Discarded flip-flops and tightened shoulders

Each season has a clear personality in Shanghai.

Spring is essentially being thankful that the dry and gloomy days of Winter are at an end, while also mainly being about waiting for Summer: trying to force it in by wearing too little clothes and instead ending up in bed with a cold because you were sneezed upon by a friendly passer-by.

Summer is an expat’s favourite season, by far. This is down to two things: that home-life in Shanghai can be unhealthily non-existent (not living with parents or a true friend), and also that (perhaps because of this, perhaps not) expat ‘life’ really only consists of finding new places in which to eat and drink.

Summer provides an opportunity to become near-obsessed with finding ‘this Summer’s’ patio, terrace or rooftop on which to take heavily contrived photos, ready for instant Facebook upload.

Summer clothing is also a big deal; even as the final dregs of summer heat are gone, you may see people walking around the city streets in flip-flops and shorts – trying to still emphasise that they are living away from home – in Asia – and have therefore reached the Bohemian peak that they longed for when young and watching Leonardo Di Caprio ply his lithe and bronzed trade in ‘The Beach’.

Autumn is therefore something of a disappointment for Expat Barry.

However all is not lost. Winter soon draws in, providing its own opportunities for actualisation of once-dreamed stereotypical achievement.

The cold weather allows the possibility of a suit worn with a long black coat. That may seem like a simple and very obvious part of annual life – yet Expat Barry can still manage to turn this into a physical characterisation which represents his own hopes to be recognised as an eccentric and successful person of stature.

Take an example: a company dinner, or dinner arranged with an ‘expat group’. Not really group ‘of friends’, more just a group of people that can meet and eat dinner together because they are all white and therefore may have something in common.

Expat Barry can then arrive 10 minutes late for such an event – as everyone else has taken their seats at the Teppanyaki table, Expat Barry can then stroll in, claiming the attention for himself, and – this key – roundly whipping off his long black coat with a sardonic smile and the eyebrow slant and sideways glance of a man who secretly ‘gets’ a joke that no one else quite understands.

With a jiggle of the head and another flick of the eyebrows, Expat Barry can then dominate the early parts of the conversation, as his acquaintances politely allow him to speak – no doubt about a humourous tale which paints Barry as its hero. Note that two chairs may have been left at the Teppanyaki table, for Expat Barry and also his seemingly mute Chinese girlfriend. ‘Sissy’.

Let’s now move away from Expat Barry (though I feel we will return to him in the future) and back to the seasons – but still food related.

Winter in Shanghai has a particular personality for many reasons – one of which is steaming food.

There is something particularly Winter-y about most Chinese food. It may be the heavy oil and greasy nature of most of the dishes, but also maybe because Chinese dishes are often separated into a cold course and a hot course – the hot course being the main event.

The hot course therefore usually comes into it’s own in the depths of Winter. It’s the steam. The steam becomes the visual embodiment of the moreishness contained within, announcing that the food is not only ready, but also friendly and wanting to warm both your shivering limbs and tired soul.

Quickly crowding into streetside eateries with shoulders hunched and tightened from the cold, as you watch the steam absolutely pour off of the dumplings or what have you, as you plonk down and grab a beer – that’s Winter, and an essential part of enjoying China living.

Huddling together as the taxi plows through the night during Chinese New Year, as every street you glance down has a small crowd of people lighting a large pile of fireworks.

Learning tips on how to keep warm outdoors, as Chinese people secretly wear eight layers of thermal underwear and have three hot-water-bottles secreted about their person.

Summer may claim the glamour of the year and strip the city’s sweethearts down to hotpants and high-heels for their visa machinations, but Winter still has its own feel-good factor of stolen moments and sneaky delights.



Categories: Expat Life


Foreigner in Shanghai


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8 Comments on “Discarded flip-flops and tightened shoulders”

  1. November 3, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

    Hahaha Expat Barry and his slick coat. Summer as the favorite season though? I’d vote for the brief blissful weeks inbetween Spring / Summer and Summer / Autumn. The phase we just passed out of. I’m ready for the steam , but not quite for the never quite feeling warm thing. (I miss my bohemian sandals already. ) What about the plum rain season? Nothing like the sound of rain for 2 weeks straight.

    • November 4, 2012 at 10:09 am #

      I agree with the rain – I love the rain here. Scares people off streets and can freshen up the air.

    • November 4, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      I’ve had a quite a few rainy season long walks through the empty streets. Great for clearing out the mind.

  2. November 4, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    It dipped to 22C here last week and half of HK pulled out jeans, sweaters and even a few scarves. Here’s to hoping building managers city-wide will take the hint and turn down the AC.

    • November 5, 2012 at 11:31 am #

      22? brrrr… but I’m sorry, arctic AC is the sign of power and civilisation in HK and your wish will be ignored 😉


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