Thursday, September 19, 2013

Freezing in the Tropics

In the days when I echoed the wisdom of environmental philosophers, I hated air conditioning. It was dangerous, releasing chemicals into the atmosphere that tore holes in the ozone layer and threatened the future of the planet. The A/C in my Toyota truck remained off. Of course, living on the fog-shrouded central California coast required heat more than additional cooling.

Air conditioning spread like wildfire in the years after WWII when the portable unit was invented. If the desert heat was good enough for Lawrence of Arabia, what need did the wimpy residents of Los Angeles or Morocco have for a modern technology that poisoned the earth and destroyed the ability of humans to adapt to climate change?

And then I expatriated to Thailand where A/C units grow like mushrooms on every building no matter how humble. The three seasons here are hot, hotter and hottest, and humidity creates the atmosphere at street level of a sauna.

These days I try to avoid using the air conditioning in my apartment only because it's an electricity drain and raises my monthly bill dramatically rather than for its contribution to global warming (the air released from the device on my balcony while on is quite warm). I have 2 fans which are almost always on. When I'm working at my desk, though, they tend to blow papers around the room, so I activate the A/C as a way to keep order.

Thais, at least in the big cities, are used to extreme changes in temperature. I learned quickly that cinemas are all cooled to icy temperatures after freezing through several films in my tee shirt and shorts. Now I take a blanket with me. Most taxis, the Skytrain, and the more modern buses are cooled to an extreme degree, as if moderation is an unknown Buddhist precept. My wife always takes a shawl or a long-sleeved sweater with her on cross-town trips. Being old, I usually forget.

My image of the tropics was forged during films by Somerset Maugham when you saw white-suited colonialists sitting under slow moving overhead fans while drinking something refreshing and alcoholic. Sidney Greenstreet would never have plopped down in front if a hulking A/C machine. Wimps.

I got a taste of winter last December in Seoul and I don't miss it. The ache that sub-freezing temperatures bring is not pleasant. Walking into any upscale mall in Bangkok will bring that memory back. But the real pleasure comes when walking out into the heat of the noonday sun outside the air-conditioned pleasure palaces. Schizophrenic? You betcha!

Do you think Nora is too young for Willie?

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