Tag Archives: Southern Northern China differences

Winter Cold in China 

Winter in China; how can this even be a topic you might wonder, but believe me when I tell you, it can. The reason for that is the North-South divide that exists in China with regards to heating and climate. Anything south of the Qinling Mountains and along the Yellow River does not have central heating in winter, a policy enacted 60 years ago by Zhou Enlai. While in some of the country’s most Southern provinces, where temperatures rarely drop below 15, this is kind of understandable, in regions closer to the heating border such as Anhui or my previous home of Nanjing, where 0 degrees and snow can be fairly common, it is not necessarily what you would call a pleasure. Though of course there is still air con available to heat up a room to a certain extent.

Having experienced two winters in the South and let’s say one and a half in Beijing, I thought it was time for a comparison.

Winter Down South – Wet and Tough

Before moving to Nanjing I had heard the Chinese expression that the Southern cold 进骨头里 goes right to the bone, because the climate is much more humid than in the North. I never really knew what people were on about; until that first winter in Nanjing. It was, in short, four months of constantly frozen toes and weirdly enough the tip of my nose. That’s what I get for being a big-nosed foreigner…

In my first year, when I was living in a rather old flat, I ended up actually sleeping in one of those skiing hats, you know the ones that pull over your nose.

During my second year, I quickly learned that when the aircon was on in my little studio flat, I had to sit in the hot air stream and not move an inch. Any attempt to stick my arm outside of the hot air range would have been accompanied with icicles dangling off my extremities (had we been in a cartoon movie…oh how I wish we were).

After a while though, I got used to the constant cold and the limited mobility in my own flat. Which was of course when, as it happened, I made my move to Beijing.

Winter Up North – Lip-splitting Dryness and New Levels of Cold

My first Beijing winter wasn’t good. Sure, our flat had floor heating and so you would often find me looking like a passed-out drunk as I lay sprawled across our living room floor, soaking up the warmth. And yes, I loved walking around without slippers and having toasty feet, to Mr. Li’s utter dismay, but the dryness of the Northern winter brought with it two terrible, terrible side effects. Every single inch of my skin became mind-numbingly itchy (and if you know me you know I’m a terrible scratcher). No matter how much cream I applied, after a while my legs and weirdly areas on my lower back were so raw from the scratching I could hardly put on my layers of clothes. But even worse was the fact that my lips dried out and split to an extent I wasn’t even aware was possible. They doubled in size and were as painful as they were unpleasant to look at. Again, no amount of balm could salvage the situation.

A work trip to Shanghai turned into an unexpected relief as my crumbly skin soaked up every inch of bone-freezing humidity it could find. The Beijing winter reminded me of the German winters of my youth, and not in a good way.

A Question of Adapting?

Fast forward a year and it is the end of November. While there has been a spot of itchiness, my clown lips have yet to surface (*touch wood*). It almost seems like I am on the verge of getting used to the harsh Beijing winter.

The thing, however, that surprised me most, was our recent trip to Changsha, again South of the warm and toasty centrally heated lifeline. When it hit 0 degrees and we were filming outside, I just wanted to jump into the Xiang river. When we were in a public hospital I just couldn’t fathom why on earth some of their hallways were actually open so the ice cold air could stream in and the wind could cut into my shivering body like a knife. Even while lying fully clothed with five layers underneath the duvet in my hotel room, my frosty toes simply refused to thaw. Imagine getting up in the mornings after 8 hours of your body generating just enough heat for even that little toe to defrost and then being forced to throw off the covers and instantly turn into a rather unappetising human ice lolly. Yeah, I think I’ll just stay under these covers till April, thanks. (Oh yes, I forgot, Nanjing for one typically doesn’t warm up until well into the fourth month of the year).

I have been quick to profess my love for the Southern climate on many occasions; my body, it seems, has other plans. It couldn’t wait to get back to lip-splitting, itch-inducing dry Beijing and its toasty indoor heating.

What has your experience been? Have you gotten used to the Chinese winter where you are?

Drink till Death; Differences between Northern and Southern Chinese Weddings

China baijiu official banquetChina is such a vast and diverse country, where one province could be seen as its own nation. Therefore, rather unsurprisingly, wedding ceremonies are just as diverse, especially considering the 55 minorities that inhabit China, all with their very own traditions. From a more simplistic point of view, China is often divided by its own people into North and South. In my case that is rather convenient as I was a bridesmaid for my friend in the South and will be wed in the North.

While the list is certainly more exhaustive than the few examples below (I strive to expand it when THE DAY comes), find herein a few differences that I am currently aware of after conversation with Mr. Li.

1. The Time
The most major difference, and for me personally the most terrible news, is the time. The main ceremony is held in the evening in the Southern parts of the country; while the Northerners have the grand ceremony at lunch time. This means that all the preparations, the groom picking up the bride, visiting the couple’s house and the public ceremony need to take place in half a day, as opposed to a whole one. It also means that it is not uncommon for the bride and her consortium to have to get up at 4.30am. I can’t even imagine waking up at such an ungodly hour, I am considering instead just staying up all night and to stay awake by drinking unreasonable amounts of alcohol; either way my brain capacity is going to be about the same in each case. Also, my eyes are going to be puffy. I will be a bridezilla in terms of looks, that’s for sure, let’s hope My mood won’t match my looks. I am already wondering whether me and bridesmaids can go on strike until we are allowed a reasonable time to wake up.

2. The Tea
One part of the ceremony which seems to be specific to the South is the tea drinking. When I mentioned that both sides’ parents were served tea, upon which the couple said “Mum, Dad, please drink tea” to Mr.Li, he had never heard of this custom. One could think this represents the fact that the Southerners are civilized tea drinkers, whereas Inner Mongolians…well, let’s not jump to conclusions.

3. The Pick-Up
Yet, this was exactly the conclusion I arrived at after hearing Mr.Li’s description of his cousin picking up the bride at his wedding. As best man, Mr.Li had to force his way into the brides quarters and later make sure his cousin could bring the bride to the car. However, there seemed to have been a lot of pushing and shoving involved, culminating in Mr.Li picking up one of the bridesmaids, who had sat in the wedding car in an attempt to obstruct the groom, and dragging the young woman out of the vehicle. With this expectation I went into my friend’s wedding ready for battle, but there was no tugging, no pulling and not even shouting, just a rather calm exchange of red envelopes. Maybe this means we didn’t do our jobs well enough, or it means that the jokes and rumors about rough Northerners are true. I leave it up to your judgment.

Also, as you already might have deducted, in the Northern wedding it was the cousin who carried his own bride to the car, while in the Southern wedding it was the bride’s uncle. While I am not exactly sure why this is the case, it is probably more reasonable to do it the Inner Mongolian way, after all we don’t want to strain uncle’s back. More importantly, if you want a bride, you should have to work for it.

4. The Alcohol
The final difference is probably the one with the most severe consequences; the social drinking. The standing phrase 劝酒, which literally means to urge somebody to drink, is a custom especially at weddings in which particularly Chinese males encourage (or force, depending on your point of view) each other to drink alcohol as a sign of showing respect and giving face. In traditional Chinese culture it is considered rude not to drink if someone toasts you (which usually happens every time they take a sip, so every few minutes). In fact, people who want to drink alcohol will often toast you just to have an excuse to drink; a dangerous game for all involved. If one does not want to drink, it is common to offer up some excuses, therefore it is not unusual to hear a Chinese person say that they are allergic to alcohol, or if they are a girl, it might be “that time of the month” during which of course alcohol intake, aside from cold foods and drinks, is strictly prohibited.

However, a major difference between North and South is that the former are infamous for their 劝酒 habits, I.e. they won’t take no for an answer and might drink you into a coma if you are not careful. Now, while it is of course not PC at all to generalize on such a scale, the Inner Mongolians are particularly infamous for their drinking habits and from what I have seen so far, I am afraid they are not so far-fetched. Mr. Li’s uncle “forced” him to drink until the poor boy threw up during Chinese New Year and his own son developed a severe case of pancreatitis after a particularly heavy drinking session. This is one of the reasons I am already a little worried, not only for my own sake, but for me Mr. Li’s due to the 喜酒 practice, the drinking of happy alcohol which I described in an earlier post. I personally am going to see to it that my glass is filled with Martini instead of Baijiu. After all, as long as I am on my own toxic turf, I can take on those Inner Mongolians without any problem (well, that’s what I tell myself before I sleep at night).

Those are, for now, all the differences I have spotted, yet I am convinced there will be many more and hopefully I will manage to spot them when the time comes.