The Spring Festival, so I've been told, usually ushers in a new season with warmer weather and sunnier skies in Beijing. For much of the one-week holiday, this seemed to be true I was able to put away my scarf and gloves and even bring out a lighter jacket. I threw the windows wide open to allow for some cool but no longer frigid air to circulate throughout my apartment. "Spring is on its way," one of my Chinese co-workers told me one day when I was outside standing and sweating from the heat while waiting for my bus home.
And then the next day, the clouds grew gray and the skies opened up with a flurry of white flakes. Snow. It wasn't a big snow just a few centimeters but it was enough for me to reach for my scarf and gloves.
And again, it grew warm, melting the snow. And again I flip-flopped between jackets. And again it snowed.
I'd been told to only expect one or two snow showers that would blanket the city in a shallow coat of white. Snowstorms, like the ones I was used to back in Pennsylvania, were rare.
But the winter itself would be devastatingly cold, with winds from Siberia blowing down from the north and freezing the city in its tracks. Having lived in the Coal Region my whole life, and then spending four years in State College, central Pennsylvania, I was felt I was more than prepared. A fellow expat from Australia was not so prepared he'd only seen real snow for the first time in his mid-20s and had never experienced a true winter.
The heavens this winter had a few surprises in store. Instead of one acute snow flurry, we had two major storms and three or four minor snow falls an unprecedented number for Beijing, but a nice welcoming gift for a boy from the Coal Region who was used to storms that would deposit a good foot of snow.
The first snowfall of 2009, on the evening between Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, was the earliest major storm to hit Beijing in decades.
Unlike the Nor'easters back home, this snowstorm was different. It was man made. Let me explain: to some extent the Chinese government can control the weather. Through a process known as "seeding" the Chinese military shoots silver iodide tablets into the sky to increase precipitation volume. If they shoot enough iodide, a decent downpour will blanket the areas around Beijing, assisting farmers and irrigation systems. The Chinese also used this technique during the Olympics to ensure the clearest, smog free skies over Beijing for the pan-ultimate summer games in 2008.
The snow on Nov. 1 was a product of the Chinese government's attempt to make it rain one last time before winter set in while ignoring weather forecasts of an approaching cold front, ergo, more snow than the Chinese knew what to do with.
But unlike the States, with our snow plows and fancy electric snow blowers, the Chinese resort to enlisting as many people as possible to shovel. For days after the storm, an army of hotel workers, mall employees and security guards shoveled the sidewalks around the shopping complex next to my apartment. As I walked to work, I half expected one of them to thrust a shovel into my hand and shout: "For the sake of the motherland, SHOVEL!"
The same was true at the restaurants around my office waiters and waitresses, cooks and cleaners, all out ridding the sidewalks of the white menace from the sky that was preventing potential diners from entering their venue.
But I'm glad it snowed more than once. It just wouldn't have felt right, winter without lots of snow. It would have been like Thanksgiving without family (been there, check) or Christmas without Santa (check). Like celebrating a birthday without a proper birthday cake or gifts (check and check).
While I prefer the warmth of summer to the cold, frigid nights of winter, I've come to appreciate a good snowfall the kind that transforms your familiar surroundings into an unknown scene of glistening white. And these large, frequent snowfalls, when I'd get out my boots and heavy overcoat, made me feel a little more at home in Beijing.
Yes, I'll go as far as to say I love the snow as long as I don't have to shovel it. And as long as I stay in China, I think that job's covered for me.
(Brandon Taylor is alanguage consultant/foreign expert for the Beijing Review,an English language weekly newsmagazine in Beijing, China. He is a former correspondent for the TIMES NEWS. Read Brandon's blog at http://www.btay200.blogspot.com/ . He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .)