Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner’s (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei

Photo Credit: Pintrest

“If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.”

— Ben Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac


We have long thought that a great translation project or master’s thesis would be the rendering of the Huangli, also known as the Tung Shing, or Chinese Farmer’s Almanac into English. This and a comparative analysis of the Huangli, specifically with a focus on Solar Terms, and the American Farmer’s Almanac would make for an excellent paper, book, and Smithsonian or National Geographic article. (For those with the language prerequisites or studying linguistics, you are welcome to it). 

What we have complied below in this edition of Pop Rooms Blog is NOT that great translation project. Rather we have sought a more simplified approach that takes the Solar Terms and attempts to put them into a language that the non-mandarin speaking foreigner, and those a few grains short of a 飯團 (rice ball), can understand. Think of it as your broad brush survival guide to the wonderful world of Taipei weather. It’s a Groundhog Day, a “Practically-Destitute Richard’s” predictive masterpiece, and we are very excited to be your forecasters.

Taipei has two seasons: the sweltering humid summer and the chilly damp winter.

An Often Grumbled Expat Sentiment
Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 1
Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash

“If the first spring thunder crashes before the Awakening of Insects solar term, there will be abnormal weather that year.” 

A Solar Term proverb that we are assured is well known

What Are Solar Terms?

At their core, Solar terms are a set of 24 points throughout the year that denote a change in season miniature. They are based on a system of astronomical and climactic measurement that goes back millenniums and in turn help guide farming practices, social affairs, and religious ceremonies. They determine when things should be planted and what the weather in the coming months might look like. Solar Terms and their times of year originated in Northern China and so there are numerous local or regional discrepancies but by and large they have remained an unchanged means of forecasting weather in both China and Taiwan. By many estimates there are over 2000 proverbs alongside countless songs and other references related to the Solar Terms in Chinese. Some of them are rather cryptic, while others offer wonderfully good advice or forecasts.

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 2
Photo Credit: Taiwan Panorama
Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 3
Photo Credit: China Educational Tour

Understanding Our Interpretations:

Below we have outlined the 24 Solar Terms in terms of date and Chinese and English nomenclature. We have also included our “translation” of what this term often looks like in Taipei at that given time of year. Like most weather reports, we may or may not be correct. As such, take what we have written below with a slight skepticism and bring both your sunscreen and an umbrella with you — just in case. May you come to love (and at times curse) the weather in Taipei as much as we do.

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 4
Photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash

Feb 4th, 立春 (Lì Chūn), Start of Spring

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 5
Photo Credit: Nihao’s It Going

Translation: Make no mistake, in early February it is likely 23-26 degrees and sunny in Kaohsiung with a slight breeze floating through the morning air. In Taipei you can expect the “Start of Spring” to be marked the grey cloud bank that has been attempting to smother the heat, light, and happiness from the northern end of the Island for the past month and a half. If it makes you feel any better, the foreigners in Beijing are likewise cursing the naming of this term as it is nowhere near “Spring” in that part of the world.

Feb 19th, 雨水 (yǔ shuǐ), Rain Water

Translation: Also known as: “The Peak of the Bleak.” Despite the days growing longer, the end of February in Taipei often affirms the adage that it is “darkest before the dawn.” Dark, grey, damp, and cold you will wonder how this Island could be considered part of the tropics. Although February is still technically the dry season in Taiwan, the northern end of the Island is governed by a separate set of meteorological laws that would suggest a Demeterian or Mercurial logic. That said, the geese are flying north and 草木萌動, or the trees and grass are putting forth shoots thunder clouds are building. Our one inspiration in this all is lost time of year is the cherry blossoms beginning to bloom and the lanterns, which will soon be sent aloft, reminding us to hold onto a sense of hope that we may see warmth and the sun once again.

Mar 5th, 惊蛰 (jīng zhé), Awakening of Insects

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 6
Photo Credit: Weather Atlas

Translation: There is a light at the end of the tunnel. The cherry blossoms are in full swing of their bloom and you can slowly feel the weather getting warmer, but not yet oppressive. It tends to be around 22 degrees celsius in the northern city, just enough that your heavyweight puffy jacket is no longer required (those of you in cooler climates who laugh at this should know that Taipei is HUMID and when it gets cool it gets positively cold… The inverse is also unfortunately true). The rain is still present, but there are an increasing number of blue sky days as well. We see insects out year-round so we’re not sure about the naming on this one.

Mar 21st, 春分 (chūn fēn), Vernal Equinox

Translation: Tulips, and lilies are blooming, the light is getting longer, and it is often the Goddess Guanyin’s birthday around this time of year. We worship her, nothing cult-like, just for her compassion in sending us intermittent blue skies and the feeling of spring in the air.

April 4th, 清明 (qīng míng), Clear and Bright

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 7
Photo Credit: Travel Taipei

Translation: Finally, the light has returned to the world, we can all get our haircuts and rejoice. April may just be one of our favorite times of year in Taipei. Temperatures are sweeping into the mid 20s, there is sun or, at the very least, less of a chance of rain, and things are living up to their solar terminology. It’s a time of hiking, and excursions, of enjoying the morning, afternoon, and evening in the city.

April 19th, 谷雨 (gǔ yǔ), Grain Rain

Translation: The traditional proverb is “Grain rain brings up the growth of hundreds of grains,” but in Taipei we like to think that “Grain Rain” brings great gains and on good years an extended period of mid 20s degree sunny weather. We firmly believe April is one of those months that the Taipei weather gods grant us for putting up with the rest of the year.

May 5th,立夏 (lì xià), Start of Summer

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 8
Photo by Lisanto 李奕良 on Unsplash

Translation: And then the temperatures start to rise. On good years, the “Start of Summer” offers us an extension of April in Taipei. On bad years you wake up one day and suddenly it is getting unseasonably warm and the thunder clouds building. In early May expats in Taipei are often reduced to chanting nursery rhymes (and not just for their cram school students).”Rain rain STAY AWAY …”

“立夏吃了蛋,熱天不疰夏” Lì xià chī le dàn, rè tiān bù zhù xiàwhich means if you have eaten eggs on 立夏, hot weather is not going to cause you summer fever.

Proverb of possibly dubious conventional wisdom

May 20th, 小满 (xiǎo mǎn), Small Full (Grain)

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 9
Credit: Facebook

Translation: In East Asia they sometimes call it the “Plum Rain” which we translate as “f***ing [bleeping] glum rain.” Welcome to the start of the soggy sneakers season for at least the next few months. Such is the life we choose to live. We wear flip flops when we can. Oh and it starts getting hot.

June 5th, 芒种 (máng zhǒng), Grain in Ear

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 10
Photo Credit: Jeff Chen

Translation: If you think of the outdoor experience as a permanent low grade fever coupled with excessive sweating, it isn’t so bad. It’s just your body re-adjusting to the steam machine that is Taipei. For you greenhorns out there, remember to hydrate. This particular bronco, also known as June or “Grain in the Ear,” takes no prisoner. In fact we sometimes find ourselves wondering how many people suffer from dehydration while being stuck in a climate of afternoon downpours. While they say dragons in Asia are creatures of rain, we secretly think it is just a massive conspiracy that lends some sort of soggy logic to the boat races that typically occur this time of year.

June 21st, 夏至 (xià zhì), Summer Solstice

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 11
Photo Credit: Taipei Times

Translation: Well it’s important to be grateful that it isn’t typhoon season yet. But seriously, bring your sunscreen and your umbrella because it will likely be scorching hot in the morning and likely pouring by the afternoon.

Some foreigners call it quits this time of year and migrate elsewhere, but we try to tough it out and enjoy this point in the year. We think of this time as when we’ve finally acclimated to the broiling heat that makes you sweat without doing anything, and, each afternoon it’s like a hot water outside bath (whether you want one or not). During this time in Taipei we often find ourselves pleading with the weather overlords, “No this is not what Adele meant in her song ‘set fire to the rain.'”

Jul 6th, 小暑 (xiǎo shǔ). Minor Heat

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 12
Photo Credit: Just Taiwan Tour

Translation: If you are new to the Island, it’s okay, it is not the gods peeing on you. It’s just that the crockpot of an airmass over this part of Asia extends higher than the upper atmosphere and there is no place for the water, now sweating out of the sky, to cool down either. A seasoned expat pro-tip is to dodge from AC location to location as you move about the city (we believe they place 7-Elevens so close together for exactly this purpose). And if you think about it like a video game with a heat tolerance health bar, you will be distracted from the fact that you are almost never not sticky/sweaty/slightly damp.

Jul 22nd, 大暑 (dà shǔ), Major Heat

Translation: The way we see it, you have one of three options come mid July or “Major Heat”

  1. Embrace the boil. Just lean into the sweat and enjoy it. It’s a free steam bath and sauna every time you step outside. And, although it may also be something that you want to bring up with your therapist, there is something slightly, if not perversely, enjoyable about being out and about in a world so warm. It’s a freeing, beach, beer, live your life with permanent sweat stains type of weather.
  2. Stay at home and turn your apartment into an icy cave-like abode with the AC cranked through the roof. The only trips out are for meals, because no idiot would cook in their apartment this time of year, and to get more bags of ice for your bathtub where you float and dream of temperatures that reach below 27 degrees in the evenings.
  3. Dive DEEP into the TCM and Ayurvedic worlds. The cultures of Asia have been dealing with high temperatures for far longer than the sweaty pasty sods of Europe and North America. And over the millenniums, these cultures have discovered a number of foods, medicines, and techniques for reducing heat within the body. Placebo or otherwise, you try them because the alternative is to endure the climate of Hell’s coatroom.

Aug 7th, 立秋 (lì qiū), Start of Autumn

In Taiwan they call the Start of Autumn the “Autumn Tiger” 秋老虎. Which translates to something like “Indian summer” or not even close to feeling like Fall.

Translation: There’s an American country song called “Ride the Lightning” that we have in our Spotify Typhoon Playlist. We think its lyrics fit rather well to the feeling of being an Expat in Taipei during your first summer typhoon. By this point in the summer you have likely experienced some crazy thunderstorms in Taipei, but a Typhoon is something else. Taiwan tracks its typhoons obsessively (and for good reason) but you will be well alerted and well aware when one is coming. Our advice is stock up on groceries with the rest of the Island and to pick up an extra gallon of water just in case. Things could get pretty wild, but despite your curiosity (and in all seriousness), do not go outside during the typhoon. As you’re listening to the winds howl and the rains crash, we suggest alcohol and a jamming playlist that captures the eerie build up and fury of the event. “Hurricane” by Band of Heathens is also kind of fun.

Aug 22nd,处暑 (chù shǔ), Limit of Heat

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 15
Photo Credit: Rough Guides

Translation: Ghost Month, Sweat Fest, August, whatever you would like to call it, it’s a sultry slog. We hit the beach when we can because it the only way to retain some of our sanity and because sometimes there are fewer people than the crowds of July (there’s a superstition about swimming during Ghost Month but certainly not all follow it).

Sep 7th,白露 (bái lù), White Dew

“When it comes to wheat-sowing, the White Dew (Bailu) is too early, the Cold Dew (Hanlu) too late. The Autumnal Equinox (Qiufen) is the high time.”

Well Known Solar Term Proverb
Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 16
Photo Credit: RTI

Translation: And then, somewhere between the end of August and the start of September, you will wake up one morning to notice the light a little changed and the temperatures just a whisper cooler. Not a lot but just a little. It’s certainly not fall, but it is a promise of change that will keep you hoping despite the few remaining weeks of unbearable heat. As a reminder, it is still typhoon season so don’t think you are out of the clutches of the Taiwanese steam-basket just yet.

Sep 22nd, 秋分 (qiū fēn), Autumnal Equinox

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 17
Photo Credit: Spend Life Traveling

Translation: The Mid-Autumn Festival in Taiwan might be better characterized as “late summer fest” but we don’t mind. There’s a change in the air and on good years those blue sky October days even come a little early. One website we ran across wrote of late September, “seize this time of year to enjoy some mooncakes and pomelos while bathing in the fragrance of osmanthus.” We could not agree more.

Oct 8th, 寒露 (hán lù), Cold Dew

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 18
Photo Credit: We Fun Taiwan

Translation: Welcome to our favorite time of year in Taipei. Like April, October is the well deserved reward for having endured the furnace and the downpours that is summer in Taiwan. We like to think October allows us to feel forged anew and we love to get out hiking and exploring the Island.

Oct 23rd, 霜降 (shuāng jiàng) Frost Descent

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 19
Photo by catrina farrell on Unsplash

Translation: Our own nickname for this term is “Frosting on the Cake.” It’s not summer, it’s not winter, it’s not raining and in Taipei we have no problem celebrating this fact.

Nov 7th, 立冬 (lì dōng), Start of Winter

Translation: Make your way to the forests for the leaves are putting on their production. Early November is that liminal time where the air slowly turns from warm to crisp to cool and sometimes back again. The Northern Nimbostratus Season has not yet begun and Taipei is still graced with blue sky days.

Nov 22nd, 小雪 (xiǎo xuě), Minor Snow

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 20
Photo Credit: Trip Savvy

Translation: It’s the swan song of fall in Taipei. If you have hikes or things to do outside, get them done soon. That first week of December may just bring with it a cold front.

Dec 6th, 大雪 (dà xuě), Major Snow

A timely snow promises a good harvest

Translation: While there’s no snow in Taipei, there is a cold front that often descends on the Island sometime within the last week of November or the first two weeks of December. While we would have paid cold hard NTD for a breath of cold air in July, this time of year it is an unwelcome reminder of the long wait till April. Break out the layers!

Dec 21st冬至 (dōng zhì), Winter Solstice

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 21
Photo Credit: Reddit

Translation: Puffy Jackets are out in force, hot tea, hot springs, warm coffee shops are a few of our tips on staying warm in Taiwan in the winter time. It can be a truly chilly time of year. Temperatures are often in the teens and you struggle to get and stay warm. You go days without seeing the sun, it often rains, and you start to wonder if you are being punished for something or if you should invest in a happy lamp (the answer to both is probably).

Jan 6th, 小寒 (xiǎo hán), Minor Cold

Translation: Mark Twain’s quote about San Francisco equally applies to Taipei (just for our winter). There are bright spots, random days and small moments of sun that remind us not to give up hope the New Year has come and it reasons that brighter days will at some point come too.

Jan 20th, 大寒 (dà hán), Major Cold

“For his residence, earth was piled to form a hill and a hundred plum trees, which along with lofty pines and tall bamboo comprise the friends of winter, were planted.”

-Lin Jingxi, Record of the Five-cloud Plum Cottage (五雲梅舍記)

Translation: We like to start our days in January with the song “Walking on Sunshine,” because we need to be reminded that somewhere in the world there is warmth and love and light (normally this can be found just a little ways down the west coast). Plums, bamboo, and pine are considered “the friends of winter” in Chinese because they continue to grow/thrive, but in Taipei they may be the only ones that truly enjoy the season. We also think the original author of this proverb may have forgotten to add “whiskey, “hot springs,” and “warm bubble tea” to his friends list so we’ll mention them here. “It’s time to feel good!” (and we like to be inclusive). Stay warm out there.


And those are the Solar Terms as they apply to Taipei from a foreigner’s perspective. For all of the better translators out there, we eagerly await your edition.

“Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night” (Hal Borland).

Charting the Seasons: A Foreigner's (semi-true) Guide to Solar Terms in Taipei 24
Photo Credit: Yameme


  • No comments yet.
  • chat
    Add a comment