Lisa McClure's China Diary

First Layer (almost)
Starting at the bottom (almost) with our cotton long johns

Second Layer
Next, we add another warm fuzzy layer to the bottom and a cotton turtleneck sweater to the top. (My long johns are pure wool!)

Third Layer
The third layer adds sweaters to the top, and trousers to the bottom.

Fourth Layer
After we put on our coats, hats, and gloves, we're ready to go out!

December 3, 1999

It seems that one of the hardest things for foreigners (i.e. non-Chinese people) to learn, is how to dress appropriately for winter in China. Never mind that I lived for fifteen years high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains where the temperature often drops below zero during the winter. I had my car and seldom spent enough time outdoors to even need a coat.

Here in Jinzhou, it's a different story, and I am often questioned about whether I have enough clothes on. It is generally accepted here that the quickest way to get sick is to be inadequately dressed. And my students often ask me why foreigners don't wear enough clothes. I can only answer that it's not our custom.

But having come to China to learn about China and its culture and customs, Lara and I have been working hard to assimilate and do as the Chinese do. And one part of this has been to learn to dress Chinese style. I've been dressing myself now for well over three decades, but dressing Chinese style is a bit more involved than I've been used to, and it generally takes Lara and me a good fifteen minutes to get all our winter clothes on.

Actually, it's not all that cold, really. Outside, the temperatures are below freezing, and we've had a couple of below zero cold spells, but mostly the weather has been pretty good, with only a couple of modest snow storms. And we've been very lucky that the weather has not been too windy so far.

Inside our apartment, it's a lot warmer than my house back in Colorado ever was. The hot water, radiated heat in the foreign teacher's guesthouse is centrally controlled, and comes on in the late afternoon, and then goes off in the morning. During the day, our south facing windows bring in a lot of passive solar heat. So, generally the indoor temperature is at least 67 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Celsius).

But, of course I haven't got a car, and when we go out, we have to be prepared to be out in the cold for a long while, whether we are walking, bicycling, or taking a bus. And many of the other buildings are not as well heated as our own, so we've learned that it is sensible to wear more layers. In Lara's case it's essential, if I'm to avoid a tongue lashing from the people we meet whenever we go out.

To a large extent, it's a matter of acclimating to a different way of dressing. Though I still find myself getting too hot upon occasion, I'm getting better at making the necessary clothing adjustments. So I am generally pretty comfortable.

I have noticed that most of the people here in Jinzhou, except for the babies and toddlers, do not wear hats. I was always taught that it's important to wear a hat to keep warm, but I've concluded here that people instead wear more clothing on their torso, and allow the excess heat to vent out their heads. I still can't manage that, my ears get too cold. But I can affirm that when I wear my long johns, my feet don't freeze, no matter how chilly it is outside!

These days, our clothing is a mix of American and Chinese. Lara's grandma has been very generous about sending her great kid's clothes from the States, and she's given me some lovely things as well. But I've also had to do some clothes shopping locally. I've lost so much weight that none of the pants I brought from home even fit me any more.

So, all of my clothing, (except my cotton long johns and my red coat and qiviut knit hat) are Chinese. I bought the wool long johns in Shenyang last month. (80 yuan = $9.60 U.S.) While we were visiting a friend there, the first snowstorm of the winter hit us, and I did feel cold until my friend helped me buy the long johns at the Wu Ai market. The place was packed that day with shoppers, but despite the crowds, I didn't feel the least bit shy about shedding my pants and putting my new wool long johns on right there in the market. They still smell a bit of moth balls, but they are deliciously warm and comfortable.

My burgundy wool sweater was custom made for me in Jinzhou. I purchased the yarn (60 yuan = $7.20), picked out the sweater design I liked from the sample sweaters displayed on the wall, and picked up my custom, machine knit sweater a week later. (30 yuan = $3.60)

My wool pants were also custom made for me in Jinzhou. Again, I selected the fabric I wanted, (96 yuan = $11.50) and in the same shop, had myself measured and picked up my pants a few days later. (25 yuan = $3.00)

My black, leather boots (150 yuan = $18) slip on easily, which is a real convenience. I put wool insert pads in the soles to add a little extra warmth (1 yuan = $.12) and then wear ordinary cotton/spandex socks. (4 yuan = $.48)

Hope you are all keeping warm, too!

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