Sunbrellas™ and the Belly Roll™: locally-sourced tips to stay cool in the heat of summer

Travel | by James Weir
Posted: August 16th, 2012 | Updated: August 16th, 2012 | Comments
Shanghai summer Guys, it's hot outside. Definitely here in Shanghai, and almost certainly elsewhere as well. It's rough out there. I know, I know. You're thinking: "But you look so good with that upper-back sweat stain. And that sash of perspiration where the strap of your shoulder bag was? Wow. Just wow. This time of year, your hair clings to your forehead and shines in the sunlight like you're some kind of regal, sweaty Russian serf-lord from the Middle Ages. And your pungent, 100% natural cologne is just so... natural. What's the problem?" And you're right: we all look phenomenal in this unique, Chinese city heat. It's that smog-sheen on our smooth, radiant skin; we're all so sharp, so put-together this time of year. We definitely don't look like we're losing an epic, sweaty battle against nature, one 98%  humidity day at a time. Not us. Like the phoenix from the flames, we emerge from the trenches of this concrete swampland coiffed and eager to vanquish our meteorological foes with the poise of a legendary dignitary at a politically sensitive banquet. Like we are all in charge of something integral, and together will create a better, more positive tomorrow. But even though we look great, deep down we're all miserable. Even the people who say things like "I love summer," and, in all seriousness, "It's not the heat so much as the humidity," as they swab their foreheads with Olympic swimming pool-sized towels, before wringing said towels out into a steaming gutter and gasping for air. They're not fooling anyone. Summer in Chinese cities can be overwhelming. Soggy. Draining. During those few moments when we naively exit the walk-in freezers we call our apartments, we instantly regret it, whether we admit it or not. Learn how to keep it cool after the jump.... Staying cool in summer But, of course, we have to go outside sometime. Irritating details drive us outdoors, like jobs, the need to sustain ourselves with nutrition and fluids, some guilt-driven urge to "do something" other than straddle the air conditioner like a majestic steed and eat ice cream in our underwear. Things that require exiting the arctic paradise of air conditioning. It is an unfortunate reality. stay cool in the summer So I've put together a list of locally-inspired tips to keeping cool. The first and most important takeaway is this one reminder: regulate your core temperature. This is not specific to China, but is absolutely key. I cannot stress this enough. Remember, regulating your core within the mid-level range is significantly easier than trying to bring it down after overheating. Like roasting fowl, keeping an eye on your core temp is paramount.
  • First off, there's what I like to call the Belly Roll™, seen in front of every noodle shop, down every hutong and on every corner. As your gut is the #1 place heat escapes (scientifically speaking), rolling your shirt above the navel and putting it all out there ensures a more regulated core. And China has been centuries ahead of the game in this regard; they won't admit it, but those trollops from Texas A&M™ and the like, with their cowboy hats and their plaid belly shirts tied in a knot, were taking cues from the guy whipping up your 炒面.
  • I used to think the practice of a sun umbrella (Sunbrella™) as an absurdity—not to mention a public hazard in a country as crowded as China. After all, how many eyes have been lost to rogue umbrella spoke-tips? A lot, I bet. Anyway, here's a two-ferruled solution: Go to your nearest golf store. Buy the hugest, most indestructible Sunbrella™ you can find. Unfurl it above you and enjoy cool respite from the unforgiving Sun God. Step into a crowd, angle your umbrella at 45°, and charge forward like a raging bull. Your core temp will immediately begin regulating, you'll be temperate as hell and you won't need to wear those ski goggles for protection anymore. Not to mention that you'll look boss holding an enormous golf umbrella in the middle of a Chinese city on a dry summer day. That's a classic Instagram™ shot if I've ever heard of one.
Stay cool in China
  • Tiny mechanical fans. Generally, the people holding them on the Shanghai buses still look hot and miserable, but it can't hurt.
  • They say drinking hot tea cools you down; just ask any Chinese cabbie or doddering grandmother in mid-day full-body pajamas. Well, I'll raise you on that one: order some piping hot soup dumplings to go with your tea. Sit on a curb somewhere, preferably in direct sunlight. Drink deeply from your opaque thermos of tea leaves. Exhale, slowly, all the heat that has built up inside of you. Then pour the bowl of soup dumplings over your head. Feel your core temp drop like an anvil.
  •  Do laps at your local watering hole. Here in Shanghai, I doggy paddle across the Huangpu River over to Scenic Pudong™, which is pretty much paradise this time of year. As an added bonus, I get to dodge barges, freighters and (my personal favorite) loudspeaker-toting tourist cruise boats. It's like Frogger™ in the Huangpu.
  • Get a job at the Kedi™ nearest you, or visit frequently. In my experience, any Kedi™ will be by far the most frigid of any of the convenience store chains. During a recent period of intense core-temp-elevation*, I walked into the Kedi™ on the corner of Anfu Lu and Wuyuan Lu for a can of cola and actually made an unidentifiable, audible noise of satisfaction upon entering (it was awkward). So if you got a job there, your core temp would be pretty well regulated at all times, I'd venture to say.
  • Here's an untested theory. You know when you have severe hypothermia, and your hypothalamus starts malfunctioning and telling your brain that you're warm and everything is all good, but you're actually dying? Well, let's flip the script. Next time the heat index tops 100°F (38°C), pack on some layers. I'm saying, go nuts. Thermal underwear (a few pairs), wool pants, heavy socks, fleece layers, hiking boots, a North Face™ parka or three, mittens, a hood with fur lining (drawstrings taut), etc. Once dressed, go stand on a breeze-less patch of asphalt—the darker the hue of the asphalt the better. Let the heat radiate. Lose your mind and feel the sweet, cooling chill of your brain misfiring as you descend into madness.
  • Drink baijiu (白酒). Lot's of it. You'll still be hot and sweating, but you won't give a dang.
  • Move.
  • I'm not convinced about this one, but I keep hearing it, so here goes: deal with it and quit whining. Sounds like a bunch off bull-honkey to me, but whatever works, I guess.
*What kind of an idiot plays tennis at noon, in Shanghai, in August, when there are no clouds, the day after drinking baijiu into the wee hours of morning? I am, it turns out, exactly that idiot. The experience won't keep me from watching tennis this October, though.
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