Odd things happen when a heat wave hits China

With the heat wave in China have come unusual tidings: cars spontaneously bursting into flame, a plague of locusts, a boost for workers' rights.

Peter Ford/The Christian Science Monitor
It has been the hottest July for 50 years in Beijing, but still not hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. Here's the proof.

Well, that’s the last time I believe the People’s Daily.

Call me naive, but I have always put a certain amount of faith in the official organ of the Communist party of China.

Not anymore.

As Beijing sweltered through the highest temperatures recorded at this time of year for half a century – 109.2 degrees Fahrenheit where I work – the newspaper that defines the party line reported that on Monday, a man had fried an egg on a city sidewalk.

IN PICTURES: Beating the summer heat

Tuesday was another scorcher. I waited until the hottest time of the day – just before four in the afternoon – found a manhole cover too hot to touch, and broke an egg onto it.

And waited. And waited. And gradually lost my confidence in the reliability of the People’s Daily. I might as well have tried to fry an egg on my kitchen table.

(I discovered later on the “Fun Science Facts from the Library of CongressWeb page that you cannot fry an egg at less than 158 degrees.)

Still, as the weather gave new meaning to the phrase “Chinese sweatshop,” odd things have been happening here this week, according to media reports that I trust are more accurate than the People’s Daily . Cars and buses have spontaneously burst into flames. A plague of locusts descended on Inner Mongolia. Beijing consumed more water on Monday than on any other single day since the city’s first tap was installed in 1910.

And a government newspaper stood up for the rights of workers. The China Daily, an English-language government-owned paper, pointed out that, “If workers have got some degree of protection from the sizzling heat, it has been largely a matter of luck, not one of right.”

This is a matter of personal interest at the moment. My 19-year-old has a summer job here working for a moving company and spent Monday unloading furniture from two container trucks.

He was not aware, he told me, that the Beijing authorities this week announced they would double a “high temperature” bonus for people working outside in the heat. Not that it would do him much good; it is still worth only $0.80 per day – the price of a cold Coke.

After a relatively bearable Wednesday, the thermometer was climbing again on Thursday, creeping close to 100 degrees. Storms are forecast on Friday, breaking the heat wave, but the weather can do what it likes here next week. I shall be on holiday in France. Where the forecast is for rain.

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