Shivering through the New Year

Granted, it’s really nearly a month past the New Year, so this comes rather late. As a result, let me dig myself out of this hole and say: I’m beginning to shiver my way through Chinese New Year. Never mind that it’s not until at least two weeks away.

Today, Hong Kong will have just passed the coldest day in 58 – or is it 59? – years. We hit temperatures of 4*C yesterday, and good God was it hard to go through. We were (briefly) colder than London and some other parts of Scotland and Norway. And up on the hills, the temperature dropped to below zero, with the Fire Department making a (very irritated) plea: please don’t go hiking, as the roads have frozen over and we can’t rescue you if anything goes wrong.

I can already hear the complaints – after all, these are the same ones my friends in Europe laughed at me with. It’s not that cold, we have it worse, 4 degrees is piddling. And I agree – compared to the temperate and sub-arctic areas, it’s laughable that us poor tropic-dwellers are complaining like babies. But it is precisely because we’ve never experienced 4 degrees that makes this occurrence so much more extraordinary – and dangerous.

Hong Kong has historically been a very warm place with very mild winters. The lowest we’ve really ever reached up till this point is about 10 degrees. At 12 degrees we already break out the down jackets and furs, because most of us haven’t experienced temperatures colder than this. Well, those who haven’t travelled to Europe or other colder parts anyway. People journey up to Tai Mo Shan to see frost, the poor man’s substitute for ice, or fork out expensive tickets to ski in other far-flung places.

When the Observatory announced that Hong Kong would be reaching these temperatures, speculation went about. Rumours of freezing roads (that happened), worries that clothes weren’t enough, and even more implausibly, snowing in Hong Kong (nope). And when these temperatures actually hit, my Facebook feed was flooded with my classmates and friends in Hong Kong remarking how cold it was. I must confess – I too was swept up in this bandwagon, and turned on my air-conditioner just so it wouldn’t feel so cold.

The thing is, unlike Europe and other countries who have habitually endured these temperatures, Hong Kong is not prepared nor equipped for it. Most of our homes don’t have heaters or floor heating. Our buildings aren’t insulated for these temperatures. Our emergency services have little-to-no equipment to handle frozen roads, or slippery surfaces. Our citizens certainly don’t have the knowledge on how to layer up their clothes, or what to wear, or specialised shoes to wander around without worrying about tripping. The wonder of such cold weather lasts for about an hour before reality sinks in – and people begin to realise that we are nowhere near ready to handle this sort of weather.

The logical conclusion? Everyone’s worried, of course, and it’s an extraordinary event. To the eyes of the other people, this is one of the most ridiculous things to talk about, but to us, it’s something revolutionary – and to some extent, terrifying because of how un-prepared the city is for such a chill. Maybe we’ll be better prepared next time, and I hope it’s something that happens once in a blue moon.

But until then? Save your derision, and let us southerners figure out how to dress warmer, be better prepared, and to have this day of wonder and – well, astonishment, just to ourselves.


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