Suddenly, winter has arrived, and my half-hour bike commute to BJU clinic is a lot less fun. So I’m dry cleaning last year’s new toy: a ginormous below-the-knee down coat I had made at Jingkelung for only 500 RMB. I also tricked out my bike with those fluffy handle mitts, plus a pair of pleather knee warmers. I am also stocking up on one of wintry life’s little pleasures: heating pads from Japan that you stick to your clothes to keep your body warm for over 12 hours. These nuanbaobao (暖宝宝) are now sold everywhere: 7-11, Watsons, local pharmacies, etc.
These are two of a handful of necessities I use to survive Beijing’s long winters. Here are my other favorites:
Use baby oil for smooth skin: Beijing’s winters are dry, dry dry. Get yourself a hygrometer to monitor for yourself; indoor air is most comfortable at 40-60%, but in winter is usually 15-20%. That’s almost airplane-cabin dry, and you instantly feel it on your skin and lips. The best way to prevent dry, itchy skin is a good moisturizer after your shower. I like Neutrogena, but this year I discovered an even better therapy for me: baby oil.
Put an eco-fireplace in any room. There truly is nothing like coming home to a warm fire. And yes, you can have a real fire in any apartment complex, inany room, if you use a special metal box that burns clean 95% alcohol without any special needs for ventilation due to its clean burn. I bought these Ecosmart bioethanol fireplaces from L’art Et La Matiere in Beijing, and we installed it into a custom fireplace in our living room. The flame is smallish but it’s real, and it’s lovely and warming.
Use a foot soak every night. Now that you’re in front of your real fire, go to the next level and buy yourself one of the dozens of Chinese-made foot soaking machines. They are sold everywhere: Carrefour, Walmart, Suning, Taobao etc etc. It’s a treat to come home and soak a bit.
Turn on the humidifier. This is even more crucial than the daily baby oil, since a good humidifier can pump up the humidity to nice indoor levels of 30-50%, which will instantly help your skin, your throat, your sleeping, and your wood furniture. I like the Yadu brand of ultrasonic humidifiers, or their American joint venture with Westinghouse.
Put up the Christmas tree now. Why wait for December? Just put it up now! And don’t take it down early; we keep ours up until after Chinese new years in January/February. I always love that Christmassy glow of the lights and decorations. You can buy live Christmas trees at the Liangma flower market (the smaller one, behind the Kempinski) or you can get a fake tree on their second floor winter wonderland, stacked with holiday decorations at amazing prices.
Eat lots of warm chestnuts and yams. This tradition is one of downtown Beijing’s charms: the multiple vendors selling delicious warm yams for 2RMB from their big metal barrels, as well as the many stores roasting fresh chestnuts. Get in line, pay 10-15RMB a bag and enjoy!
Go to a local hot spring resort. Beijing’s suburbs are blessed with some excellent hot springs resorts, and I love to check them out every few weeks, especially on those bitter cold days. The one just across from Ikea is also very nice.
Snuggle with your true love. All of the above tips are nice to follow, but if I came home to my foot soak and my fireplace – and if my house was empty of my wife, then I would feel an enormous, cold empty hole inside me. I truly feel lucky to have her in my life, and that love is what warms my days more than anything else. I hope all of you have someone special like that. If not, keep looking — everyone deserves it!