Yes, once again, the long, dreary, seasonal-affective disorder-inducing mess that is winter in Chengdu is on its way. It's going to suck a lot more if you can't get warm. Last year I wrote about electric blankets. This year, let's talk about actually being able to leave the house.
You need a coat. For whatever reason, it seems that hundreds of laowai end up in Chengdu during the colder weather without one. I've been lucky enough to not be one of those people, but I have a friend from Texas who managed most of one winter with layering on her wide-shouldered frame, and another from Holland who, due to his freakish height, went a whole winter without long sleeves of any kind. Well, never fear, to you who are horizontally or vertically challenged, help is nigh.
Rather than scour the shops for that one miracle coat that somehow fits, albeit just barely, you can have a coat custom made. I know—surprise, surprise—but most places in Chengdu make coats that are either of the RMB1,000+ Tongzilin variety, or the popo-chic, no-pretty-colors-after-50 kind. In other words, not really what most of us are looking for. But I have started noticing shops that make puffy coats and jackets, easily recognizable by their displays of said garments to the exclusion of anything else, and swaths of brightly colored cloth draped on the walls. I've never been the hugest fan of puffy coats, but they are durable, affordable, warm even on top of E'mei Shan or any other frosty clime you might brave, and these days, you don't have to resemble a marshmallow—unless you really want to.
When I helped my Texan friend have a jacket made, she first picked a style from hundreds of photos of different styles, then had her measurements taken. She chose one of many fabrics and some buttons to complement, paid a deposit, and about a week later she was feeling nice and toasty—and looking pretty cute, I might add—for about 300 yuan.
This time of year, there are such 羽绒服 (yǔróng fú/down coat) shops all over Chengdu; look for those characters in some combination with 定做 (dìngzuò) or 定制 (dìngzhì) on the sign. Firsthand, I know only of the east-side shop my friend tried, but in the south, I'm pretty sure in years past I've seen puffy coat tailors in Yulin, at the summertime ice-cream-wholesale shop on Guojiaqiao Bejie (near the Sichuan University south gate) that I wrote about in issue 44, and on the north side of Zijing Xijie, west of the Great World Carrefour.
Illustration by Judy Seto.