As the temperature continues to drop in Nanchang, my friends in Canada continually remind me that, while it’s much colder in Canada, they wouldn’t want to live with the cold of Nanchang.
My friend in Dawson Creek, BC recently told me about temperatures of -37°C (with windchill) and a good 5 feet (1.5 meters) of snow. Even the mild rainy city of Vancouver dropped to 20-below for about a week as the city experienced some extreme weather. So it seems funny that Nanchang weather feels so cold to me now as the current temperature reaches lows of 5°C, and highs of 15°C. Five-degrees may not be cold to a Vancouverite, but context is important.
Nanchang buildings have no heating. None. Buildings don’t even have rudimentary insulation. Every inch of every building here is made from all-concrete construction. Windows and doors aren’t sealed in any building I’ve seen in Nanchang. Every place—from classrooms to restaurants—is freezing just as much as if you were outside sitting under the shade of a tall oak tree. Today’s high-temperature of 9°C would be fine to wear a t-shirt inside a Vancouver classroom, but you would never wear just a t-shirt in Nanchang; instead, I’ve been protecting my torso with the following:
- long-underwear shirt
- fleece jacket
I could have never imagined wearing 5-layers of clothing to class under such conditions, but everyone in my class, including the teachers, are wearing several layers of clothes and still complaining.
My house is about the same. The bathroom and kitchen have unsealed vents that lead directly outside. If I close all the doors and stand in the living room, I still feel a slight draft of cold air on my face. My hands get numb studying in my house and my feet are still cold despite wearing 2-pairs of thick socks. I tried to resist, but I finally bought a heater.
Finally I could sleep easy. The radiator cost me RMB$330 which is 3-times more expensive than other heaters. Cheap heaters have a reputation for making fires, so I chose the more expensive model for safety reasons. With a blanket stuffed into the crack under the door, I keep myself barricaded in the bedroom to eat, study, read, and sleep. The cold was far from eliminated, but at least it was tolerable. Victory was mine! …or so I thought.
After discovering the giant burn mark under the heater, I pushed the damn machine out of my sight and acknowledged that I could die of fire a lot easier than frostbite. The next few days I slept with my sweater and a toque under 2 blankets and considered wearing gloves too. I knew I needed something for warmth or I wouldn’t be able to study, but I couldn’t use the radiator… or could I? I finally remembered I could set the heater on ‘medium’. Now it doesn’t provide much heat, but it’s better than nothing and I can study. The last time I did my laundry I set the radiator on the tile floor of my living room and let it dry 2 pairs of underwear at a time while I bundled myself in blankets, drank something hot, and watched a movie.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m thankful for everything I have. I’m just surprised by the reality. Before coming to Nanchang I had heard the average low temperature for winter was 0°C. Compared to Vancouver or Tianjin, Nanchang sounds hot, but the reality is so different when you put it in context.