Staying Warm South of the Yangtze River, China

Toilet seat cover: this helps

Now that it is January and the end of our fall term here at Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University, I feel I’ve become something of an expert, or at least a survivor, in how to stay warm during the winter south of the Yangtze River in China.

Xiao Guo wears a coat inside; Sarah Jean holds the puppy

In an effort to save energy, the Chinese government has decreed that any public building south of the Yangtze River can have no heating.  The Yangtze River flows at about 33 degrees latitude through China.  In the U.S., 33 degrees latitude is about at the border between Arkansas and Louisiana.  However, the Yangtze River comes down out of the mountains of Tibet at 16,000 feet and crosses several mountain ranges to arrive at sea level in Shanghai.  At first, before it got really cold, I thought the Chinese government was making a wise plan to avoid energy waste.  Everyone just needs to put on enough clothes to keep warm.  We could certainly do much more in the U.S. to conserve energy.

Bundle up:

Wear layers

Wear tights and boots whatever your age.

Colorful clothes are popular. China is changing.

Cold fashion

Even the trees on campus get bundled up with plastic sheeting and what looks like handi-wipe toweling

What this government policy means in Lin’an is that the students do not have any heating in their dorms or classrooms or cafeterias.

They can go to the library, which is heated, and lines form well before 7am each day when the library opens so students can capture a seat for the day.

Study all day in the library

Note that many have bottles of hot water that warms their fingers; they drink hot water all day to help stay warm.

Library snack area

After lunch-some library seats are more comfortable than others

Those of you in the US Midwest will think us wimps here because the temperatures haven’t fallen much below 30 degrees Fahrenheit yet.  But the students have to shower, dress, sleep, pay attention in class, study, and take exams often when they are very cold. The school is closing for the next five weeks so students can go home to avoid the coldest part of the winter.

Luckily for Barry and me, we have good clothes, a heated apartment, and hot water, but I am still cold because there is no insulation in this concrete block no thermal windows apartment.  Much of our heat just goes out the windows.  My cousin gave me long underwear and a padded vest, and my sister lent me her L.L. Bean–good to 10 below–long coat.  I have merino wool socks and Bear Claw boots and many layers to wear.  Barry too is well equipped.

We have lots of ways to keep warm

Besides the gloves, hats, scarves, sweaters, and coats, we really like the gel pack hand warmers (on the left) that we plug in for about five minutes-they stay warm all nights by our toes.  The fingerless gloves are great for working at the computer.

Barry sitting right under our bedroom air conditioner that gives us heat in the winter and cool air in the summer

Wearing a warm coat while doing yoga in the chilly living room.

We foreign teachers and foreign students do have “air conditioners” in our apartments.  We have heated offices and for the foreign students, heated classrooms.  However even with hot water and heat lamps, I’ve learned to take a vigorous hour walk or at least do jumping jacks before showering so I don’t freeze to death (or feel that I am) in the process.

But the Chinese  students are not so lucky.  None have heat in their dorms or classrooms and half of them do not have hot water in their dorms.

But I can share with you helpful techniques for being warm that I’ve learned especially from the students and from Melinda who lived in Japan and China for many years.

Go to  up-scale restaurants and tea/coffee places that are heated and sit for the evening:

Issan's mom, Issan, Isis, & Barry at our New Year's Eve dinner

Barry had offered to help Issan decide which U.S. university would be a good choice for her, so she and her parents invited us and Isis, our English Department secretary, and her husband out to dinner for New Year’s Eve.  We had a private room and were there from about 6-11pm.  Lots of great food came in  for us to eat and great tea too.  The most memorable choice was what looked like a hard-boiled egg soaked in tea, which is a specialty here that I have been wanting to try.    Luckily, I was warned that it was a chick inside the egg shell.  When others broke away the shell, I could see the chick’s feathers.  It’s a good thing I’m vegetarian–and there were many more choices.  For that evening, we are all warm, well fed, and happy talking and laughing.

Enjoying our dinner in a warm restaurant on New Year's Eve

Go to performances:

Dancers from Ukraine

Singers from Ukraine

"Break Down the Door"

More dancers

A teacher painted calligraphy to music and dance


More dance

Have friends come visit:

Jessica, Jane, Barry, Rahman, Yusuf, & Ablikim at our apartment on New Year's Day

Sleep Well:

Nine hour nights

Walk quickly and enjoy the views:

Walk quickly

Snowing on East Lake

Snow on decorative cabbage

Berries and blossoms

Cuddle up:

Students hang on to each other for warmth

Carry a child

Friends cuddle up

It's good to have friends

Breathe through a scarf:

Sit in the sun:

Studying outside the library in the sun

Near the edge of East Lake in the January sun

However, what for Barry and me is an interesting adventure is not a good situation for a lot of people here in China and a lot of places around the world this winter.    The China Daily January 9, 2011,  article about the unexpected freezing weather in South China notes, “Icy weather and sleet have affected more than 3.83 million people across South China since Saturday, Jan 1, 2011, with the cold snap forecast to last 10 more days.”

To see photos and read more, go to this link:

Stay warm.  Be grateful.  Be thankful.  Help someone.

Barry and I will spend our Winter Festival in Bali.  We fly out tomorrow.

Aloha, Renée


About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

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