Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hao Leng: or, Not Actually That Cold

 “Hao leng!”

So you might have read that China is currently experiencing the coldest winter in decades.  What does this mean on the ground?  People complaining about how cold it is, and me rolling my eyes because it’s not.

                Winter in China is a joke.  I know my winters, being from a ski town in Colorado.  My hometown is at 9,000 feet and gets some 150-180 inches of snow every year.  That’s cold.  What we’re experiencing now is “gosh, I think I’ll put on a coat”.  It’s currently like 5 degrees C(ommie) which is…I don’t know…degrees F(reedom), I think around 40.   I know it’s above freezing.  Either way drop down to 20 or 10 F(reedom) and then we’ll talk.

                I knew I was in for a lot of eye rolling when I was walking down the street one night in October.  It must’ve been 60-something F(reedom).  A lady walked by in a coat and a scarf muttering “hao leng, hao leng”.  That means “so cold”--literally “good cold,” as in English dialectal “good n’ cold!”

                “But bro,” I hear you saying. “Parts of China—parts that you have been to—are classified as subarctic.”  True.  But that’s not where the vast majority of people live.  Try this.  Look at China a map and draw a line with your finger between Beijing and Kunming, down near Burma.  That’s where like 90% of the population lives.  Compare that, latitude-wise, with the United States.  It equates roughly to the space between DC and Miami.  In this kind of climate people aren’t used to the weather being anything other than TDH (too damn hot). 

I remember two years ago in Hangzhou, there was the hottest summer on record.  There was a whole month where the temperature didn’t go under 40 C(ommie), day or night.  People were dropping dead on the street from heat exhaustion.  At work, the air conditioner broke.  Interestingly, a rat chose this as a great time to die in the office’s air vent.  Through the whole month the Chinese teachers were talking about how nice the weather was.  New rule, guys: the weather’s not “nice” if “he walked outside” shows up on autopsy reports.

In a climate like this, you’d think China would be a culture obsessed with trying to keep cool.  Not so.  China is a culture obsessed with heat—cf. Backdiapers and Breast Cancer.  But strangely, despite being a culture obsessed with keeping warm in a punishing subtropical climate, Chinese offices and apartments do not have central heating.  This leads to people perceiving the weather as being colder than it actually is—because of course you expect to be warm inside.  I’m glad I’m going home for Chinese New Year, because if  I hear “hao leng” one more time I think I’m gonna hurl.

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