IMG_20160125_083913A giant cold front has been drifting across a big chunk of Asia the past few days. It’s probably not making the news since the blizzard on the east coast of the U.S. is much bigger and badder, but it’s still crazy. Record-breaking cold all across the region: the coldest temperatures in 60 years for Hong Kong, snow in subtropical Nanning, chilly weather in “China’s Hawaii.”

And three days of below-freezing weather for Kunming.

Snow is very exciting and beautiful when you live in a place where you rarely get to experience it. But the cold is a bit of a challenge when you live in a place that isn’t prepared for it.

Homes are neither insulated nor heated

When it’s in the 20s or 30s F outside, it easily drops to the 50s or 40s (or even lower!) inside. There is no central heating in homes, and it’s hard to keep things warm with space heaters, especially when your walls are solid concrete, and all the glass is single-paned. Construction is not the greatest, so doors and windows don’t always seal well.

So, you get as close as you can to those space heaters…


…and you wear a lot of layers, usually including a winter coat, even inside your house.


(That’s me with a hood, a blanket, and a lap warmer–aka laptop computer. What you can’t see is the big, fluffy dog curled up at my feet. That’s a good boy!)

Remember learning about castles in like 3rd grade? And how tapestries were hung on the walls for insulation? Our curtains are all closed right now for the same reason.


When I crack them to peek outside, I can feel a small billow of icy air enter the room. That’s just cracking the curtains, not actually opening a door or window, folks.

Pipes are neither indoors nor insulated

Building pipes run on the outer walls of apartment buildings, probably to make it easy for the repair guys. (Because jackhammering into concrete walls just to fix a broken pipe is a wee bit of mafan.) That works in normal weather, but it has been a big problem during this cold snap. Everyone I’ve talked to in our xiaoqu is without hot water because the pipes froze. Everybody’s heating water on the stove to use for bathing and washing dishes. Or, just ignoring bathing and dishes.

We were feeling pretty fortunate that we still had hot water last night. But then we woke up this morning to water gushing out onto our balcony from a burst pipe. Yee-haw.


We did triage by turning off the valve and applying a tourniquet to the pipe with some towels. It worked, though the water is still dripping a bit, forming icicles on the towel.


Plants are not prepared

The pine trees around here are doing just fine but the poor tropical plants are suffering. We barely had any snow, certainly nothing like what a blizzard would dump, and yet the weight of the snow is too much for a lot of the foliage. The morning after the snow fell, there were broken branches all over the paths. The maintenance workers have been working hard to clean up the carnage, sometimes amputating half-broken branches.

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It’s not just the snow. The freezing temperatures are devastating to these poor plants. I’m guessing many may be limp, black, and dead once the snow melts, like what happens to lettuce when you accidentally put it too far back in the fridge. In fact, as we walked around today, I noticed it kind of smelled like lettuce that has been in the back of the fridge. And forgotten for a week or two. I think all our beautiful landscaping might be green sludge in a few days. That’s gonna smell fantastic once the sun hits it.


Sad, sad snowman

Clearly, having a little snow in Kunming is not nearly as devastating as the “Snowmageddon” that New York and Washington, D.C. are now recovering from, but it still creates problems. Thankfully, the weather is due to warm up again tomorrow. (Highs in the 40sF. “Warm” is relative.) I’ll be sad to see the snow disappear, but I’m really looking forward to a proper hot shower.

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