For Wang Jing, a computer saleswoman in Chongqing, the latest level two national heat alert issued on Monday told her something she already knew: it is really hot.
According to the forecast from the China Meteorological Administration (CMA), temperatures will climb as high as 42 degrees Celsius in several provinces in east and central China and up to 39 degrees Celsius in southwest Chongqing Municipality.
With a severe heat wave lingering across China, low-income earners like Wang who can not afford air conditioning are finding it a luxury to beat the heat, no matter how briefly.
HOT, RESTLESS NIGHTS
Wang spends one-third of her monthly salary of 1,000 yuan (about 158 U.S. dollars) on a room in a rented apartment in downtown Chongqing.
Early this summer, Chongqing’s hottest in 61 years, Wang started throwing water onto the floor in an attempt to cool her place down. Her trick worked until the downstairs neighbors complained that water was leaking through their ceiling, threatening to force her to pay for any damages if it didn’t stop.
After the neighbors complained, Wang started spritzing her summer bed mat with cool water.
“It’s too hot to endure. I have to constantly sprinkle water onto the floor. I am having a water sprinkling festival at home every day,” she said.
Though the high temperatures are at the root of Wang’s troubles, drywall room dividers, a lack of ventilation and the absence of a night breeze in her apartment are not helping matters.
Her neighbor has made it a habit to sleep on the balcony, which offers a bit of coolness at no cost.
“It’s noisy on the balcony, but it’s definitely better than being baked inside,” said the neighbor, who works at a supermarket and decided that it would not be worth it to buy an air conditioning unit for a rented space.
COOLING DOWN FOR FREE
During World War II, air raid shelters were built in Chongqing, the country’s wartime capital and primary target of Japanese air strikes. Decades later, these shelters have become free “cool venues” for a sweaty public.
Over 100 such shelters are open to the public, and each can hold up to 10,000 people at a time. Desks, chairs, drinking water, newspapers and TV are available there, allowing for even greater comfort.
Meanwhile, shopping malls and subway stations also provide respite from the heat. In an underground shopping mall in Chongqing’s Yuzhong District, children and the elderly can be found hiding out from the sizzling temperatures above ground.
A 92-year-old man surnamed Rong said the mall is the coolest place around and many of his neighbors frequently go there to get a free dose of air conditioning. “My family of four lives in an old, tiny apartment and it’s too hot to stay there without an air conditioner.”
Another person at the mall complained that there used to be over 100 benches, but now only about 20 are left. “The mall removed them so we won’t come.”
At a nearby subway station, people can be found just sitting on the ground and cooling off without ever stepping onto a train. A 93-year-old resident surnamed He is said to sit there every day to conserve electricity during the day.
WORKING IN THE SUN
Though air-conditioned shopping malls, subway stations and supermarkets are dotted throughout the downtown area, outdoor laborers often still can’t make it inside to cool down.
“We, of course, want to stay indoors with air conditioning, but we just cannot. We always have to pick up rubbish whenever it appears,” said two sanitation workers whose faces were dripping with sweat as they sat in the shade of some trees in downtown Chongqing.
Freelance stick men, who tote luggage on bamboo poles up and down the city’s steep hillsides, however, are caught in a dilemma: catch a cool break or make some money? To get a bit of work, stick men have to be at places with heavy foot traffic, which often lack air conditioning, like old-fashioned farmer’s markets.
Liu Minsheng, a stick man who was waiting for customers at the entrance to such a market, said, “There is a shelter nearby to relax, but I cannot get any work there.”
A migrant worker from a rural area, Liu said he stays at cheap and non-air-conditioned inns at night. “There is nothing I can do about the heat, but a whole day of exhausting work makes me fall asleep as soon as I go to bed.”