Postcard from Beijing… no 3

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel rumblings, Travel tips & opinions

Battling Beijing’s big freeze
Speak to my friends and family and, without fail, they’ll tell you that I am not a winter person. It’s true: even though I was born and raised in London, a city known for its cold Christmases, I never got used to them. I know plenty of people who wax lyrical about winter – the crisp air, pretty powdery snow, steaming mugs of hot chocolate and, in the words of Nat King Cole, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” – but I’m not one of them.

For me, winter means months of unflattering thermal underwear, colds and chapped skin. I’d much rather feel the sun on my back than a biting wind whip across my face any day, so you won’t be surprised to read that after graduation I made the move – first to the Middle East and later the Caribbean, with their promise of year round sunshine.

Every winter while the Northern Hemisphere was gripped by an arctic freeze, I’d be frying myself silly on a glorious stretch of golden sand. Subsequently it’s safe to say that I’m not – and probably never will be – ready for a Beijing winter which, I am reliably informed, is much, much worse than any I will ever encountered have before. For while temperatures do plummet below zero in Britain, Beijing also has the dry and dusty air to contend with.

So how to survive Beijing’s big freeze? Here’s five tips I’ve picked up from born and bred Beijingers and veteran expatriates that I thought I’d share….


1. Layer up
The secret to staying warm is to layer up. Start with a pair of qiu ku – autumn pants or long johns, if you will. Glamourous they are not. What they are, as any Beijinger will tell you, is warm and thus an essential part of winter life. Then add a sweater, chunky cardigan and a down coat. Finally accessorise with every beat the cold means at your disposal from Russian inspired headwear to sheep skin lined boots. It’s time to take dressing up to the max.

2. Lather on that lotion
If you want to prevent the winter itch – read dry, chapped skin – you’ll need to lather yourself in lotion. The key to soft supple skin, I’m told, is to moisturise ALL THE TIME. Seriously – whether you watching television at home or typing at work, be sure to slap on some lotion on the hour – unless you want to end up with leathery looking skin. Watson’s stocks a range of reputable moisturisers at reasonable prices.

3. Stock up on DVDs
When the temperature plummets, we’ll all be hibernating at home. On those long winter evenings, hunker down with a good box set or two. Tom’s DVD Store (5135 7487) is rumoured to be the best in town, but if you don’t fancy schlepping to Jiangtia Lu, Beijing’s streets are awash with industrious bootleggers happy to test your conscience by offering DVDs of Hollywood blockbusters and hit sitcoms for peanuts. I nabbed Mad Men seasons 1-4 for a bargainous 35RMB. Endless nights in bed with Don Draper? Suddenly winter in Beijing doesn’t seem so bad….

4. Make mulled wine
Seek solace from the frostbite by making mulled wine – a hot alcoholic drink guaranteed to warm you up. It’s popular in all cold countries, but it’s an especially good drink to make in China where home grown wine tastes like vinegar and imported bottles are significantly more expensive than they are overseas. With mulled wine, any old bottle of plonk works once you add the spices and sugar.
On the food front, it’s time to try hotpot – a winter standby if ever there was one. Sweet potatoes from street vendors are another winter warmer – they’ll warm your hands and your heart!
5. Join the gym
During the winter months, many Beijingers find themselves piling on the pounds. If you want to keep your body in shape, think about joining a gym. Curling up under a warm blanket on the sofa might sound like a more attractive option on a cold winter day, but make the effort to exercise. Regular exercise wards off weight gain, boosts your body’s immune system and produces endorphins – all of which will help you beat the Beijing winter blues!

Finally if none of the above work, go south. Some (mad) people head north for the Harbin Ice Festival but sensible sun seeking types (like me) head to Hainan – aka the Hawaii of the East. Here you’ll find perfect beaches, turquoise waters and sunshine in spades…. see you in spring!

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