The warmth of the sleeping bag
Nánchāng (China), January 7th 2010

During the decision process of the countries and regions that we are going to visit, we always take the climate in consideration. Before we started with our journey, we made a Microsoft Excel model in where we administered all temperature and rainfall data of most of the countries and regions of the world (you can download the model free of charge from our travel planner webpage). But what the model does not tell you, is what the temperatures are inside the buildings of the concerning country/region. That means that it can happen that the travel climate differs a little bit from the expectations you had beforehand. And that is exactly what happened to us here in China.

It is wintertime right now in this central-southern part of China. The temperatures are around freezing point, and often that is a great temperature to travel in, at least if the sky is blue and sunny. We were really looking forward to lower temperatures, after having travelled for almost two years in hot and steamy south-eastern Asia. It is great to wander around in cities and villages, and to climb mountains without sweating a lot. But what we didn’t foresee is that the Chinese, especially in the rural areas, are not using heating. Also not in the wintertime. The result is that not only the outside temperature is low, but also the temperature indoors. And that is something that took us some time to get used to. Travelling in colder climates is fun, but under the condition that that are places where you can retreat to warm up again. That was for example also one of the highlights of our winter journey with the Trans Siberian Express through bitterly cold Russia in 2005.

But that is different here in China. The only place that is warm and comfortable is your sleeping bag. As soon as you leave it in the morning, you have to take care that you don’t loose that accumulated warmth to soon. That means dressing fast, only with the exception of your shawl and hat that you keep for the real cold outside. Most hotel rooms have heating in the form of an air conditioner that also has a heating function, but the capacity of these ‘made in China’ products are way to low to heat a room. The only thing they do is to keep the room above freezing point. Most of the time, we were able to get the temperature to 5-10 degrees Celsius. Also the bus stations and the buses are very cold. In the bus we always try to find a place away from a window that can be opened. Indeed, some Chinese have no problems with opening their window during the journey. We also try to keep our feet from the floor, to prevent that the cold gets up from the floor to our feet. Subsequently we put our hands with gloves under our armpits, and hope that we will reach our destination without freezing symptoms.

By picking out our hotel, we always ask if there is any heating available. Of course there is, but as mentioned before, they forget to tell that the capacity is way to low to warm the room comfortably. We also ask if there is hot water available, because a hot shower is a perfect way to heat up again. Sometimes they indeed have a great shower, but most of the time the water is only tepid. Just warm enough to wash yourself as fast as possible. We are also happy with a water cooker and small tub, because these are the needed ingredients for an enjoyable feet bath. And those who think that restaurants and coffee joints are good places recover from the cold, are wrong. The restaurants are often the coldest places you can find, because most restaurants keep their doors for incomprehensible reasons opened all day. So, at the end of the day, around seven o’clock in the evening, you are probably happy to hunt for your sleeping bag again.

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