Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thai Heat

Living in this tropical city requires a shift in the way one thinks about errands. Bangkok is the world’s hottest city, and with its high humidity, it is simply impossible to make a “to do” list. If the list is any longer than two entries, upon returning to the house, one simply collapses into a whimpering soggy blob.

On a rare day off (akin to a “snow day” except this was for a state of emergency called by the prime minister), I decide to “get lots of things done.” I should know better.

After repotting some outdoor plants and hanging newly framed photos around the house, I remove the laundry from the washing machine and hang it out to dry. A new faculty member wondered why there are no electric dryers in any of the homes; not only does it take longer than simply hanging them on a rack, it also costs money! Despite staying in the shade and the use of two fans, I take my second shower of the day, a simple rinse in cool water straight from the water tank. I rarely use air conditioning, and am not sure why exactly. Maybe it is because I am in and out so frequently that it doesn’t seem practical. But I also feel that a fan cools me sufficiently. There is also something rather exotic and a bit sensual about the Thai heat: With windows open, I can enjoy the birds, the soft jingle of wind chimes in the tree and the rumble of thunder as a storm approaches. Or, maybe I’m just cheap, although I like to think that by resisting air conditioning I am reducing my carbon footprint on the environment.

I pedal my bicycle to the main road just outside the moobahn entrance and stop at a furniture shop that is a simple structure: Awnings cover an array of beautiful handmade chairs, tables, and desks. I buy a rosewood coffee table, which will be delivered today along with the small hardwood table we are having made for our spirit house to sit on. I check in with my friend Marc, who is on his way to have breakfast, so I travel a few blocks to a western-style café that serves a wicked good omelette, and have a mocha “frappacino” while waiting. As do most restaurants, the café has two types of seating; indoor and out. I choose indoors where it is air conditioned, not because I prefer it, but I know that Marc does. Coming from Arizona, he suffers from the humidity. Besides, it is nearing noon, the hottest time of day, and I can feel the sweat running down my spine.

After breakfast, I ride to a nearby grocery store, “Get It,” to—appropriately--get an ironing board to replace the small Asian-style board that we inherited. I am simply too tall to iron comfortably on such a board. Not only do I buy the board, but the cashier rewards my patronage with two free gifts: Laundry detergent (I had just bought some along with the board), and a pack of Oreos. I suddenly realize what a fantastic trick it would be to ride my bike back home while attempting to balance a full sized ironing board. I stand in the street with, I suppose, a rather bewildered look on my face, trying to size up the situation. Do I walk the bike the entire mile in this heat? Do I lock the bike up and flag a taxi, then return for the bike later? Not wishing to give in to flagrant western whining about inconveniences, and with a bit of stubbornness, I decide to use a bungee cord to strap the board to the handlebar edgewise so it is more or less balanced, grasp the board under my right arm, and, with a bit of anxiety, wobble off toward home, keenly aware of traffic behind me, but the drivers seem aware of my predicament and give me a wide berth as they pass.

Once home, I fumble with the board as I try to dismount. A gardener notices my quandary and hurries to help me so I am able to get the bike and ironing board through the gate. Dripping wet, I put the board into the laundry room and set it up. It is then I realize that the legs are not even…the board wobbles erratically. With a heavy sigh, I contemplate what anyone would do in America: Return to the store and demand a replacement. But as I stand there in the heat, sweat running into my eyes, and a thunderstorm fast approaching, I think of what that would mean in terms of effort. I shrug, fold a piece of paper four times and shove it under the short leg and say to myself, “What the hell…it’s Thailand,” and go inside for my third—and not to be last--shower of the day.


kaposia said...

John, I am Peter Loyd's aunt and I left a message on your blog (at least I think I did) a few days ago. My husband and I are scheduled to be in Thailand from October 2nd through the 9th -- a side trip to Angor Wat and then to Chiang Mai, with our final 2 days in Bangkok. We are wondering if you think we should continue with our plans or divert our itinerary elsewhere. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

John Stiles said...

Hi. I left a comment/answer in response to you. It is on the other entry. You may also email me at