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".

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