The Sauna Days of Summer in China

It was 2 pm on a sultry weekday afternoon when I left the refuge of our air-conditioned office to brave the heat with my colleagues. We wouldn’t have chosen to leave then, apart from the mandatory meeting we had. And even then, we did everything we could to avoid the elements, even opting to cross the grounds in the underground parking tunnels, instead of striding across that infernal square and its blinding white hot concrete that almost seared your eyes just staring at it.

Even so, once we emerged from the elevator into the shaded corridor, we were immediately buffeted by the waves of heat which rose, much like steam from an oven, from that square. It felt like a scene from Dante’s “Inferno” and yet it was no fictional account, but our summer reality on a day which delivered record temperatures and no relief in sight.

Welcome to the sauna days of summer in China.

Where we live, in Chinese they literally term this weather the “sauna days”, and it fits, particularly in a hotter-than-usual summer. Wherever you go, the stifling heat and humidity feel reminiscent of a sauna — except we’re all trapped in the room, with no respite in sight, save air conditioning and any variety of cold foods and beverages. On weekends, colleagues talk of simply staying at home, to avoid the heat; recently one woman shared news stories of people who actually perished due to the high temperatures.

Oppressive heat has always arrived with the summer in this part of China, but as more records get set and broken, more of us speak of climate change as the culprit.

The growing number of Teslas and other new energy cars in the parking garage in our building remind me that more people are choosing to go green and lower their carbon footprint, for the good of our planet.

But in the meantime, many of us around the world — including here in China — must “face the heat” that comes with decades of development without much thought to the environment.

Are you experiencing extreme heat this summer?

Jocelyn Eikenburg
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