China’s Simmering Summer: Frying Bacon and Eggs on the Street
Image Credit: Flickr (Ethnocentrics)

China’s Simmering Summer: Frying Bacon and Eggs on the Street


There’s no doubt about it – this summer is hot in China. Record-breaking temperatures are pushing thermometer numbers upwards of 40 degrees C (104 F) in at least 40 cities and counties across the nation.

An image of a child in the city of Jinan frying up eggs and shrimp in a skillet sitting on manhole cover has appeared on newspaper pages. One Shanghai television reporter simply threw some pork slices on an outdoor marble surface and stood back while the BBQ ensued. Reportedly, road pavement heats to temperatures as high as 60 degrees C (140 F).

In the port city of Ningbo, Zhejiang province, glass has reportedly cracked in the heat, which has induced vehicles to self-combust and a highway billboard to spontaneously burst into flames. Meanwhile, a woman in Hunan province purchased eggs at a grocery store from which half-hatched chicks emerged after sitting at room temperature. Other photos documenting life amid these awful conditions can be seen here, courtesy of The Telegraph.

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Most citizens have noted these indicators of summer misery from the relative comfort of their living rooms – where they are resting under whirring ceiling fans and full-blast air conditioning. One Shanghai doctor even advised patients to disregard the cultural bias against air conditioning, which perceives the cooling technology as an unhealthy, wasteful luxury.

“I’ve been staying at home, ordering in food, taking cabs and going out as little as possible,” Joyce Cai, a Shanghainese office worker, told The Diplomat. “It is definitely hotter than normal. Usually we only get a few days each summer that are this hot. But this year it’s lasting for like a month.”

This is no exaggeration. These scorching temperatures have been cooking Shanghai since early July and are expected to plague most of the nation through mid-August. Shanghai recorded its highest temperature on record on July 26 – 40.6 degrees C (105 F) – and yesterday the metropolis suffered through the 28th day with temperatures over 35 C. Alongside Shanghai, the provinces of Anhui, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hubei, and Fujian, as well as the municipality of Chongqing, are among the most torrid areas.

The heat wave, which is the worst the nation has seen in 140 years in some parts, has killed dozens and prompted authorities – especially in the south – to issue level 2 weather emergency warnings. Normally, this degree of severity is reserved for typhoons and floods. In total, 10 people have died of heat stroke in Shanghai alone this past month, according to Xinhua.

Yet, many have to work in these conditions. Spare a thought for the nation’s untold numbers of street vendors, including the ubiquitous street food sellers toiling over woks on open-flame propane stoves.

Or, “Like those cleaning workers on the street – I think they're having a horrible time this year,” Cai said. “Some people have passed out on the street, some have died. It’s just terrible. You see poor old ladies doing their best to get around, carrying umbrellas, wiping themselves with towels.”

“It’s awful here too,” a Beijing resident told The Diplomat. “But at least pollution isn’t blotting out the sky. There's a white collar legend that there is a temperature that's illegal to work in and no one dares report that it gets that hot.”

There seems to be some truth to this, according to this report (in Chinese), which states that outdoor work should be stopped when thermometers break the 40-degree-C barrier.

“That’s why it never gets reported if it goes above 40 degrees,” Cai said. “It was a workday when the temperature hit above 40 degrees. I wish I could have taken the day off. It’s hard to breathe outside in this heat!”

Apparently, this is the (heat) wave of the future – much of it human induced.

“This is the future. Get used to it,” Andrew Dressler of Texas A&M University told AP. “You often hear people say, ‘Oh, we'll just adapt to the changing climate.’ It turns out that that's a lot harder than it sounds, as the people in China are finding out now.”

“Human-caused warming sure ups the odds of heat waves like this one,” Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona, told The Christian Science Monitor. According to Overpeck the heat now sweeping China “gives a very real face to what global warming is all about.”

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