Nothing much happened after the first few days of snow in Shanghai. It was just wet and muddy, everywhere.
But this morning, the fifth day of snow and sleet, Shanghai took on a new look. From a distance, the endless rows of rather squalid tenement buildings near my apartment appeared decidedly picturesque, with their tiled roofs covered in a blanket of white. I never would have guessed they would look so beautiful.
Against the backdrop of a dark overcast sky, the snow-covered park outside my office building, with a big pond in the middle, looked just like a scene out of a traditional Chinese brush painting.
A colleague who has lived in Shanghai all his life told me he has only seen such heavy snow in the city twice in the past 50 years.
While I cursed the slush that had made the streets treacherously slippery on my way to work, students of a middle-school seemed to be having loads of fun skidding along the icy pavements.
In the playground of my apartment compound, children giggled at the foot prints they left in the snow. A young couple made a valiant effort in showing their toddler how to build a snowman although there was only a thin layer of snow on the ground.
Statistics from the weather bureau show that this city is facing its worst weather in many years. Our sympathies naturally go out to the many thousands of migrant workers stranded at railway stations around the region and the many more thousands of people whose daily lives have been interrupted by the snowstorms. We also admire the teams of workers for their efforts in combating the extreme weather to clear highways and railways and keep disruption to the supply of essential utilities to a minimum.
The snowstorms have somehow given us a new perspective of life in this city. It has showed up a side of the city we have never seen before, and also the capability and adaptability of Shanghai people to face new challenges.
Returning from sunny Hong Kong just as the cold front was beginning to set in, I looked at the weather forecast and wondered if I could survive without central heating in my apartment. Panicked, I turned on all the heaters and blew the fuse of my apartment three times in a week.
Every time it happened, a repairman came unfailing within 30 minutes of my call to the building management office and fixed it free of charge.
Before that, I had never had the need to call for help from the building management people. I have read plenty of horror stories about the standard of building managements in mainland cities. In fact, they can be quite helpful, if not entirely friendly, when you need them as I found out last week.
Some of my foreign friends told me that they were surprised the city could function at all in such unusual weather conditions. The foul weather had apparently brought many more cars on to the roads and highways. Traffic seemed heavier than usual, but there were no reports of major accidents or gridlocks.
Electricity and water supply has remained uninterrupted. Although I do not shop for food myself, I can see from my balcony that the market on the street below is busy as usual with plentiful supplies.
Oh yes, gas supply to my neighborhood was interrupted one evening. The building management assured me that emergency repairs were underway and supply would resume early next morning. To my relief, it did.
Of course, the thought of having to walk through slush is not very appealing. But the experience of this cold spell has brought some pleasant surprises. It is no doubt a winter to remember.
(China Daily January 30, 2008)