I realise I am about to get very little sympathy from the ice- and snow-bound denizens of anyone living either above or below the 45th parallel, but there is such as thing as “too hot”. Having arrived in these Asiatic climes as a pale-faced, pale-skinned, massive bicep-ed (made up the last one) farang, who is far happier wearing a corduroy jacket and hemp-upper weave shoes in the -40C wind chill of a particularly warm Ottawa evening; or happily splashing around in the enormous puddles of a rutted, winding single trackway that meanders to an idyllic English church, then to descend from the relative coolness of a Thai Airways plane into the humidity and blistering sun of the Golden Peninsula was a shock to the system that has taken some months to get over.
If there’s one thing I miss on a weekly basis it is the lack of seasons out here. Yes, I know we get the “rainy” season but, as with all things meteorological these days, the chat about the weather isn’t so much a meandering preamble to asking about the weather, such as:
“What’s in your shopping bag? Ooh, jam? Strawberry, as well” I say, admiring holding it up to catch the weak autumnal early morning light of Sussex. The lid is twisted off and an encouraging finger dipped in. “Forsooth! and a touch of blackberry? Genius. So…good weather today, then?” The kind of conversation heard the length and breadth of the Sceptered Isle, according to the tourist guides from those places that aren’t actually the land of UK.
No, now our conversations over the fence are rather a genuine set of queries about “global warming” and “climate change” (let’s be honest here folks, none of the scientists have a clue what’s going on; or they know something they don’t want to tell the media who spout more drivel than a thunderstorm edging slowly down Tornado Alley). The truth is, climate change has reinvigorated the daily opening lines with your neighbours. No longer do we have:
“What’s the weather going to be like today, Vladimir?
“No idea, Estragon. But let’s speculate till Godot turns up.“
But rather a list of statements about how the weather’s just not what it used to be. Same applies in Bangkok. I was told, I read, I listened…the rainy season runs from May to October. Then it’s dry. So far….all I keep hearing is “that’s strange. it never normally rains now” as we stand with tennis balls and racquets gazing forlornly at the brooding dark skies away to the north and east where jagged flashes light the sky ahead of a curtain of rain that’s so hard it’ll batter you into the tarmac. Or I get: “Well, it’s meant to be hot. It’s just a weird day.”
I think we can all agree that, wherever you may live, the weather in your backyard just isn’t what it used to be, and oddly enough, that’s more troubling for our psyche than any thing else, I reckon.
Still…what I can tell you is that in Bangkok it is permanently hot. I read a a claim that the average temperature is 28C. Perhaps if you include the night time, but the reality is we have a Groundhog Day every single day. The heat is in the sunshine rather than the sweltering humidity you get in more tropic areas. By noon it is easily 30C+ in the shade, add another 10C for the sunshine and you are a walking sweat-ball. Every single journey means you pack a small towel, drinks with a trillion ice cubes, a parasol, a spare shirt. Then you’re ready for your 100m walk to the next AC-ed building. Woe betide you if you bump into a friend in the street. Then it becomes a jostling case of maneuvering into the shade, feeling your temperature rising alarmingly, then bolting for AC. Which, although the initial blast of refreshing coolness feels great, ensures you become acutely and uncomfortably aware that your shirt is sodden. Nothing beats a cold wet shirt wrapped around you when you are picked up in a farang bear hug of welcome. It’s the sun more than anything here. It lasers across your skin, cooks you, and then for good measure, you get subjected to a tumble dryer experience when the wind deigns to move. I have to say, I am painfully aware that if I cycle round Limpini Park around 2pm, the only other insane people outside are Westerners. Everyone else is resplendently indolent in the shade, even the monitor lizards park their 2m long mammoth butts under a tree or in the water.
Don’t get me too wrong; having heard and read the lamentations of Canadians subjected to yet more heavy snow in April, that, yes, a bit of sunshine and heat would be most welcome for some people. And it is…for about 3 weeks till the novelty wears off, when you realise you are both showering thrice daily and using antibacterial shower gel to prevent heat rash. Then it becomes:
“Is it February? Doesn’t feel like it. Feels like yesterday did and tomorrow will. Hot. Flip-flops, shorts, and a T-shirt then. Same as every day.”
With that in mind try walking in a cocktail dress or pressed suit to a diplomatic function in Bangkok. Which one do you think the Canadian public want to see representing them?
So…after all that, I don’t expect sympathy…or even empathy (perhaps a shirt if you are ever visiting Bangkok) because the reality is that it is possible to complain about the heat as much as you can sniffle on about snow or rain.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?