Daily Droppings: “So Hot”

Special thanks to Sandra from What Sandra Thinks who has created a series of daily prompts for the month of February, which are the inspiration for this series.

The prompt: “So Hot”

Steamy Nights

Originally published 10 July 2021|Monty’s Blahg

As the weather turns hot and steamy, my thoughts turn to the summer of 1996.

Married two months, but still living separately, I travelled from Fukushima, Japan to Shanghai, China to visit my new wife. Our marriage had been a quick civil affair in Shanghai and I’ve written about it previously. It’s a true lost in translation story that I’ll re-share another time.

The day after receiving our marriage certificate, I’d left for a three month work assignment in Japan and so we’d had very little time together as a married couple and hadn’t yet established a home together in Shanghai. It was in late June 1996 when I arrived back in Shanghai for a visit. We spent our days looking for a place to rent under the high hot sun and our nights sweating in my wife’s non-air conditioned apartment trying to sleep under the moonlight. 

For those of you not familiar with Shanghai, it is known for having relatively cold winters and hot, muggy, rainy summers. Having grown up in Vermont, a decidedly cooler environment, I found the Shanghai summer climate stifling hot and humid. I’d equate it to how I felt when visiting Georgia or Florida in the states. 

As I write this I’m sitting in my Shanghai Garden under an umbrella. Listening to all sorts of birds and bugs chirping. Today is relatively temperate at 90F/32C but the heat index makes it feel like 106F/40C. It will drop a bit at night, but not enough to make it comfortable. Meanwhile, in my childhood home state of Vermont today’s high is anticipated to be 73F/23C. So, basically what I‘m saying is that my body was not equipped for the steamy Shanghai summer weather back when I arrived that late June in 1996.

My Shanghai Garden – June 2021

So what do you do when the weather is so hot and you don’t have air conditioning? You can open the windows to catch any available breeze, but then you let in all the leftover dust from the day’s construction that was still hanging in the air (Shanghai was and continues to be a thriving construction zone). You can use an electric fan…and we absolutely did. It buzzed loudly next to the bed. But blowing air around that is hotter than your body temperature doesn’t do much good. The answer, as I learned a bit painfully, was applying a bit thermodynamic thinking. In this case, that meant sleeping on surfaces that would conduct the body heat away from your skin. I believe the practice of sleeping on grass-woven mats, wooden slats, or even concrete floors is fairly common across Asia when air conditioning isn’t available (or is just too expensive to run). For us, we were using a woven bamboo mat called a “xiezi”. 

Xiezi technology has varied over the years. From the roughly woven bamboo mats of that time…to “mahjong-style” bamboo mats…to modern mats that are of a composition that’s a mystery to me but quite flexible and soft. Even with air conditioning we use a xiezi for sleeping during the hottest months to this day. The worst design by far was the mahjong-style mats. They provided the best cooling, but if you moved, the bamboo tiles would pinch your skin so badly that I would wake up with welts all across my body. The rough woven bamboo mats of 1996 were not much better. At least for a western man like myself that sports a bit of body hair. Unless I slept absolutely still, my leg hair would get caught between the strands of the mat and be yanked out with any movement. After one week on that bed my knees were bald and my eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep (I don’t know about you, but I don’t sleep well knowing that I’m about to be plucked). The modern xiezi are merciful and my knees are fuzzy again.

After the steamy, mostly sleepless nights, I was exhausted as we travelled across the city to look at various apartments. To me, location didn’t matter. To me, the number or rooms was irrelevant. All I cared about was making sure that the place had air conditioning. I’d come to Shanghai hoping for some steamy nights with my hot wife, but not like these. I was miserable. My wife on the other hand had very specific requirements and we ended up having to do quite a bit of searching to find what she wanted – a well located 3-bedroom upper level apartment with a bright, modern look (and, yes, air conditioning) . I had no idea why we needed three bedrooms, but I agreed out of exhaustion and an innate understanding that I best listen. This was her hometown after all. She would know best.

I’d later find out that the apartment was a great choice. Location was critical due to the heavy traffic and this was right on the shuttle bus route for my work. The upper level apartment collected less construction dust and the modern surfaces were easy to keep clean. It had air conditioning. As for the three bedrooms, well, surprise to me when on moving day her parents showed up. As an American, this never even occurred to me. As a Chinese, it never even occurred to my wife otherwise. Twenty-five plush years later we are still all living together. That’s the happily-ever-after part of the story. But it wasn’t always so smooth. That’s a topic for another time.

Be well,


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