It started with the new white curtains my girlfriend and I bought for our bedroom in Hong Kong. They’re opaque enough to block any potential embarrassment but sheer enough to let light through, because there’s nothing I hate more than waking up in a dark room. After we installed them, they had an unintended effect. Sitting in the living room in the afternoon, my eye would wander to the bedroom, where for a second the slightly transparent curtains would trick me into thinking the window was iced over.
Later, lying in bed one sleepless night, I heard the sound of a shovel being scraped across pavement. My mind drifted to snowy nights in Montreal, when neighbours would get a head start on the falling snow by clearing their steps and front walks before going to bed. It created a peculiar chorus to the muffled hymn of car tires and footsteps trudging through the snow.
Recently, I’ve come to appreciate the seasonality of Canadian weather, which I took for granted until I moved to Hong Kong two and a half years ago. Hong Kong does have distinct seasons — I never realized 12 degrees could feel so cold until I experienced my first winter monsoon, when a chilly, dry wind blows from the north — but the differences between them are subtle. Only a small proportion of trees here lose their leaves in the winter; the best way to tell what season it is is by which tree flowers are blooming.
But there’s nothing quite like the extremes of weather in a northern country to make you appreciate how much it defines the way you experience your surroundings. When you live in a city with a climate as variable as Montreal, where the difference between winter and summer is more stark than almost anywhere else in the world, the weather becomes a kind of social glue. Whenever 20 centimetres of snow falls from the sky, it’s an event, a shared experience that brings people closer together. Everyone has an excuse to be late for work; everyone shares the same sense of wonder at the fresh white sheen of morning snow; everyone will eventually grumble about the disgusting slush the snow inevitably becomes.
The only time something like that happens in Hong Kong is when there’s a typhoon. Even then, it’s hardly the same, because everything shuts down and people sit at home, watching TV. Nobody here experiences the exuberance that comes with the springtime liberation from winter’s grip, the ephemeral joy of a sweet, too-short summer, the pleasure of autumn foliage. Or the giddy joy that comes with waking up to a world transformed by snow.
One last peek before bed
The next morning
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