Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Trying to warm up

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!).
Thanks for reading and stay warm :)


  1. Hi Ailsa, Nancy here!

    I remember my friend Alex, who is from the US, saying that the winters in New York were made much more tolerable once she invested in a properly warm coat. Why do I not wear thermal underwear in the winter anymore? Such a good idea!

  2. Indeed! We are buying thermals after pay-day. I'd quite like an ankle length padded jacket for next Winter too :)

  3. Hi Ailsa!

    I'm really enjoying reading your blog! Good on you!

    Louisa is studying at Dundee Uni at the moment, and she said she is LIVING in the down jacket we bought her before she left. I remember buying a cheap down jacket in China when I was pregnant with Louisa - I assume you have one? I love the idea of padded pants too!

  4. Thanks Lynne, great to hear from you, your blog is a lovely discovery too.
    I'd forgotten you've been to China, were you on bikes at the time? I'd love to know more about what you did here!