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

Year Abroad: Shanghai Touchdown

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Leaving Taipei is strange. I’m not sure what to make of the move I’m making to Shanghai – controversially thought of as the south capital of China – but making it with my entire family in tow manages to dull any would be panic. Having never lived in a city bigger than Taipei, I’ve no idea what to expect of life in a city sprawled across some 6,340 km², to Taipei’s mere 271.7 km², and that’s to say nothing of Exeter or Belfast.

However, it’s not the first time I’ve set foot in Shanghai: the family transited here at the end of July… for one of the hottest heatwaves that Shanghai has experienced. As we fled the mid-day heat that soared into the high 30s (Celsius), world news was transfixed by a news broadcast of bacon and eggs frying on pavement that was reaching searing temperatures of 60. Some serious hotel air-conditioning, and continental breakfast does much to ease our jet-lag, exhaustion and the shock of the temperature difference, still we brave the mid-day make a regrettably sweaty visit to the magnificent Yu Yuan Gardens (stopping off for a much needed McDonalds Taro Ice-Cream) and at night venture tentatively for an afternoon to Nanjing East Road and nightfall at The Chinese Bund.

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Like many a literature student, my only second-hand, preconception of Shanghai comes from reading J. G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun at seventeen: a 1940s city falling into the turmoil of World War II. As I approach The Chinese Bund, and gape at the looming structures of former foreign consulate and business buildings on the PuXi, side it’s the hoards of people, surging towards the black water of the Huang Pu River in the night that are the strongest presence around us. The water reflects the thousands upon thousands of lights that string up the towers on the PuDong bank in the night sky, making me think the “gaudy city”, as Ballard opens his novel, is still living up to it’s claim. It’s hot, sticky and as the throngs press around us, down the entirety of East Nanjing Road to and from the Bund, and rushing with blankly manic gestures towards the opening train doors on the metro (地鐵 – Dìtiě); queuing is a foreign concept, running for a free seat is not.

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Yet, the Bund makes a second appearance when we arrive in the Shanghai for the second time, and for a welcome to my home for a year, the family brave the humidity and heat of Nanjing East Road a second time, to see the skyline of the Bund by day. It’s well worth the baking concrete walk and overhead sun. The crowds are considerably less by daylight, and we wander up the banks strip, noting the spirited Chinese flags atop the Pu Xi buildings, and becoming more and more interesting to the local Chinese tourists. The blink of black lenses and unnecessary flashes on the sidewalk slowly turn towards our family of five, as we snap our own family photos, and as the pictures become ridiculously blatant, we make a quick exit off the Bund sidewalk. Nevertheless, I’m glad to be with my family for our first experience of the interesting social practice of  photographing foreigners.

I assumed that here in Shanghai, with an estimated population of 23.5 million, my dark hair, dark eyes and vaguely Asian features may have spared me the embarrassment, total invasion of privacy and complete bafflement  that comes with having a stranger blatantly take your photo.

Apparently not.

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Looking forward to the year ahead!

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Taiwan: Typhoon Trami

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Wahoo!

It’s the week of the 19th in Taipei, and there’s a Typhoon/Tropical Storm headed this way. By today, the 21st the epicentre is hovering over the capital giving an exciting torrential downpour to the streets and flats. It’s muggy, and the streets seem to steam with the intense humidity, and the bullets of water drum relentlessly on the corrugated sheets of awnings and roofs. Traffic turns to a frantic window-sweeping confusion of taxis and buses, and pastel sheeted motorcyclists in their head-to-toe raincoats swerve between blurry car lights; pedestrians play umbrella battles on the sidewalk; foreigners are unfortunately heighted for umbrella-spoke attackage.

Schools, hospitals, services are closed. Mudslides, minor floods and accidents. Living in sub-topical climate is no joke. We dash out between streets to get lunch and eat it in the safety of our flat, under the constant drone of rain. Rain like this doesn’t occur in UK.

On a positive note, yesterday nights run was wet but pleasant, with the temperature dropping from 30 degrees to a cool 26.

I’m quite enjoying this typhoon malarkey!

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Beijing, TUESC: Camp does the Great Wall

The Great Wall

Mu Tian Yu

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Hot. Misty. Muggy.

The wall is a restored section.

We decided to walk up.

These are all bad things.

However there’s a donkey on the wall! He’s not looking particularly happy with his Great Wall of China experience, and to be honest, neither am I. Probably not the best day for it, but I’m paradoxically enjoying being mildly grumpy and too hot to be comfortable. Grateful, none the less, that the Summer Camp has organised our trip to the world-renowned Great Wall! The entire camp of volunteers and teachers, split up into several luxury coaches have been schlepped up to the base camp of the Wall and left to wander for three hours.

We decide to walk up, for the full experience –  one which I don’t regret in hindsight, but relished little on the uphill. I’m not that unfit, but have a tendency to turn a spectacular colour of scarlet in heat.

And it was hot.

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The weather, and by weather I mean perpetual overcast with cloud, means that we can’t see very far from the Wall itself. But it does give – the less tourist crowed areas of the wall –  a touch of the mysterious. And certainly this section, restored to its full glory is nothing short of stunningly impressive; our climb up proves what a powerful and seemingly impregnable boarder the wall provided. Even more so in it’s contextual era. I’ve heard great stories of climbing unrestored sections and camping on the wall (all of course, not strictly allowed) and would definitely recommend second-hand to other adventurous travellers with more time to spare.

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I’m pretty happy to get this muggy wall experience checked off, and clamber back in the air-conditioned coaches.

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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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Beijing, TUESC: Post-Orchestral Torrents

A Night with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra

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For a wonderful night in, the University treated us with complimentary tickets to the Beijing Symphony Orchestra in the Tsinghua campus. They played all the good ones, and it was frankly, one of most exhilarating and wonderful experiences of my life.

Thank you, TUESC.

On the way home, the heavens open with a torrential downpour, the thunder rumbling hungrily and promising lightening  – which I can’t see, as I’m being blinded by rain on my trusty bike.

It’s really something else, coming down with monsoon thickness and great painful gusts as I have not yet seen in China. Dressed for the summer heat that was appropriate until three minutes ago, and on my rickety Chinese bike pedalling furiously into darkness – my chain comes off.
Obviously.

After calling the cavalry – who have made it back to the forms already sans mechanical problems – and several well-practised attempts to fix my chain, I embrace the rain and saunter back the mile to my dorms in the orange-lit dark through warm Beijing downpour, to be met by a huge group of soaked friends, about to dash out and find me.

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The Attendees - pre-downpour!
The Attendees – pre-downpour!
The after-rain shot!

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Smiles all round. It’s been a great, fantastic, wonderful evening.

Goodnight.

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Taiwan: Soo… the Weather

Check out this video!

Taipei Weather 

If you listen reeeaaallly carefully, you can hear the binman’s jingle in the background – it seems everything in Taiwan has a jingle! I’m a big fan of the jingle, it hasn’t changed in the twentyish years I’ve not lived here. OH. AND THERE’S A TORNADO.

Eh-hem –

1. 龍捲風: Lóngjuǎnfēng, or literally, dragon curling wind; tornado

新店:Xindian is only two MRT stops away, and I heard this on the news a couple of days ago. Don’t know why it didn’t strike me as crazy then – it could be that I’m getting too used to fairly outlandish things happening daily…

But all things considered, having a tornado down the road is pretty impressive.

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