Beijing has a surprising variety of all four seasons, which I think is a great thing. Spring and fall, the best times of year here, are unfortunately short, but in general you can expect the same seasonal variations you would find in New England or northern Europe. But each season has a few particular oddities:
Autumn is fairly mellow, health-wise, so you should enjoy this all-too-brief moment of perfect weather by exploring Beijing’s mountains and tourist attractions. The change of seasons starts to bring on more colds, and the official flu season is just around the corner.
Winter can be monotonously cold, and last year was quite painfully drawn out. The worst health problems usually include colds and influenza, as well as winter depression. The secret to avoiding the winter blues? Pamper yourself! Here are some personal tips:
- Buy a foot bath massager. I bought the well-regarded Kang Li Da brand (康立达足浴盆) on Taobao for 320RMB and I love it; there’s nothing better after a cold day than to soak your feet in a warm, massaging tub with epsom salt thrown in. Add a warm brandy and a portable low-back massager, and I’m in heaven…
- Keep your skin moist. Dry skin is a major hassle in Beijing, and everyone needs to respect this, or soon enough you’ll be scratching yourself crazy. I think a humidifier in important rooms is a must-have, including at your office. And you almost definitely will need daily use of a good moisturizer.
- Visit a local hot springs. Beijing has a surprising number of hot spring resorts within an hours drive; my favorite is in the south, in Daxing. They have the added benefit of Turkish flesh-eating fish, and you can also stay overnight.
- Take a weekend break in a hotel. Forecast calls for -13? Check into a city hotel such as the classy Ritz-Carlton (Huamao) on a Saturday night and just relax all day in their plush lobby, then fall asleep after a spa massage.
- Take vitamin D. There’s growing evidence that vitamin D is an important factor in staying healthy, and since most vitamin D is created in our skin from direct sunlight, it’s easy to be deficient in vitamin D in the winter. Some studies suggest that supplements all winter can help decrease infections like the winter flu — in kids as well.
- Eat roasted chestnuts and yams. Join your local Beijingers and wait in line on the street corners for a 10 kuai bag of delicious, freshly roasted chestnuts. Also look out for the very common sweet potato/yam sellers on most streets, selling delicious roasted wares for about 2 kuai each. These are some of Beijing’s best traditions.
- Eat hot pot. Hot pot is the perfect body-warmer during a cold night. This dish, along with Peking duck (kaoya), will definitely be the two dishes I will miss the most whenever we leave China (years from now!). It’s really fun for groups to dip lamb slices as well as wonderful piles of vegetables, mushrooms and other foods into the boiling water and eat. And it’s quite healthy, overall, especially if you focus on the veggies. My favorite chain is Ding Ding Xiang.
Spring is a visual feast: in March we get sandstorms blotting out the sun, and in May we have catkin pollen filling the air like snow. OK, it’s not that dramatic, but we definitely have some sandstorm days where the skies are orange and the grit seeps into your nostrils, clothes, bedrooms — everywhere. It actually can be a health hazard, but have a little common sense avoidance and you’ll be fine. As for the catkins, it’s dramatic but not really a health nuisance. However, many Beijingers do have allergic hayfever problems in the spring. Most expats actually have less hayfever problems in Beijing.
Otherwise, you should definitely free yourself from winter’s shackles and join the rest of Beijing by flocking to local parks for the beautiful spring blossom festivals. Enjoy the local outdoors as much as you can, before summer’s always-too-early heat kicks in.
Summer is often dreadfully long; the major health issues are a major increase in gastroenteritis as well as travel-related diseases from expats’ vacations to exotic and malaria-filled southern locales. The best way to prevent a vacation disaster is to do your homework beforehand by researching your destination’s health status on the CDC Travel website; and bring a medical travel kit to help the often-inevitable issues like diarrhea. And prepare early! You may need at least a month or more to get a full course of vaccines like japanese encephalitis, rabies or hepatitis; these are often in short supply in the expat clinics during the summer crunch.
We do get major heat waves as well, but fortunately many July and August afternoons are filled with thunderstorms to cool things off for your after-dinner stroll (another very cool China tradition you should definitely pick up). Other fun traditions include eating the excellent local watermelons and corn on the cob.
If you want a water break (and you will want one), you can drive 3 hours to Beidaihe or take an hour flight to the lovely beach cities of Dalian or Qingdao. And if you just want to cool off, take a drive into the local mountains and visit a temple. I’ve created a small list of my personal favorite local spots.
(if this post feels familiar, it is: this is tip #6 from my Top Ten Wellness Tips For Beijing Newcomers post. I’m on vacation…)
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