More seasons than a spice rack

One of the toughest things for Maggie and I to get used to about living in Suzhou over living up in her home town in the north-east or mine in Canada is the weather.

We are both used to four distinct seasons running from a warming spring, a hot summer, a cooling fall and a freezing winter. I wrongly assumed that Suzhou had fewer seasons. Basically the weather goes from ‘chilled to the soul’ cold to ‘please somebody shoot me’ hot… with very little in between.

As we moved to Suzhou at the end of last summer, and it was damn hot then, I was apprehensive about what June, July and August might bring in the way of temperatures.

My uneasiness turned out not to be unfounded and we’ve been dealing with heat pushing 40°C for much of the last month. To add to the mess, the humidity has been so thick that we no longer get fish from the market. We simply open our 3rd-floor window and pluck them out of the air.

Near the end of June people started telling me that the Méi Yǔ season was coming. And as much as raining plums seemed like a neato thing, I was a bit confused as to what this new “season” was all about.

More officially the time of year is called the East Asian rainy season, but off the books most refer to it as ‘the time of year that everything in your house turns green’. I laughed at this, but it’s not far from the truth. Your clothes take ages to dry, any powdered goods in your cupboard turn into an unidentifiable lump, and once you start sweating… you just don’t stop.

Growing up near the Great Lakes, I’m no stranger to humidity, but Suzhou’s humidity is unlike anything I had experienced previously – bar only Bangkok in early September (at the tail-end of its own rainy season then).

Then suddenly this week it stopped. Walking outside on Monday, and taking off my snorkeling gear, I felt the first breeze brush my face in nearly a month. It was still hot, but bearably. Stunned, I quickly blubbered that it was “cool” today… and so it was that I was introduced to Suzhou’s other summer season – Qiū Lǎohǔ, or Autumn Tiger.

Autumn Tiger hits around the end of the first week of August and only lasts about half a month. It is a brief cooling period (by cooling, I’m still talking 30°+C) before the inferno continues on into September. The nearest thing that could be compared to this from a North American standpoint is “Indian Summer“. Though essentially the opposite temperature-wise, the principle is the same.

Back in May, after deciding I wasn’t going to teach anymore, I was quite excited for the summer and all the chances I’d have to finally get out and explore Suzhou and the surrounding areas – maybe even finally get my ass up Huang Shan. But with this heat, I’ve done little aside from hug my air-con.

Perhaps Autumn Tiger is just the break I’ve been looking for to put my new bike‘s battery limit to the test.

Unrelated Random Link: World Clock – it’s just cool.

10 Responses

  1. Just wait till August 15th then you will feel Suzhou’s worst season known as YBS season literally “Your Balls Swimming” season. The season where it’s so hot your balls are now swimming in their own sweat.

  2. Ryan,

    Though it is undoubtedly hot here during the summer, I don’t think it is as bad overall as Shenzhen or Guangzhou. The worst days here are about the same as the worst days there (although I’d say more humid even on the worst days down South), but the thing is Summer is about six months of the year down there – hot & humid the whole time.

    So… it could be worse.

    Singapore is like this year round, but Singapore is clean, so it’s not quite the fair comparison. Southern China is more on target.

  3. To quote a good friend of ours: if you don’t like it go back to your own country!

    Yes indeed, we don’t get many nice days in London but when it is nice, it is NIIIICE! Shanghai on the other hand just has two extremes – bloody hot and bloody cold, with a rainy season somewhere thrown in for good measure. I’ve given up wearing the jacket part of my suit to the office. I did all last summer but either Shanghai has become hotter or my tolerance has lowered. Plus I got fed up of the stares from baffled locals seeing me walk around in 90 degrees with my suit on.

  4. @Another Laowai: YBS is when I arrived last year – mid-end August… deadly hot. I promise to feel guilty as I order take-away.

    @Jeremy: I image that the south is much the same if not worse for humidity and all that. It just blows me away that this area of China is crap for weather near all the time. It’s always too hot or too cold with the exception of one or two months… it’s a good thing Suzhou as a city rocks!

    @WAZG: You’re nutz. It might disturb you all that now that I work out of my home, I spend most days working in my gitch. 😉

  5. Oh god, it’s coming back? I thought it was going away…
    SH blows when it’s humid too because the amount of people here increases the ‘somebody shoot me’ factor to a ‘I will kill you all’ factor.
    I still don’t believe the winters here can possibly be THAT cold…(yeah…I have been told I will eat those words)

  6. My godmother lives in Suzhou, and I visited for a summer back in college(and am going back this fall FINALLY), and I remember this season exactly. I was so confused when it became overcast after weeks of a hot, humid haze (in the weather, and in my mind), and I could suddenly walk outside the house and not immediately drown in my own sweat. It was such a relief. Then the biggest thunderstorm I’ve ever seen hit (fish in the streets, football stadium a swimming pool…), and afterwards the weather broke, and going back to Cali and 80F temps seemed like such a happy thing…

    God I miss it there. I’m bookmarking your site now, for the good memories. 🙂

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