Battling Beijing's big freeze
Speak to my friends and family and, without fail, they'll tell you that I am not a winter person. It's true: even though I was born and raised in London, a city known for its cold Christmases, I never got used to them. I know plenty of people who wax lyrical about winter - the crisp air, pretty powdery snow, steaming mugs of hot chocolate and, in the words of Nat King Cole, "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" - but I'm not one of them.
So how to survive Beijing's big freeze? Here's five tips I've picked up from born and bred Beijingers and veteran expats that I thought I'd share.
1. Layer up
The secret to staying warm is to layer up. Start with a pair of qiuku - autumn pants or long johns, if you will. Glamorous they are not. What they are, as any Beijinger will tell you, is warm and thus an essential part of winter life. Then add a sweater, chunky cardigan and a down coat. Finally accessorise with every means at your disposal, from Russian-inspired headwear (get yours over at Alien Street Market) to sheep skin lined boots. It's time to take dressing up to the max.
2. Stock up on DVDs
When the temperature plummets we'll all be hibernating at home. On those log winter evenings, hunker down with a good box set or two. Tom's DVD Store (5135-7487) is rumored to be the best in town, but if you don't fancy schlepping to Jiangtai Lu, Beijing's streets are awash with industrious bootleggers happy to test your conscience by offering DVDs of Hollywood blockbusters and hit sitcoms for peanuts. I nabbed Mad Men seasons 1-4 for a bargainous 35 yuan. Endless nights in bed with Don Draper? Suddenly winter in Beijing doesn't seem so bad.
3. Make mulled wine
Seek solace from the frostbite by making mulled wine - a hot alcoholic drink guaranteed to warm you up. It's popular in all cold countries, but it's an especially good drink to make in China, where home grown wine tastes like vinegar and imported bottles are significantly more expensive than they are overseas. With mulled wine, any old bottle of plonk works once you add the spices and sugar.
On the food front, if you haven't already done so it's time to try hotpot - a winter standby if ever there was one. Sweet potatoes from street vendors are another winter warmer - they'll warm your hands and your heart!
4. Join the gym
During the winter months, many Beijingers find themselves piling on the pounds. If you want to keep your body in shape, think about joining a gym. Curling up under a warm blanket on the sofa might sound like a more attractive option on a cold winter day, but make the effort to exercise. Regular exercise wards off weight gain, boosts your body's immune system and produces endorphins - all of which will help you beat the Beijing winter blues!
Finally, if none of the above work, go south.
Some (mad) people head north for the Harbin Ice Festival, but sensible sun seeking types (like me) head to Hainan - aka the Hawaii of the East. Here you'll find perfect beaches, turquoise waters and sunshine in spades. See you in the spring!