As much as I’m not ready to admit the truth, at this point there is little getting around it: fall has arrived in Chengdu. For two weeks now, I’ve been trying to turn a blind eye to the sure signs popping up all around me, but as the days go on, there is no denying it. There is a season- turn, turn, turn…
Other than the sudden turn in weather, why am I convinced that summer is officially over? One of the surest signs of impending cold is the sudden appearance of tailor-made coat shops all around town. Where one day a boutique shoe store or random fruit stall existed, the following day it is outfitted with all manner of coat material, batting and creepy mannequins displaying this year’s quilted winter coat options. These little stores pop up overnight, acting as fall’s counterpart to Punxsutawney Phil.
And of course, in China, there is no better sign of fall than the ubiquitous moon cakes that sprout up around every turn. No hotel, bakery, coffee shop or department store can slide by this time of year without offering an array of hockey puck-like treats to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. These uber-dense cakes filled with everything from chopped nuts to red bean paste to egg are a must-give gift for the annual holiday. They can be purchased for as cheap as a couple of kuai each to as much as thousands of kuai for fancy, silk-lined boxes used to gain favor with bosses. (Less than a candy bar or more than my car payment in the US, price on these things doesn’t matter. They are not good. Not good at all.)
Even the uptick in meetings and conference calls about air pollution are a heavy reminder that cold weather (and coal burning!) is just around the corner.
All of this I could ignore though, just blaming the appearance of coats on the turn of the calendar page to September and the requisite moon cakes on the national holiday, but yesterday I saw a sight that popped by mental it’s-not-fall-yet bubble: an old man roasting chestnuts in the alley. There’s no getting around the fact fall has arrived when the old men from the countryside load up their metal cauldrons onto handcarts and haul them into the city to sell chestnuts. In the US, the smell of pumpkin and apple pie and the musty scent of leave piles are what signal to my nose that the holidays are quickly approaching, but in China, nothing frames my mind for the upcoming festivities more than the smell of street-side roasted chestnuts. And they are here. One roaster has taken up residence in Noodle Alley, a favorite lunch spot for all of us at the consulate and last night I noticed another one on the corner near my apartment complex. While I can ignore the other tell-tale signs of impending cold, chestnuts roasting on an open fire in Chengdu says all there is to say.
Goodbye summer. Hello autumn.