Coming from Canada, I'm used to cold weather.
But the past few weeks of winter monsoons have been an interesting experience.
For those unacquainted with the pleasures of a Western Canadian winter, let me paint a picture:
It's dark. The sun grudgingly comes up for a few hours between 9.00am and 4.00pm and then packs it in. The wind whips down from the North at a brisk 60 kilometers per hour. The outside air temperature is -35C. The wind and the cold combine for a wind chill factor of -72C. It's cold enough to freeze solid any exposed body parts in 30 seconds.
The funny thing is, -35C in the Canadian Northwest Territories is considered balmy. But no matter how cold it gets, it's a dry cold. Arctic air is as dry as the desert. If you dress well, you can stay warm.
When people think of Hong Kong, they think of heat, and that's what they get most of the time. In the summer, the heat and humidity can drain you of energy, so it's wise to study the Heat Index. But don't forget, Hong Kong is sub-tropical.
From December through March, cold monsoon winds sweep in from China, and it gets chilly. As cold as Canada? Of course not, but it's a different type of cold, a wet cold.
In Canada, everyone has indoor heating. Houses are built of wood and are well-insulated. Natural gas furnaces provide toasty air and houses stay warm and cozy.
In Hong Kong, flats are made of concrete. They have no indoor heating and no insulation. When the monsoon winds blow, combined with an overnight temperature of 8C and the dampness of high humidity, the flat is cold enough to hang meat. The chill is pervasive; it creeps through your flesh, all the way to your bones.
Here are a few survival tips:
· Dress properly. This is the tricky part.
Let's say it's 8C in the morning. By noon, the temperature could be as high as 16C. Should you over-dress, you'll perspire and be hot and sticky all day long. Should you under-dress, the wind will be a miserable, warmth-robbing companion.
Many offices, restaurants and shops leave air conditioning cranked up regardless of the weather. Heading indoors often offers little respite from the chill. On the other hand, dashing into a frosty-cold mall to escape the oppressive heat of summer can give you a stroke.
· Buy a heater. We purchased a radiating heater, which keeps our bedroom nice and warm. However, it does nothing for the rest of the flat unless we move it, and even then it takes a while to warm the space.
Showers become an adventure. The first major challenge is undressing; the shirt is the last thing to come off, followed by an invigorating bare-ass naked walk across the freezing ceramic tile floor.
God forbid you should feel the need to use the facility. Then you get to experience the joy of riding a cold toilet seat.
The next step is to crank on the hot water without scalding yourself. As soon as the temperature is set, step in. Ahhhhh... pure ecstasy.
The difficult part is turning off the hot water. Cold air steals over your flesh and robs it of stored-up heat in seconds. Goosebumps pop up all over your body, including those two large pinkish areas on your chest. You towel-dry in 3.2 seconds and dress in a minute-and-a-half. This may be beneficial should you be running late.
· Drink hot liquids. Winter is the time to avoid cold beverages. Hot tea or soup will warm you from the inside to fend off the cold. Chilled drinks will make you shiver until your fillings loosen.
Aside of these tips, you could dress as locals do. They're still running around in down-filled coats, scarves, toques (pronounced like kook — that's a knitted woolen cap to my American friends), and so on. When I tell them about the winters in Canada, they're unable to fathom the depths of that kind of cold.
All of this will soon be a memory; April is creeping up, and with the increase in temperature, typhoon season will begin.
When summer kicks into full gear, everyone will be complaining about the heat.
I'll have to get rid of the side of beef before then.
February 29, 2000
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