Lessons from the cold in Bangkok

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It shouldn’t be that cold in Bangkok.

Well, let’s say “cold.” Yesterday night it was around 16°C (61°F) on the mercury combined with a relatively cool breeze, so the individually felt temperature might have been even a bit lower.

But, I mean, 16°C, come on…

Just look at the news headlines:

COLD WAVE SWEEPS THAILAND!

COLDEST WEATHER IN DECADES!

BANGKOK SHIVERS!

16 CELSIUS IN THE CAPITAL! BRRRRR!

BANGKOKIANS COMMUTE IN THEIR WINTER ATTIRE!

BRUTAL COLD SPELL TO LAST UNTIL FRIDAY!

…and the social media comments on Twitter hashtags such as #หนาวจนต้องร้องขอชีวิต which means “It’s so cold I’m scared to death,” with people complaining they can’t go to school or work because of the cold spell, they won’t shower as the water is too chilly, they can’t feel their feet and bones anymore and so on.

Last night, feeling pleasant in the moderately cool air and not sweating at all for a full day, the first such day I can remember in almost five years of living in Bangkok, I checked the weather elsewhere.

New York? -3°C and snow storms.

Toronto? -8°C and snow fall.

Moscow? -10°C and foggy.

Ulaanbataar? -32°C with ice fog and chilly winds that make it feel like -40°C.

See: There are places where it’s much worse.

But what is really scary about the low temperature in Bangkok is that the subjective perception of the city is changing.

Normally, the day temperature in Bangkok is between 32°C and 34°C for most of the year, but the extreme humidity makes it feel like close to 40°C and the sweating never stops. It makes the mind perceive the city as being constantly under steam – so different from colder climates –, it makes it frivolously hot, thick, sticky and, well, sexy. The haze, paired with smoke from food stalls, exhaust fumes from the heavy traffic, sweet smell of tropical fruits, bad odour from the stinking canals, sewage pipes and open garbage bags, sweat, cheap perfume, stale cigarette smoke from open bar doors, lemon grass, fresh mango and durian and chili and thousands of other scents, is constantly obscuring and beclouding the senses.

It literally drugs the visitor with this nebulous hot and smelly haze, frivolous enough with fashionably-clad women walking down the sidewalks, and office workers and motorcycle drivers delightfully munching noodle soup at street stalls and Thai music echoing out of open windows. It’s chaotic and overwhelming. It’s the tropics and it has to be hot.

But with the cold weather all this suddenly changes. The mind gets refreshed by cooler air, the fresh breeze dissolves the intoxicating blend of odours, the colorful impressions drain away and sobriety sets in.

Bangkok cables_Arno MaierbruggerThe normally scantily-clad women put on their rarely used winter attires, and those garbs are certainly not of the latest fashion. They suddenly look shabby and their charm is abruptly gone. Many food stalls close down and the spicy, yummy odours vanish and give way for the sulphur-like smell from the stagnant canals and the black, sticky mud that collects in them.

Without the heat obfuscation, one notices how dirty Bangkok’s streets are, how dilapidated the sidewalks are, how many rats, cockroaches and louse-ridden cats and potentially rabid stray dogs are around. How polluted and full of garbage the city is, how low the hygiene standards are and how badly maintained everything is, from the loose pavement cobbles to the unmounted electrical wires hanging freely from their poles to the abandoned phone booths which now mainly serve as public urinals. Street beggars fall in some sort of torpor, lying around motionless in dark corners, as if they were corpses, enveloped in thick, filthy blankets, and one realises how many of them there are.

It is much like in Stanislaw Lem’s 1971 book The Futurological Congress where he describes a world where everybody is on hallucinogenic drugs mixed in the public water supply by a rogue government, and the hallucinations have replaced reality. When getting off the drugs, the masquerade dissolves and the book’s protagonist realises that he is not living in a beautiful modern city but in a dark, cold, dirty and dystopian urban chaos.

The cold spell transforms Bangkok into just another filthy Southeast Asian city as it loses its “hot” atmosphere. Sure, there are other dirty capitals, just take Phnom Penh, by far the worst, and parts of Manila, Yangon or Jakarta. But this is obvious whether it’s cold or not. Just Bangkok loses its flair rapidly when temperatures drop.

This is why it shouldn’t be that cold in Bangkok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It shouldn’t be that cold in Bangkok. Well, let’s say “cold.” Yesterday night it was around 16°C (61°F) on the mercury combined with a relatively cool breeze, so the individually felt temperature might have been even a bit lower. But, I mean, 16°C, come on... Just look at the news headlines: COLD WAVE SWEEPS THAILAND! COLDEST WEATHER IN DECADES! BANGKOK SHIVERS! 16 CELSIUS IN THE CAPITAL! BRRRRR! BANGKOKIANS COMMUTE IN THEIR WINTER ATTIRE! BRUTAL COLD SPELL TO LAST UNTIL FRIDAY! …and the social media comments on Twitter hashtags such as #หนาวจนต้องร้องขอชีวิต which means “It’s so cold I’m scared to death,”...

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It shouldn’t be that cold in Bangkok.

Well, let’s say “cold.” Yesterday night it was around 16°C (61°F) on the mercury combined with a relatively cool breeze, so the individually felt temperature might have been even a bit lower.

But, I mean, 16°C, come on…

Just look at the news headlines:

COLD WAVE SWEEPS THAILAND!

COLDEST WEATHER IN DECADES!

BANGKOK SHIVERS!

16 CELSIUS IN THE CAPITAL! BRRRRR!

BANGKOKIANS COMMUTE IN THEIR WINTER ATTIRE!

BRUTAL COLD SPELL TO LAST UNTIL FRIDAY!

…and the social media comments on Twitter hashtags such as #หนาวจนต้องร้องขอชีวิต which means “It’s so cold I’m scared to death,” with people complaining they can’t go to school or work because of the cold spell, they won’t shower as the water is too chilly, they can’t feel their feet and bones anymore and so on.

Last night, feeling pleasant in the moderately cool air and not sweating at all for a full day, the first such day I can remember in almost five years of living in Bangkok, I checked the weather elsewhere.

New York? -3°C and snow storms.

Toronto? -8°C and snow fall.

Moscow? -10°C and foggy.

Ulaanbataar? -32°C with ice fog and chilly winds that make it feel like -40°C.

See: There are places where it’s much worse.

But what is really scary about the low temperature in Bangkok is that the subjective perception of the city is changing.

Normally, the day temperature in Bangkok is between 32°C and 34°C for most of the year, but the extreme humidity makes it feel like close to 40°C and the sweating never stops. It makes the mind perceive the city as being constantly under steam – so different from colder climates –, it makes it frivolously hot, thick, sticky and, well, sexy. The haze, paired with smoke from food stalls, exhaust fumes from the heavy traffic, sweet smell of tropical fruits, bad odour from the stinking canals, sewage pipes and open garbage bags, sweat, cheap perfume, stale cigarette smoke from open bar doors, lemon grass, fresh mango and durian and chili and thousands of other scents, is constantly obscuring and beclouding the senses.

It literally drugs the visitor with this nebulous hot and smelly haze, frivolous enough with fashionably-clad women walking down the sidewalks, and office workers and motorcycle drivers delightfully munching noodle soup at street stalls and Thai music echoing out of open windows. It’s chaotic and overwhelming. It’s the tropics and it has to be hot.

But with the cold weather all this suddenly changes. The mind gets refreshed by cooler air, the fresh breeze dissolves the intoxicating blend of odours, the colorful impressions drain away and sobriety sets in.

Bangkok cables_Arno MaierbruggerThe normally scantily-clad women put on their rarely used winter attires, and those garbs are certainly not of the latest fashion. They suddenly look shabby and their charm is abruptly gone. Many food stalls close down and the spicy, yummy odours vanish and give way for the sulphur-like smell from the stagnant canals and the black, sticky mud that collects in them.

Without the heat obfuscation, one notices how dirty Bangkok’s streets are, how dilapidated the sidewalks are, how many rats, cockroaches and louse-ridden cats and potentially rabid stray dogs are around. How polluted and full of garbage the city is, how low the hygiene standards are and how badly maintained everything is, from the loose pavement cobbles to the unmounted electrical wires hanging freely from their poles to the abandoned phone booths which now mainly serve as public urinals. Street beggars fall in some sort of torpor, lying around motionless in dark corners, as if they were corpses, enveloped in thick, filthy blankets, and one realises how many of them there are.

It is much like in Stanislaw Lem’s 1971 book The Futurological Congress where he describes a world where everybody is on hallucinogenic drugs mixed in the public water supply by a rogue government, and the hallucinations have replaced reality. When getting off the drugs, the masquerade dissolves and the book’s protagonist realises that he is not living in a beautiful modern city but in a dark, cold, dirty and dystopian urban chaos.

The cold spell transforms Bangkok into just another filthy Southeast Asian city as it loses its “hot” atmosphere. Sure, there are other dirty capitals, just take Phnom Penh, by far the worst, and parts of Manila, Yangon or Jakarta. But this is obvious whether it’s cold or not. Just Bangkok loses its flair rapidly when temperatures drop.

This is why it shouldn’t be that cold in Bangkok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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