minus forty

While I was travelling around during the summer, whenever I happened to mention to a Chinese person that I’d be living in Harbin for a year, they’d look shocked.

“Aiyo. You know, it’s really cold there in the winter. It gets down to–”

“Minus 40,” I’d interrupt. “I know.”

I didn’t know then, of course; I had only the vaguest of ideas. -40 degrees Celsius might as well have been -150 for all the concept I had of it. I classify everything below a certain point as “Really Fucking Cold” and don’t bother distinguishing between these temperatures and the subgroup “Really Really Fucking Cold.”

It’s on that border now. Last night, the temperature was between -15 and -12 Celsius. I have to wear two pairs of thick socks, a minimum of 3 shirts, and – if I’m wearing the suit that my school bought for me to teach in every day – two pairs of pants.

“It’s fucking cold,” I say to people here, and they laugh – first, because I know how to say “fuck,” and second, because they think I’m just so cute and naive.

“This isn’t cold,” they say. “This is nothing. January? February? That’s cold. It’s usually –”

“I know,” I say miserably. “Minus 40.”

Comments (10)

  1. Derek wrote::

    And quoth the Raven:


    Thursday, October 31, 2002 at 2:01 am #
  2. jennifer wrote::

    it’s been a long time since the talking to mr. okane.

    It’s cold in harbin image what it must be in Los Angeles!!!

    Actually, (please excue the “complaining”) it’s freaking 60 degrees Farienhiet here. That’s cold for LA. everyone is complaining about it and telling people that it’s cold and the like. I hope you are well. don’t die on us till you return.
    Then you can die a year or so later.

    Friday, November 1, 2002 at 5:34 am #
  3. Katie from Minneapolis wrote::

    Don’t be such wimp. Geez.

    I mean, really, you stop noticing after awhile. At least you don’t teach at the school next to Wenhua that has the bathroom’s outside.

    Friday, November 1, 2002 at 5:49 am #
  4. Patrick wrote::

    My tidings for you: the stag bells,
    Winter snows, summer is gone.

    Wind high and cold, low the sun,
    Short his course, sea running high.

    Deep-red the bracken, its shape all gone,
    The wild-goose has raised his wonted cry.

    Cold has caught the wings of birds;
    Season of ice – these are my tidings

    Kuno Meyer’s translation

    Here’s my story; the stag cries,
    Winter snarls as summer dies.
    The wind bullies the low sun
    In poor light; the seas moan.
    Shapeless bracken is turning red,
    The wildgoose raises its desperate head.
    Birds’ wings freeze where fields are hoary.
    The world is ice. That’s my story.

    Brendan Kennelly’s translation

    I have news for you; The stag bells, winter snows, summer has gone. |
    | Wind high and cold, the sun low, short its course, the sea running |
    | high. Deep red the bracken, its shape is lost; the wild goose has |
    | raised its accustomed cry. Cold has seized the blackbirds’ wings; |
    | Season of ice, this is my news. (Ireland, 9th century–translator unknown)


    Sc�l lem d�ib: I have news for you:
    dordaid dam, the stag bellows,
    snigid gaim, winter snows,
    ro f�ith sam. summer has gone.

    G�eth ard �ar, The wind is high and cold,
    �sel gr�an; the sun is low;
    gair a rrith, its course is brief,
    ruirthech r�an. the tide runs high.

    Ror�ad raith, The bracken has reddened,
    ro cleth cruth, its shape has been hidden;
    ro gab gn�th the wild goose has raised
    giugrann guth. his customary cry.

    ro gab �acht Cold has caught
    etti �n; the wings of birds;
    aigrid r�– it is the time of ice —
    � mo sc�l. these are my news.

    This famous little poem from the ninth century is the last
    word in compression.
    (From page 98 of “A Golden Treasury of Irish Poetry”)

    Another translation from

    Ireland, from the Liber Hymnorum (11c)
    A gloss of this text, based on the poem Amra Coluim Cille, is
    found in the Irish Liber Hymnorum. The manuscript was copied in
    the 11th century, but internal linguistic evidence indicates that
    it is at least two centuries older. In particular, the text
    contains the poetic technique called dunad, wherein the opening
    words are re-woven into the last line of the poem.

    “Winter has come. The stag bellows; summer has gone. The wind is
    high and cold; the sun low in the sky, short in its course. The
    sea runs string; the bracken is red…now it is usual to hear the
    cry of the barnacle goose. The wings of birds are taken with
    cold; it is the season of ice crystals. ”

    Is maith l�om ag d�irigh an bothar leath.

    “Oiche mhaith agus colaidh samh”

    Friday, November 1, 2002 at 5:52 am #
  5. bonnie wrote::

    I’ve heard different things from people here.

    “Tonghua’s colder than Changchun, but warmer than Harbin.”

    “Tonghua’s warmer than Changchun, which is warmer than Harbin.”

    “Tonghua, Changchun and Harbin are all about the same fucking cold.”

    Either way, Harbin seems to be used as a measuring stick of “fucking cold” around Dongbei.

    Friday, November 1, 2002 at 8:12 am #
  6. jon wrote::

    Also, you are lacking that prerequisite layer of fat that is vital to survival in the tundra.
    You could steal it from someone or cover yourself in vasoline….

    Saturday, November 2, 2002 at 7:31 am #
  7. When I decided to come teach in China, I chose Hangzhou. Why was it that I chose Hangzhou and not somewhere really far up north?? Hmmmm…

    Monday, November 4, 2002 at 1:55 am #
  8. Nico wrote::

    Two words:

    Tiger Balm.

    Monday, November 4, 2002 at 5:56 am #
  9. Fei Minwen wrote::

    haha, you have a suit for work?
    They give u a suit! I can never imagin that

    Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 11:15 am #
  10. Ken wrote::

    Question (08 May 2004)
    Please tell what is wrong with this address?
    Mia Wang
    An Liang St 8
    Daoli District
    Harbin 150001
    Heilong jiang Province
    China email 88888American@163.com
    This is not a joke I live in Australia and I want my letters and flowers to reach my girlfriend. I’m Ken QKR560@bigpond.com bye

    Saturday, May 8, 2004 at 11:04 am #