I was told that the weather in Nanjing would be like the weather in Boston. The weather in Nanjing is not like the weather in Boston. It doesn’t snow here. As I know from my first two winters in Massachusetts, it tends to snow in Boston. One year, someone made popcorn during a snow storm so bad the governor had already declared a state of emergency. Did you know that you still need to evacuate during a snow storm?
Anyway, it very rarely snows here in Nanjing, making to boots, gloves, hats and coats that I lugged here moot. However, since I am susceptible to chills I have been seizing the opportunity to wear a large, down coat in 40 degree weather. Don’t you dare judge me.
But I have met with some confusion as a result of the weather here. In San Francisco, if I look out and it is sunny, no matter the time of year it will never be below about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In Boston, if there is snow on the ground in January, I know the high will likely be about 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Nanjing is confusing to me. There is no snow but it is in the thirties and forties and windy. This feels wrong, as if something is missing. I keep expecting snow to arrive but it likely won’t. I like the dry cold better, but it makes me feel like a wimp for being so cold. The presence of snow seems to better justify my down coat and my weather-centric complaints.
Adding to the difficulties which I am facing is a cultural difference. In the US, if asked the weather, people will usually respond with the high. In China, people usually respond with the low and of course they use Celsius. It reframes the day when you expect it be negative four (instead of 30-something Fahrenheit), but I have found that if I dress for the low, instead of the high, I am usually more properly attired. On that vein, I had to put away my Birkenstocks in October.
There are bright spots, many. Nanjing has many palms and other plants which, I am happy to note, have remained bright green deep into December. I went strolling in a nearby park one day this week and noticed that in many places, the scene could have been summer. Plants were shades of deep green and dappled with sunlight; the sky was clear. Because it was in the forties, I brought a coat and was comfortable walking outside.
At the park, 清凉山公园, I wandered for about an hour on a sunny winter’s day. It was quiet and almost emptied of people. The last time I was here was a gorgeous fall morning and the park was abuzz with leaf-peepers. The park’s name translates to something like “clear, cool mountain” and it lived up to its reputation. The paths were quiet and I could wander listening only to the sound of the trees and some far-away car horns. Pollution jokes aside, I felt like I could breathe better, more deeply.
One thing that I have noticed in myself is an increasing yearning to be outside, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. As I have written before, Nanjing is larger than any other city that I have lived in and I am living right in the center. My campus is a green oasis, but once you leave you are immediately in the center of a large city with bikes and scooters and motorcycles and cars blowing by you. And even in the green spaces on campus, you are always surrounded by other people. I don’t mind this, but I am starting to realize, after being spoiled by the Bay Area’s green spaces and by Wellesley, that I cherish quiet and emptiness. I don’t need it all of the time, but I need it sometimes.