08 October 2009

The Rarest Time of Year

I couldn't tell you when Autumn arrived. Traditionally summer ends on the night of the Moon Festival, the weather changing almost abruptly, as if a glassy carpet of cool air unrolls across the heavens. That prediction has come true, I think, eighteen out of the twenty-one years I've spent in this corner of the world, the weather changing noticeably within 48 hours either side of mid-autumn night.

This year the change hasn't been so abrupt. More like a car descending a mountain on a series of hairpin turns. First, a day or two before the scheduled time, there was a faint hint of coolness in the late evening, like a drop of peppermint in a hot bath, and a touch less humidity. By the night of the full moon on October 3, the nights were cool, followed by pretty hot days. Since then the temperatures have see-sawed: one evening a bit warmer than the last, the daytime a bit drier and veering toward warm instead of hot. Today, it seems, the weather gods have made up their minds at last, and we're firmly into Fall.

There are no visual clues that Autumn has arrived. No leaves change, not until much later into the winter. The only hint is a few seasonal fruit, such as the pomelos finally turning yellow.

In temperate zones of the world, Fall signals the time to start battening up the hatches and preparing to retreat indoors. Here it's the total opposite. Autumn is the only time of year when it's actually pleasant to go outside. The only time of year when it's neither too hot nor too cold and damp, and the humidity is low enough that you can turn off the air conditioners and dehumidifiers and actually leave the windows open to sleep (if you live in a quiet place like Wang Tong).

Actually, there are some who prepare for winter. Ah-Po reminded us that right after the Moon Festival is snake season. This is the time of year when snakes are the most active, hunting mice, frogs and lizards, for one last gluttonous meal before they curl up somewhere and hibernate. She's had a couple venomous ones in her garden--though not cobras like our recent visitor--and another neighbor spotted a long one, which he identified but I can't remember, heading up the hill.

The Autumn weather lasts only two weeks, three if we're really lucky. I'm gulping it in like a refreshment, bloating myself in its splendor, trying to stuff in as much of it as possible before the long artificially heated and cooled hibernation until the next Moon Festival.


  1. Didn' you make a great cartoon once of the weather in Hong Kong showing it graphically? I don't think it was a Lily Wong cartoon, maybe in "Aieeyaah!"?

    I distinctly remember an image of a guy in ice-blocks for winter, and an image of someone similing reprsenting the "two weeks in October"

  2. Yes, that cartoon was done way back in 1986.

  3. Aw geezer, come on - you know that with the new climate we're having, it will be warm and sunny until the end of January, then marginally cooler (can use a duvet, must wear a coat) until April. That's all.

    Two weeks, indeed!

    For the last two years I, for one, haven't used any artificial heating at all, where in earlier years I've been huddled in front of the oil radiator. Yep, global warming is happening

  4. Sleep with the (vrooom) windows open? Luxery! (vrooom) I used to (vrooom) live in Lei (vrooom) Yue Mun.