Come August, the summer bears its true canines as the temperatures leap above 35 degrees with a ferocious humidity. You find yourself devoured by a wave of sizzling moisture every time you step out onto the streets, and overcome by a dizziness, almost like prey stunned in the chase, that has you reaching for your traditional Chinese sunstroke meds (Huo Xiang Zhengqi Wan is mine). That’s when you know it’s here — the Autumn Tiger.
Like the American “Dog Days of Summer,” the Autumn Tiger prowls over much of China — including the Yangtze River Delta I know so well — in August. But while Americans imagine a dog, defenseless with its tongue out, desperate for relief, China imagines one of the fiercest wild felines attacking the country with a heatwave — because the Autumn tiger means some deadly weather.
I knew why my Chinese friends and family feared the season — the sunstroke, suntans (undesirable in a country that worships whiteness), and stagnant air. But I had no trepidation over rising temperatures. As a summer-born girl — and a Leo — I had a fondness for these months of endless sunshine, even if the humidity stuck to your body like spandex. Just the thought of summer ushered in thoughts of celebration, vacation, and inspiration.
Until August, 2004, that is.
On August 3, I awoke early that morning slathered in an unwelcome sweat. And as I tried to rise from bed, it hit me — a twirling sensation in my head, as if something had pounced on me and sent me rolling down a hill. After three doctor’s visits, a CT scan and an X-ray, I discovered I had vertigo. While the doctor explained the vertigo came from exhaustion — perhaps the result of doing too much overtime the past few weeks at the office — I couldn’t help but shake the feeling the Autumn Tiger had someone pushed me down.
It wouldn’t be the last time.
The following August, in 2005, rising temperatures brought out rising tempers in me, as if my own inner feline had been rudely awakened from a year-long hibernation and was out for revenge. It took a consultation with my traditional Chinese medical doctor — and a prescription for what I call the Chinese version of prozac (but without the side effects) — to bring back the taciturn girl I used to be.
In the end, I’ve come to view the Autumn Tiger with the healthy respect any great predator deserves. I cannot fear it, because life in China will happen, and beckon me out into the sultry sunshine. I’ve even vacationed at the height of these wild and feral summer days. But I always walk slowly and softly, and hide under a good UV-protective umbrella. 😉
Have you experienced the Autumn Tiger? Has it pushed you down too?