How living in China’s South made me appreciate the North

me, my husband and baby son in Gmunden, Austria

Are you a summer or a winter person? I’m a summer person. If I’d have to choose between summer and winter, I’d definitely choose summer.

In Vienna, summers are dry and temperatures are moderate. Highs are around 30ºC (86ºF). Summers are perfect for sunbathing, swimming in the Danube, having barbecue with friends and taking long walks in the evenings.

Moving to China’s South

palms in Shenzhen, China

In June, 2012, I packed a backpack and went to China. After traveling the southern provinces of Chongqing, Yunnan, Hunan and Guangdong, I ended up in the city of Shenzhen, where I found a job. I thought it was the perfect place. It was green, sunny with blue skies, but still a big city.

I met Y, my then-coworker, now-husband, right after applying for the job. In the past, I could imagine living anywhere in China’s South. I couldn’t imagine living in the North. I shuddered just thinking of the long, cold winters.

Y is from Northeast China. We have just moved to China’s cold Northeast.

I wasn’t forced to move here. Living in China’s South has made me appreciate the climate of the North.

In Shenzhen, summers are hot and humid. Highs are around 35ºC. Which really doesn’t sound too bad, but summers in Shenzhen are long. During the day, it’s usually too hot to be outdoors. During the night, sleep is hard to find without air-conditioning. Mold grows from every corner. And mosquitoes will sting you during the day as well as during the night.

Southern Winters

Winters in Shenzhen are not -30ºC cold, but they are cold in their own way. There’s no heating in Southern China. You can buy an electric heater, but it’s not the same. The cold is a wet kind of cold, not a dry one. It’s the kind of cold you’ll feel in your bones. It’s the kind of cold that makes you want to stay in bed all day long (but then, your bedsheets are probably damp, so that’s not a good idea either).

Northeastern Winters

woman selling tofu at a market in Siping, Northeast China

It’s still fall and I haven’t experienced a real Northeastern winter yet. I’m sure winters here are cold. The good thing is, we have heating (starting from October 25th). These last few days, temperatures in Siping have dropped to 0ºC (32ºF). In the evenings, it’s cold. But it’s not as cold as I thought it would be without heating. Our bedroom is facing south and during the day, the bedroom is sunny and warm (on average, Siping gets about 140 more hours of sun a month than Vienna in winter). I often sit on the window sill and play with our son, who enjoys sunbathing just as much as I do. I go for walks in the sun. 0ºC here feel much warmer than 0ºC in windy and dark Vienna.

A summer person

I always thought I’m a summer person. Until I went to China’s South. Today, I’d say I’m a summer person in Austria. I’m not a summer person in Shenzhen. Because one thing I’ve learned in my 2 years of living in Shenzhen is that summer is relative.

Do you prefer hot or cold weather?

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Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!


  1. L.

    Einen lieben Gruß aus dem kalten und windigen Wien – gerade hat es draußen 8°C.

    Ich bin einverstanden damit, dass die Sommer hier am angenehmsten sind; gerade die novembrige Übergangszeit nicht einfach durchzustehen, die früh hereinbrechende Nacht und der Regen an der Gefriergrenze. Der Advent ist dann viel leichter erträglich, wenn man sich an den Straßenbahnstationen wartend heimlich die Hände an den Öfen der Maronibrater wärmen kann und es abends an fast allen Ecken nach Tannenzweigen riecht, mit denen die Stände der Weihnachtsmärkte dekoriert sind, und der kalte Wind den Gerucht von Schnee und Zimt mit sich trägt.

    Ich bin zwar nur eine stille Leserin – aber schönes Blog!

  2. I definitely am very much a summer person. People baulk at this, but I don’t mind temperatures of 35’C and above…most of the time. In Melbourne, we have very dry summers and the temperatures can get up to the high 30’c (~100F). Sometimes when you take a deep breath in the summer, you feel like you’re inhaling sandpaper. Our summer nights are quite cool, so when I’m sleeping at night I open the windows and when I get up shut them – I have a cool apartment the next day.

    I hope the upcoming winter months aren’t too cold for you. Carry a hot water bottle wherever you go, I find that keeps me warm. However, I don’t know if they are very popular over there, or with Asians.

  3. Suigetsu

    I used to be a winter person mainly because I felt cleaner during winter, but also because I tended to dress more fashionably during this time. Now, I dunno… I’ve learned to appreciate the heat and vitality of summer as well.

    • That’s interesting. I always felt like people were dressing more fashionably during summer (or maybe that’s only the case in Austria). A Californian friend once told me that she loved winter in Vienna, because she never gets to wear all those pretty winter clothes in California.

      • Suigetsu

        Yeah, it’s probably because we’re from different climatic regions. I’m from Australia where the so-called winter is nothing to speak of and during the winter months here I’m able to put on more elaborate items of clothing without being wrapped up like the Michelin Man. In the summer, I tend to dress more casually, often in just jeans and a t-shirt.

  4. I am the total opposite. After living in central China, I will never live anywhere in China except the south. Maybe the winters are better in northern China because people know how to deal with the cold (better heating/insulation/warmer clothes/less humidity), but in Hunan, the winters are unbearable. It is still considered “south” so there isn’t much heating and no insulation in buildings. It is dark, cloudy, and the wet cold seeps into your bones. It is weird to think about, but even though there are a lot of good things about Hunan, the weather makes living there a nightmare. I have met several people in SZ who have also lived in Hunan who have said the same thing, they left because of the horrid winters.
    I’m really glad you are adjusting well to the north, though. As long as you are comfortable and happy, that is all that matters.

  5. I am definitely a summer person, although after living in Beijing for 5 years where the summers are just hot and humid, and the winters are cold, dry and no snow – I do enjoy spending the winter in Norway where there is snow. Summers in Norway are not too much to talk about, we consider ourselves lucky if we get 25-30 ºC.
    I do get what you mean with living in Northern China though, my fiance is from Manzhouli (even further North than Siping,) I used to think it would be reeeeaaally cold there, it is pretty cold, but it still feels warmer in some way during the winter than it does in Norway. So I am a summer person in Norway and Manzhouli, the Beijing summer is too long, hot and humid for me. And winter person I would say Manzhouli and Norway just because both places get some snow during the winter, while Beijing is just dry. BUT I still love Beijing the most, and that’s what I consider home.

    • robert

      Norwegian summers are great! Not too hot and the Norwegians really know how to make the best of the days with the sunshine! The only downside is that for any non Norwegians your body clock really gets screwed up when the sun is up for so long…

      • haha that’s true! We do know how to make the best of the days with sunshine, because the winter is so long and dark.. so whenever it’s sunny we just stay outside the whole day. It’s funny how non Norwegians gets kinda confused with the sun being up for so long, we really enjoy that! haha 😛

        • It’s great if locals know how to deal with it. How do you deal with Norwegian winters?

          We plan to visit Manzhouli sometime in the future. Winters there do sound really cold. Does Manzhouli get more hours of sun a day in winter than Norway?

          • Well, since I grew up in Norway I guess it is something that I am just used to. Like in kindergartens in Norway we are always outside for at least 2 hours with the kids, even in the winter when it’s snowing and it’s cold, but if it is more than -10 we go inside (with the small kids section.) So I guess it is something that I am just used to? My only problem is that the winters in Norway can be really long.. On our National day May 17th, we had snow once….
            Oh really?! Well if you guys go to Manzhouli, let me know!! Manzhouli does get more hours of sun a day than Norway during the winter, not sure exactly how much more, but Norway get’s very little sun during a day, even in Oslo where I live it’s not much sun 😛

          • robert

            In Oslo the winters aren’t worse then in Austria, except for the lack of light (sunrise 9am, sunset around 3pm), thanks to the gulf stream. The winter lasts longer though, spring happens later and autumn a bit earlier.

            I’m pretty sure Manzhouli gets more sun than any place in Scandinavia. Compared to China, and the US, most of Europe is pretty far north. e.g. Beijing is further south than Vienna.

            • Sunrise and sunset in Oslo sound quite similar to Austria (sunset around 4 is pretty common). Manzhouli is very much in the North, but generally, Northeast China gets a lot of sun in the winter compared to Austria. And it seems like it doesn’t rain as much in fall.

              • Yeah, I think that winters in Austria and Oslo are more or less the same, the only difference might be the temperature? Manzhouli does have a lot of sunlight compared to Oslo during the winter. During the fall, I have barley seen rain, there are some days where it really rains, but most of the time it doesnt.

  6. robert

    Any is better than Shanghai. In the north people know how to stay warm in the winter. In the south, well it’s warm, so why bother? In Shanghai people have the southern mindset, but 0 degrees is still extremely cold when it’s humid outside and your place is barely insulated. I lived in Beijing and Oslo and those places all felt much warmer than Shanghai in the winter – restaurants, shops, work, even my own home!

    But in general, hot winters are nicer. When I lived in Florida I loved going home to enjoy the winter. But after 1 or 2 weeks I usually had enough. And I always hated winter, especially snow, when you had to get to work, and when the snow would turn to brown slush (eww). At that point it ain’t fun any more. If there’s anything I miss most about winter it’s going skiing.

      • robert

        I think the problem is not always the A/C (alth0ugh many are underpowered for heating!). It’s the bad insulation, and especially the windows. If you cannot replace the lost heat fast enough you will freeze.

        Many apartment buildings have cheap windows, adding to the draftiness of a place. Especially those green and gray painted window brands seem to be rather cheap, even though they don’t necessarily look like it.
        I once rented a place with good windows, the sort that won’t be cheap in Austria either, and the warm air mostly stayed in. You notice those kind of windows because they also block out much street noise once you close them! I could even turn the A/C off, rather than running it all the time. That was nice….and much, much cheaper… until they hiked the rent up.

        • Bad insulation is definitely a big problem. But A/Cs use up a lot more energy than heating, so I’m wondering if heating would be a better option in some places (there are areas like the grasslands where it gets really cold and people use ovens to heat their houses).

          • robert

            yeah. A/C just suck for heating. expensive and inefficient. I remember in the 80’s on Austrian radio the government would run spots how they’d subsidize better windows and insulation. Someone should do that here.

            I just wonder how much electricity they could save, and how much less pollution there would be, if everything were nicely insulated to avoid heat/coolness loss.

  7. I’m a Seattle person. Our summer’s aren’t too hot; our winters aren’t too cold. One place I’ve lived, though, is even better than Seattle: Vanuatu. The weather there is perfect. We didn’t need heat, and we seldom used our air-conditioner. Most of the time I wore shorts or a cotton dress. In the evening, I might wear a sweater. I really got spoiled during the three years we lived there.

    Like you, I thought I liked summer … until we moved to Manila. It was too hot and humid there for me.

    • Seattle sounds great. It reminds me of Kunming, also called “spring city” because winters don’t get too cold and summers don’t get too hot. Heat and air-conditioning are both unheard of there.

      Vanuatu also sounds like a great destination.

  8. I used to love winter… until I moved to Shanghai/Suzhou. Winter here is unbearable and it makes you feel miserable when you are literally freezing inside your own apartment. Hot air conditioning doesn’t do much and houses are so badly insulated radiators can’t do much either. Last winter when I arrived home after work and checked the temperature inside, it was always around 9 – 10 degrees C.
    I would love to kill the geniuses that decided there was no need for central heating in “the south”. I guess they had never spent a winter here.
    On the other side, summer is not much better. Hot, humid and moldy. Weather-wise, this is truly an awful area to live in, haha.

    • I always wonder if turning the air-conditioners to heating does more harm than good when it comes to environmental pollution. Maybe it would be better to just allow heating (and insulate houses). I’m not sure why they still have the south of the Yangtze no-heating policy.

    • Suigetsu

      For what it’s worth, I think we should be grateful for the fact that there’s no central heating in the southern regions of China because can you imagine how much more carbon would be be pumped into the atmosphere from the burning of coal to supply the heating?

      But certainly, they should have designed the buildings to include insulation. Do you know if the newer buildings have insulation?

      • That’s exactly the problem. People in these areas use A/Cs instead of heating. A/Cs use a lot more energy than heating, so not having conventional heating doesn’t make people use less energy. Insulating houses better would definitely be a more environmental friendly option. Unfortunately, houses in southern China are usually badly insulated, newer ones even more so than older ones.

  9. Summer is definitely a relative thing — and sometimes living in a different place can totally change your perspective! I’ve always been more of a cold-weather gal and look at me…now I’m residing in a place that has mild winters (not as mild as Guangdong, but way milder than my upbringing in Cleveland Ohio) and searing-hot summers. I do miss the summers from Cleveland, though I don’t always miss the winters. As it gets colder, I find myself looking forward to the winter because it’s a great time to go hiking out here and enjoy the outdoors.

    Hope you enjoy the fall and winter in Siping!

  10. I’ve also grown to appreciate China’s northern climate. I lived in Hong Kong for three years, but there were too many days when the heat was suffocatingly warm due to the humidity. Now that I’m up here in Sichuan province, the weather obviously gets colder faster…but it’s a good enough trade-off since the summer is so pleasant here.

    • It seems like the heat (plus the humidity) are even more unbearable in big cities because of all the concrete.

      I remember spending time in Sichuan in summer – it would sometimes get hot, but the heat wasn’t as unbearable as in Shenzhen. I only stayed in Sichuan for about 2 weeks though, so not long enough to experience the winters there.

  11. I am pretty easy going, but definitively say my favorite season is fall! Truthfully, I prefer cold over hot and humid, but hot without humidity is fine too. Shanghai summers can be rough, but I travel enough to make sure I can enjoy each season. Good luck with the cold in Dongbei!

  12. Last winter in Ningbo was the worst winter of my life! It’s so cold and damp. There was nowhere I could go to get warm. It was even cold enough to snow and we had no heat! The buildings are meant for some sort of arid environment, like if I lived in Southern California or something. No heat, no insulation. I don’t get it! Beijing is much better. It’s super cold, but it’s a dry cold. The buildings are also insulated and have heat. You’ll probably much prefer northern winters. I know I do!

  13. I’m definitely glad I live in the north as opposed to the south. I can’t deal well with humidity and dampness. I remember returning to Beijing after a trip to Malaysia last January and I felt much comfortable in the frigid cold than I had in a tropical climate.

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  15. Alana

    I am from the northeastern part of the States. We have cold winters. However, I never fully experienced an entirely bitter cold winter until I experienced it for the first time in South Korea. My gosh it was so cold and the heating is entirely different compared to how we heat our dwellings in the west. In Korea they have ondol which means heated floors. I could feel the cold drafts coming in through the window panes and through the walls. I would even sleep in the bed wearing my winter jacket with some sweaters layered underneath. The air was very dry as well! I bought a humidifier to bring some moisture into the air because I was getting sick too often from the dry cold air. Also not having a car in Korea I was walking to walk everyday and taking buses and trains when I traveled on weekends. Even though the winters were not damp/cold, the coldness went right to your bones! I can still remember sitting on my couch eating hot/spicy ramen with my heating fan facing my body with two blankets wrapped around me!

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