San Fu

I'm a week into san fu - the hottest 40 days of the year, and it's killing me. Shanghai is baking under an enormous outdoor oven that hits me like a physical force every time I walk outside. Today, typical of san fu weather, the top temperature was 38 degrees (that would be 100.4 F), with a sweaty minimum of 30 degrees. I think the humidity is close to 98%, and I practically got heatstroke from cycling to Taikang Lu for a coffee. I had to sit in the air-conditioning for twenty minutes before I felt well enough to drink it.

Either way the days are stinking hot and the nights offer little relief, and are full of mosquitoes. Everyone has an air of quiet exhaustion. The only sign of increased energy is in the thousands of cicadas, who have started up a deafening drum that builds to a noisy crescendo every ten minutes during daylight hours. After dark, the crickets take over.

I see that the ice lady has made her seasonal return to the wet market - in winter Shanghai's natural refrigeration means she is not busy, and she finds other ways to make money. Now that san fu is here she carts enormous blocks of ice on the back of her utility bicycle early in the day for the fish sellers to use to keep their goods cooled. She heaves one off the tray-back with a heavy iron hook, then drags it to the stall where it is kept in one piece. In summer, you want to buy your meat and fish before 10am, when the ice is well melted and the chance of food poisoning goes up.

Tomorrow will be the same, and the day after that. Thirty-three days to go.

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