Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Stormy Weather

Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky
Stormy weather

I've been preoccupied with the weather lately, enough for others to comment on it.  Since the first of the year the sky over Bangkok has been hazy, morning, noon and night.  I know this because I live on the 9th floor and have a fabulous view of the city over the Chao Phraya River.  I rise before dawn each day and when the light is dramatic I take a photo to share on Facebook.  For weeks the photos have been the same: dim sun, limited visibility.  It doesn't hurt when I breathe so it isn't smog like the painful air I grew up inhaling around Los Angeles.  There is no smell of smoke so it's not the burning of fallow agricultural fields in the hinterlands.  But it also doesn't feel moist like the fog of London Ella used to sing about.  

A week ago we went to Koh Samed, our gateway destination of choice, for a long weekend before Nan begins her new job.  This is the peak season -- January-February -- for Thai tourism because it's our winter and it rarely rains.  Even when it does, Koh Samed, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand a short distance from the Rayong coast, is rumored to have the driest weather around.  But early in the morning of our first full day we could hear heavy rain beating on the zinc roofs around our hotel, accompanied by thunder and high winds that did a bit of damage to areas close to the beach, knocking over signs and umbrellas.  There is nothing sadder than a beach in the rain full of disappointed sun-seekers.

Of course we made the best of it.  It only rained two different days in the early mornings and the rest of the time the sky was merely overcast.  Restaurants were still set up on the sand in the evening despite a few sprinkles and diners gorged themselves on fresh sea food while drinking liters of beer, puffing on Turkish pipes and watch the fire shows.  Despite the inclement weather, Sai Kaew beach was full of activity: kids playing in the unusually turbulent surf, parasailers floating in the sky, jet skis leaping over the waves, banana boats pulling loads of riders, and dozens of speed boats coming and going, picking up and disgorging passengers for the dozens of beach-front hotels.  

The rain even caused a small nam tuum, the Thai expression for the flooding that so troubled Bangkok at the end of 2011.  A couple of side alleys off the tiny main business district had an excess of water which was slowly removed by a noisy pump.  Umbrellas and plastic rain gear suddenly sprouted in a place where sun more than any of the other elements is worshipped.  Since our last visit almost a year ago, construction has exploded.  We sat in a new two-storey restaurant-bar called The Funky Monkey, drinking cocktails and gazing at the tourists walking down the small street between two 7-11 stores facing each other.  Prices drop a short distance from the beach, with a massage costing 250 baht compared to the 350 charged on the sand.  We dined at a no-frills restaurant on a huge plate of barbecued shrimp.

Weather is one of the safer topics; everyone has an opinion.  Funny how when I complain about it, some suggest I move elsewhere as if weather is the sole draw for where I live or visit.  Certainly the warmth of the sun was one of the considerations when I decided to move permanently to Thailand.  Although I've had memorable experiences in the snow, being cold is not one of them.  Nan delighted in the freezing temperatures and falling snow in Seoul but I felt fat in the many layers of clothing that kept me just warm enough not to suffer excessively.  I preferred standing on the warm floors and sitting on the warm toilet seats to lingering outside during our two all-day excursions when we visited in December.

Weather affects our moods, and vice versa.  I love a good storm and the excuse to curl up on the couch with my digital entertainment.  Day after day of murky weather is a drag.  Huddling on a beach chair while my lady plays in dangerously frothy waves is also not much fun.  I also know that when the skies open and the sun shines benignly down I will quickly relegate the weather to a backdrop.  It is only when it frustrates our intentions that weather becomes a hot topic of conversation.  And it is when the dark nemesis of the psyche hovers motionless overhead that weather becomes a major player in our drama.

I've written at length about the difficulty for me of becoming comfortable with uncertainty.  Change is in the air.  My university continues to pay its part-time teachers erratically which makes  taking care of bills and planning the future a challenge.  I'm not even sure I will be rehired to teach next term which would mean the loss of a work permit and the necessity of the visa boogie to maintain residency.  After several years as a student, Nan has gone to work which means we'll spend considerably less time together.  She's excited and I'm pleased for her but will miss our lazy days together.  My body sends unwanted singles for attention that I ignore at my peril.  Yesterday it was a trip to the hospital to have a recurring eye infection examined.  I know all of this is just the stuff of life -- MY life -- and as Nan repeatedly advises, I should not think so much.  But it's hard to abandon old habits.  When stormy weather arises, inside or outside, I yearn to be able to say with King Lear: "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!  Rage!  Blow"