The temperature at the Hong Kong Observatory dropped to 19.9 degrees Celsius (i.e. 68 Fahrenheit) early this morning. For Hong Kong in mid-October, that's actually quite cool -- it's the result of the first big surge of the Northeast monsoon, which blesses Hong Kong with reasonable temperatures in the fall and winter. The projected high today is 24 C, or about 75 F.

Now, those of us from harsher climes would think this weather is very mild indeed. For example, the average nighttime low in my home area in the USA, at the very warmest peak of summer, is about 17 C (62 F). In fact, a day ranging from 20-24 sounds just about perfect, doesn't it -- it's essentially room temperature all the time, meaning you can wear all your favorite outfits, even the long-sleeved ones you've been saving all summer, without having to cover them up with a boring coat.

That's what you'd think, all right, except if you were actually living in Hong Kong.

Instead of a populace striding about in comfort and style, this morning witnessed the massive re-commissioning of the city's coats and jackets, woolly scarves, and even a down vest or two. I even saw a woman in a thick, full-length woolen overcoat, the kind that only comes into play in London or Chicago in mid-winter -- and this was yesterday morning, when it was a couple of degrees warmer than today!

I've written before about Hong Kong people's phobic pronouncements regarding cold babies, but of course that's really just an extension of a much broader policy. 'Cold' weather brings remarkable changes to this city:

  • For example, some of our readers have noted that outdoor pools routinely close here in weather that brings all of England to the seashore.
  • A few years ago, we suffered through a fashion fad involving those bumblebee-style down jackets from The North Face, i.e. coats designed for subzero weather; they were routinely worn here well into April, in temperatures in the 20s C.
  • My parents-in-law were horrified recently when we took Toddler Tall swimming on a cloudy day when the temperature never dropped below 27 C -- and it was an indoor pool!
  • Last night we took Toddler Tall out to the playground in our housing development. In recent weeks, there have been at least half a dozen families with assorted children out there on any given evening. Last night, though, it was Tombstone, Arizona, when the Clanton gang rode into town: not another soul in sight. Too cold for the youngsters, you see.

And if you add a little drizzle, you'd might as well seal the doors and hibernate till May.

This cold-phobia can't just be a 'Chinese thing', because life certainly goes in the large swathes of northern China that have bitterly cold winters; even those who live in the Chinese heartland along the Yangtze River soldier on through freezing temperatures and occasional snow with no central heating. It seems to be a Hong Kong-specific phenomenon. It's particularly odd when you couple it with the typically arctic levels of aircon in Hong Kong commercial and public buildings. You end up with the bizarre spectacle of people who've been shopping in a mall cooled to 21C putting on down jackets to go outdoors, where it's 23C.

Only in Hong Kong?