Struck by Spring

NewsChina - - ESSAY - By Joshua Dum­mer

Spring 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 4 months, try los­ing your mind a lit­tle while you still have the chance.

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

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