pring finally arrived in Beijing after the generation-long winter the capital endures, in which people are born, get married and vegetate into middle age in the months between the last warm autumn day and the first warm day of spring.
And I think the word “strike” is the most appropriate word to use to describe the seasonal change. There were only 17 days between the first snowfall of winter (which broke a near-record-long drought) and the first time I got so hot in the gym that I squelched while walking. That’s not weather, that’s shock therapy.
In the blink of an eye, or at least the time it takes to nap off a decent hangover, Beijing’s color palate goes from the grays and browns of a week-old bonfire, to the grays, browns and greens of a two-month-old bonfire in which things have started to sprout.
This is in comparison with my native land of South Wales, where the weather shifts gradually from really cold rain, to cold rain, to not-cold rain. Eventually we have half an hour of it not raining, during which time we sit in our gardens drinking before the rain starts again around beer number six.
I think the suddenness with which the weather change pounces on Beijing sends its denizens a little mad. Our senses just can’t handle it.
The hardest part is that we suddenly have to stop wearing flattering, bulky winter clothes. For people who have spent months in a freezing metropolis in which something called an “oil stick” is an acceptable breakfast option and grilled lamb fat on a skewer is a popular dinner, this can lead to some insecurity.
My gym, which has been blissfully sparse ever since the second week after the end of Spring Festival, is now filled with utterly miserable people plodding (and occasionally squelching) on the treadmills in pristine new workout clothes that will undoubtedly soon be relegated to the role of “comfy trousers I wear to watch TV.”
This temperature-mandated abandonment of form-obscuring clothes that are actually pleasant to wear is, however, a boon to the city’s gawkers – by which I mean mostly its men. Just this afternoon, I saw an entire flounce of hairdressers (yes, that is the collective noun) come out of their Sanlitun salon to gawk at a leggy model in a qipao repeatedly walking over a mall water feature.
Mere minutes later, several of the men in my office (apart from virtuous husbands like myself) huddled together to gawk into a yoga studio that has just opened up across the way from us, until the stretching women remembered what kind of world they unfortunately live in and closed the curtains.
Also visible from our office window is a man who, since the first of April, has been standing in the exact same spot on a street corner for hours on end, rhythmically bending and straightening his knees. I presume it is either an extended April-Fools-Day prank or some kind of mating display, but for whom or what, I do not know and wouldn’t dare guess.
Still, the allegedly fairer sex is not immune from the affects of the season. I saw a young woman put the straw in her fashionable cheese-capped milk tea into her nose by accident because she was distracted by a flexing guy in a vest.
Even Beijing’s trees go a little mental in spring, an unfortunate oversight regarding the gender ratio of thousands of poplar trees planted decades ago, which results in the city being swathed with white catkins for most of the month of April.
The elderly of my community, too, have gotten a little over-excited about the change in the weather. After months of only emerging from their apartments to pluck leaves from the piles of cabbage they store by their door or to snatch up any unattended cardboard, they have started to congregate at the door of one building and blast music all afternoon. I went downstairs to empty our vacuum cleaner and they were listening to Chinese hip-hop. Seriously. I was a little intimidated.
However this breezy, mind-bending season is nothing more than a brief interim before Beijing’s other, epoch-long season begins – its oppressive summer, when we are all driven back indoors to sit as close to air conditioners as possible.
So before we again abandon outdoor comfort, and I abandon physical dryness, for approximately four months, try losing your mind a little while you still have the chance.