The coldest city in the world

Is Hong Kong. No really, it is. Inside. It’s not that I’m not used to cold rooms. Stone scottish tenement houses with high ceilings and gaps around the window panes. Yinchuan where I once forgot to do the washing up and returned to find a sink-shaped frozen block of eerily suspended dirty plates and crystalised porridge. But there at least its cold outside too. This is like winter turned inside out. Staggering up the hill in the evening in subtropical heat, sweat dribbling down your knees and panting out your ears, and then you’re hit from the side by a blast of icy air like a mix of the wicked witch of Narnia and a wart-remover. And that’s every time you pass a shop. Or an office. Or a bus for Christ’s sake. The fiercest aircon in the whole world. 

OK I’m exaggerating about the bus. The bus is close to normal temperature. The library is not and I have to bring a jumper and socks. There’s a water fountain and I drink from it hot. I huddle my shoulders, gaze out at the grey skies, and I could be back in Edinburgh. Slippy floors, low ceilings with half-flickry lights, rows of boring-looking identically-bound volumes. A scowling student, a concentrated student. A sleeping student. I shuffle my pages and see the grey marks my fingers leave, the creases that have appeared at the sides of my perfectly flat photocopies, still toasty warm to press against the cheeks. They’re wrinkled forever, scars like the little marks on my cheeks which will never go away. 

Are all the university libraries in the universe the same? Do they connect somewhere into that amazing orangutan-garden outlawrous semibound jungle of the unseen universary? I really could be back in Edinburgh, padding past the identical book-scanning machines, white-plastic computers (let’s ignore the dozens of very HK-looking students and calligraphy on the walls for the now). Bleeping outside in the chill. But then I open the door and I’m thwacked by a solid wall of humid, boiling tropic air, like someone just dropped Leeds butterfly house on my chest.

Welcome to the (sub)tropics. You’ll never get use to it.

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