It is finally over. There are flowers out; our balcony garden is sprouting; I can go running in shorts and a t-shirt. The thaw started in earnest in March, but April has started to get genuinely warm. Plants, no longer terrified of the sudden surprise cold snap that could destroy their spring buds, have begun to flower and leaf.
I didn’t realize how stressed the cold made me until it went away. In January and February leaving the house required donning armor and the train was full of people twice their normal size, surrounded by bulky wool and down. The process of getting dressed was long: warm sheath underlayer, thick second layer of trousers and sweaters, a warm scarf, hat, gloves, thick coat. Then outside your face may still be cold, the wind may catch you off guard, the bus may take 15 minutes to arrive leaving you in 10°F for an unplanned duration. Shoulders high, head down, you trudge through the snow and wind to the next meeting or errand, counting down until you can be indoors and remove the hat and gloves and coat. At home at the end of the day, removing all these layers in the warm apartment is another project, ensuring that you will not leave the house again that day.
Now that it is warm again, leaving the house just requires keys. You get off the couch, put on your shoes and step out the door. No armor required. The cool lake breeze can be cutting, but the temperature in your house and outside the house is almost the same, so your light jacket, hoodie, or cardigan is enough. Now the restaurants, cafes, and pubs are putting out their patio furniture, announcing the outdoor spaces to encourage more guests. The joggers and bikers and roller bladers are crowding the lakeshore trail on Saturdays and Sundays, and even in the mornings before rush hour. The train isn’t quite as crowded; people’s shoulders aren’t quite as broad.
After living in a city in perpetual summer, this experience was unexpectedly harsh. I had done winter before, living in Boston for 4 years and spending 6 years in the North East before that. But one’s body forgets what it’s like to be cold.
In Hong Kong the weather, being warm at all times, is somehow more pervasive. Everyone gains a hobby of meteorology. You watch the pressure systems and typhoon tracks, predicting when the rain will come, whether you will get a morning off in a T8, observing the 2 degree difference throughout the day, checking the pollution levels before going out of the house. You know the patterns: on holiday weeks or when the wind blows from the south there is less pollution from China, in the winter everyone will wear winter coats when it is 10°C (or really anything under 18°C), typhoons will destructively harass Taiwan and the Philippines but leave HK untouched. You watch the weather apps for weather warnings: black rain or T8 keeps everyone home. When the weather goes wrong you don’t leave the building: it changes suddenly and could be dangerous.
In Chicago you look at the weather to see how many layers you need to wear. But otherwise it doesn’t matter. Life continues. Whether there is a blizzard dropping 18 inches or a sunny day at 90°F, people behave exactly the same, except in the summer day one may eat outside or be more likely to exercise. The weather is an observation, but doesn’t actually affect how one goes about the day. You brace yourself, you change your clothes, and you go. You comment on it to your acquaintances. The only difference is whether you enjoy being outside.
Now it’s spring and Chicago is exactly the same, except more fun.