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From awesome to loathsome: When a guy from the tropics experience his first snow

July 16, 2017
A tropical guy's first snow experience

It was then that I noticed scattered pieces of snow falling very slowly. Yes, that kind of slow fall I had been waiting for. The kind you’ll see in most Christmas-themed horror movies. I marveled at how it was both beautiful and eerie, but I remained mindful of the fact that it will melt at the moment’s contact. No expectations set.

January 27, 2008. Around 9:30 in the morning. As soon as the plane landed at the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, the pilot announced that we’ll be experiencing a two-degree Centigrade temperature outside. The Filipino guy seated beside me started to wear his wind breaker upon hearing the announcement. It was his first time in Shanghai and his first to experience that kind of cold, too. I can sense his balls creasing with excitement. I know that feeling, I’ve been to that. I teased the guy that his windbreaker won’t be enough to warm him outside, he would need a thicker coat. I was trying to sound like a well-traveled jet setter with more than enough snow experience, though it was only my second winter in the country.

Three weeks earlier, my colleagues informed me that there had been a snowfall one evening. I did not wake up to a fleece of thinly shaved ice so I didn’t believe them. It sure had been cold though, but there wasn’t any trace of snow. Not until the following week.

It was a Monday. I woke up at my room feeling not any different. It was cold, though not as cold as the previous mornings. My bed was at the center of the room, and less than two meters on my right was the window. It was a sliding glass type, lightly tinted with brown. There was a glass door, too, leading to the balcony. The balcony itself was only less than a meter wide with metal grilles spaced one hand apart. It was intended for drying the laundry. When I went out to check the clothes I hanged the previous night, I was surprised to see specks of white continuously falling outside. At last, it was snowing. The sight made me feel flaps of butterfly wings inside my stomach while my balls shrank with excitement. I wanted to scream but I didn’t have anyone to scream with. My soon-to-be-wed Chinese housemates were yet to move during my one week vacation in the Philippines.

I hurried to wash my face, brush my teeth, and change into my work clothes. Afraid for the snow to be gone quickly, I didn’t bother to take a bath. I ran to the parking lot for my battery-powered bike and sped up to catch the snow. But the snow only felt like normal rain. Not the kind you’d see in the movies where it falls in eerie slow motion. It was fast. I felt the snow falling on my hair, on my skin, on my clothes. And that was it. As soon as the ice flakes touched surface, they melt into water. I can see my cotton jacket gradually filled with scattered specks of darker green. I was becoming wet. Along with the pavements.

I found out later that what I experienced was a mere case of sleet – bits of ice flakes mingling with the falling rain. But I was happy. Snow by any other name smells as sweet.

I retrieved my luggage from the airport carousel. A mere 12-kilogram suitcase which made me ponder how I was deviating from the usual Filipino definition of a checked-in luggage – must be at least two kilograms heavier than allowed and would require you to barter with the check-in personnel so you can be spared of the charge for the excess. I went straight to the airport bus terminal to take a bus bound to Kushan, an industrial city in Jiangsu province, about an hour and a half drive from Shanghai. I was told the next bus will be leaving at 1:30 in the afternoon, and I would have to wait for more than two hours. I didn’t have a choice, a taxi would cost me at least RMB300 (about USD40) while the bus would only cost me sixty. I waited inside the cafeteria behind the ticketing booth. It was warm inside, albeit dirty. Layers of grime were stuck along every cavity of the plastic chairs and the floor sticky with grease and mud. I had my favorite tomato-based cup noodles and went out for a quick smoke.

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It was then that I noticed scattered pieces of snow falling very slowly. Yes, that kind of slow fall I had been waiting for. The kind you’ll see in most Christmas-themed horror movies. I marveled at how it was both beautiful and eerie, but I remained mindful of the fact that it will melt at the moment’s contact. No expectations set.

The airport bus was like any other airport bus I have seen – huge, spacious, clean, two rows of comfortable seats on each side, and just enough room for the knees. I sat on the left window seat. The bus was not full, no one sitting on both seats to my front, to my back, and neither on the seats to my right. I slept on the bus on the first thirty minutes of the trip and woke up to thick mantles of white covering everything except for the pavements. Snow was slowly falling from afar, but the ones near the bus were easily swept by the strong wind. It was marvelous. I wanted the bus driver to stop the bus as I was afraid there wouldn’t be any snow where I was going. But I did not. I just let myself be immersed in the scene ahead of me. I leaned my head on the window pane like how actors do in drama series, only instead of rain, there was snow falling.

It has started to get dark when I arrived in Kushan. What was supposed to be an hour and a half ride took more than four hours. Did the bus made it back to Kunshan and I was on the second trip from Shanghai? I didn’t know. I wasn’t aware of what happened. I fell asleep again.

I took another bus to my apartment while gawking at the snow all over the place. The cheerful couple who moved to my apartment greeted me with much excitement. The guy announced his plan to buy a camera before the weekend and eagerly invited me to go out by then. He was just as excited to see the snow.

The much awaited weekend came. There was a library three kilometers from our apartment and, in between, there was a soccer field. The plan was to reach the library through the soccer field instead of taking the main roads. Outside was cold, but not biting. The kind of cold that reminds you of fogging air-conditioning units in hotel rooms or the frozen food section in supermarkets. Not too cold to feel pain on every tip of your fingers or your cheeks, but cold enough for your nose to feel it when you breathe. I was not wearing long johns (an underwear from waist to legs) and I can feel the cold soothing from the leg openings of my pants.

There were no other souls in the soccer field aside from the two of us. Or maybe there were, I never knew. My third eye has always been closed. The snow was knee-deep at the soccer field which made us more excited. We were diving, rolling, howling, running at a zombie’s phase. We let ourselves loose like excited fools. We gargled air inside our mouths and competed to produce the thickest fog. We shook the snow off of every tree and brushed the snow off of every visible surface – bench, ledge, everything. There were small bridges across frozen water features and we ran with one of our hands scraping the snow deposits on the hand rails. We branded ourselves the “Snow Bandits.”

Snow began to fall again when we reached the library. Strange but it seemed warmer during an actual snowfall. On our way back, we took the opposite side of the road along the riverbank. There were three kids hurling snowballs in the water to which my friend gestured to refrain from what they’re doing. But as soon as we got past them, we exchanged sheepish smiles and raced to form snowballs under the bald pine trees.

We went home exhausted. The lady of the house prepared a good meal but I preferred to snack on the strawberry ice cream in the freezer.

Everything remained covered with snow the next Monday. I took my electric bike to work and almost fell on the road thrice. The road was slippery with clear ice and riding the bike was difficult. The pedestrian lanes were muddy with melting pieces of ice. Apparently, it rained the previous night, causing the snow to melt and hardened in the morning.

Days passed and my amazement with the snow was gradually replaced by revulsion. Taking a bath every morning became a task, wearing long johns became irritating, and riding the bike became a pain. Between bike rides from the apartment to work, I would stop several times to put my freezing hands inside my mouth to warm them. The pain was unbearable. I tried switching glove materials from cotton to polyester to synthetic leather but there was no improvement. The synthetic leather only stored more cold. I tried to put cotton on leather but it only rendered hand movements difficult. The same went for my cheeks. Despite my brown skin, the cold wind turned my cheeks red like frozen overripe tomatoes, it really hurt.

I started to hate the snow, winter, and everything that comes with it. A week or two of winter and snow is great, anything beyond that is a disaster. Maybe snow is intended solely for holidays. When you have the option to just sloth around and not have to think of going to work.

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  • You remember such vivid details about your trip! Yes, exactly! The novelty of snow wears off after a week or even less than that. lol
    What was your work in China?

    ” I can sense his balls creasing with excitement”

    • No one forgets their firsts. HAHAHA. I worked for Customer Service Division in one of the laptop manufacturing companies in China.