Saturday’s blue skies, sticky heat and wickedly hot sun brought everyone out of their homes.
In America, summer has us imprisoned in the cool comforts of our air-conditioned houses. But in Sichuan, air-conditioners still remain off. We haven’t hit the late July, all-of-August steamy, humid high of over 100 yet. And even then, Chinese will only use an air-conditioner for the bedroom, cooling it at night just long enough to turn it off for the remaining sleeping hours so as not to run up electricity costs. During daytime hours, the apartment home remains hot with table fans swirling the heat around. This is why Chinese go out during the day. They are escaping the confines of their homes and looking for refreshing department store and fast-food restaurant surroundings where air-conditioners are going full blast, the bills being paid by the owners.
Yesterday, we held a tolerable 96 degrees, signaling the beginning of our Sichuan summer. Saturday also had the junior high and high school students out in mass, celebrating. Their end-of-term exams have just finished and the weekend for them meant no homework, a rare thing for students in China.
Although their exams are finished, they still have another week of classes. They will be going over their tests and the answers, then given their summer homework assignments.
All teachers in China prepare daily homework assignments which students are to do on their own the entire vacation, both for their winter and summer breaks. It’s a lot of work for them and leaving these to the last minute is not a good idea. The first day of class, students then turn in all their homework which teachers must check. With classes being as large as 60 – 70 students, you can imagine the amount of exhaustive checking a Chinese teacher has to do. These assignments are required by the school and marks are given for those who have (or have not) done their work. Students get into trouble for incomplete homework assignments thus they do them, even if it’s copying from a classmate.
14-year-old Jalin, my neighbor’s daughter, is very diligent about completing by herself her daily summer assignments. No wonder her grades are so good, not to mention her English language skills.
My weekend routine yesterday had me going to the swimming pool complex early enough to get in my laps. We serious swimmers come in the morning hours on Saturday and Sunday while those who like to play begin arriving around noon. I had just finished my work-out at 12 o’clock when groups of teenagers started pouring in. They were dressed in their brand new swimming suits of various styles and carrying new floatation devices they had just purchased from the swimming shop.
I expected hundreds to show up at the pool Saturday due to the weather but today, the number I was told by the pool locker room ladies astounded me.
“Yesterday, in one day, we had over 3,000 people!” the staff excitedly told me this morning.
“You mean for all three pools?” I asked.
“No!” they piped up. “In just this pool. The other two also had over 3,000 people.”
All together, over 6,000 swimmers enjoyed the cool waters of the Meng Zhui Wan swimming complex yesterday. That’s double the size of my small Midwestern town in America.
The Saturday heatwave had me and Little Flower taking only a short, 15-minute walk around our city block. We stopped in at Sabrina’s International Food Store to cool off before continuing onward. Usually, the staff leave their doors wide open for a breeze but not yesterday. Their small, single air-conditioner unit was going strong but wasn’t doing much except to cool off the backroom items. The Nestle chocolate chips were melted, I noticed, and the American candy bars were likewise looking pretty sad. Despite this, I’m sure there are many foreigners will still pay the $4.00 per chocolate chip 12 oz. package or $1.60 per Dark Milkyway bar to have their food fix. Melted or not, goodies from home are goodies from home and few can pass them up no matter how expensive or what kind of shape they’re in.
As LF and I made a swing around the block, we saw a number of people lined up outside of the McDonald’s ice cream take-out window. The sizzling pavement where everyone stood had the heat rising in visible waves. As soon as a child or adult had their ice cream cone in hand, it was already dripping. When we passed by, we saw inside the restaurant where every table was filled with people of all ages, eating slowly or leisurely talking. There were people standing, waiting for tables, but those with a seat were not about to go anywhere soon. The pleasant relief from outside had them staying put for as long as possible.
The 96 degrees likewise had a number of guys with their shirts either off or rolled up to their armpits. This is a common sight among many men in China. Since everyone remains outside without the comforts of the air-conditioner, the bare-chested or bare-belly look is prevalent along the streets of any city, small town or village in China. However, since Chinese are fairly thin to begin with, there isn’t really much of a belly on these gentlemen so the sight isn’t quite as hideous as it would be in America.
Another turn around yet another corner had us walking by the Harmonious Pet Hospital. The wide, glassed storefront allowed us to peer inside to watch yet another long-haired doggie, a Pekingese this time, being sheered with several more awaiting their turn in cages.
Without air-conditioners inside to cool pets off, Chengdu owners of overly furry critters have them shaved so they won’t suffer in the heat. Some owners have this done professionally, such as by those in Harmonious Pet, while others do it themselves. Little Flower’s favorite playmate, Pomeranian Zhu-zhu (jew-jew), had his lovely appearance rather ruined by his owners’ attempt to trim him. Before he had a very regal appearance with his full lion’s mane and beautifully brushed golden fur. Now he looks a bit like a disheveled vagrant. But LF doesn’t seem to mind and Zhu-zhu, in this weather, is certainly happier without so much body hair weighing him down.
Today’s weather increased our humidity but not our temperatures. We dipped down to 91 with overcast skies and a lovely breeze wafting by from time to time.
There’s a storm blowing in and we’ve been anticipating it all day.
Maybe with a little bit of luck, we’ll manage another several days of lower temperatures before yesterday’s heat kicks in once again. But even though Saturday seemed roasting hot, in another month, we’ll be praying for these kind of temperatures to hit us once again. This is nothing compared to late July and August.
And for those of you going to the Beijing Olympics, you might just consider taking a swing down my way to cool off from some very nasty weather where you’ll be going. The Chinese government might be able to control Beijing’s pollution index, the horrendous city traffic problems and the Olympic crowds, but they won’t be able to control the northern summer heat of China’s capital city. That you can bet on.
From Chengdu, here’s wishing you a cool, pleasant “Ping An!” (Peace)