- Don’t check the weather before you go. It will give you the wrong impression of cold. As I mentioned earlier, cold feels different depending on humidity and wind and Weather.com’s “feels like” index really didn’t cover it. If you do check the weather, remember that average temperature means it can get much lower (or, if you’re lucky, higher) than that. Remember that cold snap in your neck of the woods? They might be having one too. Dress for that.
- Don’t assume you’ll be able to get warm inside a cozy restaurant. Or a shop, or most anywhere. You might try a hot-pot restaurant. The propane power burners at the table might just give off enough heat to warm you up if the meal itself doesn’t, but many restaurants, from high to low end aren’t heated or aren’t heated significantly. The same goes for four star Chinese hotel lobbies and office meeting rooms. I stood shivering in a hotel lobby that had to be even colder than outside waiting for a the receptionist to dutifully record my visa and passport information. She sat directly on the portable radiator and only source of heat in the large marble covered lobby.
I had to hold me teeth from chattering during one presentation in front of my smoking, but thick jacket wearing Chinese colleagues. They knew the meeting room wasn’t heated, but I had missed the memo.
Unheated shops block the wind enough to give the appearance of warmth and actually the higher floors of the shopping markets get downright toasty, but you’ll need an extra shopping bag for all your layers.
- Bring layers. A woman from Montana told us she was wearing five while she helped fix the heater in our hotel room. The Chinese are prepared with thick woolen long underwear. Very few people wear hats though, so you and that Canadian couple in their maple leaf toques will stick out on the Beijing subway, but come on, you didn’t really expect to blend in did you? Also, how are the locals not cold without hats?
- Everything is brown and dreary. Everything is decorated. Winter isn’t pretty to North Eastern China. It doesn’t snow regularly enough to give things a wintery, glittery glow, but the trees are barren and the scrub is brown. Coal dust and smoke billows from private homes in addition to power plants. That may explain why just about everything is decorated with giant red lanterns and other symbols of the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year. A red and gold overload, but lovely.
- There aren’t many tourists, but there are many travelers. Paradoxically, the hotels and some restaurants are empty but the trains are booked while the Chinese prepare for the Spring Festival holiday by traveling home to their families. We had little trouble finding place on trains just the same, but we had to pay a little more sometimes (perhaps 20 RMB/~3USD) or wait in longer lines than are supposedly normal. All in all, everything seems open for business, in spite of the short daylight hours, so if you are looking to see sights with no one around, there is no better time. Maybe read the the other points over again. Or the next point.
- Don’t bring flu medication. Chinese pharmacies are inexpensive and give you a chance to try some aincient Chinese medicine and practice your pantomime skills at the same time. It’s easy to pantomime coughing, throwing up, headaches and stomach ache, even a high fever, but I am open to suggestions on how to politely show diarrhea? I don’t imagine this tip would apply for everyone, but I ended up having each and every one of those symptoms, so, I don’t know, be prepared. Three days in China with a high fever don’t make for my best trip ever, at least the ancient herbal cough remedy was really tasty.