm to converse with us definitely straddles the border with frightening, it’s an excellent example of the curiosity of being a tourist in China; the people may stare without prejudice, and converse with mild prejudice (rightly assuming the majority of us cannot speak Mandarin), but they for the most part, are purely curious: being foreign in China is certainly an oddity in a way that is no longer common in England.

Considering the vast scale of the country, its tendency to umbrella its many ethnic diversities as a community of one country (in contrast to the emphasised individualism of the West) and it’s relative youth in terms of international tourism and wide-spread immigration it is hardly surprising that two English girls, and one half Northern Irish, half Taiwanese Mandarin-speaking girl (to be precise) can cause a small amount of fuss.

Interestingly, once most people discover I can speak Mandarin, they are suitably unnerved and back off.

It’s the real foreigners that they want photos with.





Taiwan: Vaseline Thermometer

Runny Vaseline Thermometer

The Vaseline’s runny. Well, it must be warm then.

There’s no doubt that Taiwan summers can get roasting hot, where opening the front door feels like what must be a chicken’s reaction to an oven: death is certain and sweaty. Over the last few years, my trusty Vaseline has become a talismanic indicator of when it is acceptable to sit back and say “Mmm today’s not the day to do anything. In our ancestral history, we once read signs such as these with no understanding of the whys and hows; there were some things in life that told simple truths; the viscosity of this pink candyfloss pond can certify, beyond all need for numbers and centigrade, the current level of suffering.

And this is no exception. Today is going to be a day of wafting with a sticky primal wistfulness between 7-Eleven air-cons and slow, Taiwanese-style walking.



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