I come from the Highlands of Scotland so
cold, wet and damp should really be my middle names. The cold in Mianyang is
different somehow, it seems to penetrate my very bones and I can spend days
trying to feel truly warm. It is a damp cold that clings to everything and
hangs in the air. As I write I am sitting
beside the (solitary) heater and wearing 2 pairs of socks, slippers, leggings,
wool trousers, 2 vests, 2 long sleeve t-shirts, 3 jumpers (2 wool, 1 cashmere),
a wool dress, a tweed jacket, a scarf and a hat and still, I am still not quite
comfortable (and not because I look like the Michelin man).
The Chinese have a very different attitude to
the cold. A sign hanging outside the campus hospital at the moment instructs
students to “drink lots of water, wash your hands and open your windows to stay
healthy”. I understand the benefits of letting fresh air into your home and
dispelling damp, but I am also a fan of indoor heating in moderation. As I
understand it, most Chinese people do not have any form of heating in their
homes, certainly not where we are in the South-West. In the UK we considered ourselves to be very
miserly with our heating, refusing to put it on until very late autumn, only
having it on at certain times of day and making sure all family members had
jumpers and slippers and our beds had warm duvets and blankets. So why can’t I
handle it here?
The classrooms I teach and learn in all have
their windows open and the students, while very well wrapped, are cold. They
just believe it’s good for them. The grannies on campus were constantly disapproving
of our children’s trousers until we bought them padded ones and leggings to
wear underneath. The trousers, I’ll admit, are wonderful. Trousers so warm in
the UK wouldn’t take off because as soon as the child went inside they would
immediately overheat and have to strip off. Here through, they are brilliant,
also providing extra padding for all the toddler tumbles! When the buildings
are as cold inside as out there is no need to worry about changing the number
of layers or stripping off woollies, you just keep them all on.
Perhaps in the Western world we have just
gone soft, totally unused to coping with winter. Should we be more in tune with
the seasons and be prepared to change how we dress, eat and behave? My winter
wardrobe at home consisted of a pair of warm boots and a hat and gloves, the
other layers were the same ones I wore the rest of the year- just a few more of
them. Chinese people still sit outside to drink tea, play games and chat during
the winter - I can’t imagine that ever happening in the UK where people tend to
avoid the outside and just scuttle between heated buildings. Would we have fewer sufferers from Seasonal Affective Disorder in Scotland if we were just more
accepting and better prepared for winter? I think I need to learn to welcome
and embrace winter and stop resenting the cold. All too soon it will be a distant memory as
this winter damp becomes hot summer humidity!
How to cope with Winter Chinese style
1.In the morning make sure you have your thermals on,
lots of layers and a very warm jacket. This jacket goes on when you wake up and
stays on all day, inside and outside.
2.Drink tea or hot water constantly. (This we have
wholeheartedly taken on board. Cold drinks have lost all appeal.)
3.Open your windows! (Still passing on this one for
the time being but I am airing our house more than I used to!).