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!
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.
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.
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/
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.
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,