We’re back in Guangzhou, and the weather and air both look lovely today. As I write this, it’s 68 degrees Fareinheit outside and expected to get up to 80 F today. When I rode on the city bus a few days ago, I noticed that I was the only person wearing short sleeves and shorts. Everyone else has switched to long sleeves, long pants, and jackets. Well, ladies wear skirts with leggings and (often) stylish boots. My lighter mode of dress elicits a few stares and probably some concern that I might catch cold. This difference in how warmly I dress was something that struck me as remarkable about my Beijing trip with my Chinese friends.
One expects there to be cultural differences in attire, but it would seem to me that sensitivity to heat and cold would be similar across cultures. In fact, since I’m from the "deep South" and have always considered myself cold natured, I’d expect to feel about the same in terms of sensitivity to cold. But that’s not the case. I’m noticeably warmer natured than my Chinese acquaintances, no matter where they’re from. I’m puzzling over whether it’s a difference in physiology or merely in social custom, but my Chinese friends wear much more clothing than I do in the same weather.
This was highlighted during our recent trip to Beijing together. When we were in Beijing, the temperature ranged from 9 deg C to 20 deg C each day. That’s 48 degrees to 68 degrees Fareinheit. For me, that range calls for light layers and a jacket.
(At the Great Wall the elevation is higher and
it’s a tad bit cooler.)
Even if there were no heat in a room, I wouldn’t consider long underwear unless the temperature were at least ten degrees fareinheit cooler. For one thing, if the weather went above 10 Celcius, or about 50 F, I would burn up in long underwear. Similarly, if I were to exercise I would need to shed layers because of the heat generated. Not so my Chinese friends. On our trip to Beijing, they dressed in thin long underwear, both upper and lower body, long sleeves and long pants, scarves
and often mufflers, and jackets.
One night we passed a group people doing aerobics on a street corner in Beijing. All of those people were wearing long pants and jackets as they exercised.
When I dressed as I thought appropriate for the weather in Beijing — knee length shorts or skirt and short sleeves coupled with a layered, light jacket and a hat — my friends would become very concerned that I was dressed so skimplily that I might get sick. They were reassured when they observed that many of the foreigners were dressed just as thinly as me. Nevertheless, I felt as if I had seven mothers sometimes, because occasionally one would reach over and feel my skin. Then, with a very surprised voice, she would tell the others that, indeed, I was warm and not too cold!
One of my Chinese friends recently sent me some pictures from our trip. In it, one member of our group is standing in front of a landmark on a clear, sunny day. She is dressed in long pants, muffler, and quilted down jacket. You would never know, just from looking at the picture, that it was probably 65 degrees when the photo was taken! Just looking at that photo is enough to make me feel hot!