Fall is a Four-Letter Word

Fall. It’s a four-letter word in my book.

I know masses of people love fall more than anything, but I am not one of them. Yes, I can appreciate the beautiful colors of the leaves changing (although, in Chengdu the leaves just go from gray with a green undertone to gray with a brown undertone, so there is no rainbow of earth tones to stomp through here), and I get that some folks love the cooler weather (again, I’m a fan of a cozy hoodie- for about three days and then I am ready to go back to tank tops and shorts), but overall, fall is just not my thing.

Fall means Halloween, which you don’t even want to get me started on. (Least favorite holiday-ever. Non-event “holidays” like Arbor Day and Presidents’ Day are a better use of a line on my calendar than one that includes creepy costumes, teenagers asking for candy and way too much of the hideous orange/black color combination.)

Fall also means summer is over. I love summer. Even now, when I’m not teaching and don’t get the whole thing off. I love the when it is dark and still warm enough to sit on the deck at a restaurant. (Or, more fittingly for my current situation, on a plastic stool on the sidewalk.) I love getting an ice cream cone and going for a walk after dinner. And I love cute sundresses and sandals, neither of which is practical when I can see my breath in the morning air.

But, as much as fall is not one of my favorite things, this year, I’ve decided I’m going to enjoy every minute of it, as it will be my last fall for…well, who knows how long. For at least two years, in Kuala Lumpur, there will be no need to pack away the skirts and sandals, and then 2016 could bring anything from the bitter cold of Nuuk or Ulan Bator to more time on the equator in Antananarivo or Nairobi. With KL only a few months away, I’m contentiously avoiding sweater shopping online. Old Navy and Maurice’s send me tempting emails on a nearly daily basis, but I’ve been diligent about deleting them without opening their percentage upon percentage off deals.

To that end, I’m looking at all the great things fall in Chengdu has to offer. I’ve already ordered several new pairs of fun colored tights to brighten up the hazy days that have settled on our basin and this weekend I’ll make the dresser drawer transfer, moving my long-sleeved t-shirts and sweaters into the regular rotation and putting the summer clothes to rest in the spare bedroom. I’m guessing there is hotpot in my very near future and the fruity teas have reappeared on my desk at work.

Fall is here, but it is going to be okay.  I’ll wait patiently for the fan-shaped leaves of the gingko trees to turn yellow; I’ll throw a big Halloween bash at the consulate and have my heart warmed by the adorable toddler costumes; and I’ll enjoy the coziness of snuggling up in a hoodie, fuzzy sock and a throw blanket to watch hours of Netflix in an attempt to avoid death by pollution.

This year, fall is still a four letter word, but no longer a “four letter word.”

Turn! Turn! Turn!

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.


Mother Nature Takes Labor Day Much Too Seriously

And just like that, summer is over.

I know that Labor Day is hailed as the unofficial end of summer, but Chengdu’s Mother Nature took that idea much too seriously. (Not to mention the fact that Labor Day is an American holiday that shouldn’t mean diddly-squat to Chinese Mother Nature!) A week ago, it was 90 degrees and humid, basically making us all feel like toasted cheesers. To escape the heat, we headed to QingCheng Shan to float the river and try to cool off in the mountains (click here for the tale of that crazy adventure!), thinking we had at least a month of hot weather to endure before fall arrived in western China.

How wrong we were!

Labor Day weekend rolled around, and like many of our friends and family back home, a BBQ was on the docket. The only problem is, it rained all weekend long, and with the rain came much cooler temperatures.  Starting Saturday afternoon and continuing through Sunday and into Monday morning, there was near constant moisture coming from the sky. Granted, at times it was a mere drizzle, but the rain was steady enough to keep everything moist, including my picnic tables and grill.

With an RSVP list sixty names long, this was no time for weather woes! Yes, moving inside is always an option, but not a great one, as the consulate doesn’t have a large enough indoor space to accommodate that size of informal gathering. Considering the number of kids in our community, the only good indoors area would have been crawling with little ones, like a toddler invasion sprung from the woodwork. Luckily, by Monday afternoon, the rain had stopped. (The sky had not cleared, but at least there was no water falling. We haven’t actually seen the sun in a week.) With hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill and a potluck spread of everything from spring rolls and macaroni salad to chocolate frosted brownies and fruit-covered cake, the evening ended up being a success, although I did keep an eye on the sky all night long.

Now, we’ve had rain off and on all summer long, but this last weekend’s rain definitely screams, “Fall!” rather than the hot rainy days of July and August that are all summer. Within a week, we dropped from daily highs in the mid-90s to peaking in the mid-60s. After a summer season of skirts and dresses, I think tomorrow morning it may be time for me to dig to the back of my closet and find the long pants that have been collecting dust and wrinkles.  I haven’t worn pants to work since May, but the lovely streak of brightly colored skirts and short sleeve blouses it quickly coming to an end. (Luckily, next year when we move to Kuala Lumpur, it will be summer year-round!)

Maybe Chinese seasons are just more regimented than the willy-nilly season changes in the US. Much like the Chinese government (at least in Gansu) decrees that winter cold starts on November 15, thus turning on radiator heat to schools and apartments, Labor Day arrived towing fall weather along with it.

Goodbye summer heat and humidity. Hello fall precipitation and puddles.

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