Posts Tagged ‘Shangri-La’

Climate Change

January 19, 2009

Sunset over TianYi

One of the most difficult aspects of living in China for me was the different climate. All my life I have lived in the state of Victoria in Australia. Melbourne is famously known for its ‘four seasons in one day’ weather. Melbourne can get hot during summer and cold during winter, but never too extreme. If there’s a heatwave – you may see a few scorchers in a row, but always, inevitably, there’s a cool change around the corner. You endure knowing the cool change will arrive. When it does, the doors and windows are flung open, and the house is immediately cooled.

Likewise in Winter, it gets cold and rainy, but it’s never too bad. Sure we complain, and nothing cures the cold better that a nice hot coffee, but we dont get snow and well, it’s very bearable. There are parts of Australia that do suffer weather extremes, but Victoria is really quite comfortable.

Now China on the other hand, was completely different to Victoria. We left for China in February 2008. The day of our departure was a very hot 35 degrees. We arrived in China underdressed(still partially in summer clothes – though did have the forsight to bring at least warm tops) to an absolutely freezing 8 degrees. I knew it would be around 10 or so and thought – yeah it wont be too much different from Melbourne’s winter – WRONG! It was absolutely freezing! My face felt weird – stinging – in the cold air. For the remaining wintry period, my lips remained parched and chapped.

And then it ticked over to Spring. Almost overnight the air became warm – alarmingly so. We knew China suffered oppressively hot weather during Summer, but just how warm Spring got was very concerning. As the days went by, it got hotter and hotter. The air grew thicker. Soon we could wear nothing more than t-shirts, shorts and sandals or we’d be dripping in sweat. As Summer approached it was already a Victorian Summer, except with one month of Spring to go! We were getting a little worried about just what Summer might bring with it.


In China there are cities known as the Three Furnaces due to their extreme heat during Summer. They are the cities of Nanjing, Chongching and Wuhan. We were not in either, but Wuxi was not too far from Nanjing. We expected a hot one! I had read on an expat forum that Wuxi experienced something like 4 months of Winter, 6 months of Summer, and 2 months of pure torture. And yeah, it totally was!

We had picked one of those months to travel around China as we had 2 months holiday for the Chinese summer break. Thankfully that travelling took us to cooler parts of China, such as Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La, though our time in cities such as Beijing, Xi’an and Chengdu was really difficult. Prior to leaving, back in Wuxi, the humidity had skyrocketed. You would leave the air-conditioned apartment only to be instantly dripping with sweat. You felt wet, clammy, tired. You got used to having permanant wet patches all over your clothing. We would check the weather guide and see things like 35  – feels like 45. And it did! It was just disgusting! I used to crack up at how I would be dripping sweat in shorts and shirts, while the Chinese would walk around in jeans and full length shirts or jumper style tops and be unaffected. Adapability I guess.

I couldn’t live in this kind of extreme climate. Call me a wuss! In far northern Queensland, in towns like Port Douglas which likewise suffer extreme humidity summers, they at least have beaches and pools everywhere. In China, you have to settle for a piece of shade and a slice of cooling watermelon – oh and air conditioning. Some days it was just too much effort to actually leave our apartment. And of course at night we got to enjoy all the fun that goes along with insane numbers of mosquitoes.

One of the things I was not looking forward to about returning Australia was going through another Summer. I’d just experienced over 5 months of it in China – the last 3 were outright disgusting. But thankfully we’re having one of the coolest Summers in years, and well, I’m not complaining!

Through the lens – I see smog.

January 14, 2009

There was one thing that stood out to me, as clear as night and day, when I walked off the aeroplane into Melbounre airport. Clarity. Everything suddenly looked like it was amazingly in focus. I couldn’t believe it – it was that profound. I remember looking across the airport at all the planes, everything looked so crisp, so sharp. The countryside between Tullamarine airport and Melbourne, all so vivid – so focused and so clear. What was the difference? Was China out of focus?


Shangri-la, China

The answer? Yes, it actually was. What the hell does that mean you ask? Smog. Everywhere you went in China was basically covered by a layer of smog. It took climbing over 3000 metres above sea level to the Tibetan town of Shangri-La(Zhong Dian) to get away from it – but even there you then had mountain mists – and well, I often wondered if that truly was mist.

The thing about smog in China, is that it is always present, always. You get days that are quite remarkably clear, but practically everywhere you go, there it is. Some days were terrible. Some days visibility could be  as low as 20-30 metres tops. Obviously you could see it in the distance, but the interesting thing was you could look at a tree a few metres away and see the smoggy mist between you and it. It’s hard to explain just how that looks. The end result? The tree looks somewhat softened.

An example of smog - note the haze visible on even the closest buildings.

An example of poor clarity in China - note the haze visible on even the closest buildings.

The thing that amazes me about Chinese air pollution is that you rarely see it on TV. It’s only the rare documentary or show set in China that actually shows China even remotely close to what it looks like in reality. I think lens polarizers completely counter the smog haze. On multiple occasions I tried to photograph it to show friends and family back home exactly what we were breathing on a daily basis, but the photos just didn’t do justice to the reality of standing there amongst it. I know for a fact that due to this reason, when we both landed in Shanghai and it was white with heavy smog, we were both surprised – I don’t think either of us truly thought China was as smoggy as you read in the papers – well, it was alright.

When you get a clear day in China, everything looks so much cleaner. When you compare it to say somewhere like my home city of Melbourne, there is just simply no comparison. As I said earlier, the difference in clarity and sharpness is like night and day.  You never – if rarely- see it on TV however. You see people in popular tourist destinations, and sometimes you will see it portrayed as a sort of ‘beautiful mist’ – and yes, sometimes if you closed your eyes then re-opened them, you could look at the industrial air pollution as something quite…nice, but you’d be dreaming. Even the Panda sanctuary in Chengdu was so smoggy – amongst the jungle bamboo like environment, it was almost a case of gorilla’s in the factory created mist – panda style.

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