Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Shanghai Answers: What is the weather like in Shanghai?

Now that we've been in Shanghai for over 6 months, I feel somewhat qualified to answer some of the most obvious questions about this city. Obvious questions that do not necessarily have obvious answers. Before we moved here, we had a surprisingly difficult time finding clear, consistent answers to the most basic of questions. I am now doing my bit to add to the inconsistency by starting this series.

Please keep in mind that I have only been here for 6 months. I will likely be embarrassed in future about my perceptions of cultural norms. Take them with a giant grain of salt. And do not hesitate to correct me in the comments; I do appreciate it. 

Let's kick things off with an easy one: Shanghai's weather.

The textbook answer

Summer (June - Sept)

The summer is hot. Really hot. You will see more middle aged men lifting their shirts up, exposing their potbellies, and strutting around than you have ever seen before. (And I've lived in rural Guatemala, so I've seen quite a few.) 
Sweaty newlyweds in September
When the Irishman arrived in early August, it was in the mid-40ºC (110ºF) range, before humidity. And it is humid.

Autumn & Spring

Rainy and temperate (20ºC/70ºF). Not much to say except it is lovely, if you don't mind the odd thunderstorm.

Winter (Dec - Mar)

It doesn't look like December...
Winter is not bad, from a Canadian perspective. It's not dissimilar to a west coast winter. It stays around 0º-10ºC (30º-50ºF). There's no snow/ice/frost. 

The Shanghai Answers answer

Having not experienced spring here yet, I can't comment. Hopefully there won't be any big surprises, but I've heard it's a gorgeous time to be here thanks to the flowers and nice temperatures. 


Our apartment came with a large combo-AC/heating unit in the livingroom that is horribly inefficient but better than nothing. To put it in perspective, we didn't have hot water for the first month and didn't complain. Our bedroom AC/heating unit made for decent sleeping conditions, once we got used to being warm.

Shanghai may have spectacular architecture but the apartments have no insulation. We didn't keep our AC very low (~30ºC/86ºF) and I tried to keep it off as much as possible during the day. Despite this, our bill was about 750 RMB ($125) for one month. (This is absolutely not doable for someone on a local's salary.)

Transit, buses included, is equipped with air conditioning that seems to mostly work.

Basically, Shanghai is hot but if you have a decent income, adjust enough to keep your AC to a low level, and your place of work is air conditioned, it'll be fine. 

Something to note: according to Chinese medicine, your shoulders, chest, and feet should be kept warm. Because of this, even when it is very hot, you are unlikely to see cleavage and you will see a surprising number of people in socks and sandals. The few bathing suits I have seen were full on zip up suits. But legs are absolutely on show! Hemlines go remarkably high, even with some business wear. The lack of breast and back exposure seems to not be an issue of modesty but of health. A lot of my summer wear will be retired/layered over this year as I cover up my top half to feel less like a blatant outsider. I do get sick a lot so maybe this will help!


I hadn't realized that I missed thunderstorms until they started up this fall. London is missing out. It is a huge headache if you need to take a taxi/bicycle/motorbike anywhere and rainboots/rubber shoes are a necessity for traversing the flooded roads. As a person who doesn't have anywhere to be most of the time, it is spectacular to watch and reminds me of Ontario. 
It's hard to take photos in typhoons. It's even harder to ride bikes. (Not my bike)
That being said, I was caught in a typhoon on my way to school in October. It took me over 2 hours to walk the 5 km to school. Buses and taxis were full. I was one of the only people on the street -a rarity in a city of 24 million. Large pieces of garbage were flying by my head as I trudged through deep puddles and was cut off repeatedly by drivers. Umbrellas are not particularly useful in a typhoon: I arrived completely and utterly drenched. I spent the remaining 2 hours of class shaking in my seat, wrapped up in my classmate's windbreaker. Most pathetic moment in Shanghai so far. But really, when you've already walked for an hour in one direction, is it worth turning around? I'm still not sure. (Maybe this is why she is sick so often.)


Stressing out the locals in Dec

I'm going to go out on a limb and declare that Chinese people do not like being cold. People start piling on the clothing in November. Full on big puffy jackets, toques (winter hats), and scarves are out even when it is above 10ºC/50ºF. I, on the other hand, tried to acclimatize, wearing t-shirts while biking until December. It did work but stressed out Chinese people to such a degree that I won't do it again next year. Strangers would come up to me, concerned when I was wearing only a thin sweater in December. Again, I do get sick all the time, so maybe they're right!

I am ashamed as a Canadian to say this winter has been tough. Much tougher than a London winter. Tougher than a typical* Toronto winter. 

But it was 14ºC the other day! You say. You posted a sunny photo with grass on Instagram and your dog was beautiful even with one eye! You say. I say, shut up and snuggle close to your heating vents, jerks!
14 degrees in January!
In the winter, outside is often warmer than inside. Those AC/heating units are pitiful at heating. At the supermarket, there are shelves full of hot water bottles, heating pads, and every type of heater you can imagine. There is a wall with a selection of electric blankets. You can buy pyjamas so thick that, elsewhere, they would be mistaken for skiing outfits. 

I wear a Hello Kitty onesie, thick fuzzy robe (thank you Irish Santa!), or my winter jacket on top of my clothes in the house. I almost always have a wool hat and scarf on. My favourite thing in our apartment is the toilet seat cover that I bought for $1.50 that keeps me from leaping off the toilet seat in shock every time I have to pee. 

You were curious.
All in all, I was unprepared for how uncomfortable winter would be. I'm still able to cycle year round because there is no snow, which I LOVE, but I need to invest in more warming devices for my home. Hire me so I can buy a oil radiator! 

*Yes, Toronto, I know your winter has been insane this year. You have earned some Canadian points back but we're all going to still make fun of you for the year they called in the army. And I maintain that a normal Toronto winter is "Winter Lite".

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Introducing Charlie: A one-eyed foster dog in Shanghai

Introducing, Charlie, formerly known as Shaoli.

Why we decided to foster

The Irishman and I love dogs. We got fleas once by playing with a dog tied up outside of a pharmacy in Toronto. (Sorry about that, again, T...) Being Responsible Grown Ups (hellooooo, wedding rings = totally legit adults), we haven't adopted a dog into our international crazy life. As much as we want to expand our family with a four legged baby, we know it wouldn't be the right thing to do without confidence that we could take him or her to our next destination, wherever and whenever that may be.

Rewind to late November when I met Juniper, my friend Claire's beautiful and friendly foster feline. I casually asked if there were foster dogs available. I thought maybe in the new year we could consider it.

Well, the next day, at an adoption day in Shanghai, Claire met Charlie. (For more information on adopting pets in Shanghai, check out this list from TimeOut.)
Love at first sight. Er...

How we met Charlie

This 8 kg ~ 2 year old wiggling King Charles-esq pup had recently been hit by a car, abandoned by its previous owners, and had surgery on his right eye. He was found by a volunteer for a rescue non-profit who was unable to foster him. Because he was recovering and vulnerable, he couldn't be around other pets, ruling out the other foster families. He stunk horribly because they didn't want to wash him and risk getting water in his eye. His eye area was so swollen that, with little Chinese to ask questions, we agreed to take him, not knowing if he had lost an eye.

When Claire saw him, she knew I, who recently completed intensive Chinese studies and would likely be staying at home until Christmas, and the Irishman would fall in love. We rushed across the river to Puxi to meet our new companion.

Our inability to speak Chinese made things confusing. The rescuer had no idea if he'd had any of his vaccinations. We don't have a car or extra funds to pay for medical care. Claire's friend who rescues cats helpfully translated for us and insisted that we could only help if the medical costs were covered. Thankfully, the rescue organization that decided to step in offered to pay the costs and drive him over to our place later that night. Run entirely by volunteers with minimal donations, these people saved Charlie's life and are some of the kindest people I have met in my life.

The rescue organization arranged for him to get his shots and meds for deworming and defleaing. They dropped him off at our place as we scrambled to equip our house for its newest inhabitant. (Although, of course, he'd rather nap on our couch than do just about anything else.)
Our first walk was horrible. Every time the surface he was walking on would change (from, say, tile to asphalt), he would stop dead in his tracks. Where we live, the surface changes very frequently: about 10 times within the first 5 minutes of leaving our door. Walking two blocks to meet up with a friend took nearly 20 minutes. By our 3rd walk the next day, he was happily trotting along with me through the paths of our apartment compound.

He was a very easy dog. I pet him and played with him a lot, especially in the first few days. Well behaved, obviously well-trained by the people who left him for dead, and enthusiastic about people and food, he was a great addition to our home. For 3 weeks, my days were filled with snuggles, tug of war, and walks. (I mean, job hunting.)

Sadly, the story doesn't end there and poor Charlie has had a rough go since late December. More on that another day.

He still loves the crap out of us, thankfully, and we feel the same way.

If you're in China and interested in helping Charlie and other animals that need help in Shanghai, please consider using *link contains graphic photos of his injuries* Taobao to donate. The default donation is only 10 RMB (about $1.60). Charlie's medical costs alone have been hundreds of dollars, paid for by donations. The rescue organization is run entirely by volunteers. We only pay for his toys and most of his food.

If you are outside of China or unable to use Taobao to donate and want to help out, please email me!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Officially www.whenwewereyoungandhappy.com and in Shanghai!

Okay, I'm blogging and this time, I mean it! Going back to the days of the No Plan Plans, I'm going to blog my life and try to share interesting or helpful tidbits with y'all. We've moved over to www.whenwewereyoungandhappy.com and are happy to be here. I have a headache from trying to forward the old URL here so for now, move your links/feeds here and RIP original URL. All the old stuff is archived, so don't fret!

For the uninformed, the Irishman and I are now living in the Paris of the East, Shanghai. And what a place it is. We were in Paris for the first time over the New Year holiday, thanks to some supremely glamourous friends of ours getting married in a French chateau (legit castle + fireworks). I can confidently say that the two cities are alike only in stylish, mildly exotic reputation.
Thousands of people standing at the Eiffel Tower, waiting for something to happen: fireworks, confetti, a countdown? Spoiler alert: nothing happens and your train ride home is long and horrible. Good photo op anyway!
Shanghai is massive, insanely populated (24 million people -the entire population of Canada in 1980), and cheap to live in if you make a foreigner-level salary. I will write up soon how our living standards have changed since we moved from London to Shanghai. Suffice it to say, it is a complete reversal.

On that note, I have been a housewife since our arrival. I have some North American clients for freelance editing but, besides the odd assignment, I'm usually studying Chinese or hanging out with Charlie, our foster dog/baby. More on him another time.

He's not winking
The blog will be changing to a more journal-like format and I will be posting way more often. So watch this space as I talk about living in Shanghai, fostering a one-eyed dog with separation anxiety, and anything else I decide might be relevant to someone in the world. Thanks for reading!