The Heavy Rains of Shanghai

I know for quite some time, even before I came here, that Shanghai has something like a “rain season”. Last year all of us Germans tried to figure out from the locals when exactly is that rain season. Rain seasons in other countries are quite predictable due to local and regional weather phenomenons. The Shanghai rain season is either unpretictable or the locals don’t care…we didn’t find out in advance but only when it started raining.

I remember one of my client counterparts showing me once the “typical” rain season rain: Looks a bit like the “Soft Rains of April” a-ha once sung about: Eternal, but soft small-drop rain, which over time pours through all holes of your clothes. Everything is humid, damp, but not exactly wet.

The local name of these names is “Plum Rain” as it comes along with the blooming of the plum trees. It’s a local weather phenomenon at the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze and has nothing to do with rain seasons as experienced in ‘real’ subtropical countries. See Wikipedia or this Shanghai Daily article for background.

Nowadays there is an ‘official start’ and end of the season: The local weather bureaus declare the season open and closed upon specific days. I keep wondering if and how they tell the weather the dates, but it works…this year it was on June 16. Everything before that was not plum rain, everything thereafter up to mid-July is plum rain.

I also remember me once returning from a fly-back to Germany. The day before a tornado had stricken Shanghai. I was even a bit disappointed not to have experienced this rare event… 😉

Still, rains were quite heavy when finally arriving in Shanghai and I wanted to see my friend. She was very reluctant to meet me in the city, although we had not seen for 3 weeks. And all that just because of the rain: She didn’t want to get back home trough knee-high water. I thought all that is pretty exaggerated and talked her into coming. Nothing special happened this evening about rain.

Only weeks later I got into a more or less heavy down-pour on the way back from work. By the time I got off the taxi the rain had ceased already, but I now understood my friend’s reluctance to leave home earlier that month: The foot paths between the appartment houses stood a bit under water: Not really bad, but just enough to not leave enough dry room to place your feet. In the end I had to walk through the water to get home.

But all that was absolutely nothing compared to what happened to me just last weekend:

I doubt it was due to plum rain, despite being in the midst of the official plum rain season. Once again I had a happy working Saturday on our project in Wai Gao Qiao, far outside Shanghai. I remember it was raining all day, so working is not so bad a choice: You get things done, but don’t miss any nice out-door activities. At the moment my seat is in the far corner of the room. Actually pretty bad a seat, probably the worst our ‘office’ has on offer, but so it is at the moment. In that corner is also the drainpipe, which I heard quite heavily throuhgout the day.

Every nice working day is over somewhen. At about 7pm a local colleague and I got out, no rain, into a taxi and drove off. On the first larger intersection there was quite large a puddle, but that just happens—the canalization is not famous for standing all weather conditions. The taxi just went around.

10 minutes later, on the 6-lane arterial road Yang Gao Bei Lu, we had to stop in a traffic jam, which did not move at all for 15 minutes. I could not follow what my colleague and the driver talked about. Finally, the smaller passenger cars squeezed through some room between the larger busses and trucks (a novum: Not everybody fighted for every centimeter on the road, but the trucks let the small cars just pass!) and slipped through a hole in the barrier to the street’s other side, heading back towards Wai Gao Qiao where we came from. I still didn’t know why, but thought of some kind of accident, which blocked the road.

The taxi turned right very soon into a residential area, the idea in mind to reach smaller parallel streets for continuing into the right direction.

And here the mess started: In the beginning just a bit, then more and more and more….water on the streets. The rain was over, nothing added from the skys for maybe an hour or more now. But in the residential area we hit first the water stood 2 or 3 centimeters on the street. Just enough to cover everything with water, not really bad either. Cars drive through, so did bikes, and people who had to cross the street, took off their shoes and just walked through.

But the more we drove into the area to reach the parallel street, the deeper the water became. On the parallel street, Jin Gao Lu, movement was very slow. My colleague and the driver discussed a lot. I knew the area and told them to just turn right on the street and go ahead, I wanted to get home. But there were only rivers, seas, and puddles. There was no road any longer.

Traffic was very slow and few. The road was 10 to 15 centimeters under water. That is quite a bit! It means, that it reaches the car’s underside, and covers half the diameter of a bike’s wheel. People crossing the street were quite rare. Those who did walked through knee-high water.

Our driver was seemingly scared. He was worried about his car, his sole medium of daily income. He even suggested us to sit in the middle of the back seat instead next to the door looking out, so that we would not put too much weight on the wheels…how funny…the car’s total weight will not change with us moving into the middle.

He probably does not know that water does not do anything bad even to a car’s engine either. You ‘just’ have to watch out that the air inlet is above water. That’s the reason why off-roaders have an air pipe attached to their side. And these off-roaders, which start to become popular here in China, too, just as a sign of wealth and as useless and over-expensive as they are in the US, certainly had their chance today in that area. Also, the simple high-wheeled and somehow always blue trucks of local Chinese car makers had no trouble at all.

But we had no other chance sitting in our standard VW Santana: Finally we turned into the sea. Sometimes, other Santanas drove past, apparently controlled by less fearful drivers. They pushed high waves in front and dragged high waves after them. Whenever we were hit by such waves our taxi briefly lost ground contact and swam, seesawing like a nutshell. I even had the feeling of getting cold feet by water soaking in; but that was just a bad joke my brain played with me.

But in total that did no good to our driver’s fear at all. We waited quite a while on one of the few islands, mostly in the middle of larger intersections, occupied by a lot of cars, the drivers discussing possibilities, pointing into all direction. But wherever they pointed to: Water, water all around you, as far as the eye can reach. Finally we set sails again and put to the churning sea.

Every once in a while we passed by left cars, mostly old mini busses. Which surprised me: When we passed by their wheels stood in water, but their underside was clearly above water level. That could only mean that it was a lot worse a few hours ago…

After quite some while, I believe we were more than half an our in the river system around Jin Gao Lu, we turned right and onto broad Yang Gao Lu again, which was not under water at all in that area. Everything clear and cars speeded as they always do on that street….except our taxi. The driver tested and thereby cleaned the brakes, which certainly is a good idea. But to my feeling they were working well…German quality in the end! 😉 It didn’t help, though, we crawled over the 3 or 4 lanes, passed by by lots of other taxis and trucks and busses. But eventually I reached my home area, got off and walked the last few hundred meters to our supermarket. Yes, streets were wet, but no puddles, no spots of standing water anywhere. Back home with my shopping bags I was afraid that at least on our appartment ground the water had not yet gone. But again the fear was unfounded: I walked home dry feet.

Categories: Shanghai

Originally Created: 07/15/2006 02:29:11 PM
Last Edited: 07/15/2006