Before moving to Wuxi, I lived all my life in England, which means I had 30-ahem years where more than one day of 25°C + was described as a heat wave. There would be a rush on fans and barbecues, ice cream would sell out etc. So, when I read the description of Wuxi’s climate as being sub-tropical with August being the hottest month I didn’t really realise what that meant. After nearly two weeks here, I am starting to understand.
The temperature has averaged about 29-30°C since we have been here. However, it is very humid, so it actually feels about 10°C hotter. It doesn’t really get any cooler at night. So, I get up in the morning, shower, blow-dry my hair, get dressed and go out. Five minutes after leaving the nice air-conditioned apartment I find I am covered in a fine layer of sweat and my hair has turned into a giant frizz ball. 15 minutes later and I am searching desperately for anywhere that might have air-conditioning and my plans to explore the city are abandoned. So, I come home, have another shower and start again.
The heat makes it pretty difficult to sleep at night, especially when combined with the super hard mattresses (you can buy wooden mattresses toppers to make your bed even more uncomfortable if you choose). I wonder whether this explains the phenomenon of ‘people sleeping in strange places’ we have observed around the city. It is not unusual to see people asleep on furniture in Walmart, on a bench outside a restaurant, on a wall, on the pavement or even balanced across their scooter trolley and a railing. It seems to be quite an acceptable thing to do and I might be giving it a go myself if it doesn’t start to cool down soon.
So far, today has been a day of exploring. We got up very late after a restless night, I think the jet lag is catching up with us, and decided to get a feel for the city on foot. The last couple of days have been really hot (30 C and very humid), but today felt a bit cooler – at least, at first.
We wanted to know how far it was to walk from the hotel, downtown, to our new apartment and then from the apartment to John’s school. At first, it felt okay, but the humidity sort of sneaks up on you, so by the time we reached Wallmart (around the corner from our apartment) we were glad to duck inside and take advantage of the air conditioning.
Wuxi is a very modern city and there were some preconceptions I had which I have now had to revise. For example, I thought the streets might be quite dirty, but there are loads of people constantly sweeping them, so they are cleaner than in Macclesfield (which has a real problem with litter and dog poo). On the other hand, some side streets are grubbier and men and small children seem quite happy to wee in the street. Rather than nappies, some babies prefer the bottom-less trouser look, which can only lead to mess.
Traffic is reasonably busy (I guess, it might be busier after the summer) and there is some pollution and smog. However, this isn’t as bad as in some European cities and it isn’t a patch on Moscow. When we visited Moscow last April, the smog was really thick in places and you could feel it on your skin and in your hair, I dread to think what August would have been like there.
There are fewer bicycles on the road than I imagined, but the scooters are just crazy. Polly told us that you don’t need a licence to ride a scooter and it really shows. Hardly anyone wears a helmet, and you often see whole families (mum, dad and small child) all balanced on the same scooter. If balancing many crates, shopping bags or large watermelons on a small scooter was an Olympic sport, China would take all the medals. It is amazing, and terrifying, to watch.
As we hoped, the people we have all met so far have been really lovely and helpful. Polly has been brilliant and really did her best to make us feel welcome, and Alex and Amber were great. The people in the shops and restaurants have also been really friendly and helpful. We have been practicing Chinese wherever possible and John has been asking a million and one questions to anyone and everyone.
Wallmart was nice a cool and we had a good nosy around. It sells pretty much everything, so will be very handy for kitting out our apartment. It is really like any Wallmart/ ASDA in Britain or America. The main difference is that in the meat/ fish section you can buy live fish, eels, frogs and even turtles. At least you know it is fresh, I suppose.
The walk from our new apartment to John’s school was an easy 25 minutes, even in the heat of the day. It is great to think he won’t need to worry about negotiating public transport from day one. From the outside, the school looks really big and grand with lovely ornamental gardens.
We completed our circuit by walking back to the hotel. Walking into the cool lobby was bliss.
We are really enjoying being here in China. It is a bit like being a child again: the sights, sounds and smells are all new and we don’t really know what is going on most of the time. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing.