It’s amazing how winter in most Chinese cities cancels out the sun. The skies seem to turn gray across the board, from Jiangxi to Sichuan and Guangxi to Harbin. Only a few pockets of sunshine are immune to the meteorological oddity known as “China Winter” and I am in one of them now, the tiny Bai capital by the lake, Dali. The others are parts of Tibet (closed off for now), Qinghai, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Hainan. Basically the furthest extremes of the nation, where construction and smog are thin tendrils of promise, not impenetrable walls of soup.
Part of me wants to go into the idea of a China Winter. Take a look at some weather maps and see if the data backs up the hunch that most of China turns gray, gloomy and wet as soon as December rolls in. But I am sun soaked. Numbers are blurry and I don’t want to think about gloom when the Dali sun is pounding down on my shoulders, giving color to my sons’ faces and invigorating/sedating my family. The sun is so powerful here that each evening when it slips behind the Cangshan mountains, the whole world grows forebodingly windy, chilly and dark. But then the stars come out.
The big dipper and the moon are bright enough to light the way through the small lanes of the old town and the fields that radiate out toward the lake, the hot springs and the hills. The air is dry and scrapes across my neck and face. My hair is stiff and would dread up if it could. I need snake oil cream on my lips and cheeks. During the day the light shadow of the moon hovers above the mountains, peering across at the sun with shielded eyes.
In most Chinese cities I can stare the sun down. In Dali I worship the sun ancient-God style, with sacrifice and submission.
In two days it’s back to Chengdu and the Gotham skies of the Sichuan Winter, a derivative of the national oddity that includes wet nights, aching bones, frigid homes and headlights at noon.
Tomorrow I pray at the altar of the sun for the strength to endure the wet winter blanket of Sichuan in February.