We are in the midst of summer here in Beijing and I can tell you one thing: it is very hot. Temperatures average in the 80’s, and last week we had a few days close to 100 with an extremely high percentage of humidity. I’ve talked to a few locals about it, and they all told me that this is just the beginning… it is only going to get hotter and more humid!
Different countries fight the summer heat in different ways. In the States, people hide in locations with AC (their own homes, malls, restaurants), where the air can be irrationally cold. In southern Spain (where I was born), people avoid the hottest hours of the day by staying indoors, and they only start coming out at sundown, when the streets become intensely alive (which also explains why children are still playing on playgrounds around midnight, since they can’t do it during the day!). Here in Beijing, people also avoid doing any activities during the hottest hours of the day, which means that parks are quite empty during the day and come alive only when the weather cools down in the late afternoon (or very early in the morning!). There is one thing that men do to cool down in a hot summer day, though, that has particularly called my attention: they lift their shirt up halfway, or even take it off completely. At first it seems a little odd, coming from cultures where that can be seen as crass, but it is such a pervasive practice across all social strata that, after a while, it becomes normal. You can see in the small gallery below how pervasive this practice is.
So if after we are back in Charlottesville, you see me having brunch with the family down town with my shirt rolled up, or you see me reading on the lawn in front of the Rotunda without a T-shirt, do not be alarmed, for what it is strange to you (as it was for me) is perfectly normal for a fifth of the world’s population…