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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God Bless…Porcupines

Summer is upon us in Chengdu. While my friends and family back in Idaho are broiling in the 110 degree dry heat, watching wild fires pop all around them, I am facing a very different kind of summer heat- one heavy with humidity. As I sit on my balcony enjoying a relatively clear Chengdu day, it is 90 degrees with 60% humidity. ( helpfully tells me this means it “feels like” 96 degrees outside. I’d like to think that there is a specific formula used to calculate the “feels like” temperature, but my trust in weathermen is pretty minimal. I’m guessing they just send the unpaid intern outside for fifteen minutes and then ask him to guesstimate the temperature. Whatever he says becomes the official “feels like” for that time period.)

A week of July 4th celebrations has come and gone. After two official events, both taking place at red, white and blue bedecked hotel ballrooms, I rounded out the festivities by hosting a pizza and pool party at the consulate. All were fun, but I must admit to having a twinge of homesickness for Independence Day porcupines.

Yes, you read that right. Porcupines.

You see, when I’m in Idaho for the holiday, my day usually consists of sitting on a curb in the tiny logging town of Council, Idaho, munching on my first (of many!) Idaho Spud of the day, watching a parade consisting mostly of summer baseball teams and four-wheelers. Each four-wheeler carries a few things: two teenagers looking supremely proud of themselves, a cage with a porcupine inside and a homemade sign announcing that critter’s name for the day. As I watch the procession of pokey-haired animals pass me by, I calculate the odds each one has of winning that day’s events. There’s a fine balance to be struck between rooting for the little guy who is adorable, but squirrely and cheering on the massive but pragmatic one who just wants to get across the finish line.

Yes, again, you read that correctly. The finish line.

You see, once these critters make their ceremonious way through town, they are taken to the high school football field, where they line up against one another to race for the glory that is the blue ribbon of the Council Porcupine Race.

For those of you not familiar with a porcupine race (although I can’t imagine who wouldn’t be!), it goes down like this: a team of two (usually teenagers) uses a broom and a trash can to coax their porcupine from one end of the straight-away track to the finish line on the other side. There can be no scooting or hitting of the animal with either the broom or the can. There are usually a few qualifying heats, rounded out by the finals, where the winning porcupine takes the proverbial checked flag.

Without fail, each year at least one spiky contestant makes a break for freedom, scurrying under the less-than-useful orange tarp used to delineate the field of play, scattering the hordes of people who’ve come from such far reaching places as Meadows and the fancier New Meadows to take in the show.  These escapees are usually quickly cornered, as porcupines aren’t known for their endurance, but rarely make a showing when it comes to handing out the prizes.

Oh yes, there are prizes.

You see, after the parade but before the races, the wheeling and dealing takes place. Each porcupine is auctioned off to the highest bidder. (Hence, the need to parade them through town.) All of the paid money goes into a single pile, with the winning “owner” and team taking a percentage of the earnings. We’re talking serious business here, as a porcupine can be sold for $100 or more, and with ten to twelve entrants, there’s a sizable pot at stake. There’s no choosing black or red for this gamble. It’s all about which tree-dwelling, night-loving creature will stumble over the finish line first.

This, my dear reader(s?) is how I grew up celebrating the most patriotic of holidays.

America- the land of the free and the home of the brave…and the birth place of the porcupine race. God  bless America!

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