Winter is Coming. For Real.

8AM in Jiayuguan. I wonder what we should wear today? Let me check the weather on my phone.

It’ll hit 0 degrees by 10AM and then a high of 6 degrees in the afternoon.

Quick calculation … 0 degrees celsius is 32 F … and 6 is 43F.

I tell Zak it’ll be a little colder than Tibet, but not too bad.

We dress and step outside.


I’m confused. This doesn’t feel like 32 degrees…

And then I realise my mistake. Of COURSE my phone is in Fahrenheit. Why was I thinking in Celsius? It’s currently 0F and going to be 6F as today’s high (that’s -18C and -14C!)

It’s our first experience of proper cold winter weather on this trip – and it’s only going to get worse…

(Honestly I don’t know why I was thinking in Celsius that morning. The only thing I can guess is that spending a week with Zak and Rachel who think/talk in Metric got me thinking about Metric too … but I always keep my phone in Fahrenheit, because C doesn’t make sense to me – I can’t ever imagine the temps, I always have to do the translation to F. Won’t be making that mistake with my phone again!)

Anyway – it was FREEZING cold.

Us in front of Jiayuguan Fort.

I had immediate flashbacks to the worst winter days in New Hampshire where I grew up. Waiting at the bus stop with frozen fingers and toes. Scraping ice off the windshield before mom could take us to school. Sitting bundled up in the car, willing the engine to heat up faster so the heater would work. Shuffling around so you don’t slip on the ice…

While thawing out in the car, Zak and I were saying that today was a good trial to see how well we’d packed for the cold, and what we’ll need to wear on future days out. A few big lessons learned:

Your Phone May Become a Brick

After about 10 minutes of taking pictures with my iPhone (even putting it in my coat pocket in between uses), it got really slow, then the screen went black, then there was a spinning icon, and then nothing. Brick. When I got it to power on later in the museum, the battery showed 10%. It wasn’t until hours later after warming up at lunch, that the phone worked again, and showed the battery back up to 95%.

I love the camera on my phone, and want to use that as much as possible for photos on this trip. (Easier to carry, easy to upload to Instagram and the blog etc.) But I had read about iPhone problems in cold weather, and so brought an old point-and-shoot digital camera with me for just this situation. Of course I didn’t have it today – it was back in the hotel – but on future days out in this cold weather, I’ll know I need to save my phone for emergency use, and use the old camera instead for photos.

I’m wondering where to keep my phone so it doesn’t get so cold though? Inside pocket of my coat, I guess, so it gets some body heat. My backpack will be even colder than a regular coat pocket! I guess I’ll find out…

[Update: In China we regularly saw locals with disposable body/hand heat patches stuck to their phones to keep the battery from dying in the cold!]

Zak’s Beard and Moustache Freeze!

Zak quickly had little frozen icicles on his moustache, and he said if he kept his mouth closed, his moustache would freeze to bits of his beard and he had to really make an effort to open his mouth!

You’re Putting WHAT in Your Pocket?

We recently learned that in China it is very disgusting to blow your nose into a Kleenex and then put it in your pocket. Like really, horribly, disgusting. Zak says: “it’s like the equivalent of having someone wipe their bum and then put the TP in their pocket, in public.” Nose-blowing is a seriously disgusting act to the Chinese.

It’s apparently acceptable to block one nostril outside and blow your nose onto the ground … but the idea of blowing it into a kleenex and not immediately throwing it away is beyond unacceptable. So what do you do when it’s freezing outside and your nose is continually dripping? It can’t be only Westerners who get stuffy noses in the cold.

The Chinese seem to just sniff, a lot, and vigorously. But I don’t really like just sniffing and snorting everything back up into my nose, that can’t be healthy right?! And anyway, if we’re talking about etiquette, I find snorting and sniffing pretty gross!!

It seems like it might be OK to blot/dab your nose, but you definitely can’t blow it, unless you’re in a toilet, or worst case, if you blow it and immediately throw the kleenex in the trash. If you absolutely must blow your nose in public, I read online, you must go around the corner from other people, or at least turn away from them, and do it as quietly as possible, and then throw out the tissue immediately.

This is going to be a problem. So often in the cold, you don’t need to really blow your nose, it just continually drips from the cold, and then from warming up after the cold. So it seems excessive to throw away a kleenex every time it touches your nose, right? And then what about at mealtimes? When we came in from the cold to a bowl of steaming hot soup, both of our noses started running … how do you deal with that? At one point I said I needed to use the toilet just so I could go actually blow it and hopefully buy myself some time between dabs. Not sure how this is going to work out… I imagine we have a little leeway as we’re ‘strange foreigners’, but still, you don’t want to be repulsive to everyone around you. It’s going to be an ongoing challenge I think!

Ration the Toe Warmers

My toes get really super cold in the winter, because of an unfortunate almost-frostbite incident while ice skating on our local pond as a kid. I brought 10 pairs of disposable ‘toe warmers’, and I’m definitely going to need them! Need to ration them for the coldest days when we’ll spend the most time outside.

Limited Visibility

I’ve got this great arctic parka that is super warm – but when the hood is all done up, I can only see a small space directly in front of me. No peripheral vision at all, and it’s hard to hear because the hood is so thick. That’s not going to be very fun for sightseeing, or for moving around easily. Hmmm…

Harbin … we’re scared!

Our second to last stop in China is Harbin, a city in the far North where we’ll visit the winter Ice and Snow festival. Harbin is known for being cold.

Every single time we’ve mentioned to a Chinese person, from Hong Kong to Xining to Jiayuguan that we’re going to Harbin, their first reaction is “Oooh Harbin!!! VERY cold!!! Brrrr!”

We thought this was kind of funny when the fair-weather Hong Kongers said this, but when our driver in Jiayuguan on this really freezing cold day said the same thing – we started to get worried. I think it’s going to be REALLY cold. Cold like we can’t even fathom. Face freezing, lung burning, dangerous cold.

Fortunately we have a few weeks to build up our cold tolerance first!

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