Its winter in Shanghai, how do I know? an obvious statement you may think since its mid November? Well not if the weather is anything to go by, with temperatures still in the 20's and upwards, the majority of the leafs still on the trees, and with the birds that haven't been eaten still chirping away, you could be fooled into thinking we were still in Autumn (Or Fall). If the unseasonably warm and pleasant weather doesn't give it away - what does? Well as with the arrival of Summer, the tell tale signs are there for those initiated into the workings of this country.
Firstly, you start to see people wearing their coats backwards? by that I mean the zip/buttons are on the back - arms through the arm holes and the unzipped 'joint' section flapping at the back. Why? Christ knows, I would have thought you would have got more benefit from wearing it the normal way, zipped up to your chin to prevent drafts. But oh no, us idiots in the West have been wearing coats incorrectly for years, the Chinese show us how its done, especially when riding bikes or scooters. I guess you could argue that the wind penetrates the gaps between the zip links? However most coats I have, seem to have corrected this with a nice little flap of material inside and out. Still I am sure it will catch on, and soon everyone in europe and the US will be wearing coats back to front!
Secondly, the dogs start to get worried. In fact anything with 4 legs should find a hole to hibernate in. I was at a suppliers factory two weeks ago, just a couple of hours drive from Shanghai and the 2 factory dogs were curled up looking extremely sheepish, enjoying the mid day sun, unusually they didn't lift an eye lid when I approached them. My companion for the day mentioned that they were probably trying to 'lay low'. At first I didn't understand and then 2 seconds later it clicked - he went onto explain that it was normal for the factory dogs to be replaced every year, normally just before Chinese New Year (CNY), and after the previous 'employees' had provided a hearty warm meal for the factories bosses! The look on their faces said it all, almost as if they knew of their impending journey to the hot pot! A traditional winter dish justified by the colder weather, it remains a favourite by many in Shanghai and the local 'wet' markets are full of hanging carcases. Something I have wrote about before, and something I still cant get used to, yes I know is hypocritical to distinguish between Dog, Chickens, Pigs and Cow's - but as I have said before i have never named a pig, took a duck for a walk or thrown a lamb a stick.
Thirdly, and as with all seasons - women's fashions change. Men it seems have one outfit, and just add more of the same or take more of the same off when the weather gets colder or warmer. We are not burdened by such delicate issues as what shoes to wear with which bag, flat, heeled, ankle or knee length, matching colours, seasonal style and 'accessorising' isn't something most hetrosexual male gets concerned about. The change from summer to winter fashion trend, starts slowly. You may remember I reported the shortening length of the 'hot pants' of the young Chinese girls as an announcement of summer arriving, well they will try and keep these on for as long as possible, but not being stupid, a pair of thermal stockings underneath help ensure they keep warm and er fashionable. The girls wearing 'daisy jukes' over knitted thermals is one sign its got cold, but sooner than later, you can also see the tell tale signs of the thermals poking from behind shirts, trousers and blouses, along with the 20 layers of Michelin man clothing.
In Shanghai the first sign of winter means time to dust off the long johns and thermal knickers - for everyone. I had never known the joy wearing a warm pair of thermals until I came to China, my first winter I refused to conform, citing fashion, age and the fact that the make me look even fatter than I am. Seven years later I have several pairs in various colours and almost (but not quite) regret the warmer spring weather and the need to hang up my oh so sexy long johns!
Insulation, or at least the lack of it, no central heating, single glazed windows and high humidity all add together to make 20 degrees feel like minus 10! Despite of all of this, it seems impossible to get warm on those cold days, unless you have a couple of spare kidneys left to pay for your underfloor heating, you resort to living in your car with the heater on full blast, whilst grasping the steaming hot mug of grass in hot water through a thin plastic cup.
Finally, although I am sure there are hundreds more. The one thing that tells me Winter has arrived is of course the dark nights. Not the dark mornings mind, no the mornings are still blindingly light at 5.30am, only now the night is dark by 4.30pm, add to this miserably cold weather, extortionate fuel bills, having to dress like a blimp and the acidic puddles on the ground eating away at your leather shoes, its a wonder the dogs looked glum - sounds like they get off lightly.