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.”