Parallel U
pt. I

Number 12–Swelter and Svelter and Shelter

About a week ago, mid-March, I came across a copy of the Bangkok Post which featured a picture of a very skimpily dressed manikin with the caption "Retailers prepare for coming hot season." Coming hot season? Temperature range in Bangkok that day was 80 to 95 (27C to 35C). I had been thinking it wasn't really that hot here but found it hard to imagine a reason why that would be true so I ran out and bought a thermometer. Sure enough, 94 at the heat of the day, 86 at 11pm and 80 at 7 the next morning.

We had a few one shower days back in December and January – temperatures generally ranging from high sixties to low eighties, dry (relatively) and pleasant – though most were in the 2 to 3 shower range. I do a lot of walking, so even high 70’s will produce a little sweat. Now we're inching up to 3 to 4. When I lived in Bangkok a decade ago during the hot season – April to mid-May when rainy season begins – I was all the way up to 6 or 7 a day. However, my apartment here in PP is very airy so it won't be as drastic, except of course when you're outside doing anything. No rain since December. Our local paper reported yesterday there's a El Nino Southern Oscilation happening this year so, whereas we normally get a few rainfalls before the monsoon season officially hits, no rain until the end of May.

I used to like cold weather, and really still do in many ways. Bundle up (and don't drink so much coffee it makes you all jumpy and nervous) and there's something very fresh and invigorating and stimulating about cold crisp air. Stamp your feet, rub your hands, shiver your timbers and keep that old circulation going to those extremities; it rosies up those cheeks when you hang out in a brisky chill breeze, and you're healthier and stronger for it.

No need to shiver any timbers here, your goal is to minimize movement. This is a place for languor, torpor and slow slug-moves. Get that trusty hammock in a shady spot, periodically reach over for that proverbial mint-julip, exert just enough effort to keep yourself swinging to generate a little breeze and that old blood circulates just fine. Sweat like a pig (though I doubt if pigs sweat) and just relax, nothing more relaxing.


A couple people have written describing devastating experiences they had with Thai food back in the seventies. Let me tell you, as far as food goes, they've gotten their trip together. Digression: There are a few places where Cambodia is far superior to Thailand in spite of one-tenth the income. For instance, sometime a couple of decades ago someone with important connections in the Thai government got a concession to assemble Japanese 2-stroke motorbikes. For you non-tech nerds out there, all you have to know is they make a lot of smoke and noise. When I first went there in 1992 I couldn't believe the clouds of smoke I was seeing and I was suitably even more incredulous when I learned that clean burning 4-strokes were not permitted. If you really wanted one or anything larger than 150cc's you literally had to bring it in in a basket and assemble it in Thailand.

Today you can find 4-strokes but the smoky twos are still common. Just try to hold a conversation in a sidewalk café and your ears are bombarded with an incessant bang, bang, bang. Not only are they naturally noisy but it's common for young Thais to purposely buy extra loud mufflers and then wind out their motors at every opportunity. They also have a love affair with pickups – very practical, of course – but they're all smoky diesels and they also love to equip them with small mufflers. In contrast, Cambodia, with an exclusively 4-stroke fleet – except for those brought in illegally from Thailand – and trucks with ordinary combustion engines, is blissfully quiet (we're not talking absolute terms here only contrast) and clean. Our biggest pollution comes from blowing dust from unpaved streets.

OK, getting back to food, at least in my experience, a total of 18 months spent there, you can stop just about anywhere you see food in Thailand and not only will it nearly always taste good and be very cheap, you never experience more than very minor stomach problems. Now food is not a big thing to me, "Eat to live" is my mantra, "don't live to eat". In the end result, the latter is counterproductive. There may be pleasure, but it's fleeting. You not only shorten your life by stuffing yourself, and are less capable of doing almost everything else that involves movement, but even worse, as your light is fading you have to deal with sickness and pain. Speaking generally, of course.

That said, it’d be great to be able to eat Thai food now. Oh, we have plenty of Thai restaurants here, as well as a full range of other cuisines, and the food might even be cleaner, but they're all tourist oriented – in other words, way too defferential, I hate being fawned over – and up in the minimum $2-3 range, which I don't do, at least only rarely. When eating out every day I don't want fancy, I want simple and common people's and funky. A nice meal is for special occasions, friends, companionship. By myself, I prefer the $2-plastic-chair, formica-folding-table-with-its-design-nearly-worn-off type. Here, potentially, an internal disaster. Actually, I do have a few trustworthy restaurants that I frequent, but even if I'm good at living to eat I still need a little variety. In fact I believe in dirt, really, eat some dirt and germs every day, keep your system challenged so it knows how to deal with the rare serious stuff. But.. in moderation.

Local people’s food here is typically concoctions cooked up in the morning in aluminum pots that sit out all day and are served as fast food. Even when it's clean, not very appetizing, besides the aluminum thing. Even when the food is cooked on the spot, the meat has been sitting out in the heat all day – not much refrigeration here – or several days, giving those nasty microbes plenty of time to do their thing and multiply. As well as plenty of time for flies to do their thing, "Wow, look at that great heap of garbage over there, and hey, a fresh pile of shit there, and how about that delicious piece of cooked chicken here in this vendor's stall. Great life, isn't it?".