Heat That Stops Everything




Here in Thailand, New Year’s Day occurs in April, the hottest time of year. It’s been hotter this year than any on record, 105 degrees Fahrenheit every day for the last three weeks. Most people don’t have air conditioning. So when it gets this hot, everybody just gives up. They stop doing anything and lie around in a stupor, waiting for it to cool down. I am one of these.


We do have air conditioning in one bedroom, but the house is so poorly insulated that keeping it cool enough to do more than just lie in bed and stare at the TV or computer is a losing battle. Last week we had the air conditioner serviced, so it’s doing its best grinding away sixteen hours a day fighting the good fight at considerable electrical expense. What cold is to Minnesota, heat is to Chiang Mai. You can’t just adapt. You have to fight back.


Yesterday, I took a bicycle ride during the hottest part of the afternoon. I had to leave the house and get some exercise, and the lanes that wind through villages are conducive to bicycle riding. It’s also reasonably flat down here where the rice paddies are, though there are big mountains nearby as well, which I enjoy on my motor scooter.


I only saw two people out and about in forty-five minutes. It reminded me of the time I visited Phoenix when it was one hundred and twenty degrees. The only people out walking were the homeless. I saw them stumble through the orange haze as I rode along inside an air-conditioned car. They seemed dazed, yet determined.


It’s also bone-dry here, and hasn’t rained in months. Everything that was once lush and green is now brown or doesn’t exist at all. The landscape is like a beautiful girl transformed into a withered hag. I watch movies set in rainy climes and feel bitter pangs of envy.





We went to the movies last week at the nearby shopping mall.  I have never seen anyone Thai or foreign at the movies here who is even remotely my age.  Hardly anyone over the age of 25 can be found in one of these places.  The lobbies of the movie theaters thump with the music of nearby video game arcades.

There were ten theaters.  Eight of them were showing Fast and Furious 7, and the other two children’s cartoons.  She said she liked action movies and wanted to see Fast and Furious, a genre to which I had yet to become accustomed, but as I had even less desire to see the Sponge Bob movie dubbed in Thai, I consented.  The moment we sat down, she promptly fell asleep and I watched the movie alone.

Probably like it’s six previous incarnations, FF7 was an A-Team episode elongated.  Those I used to watch with my four-year-old son Caleb on our little black and white TV, but here I was thirty-one years later, watching a much louder version on a big screen, with my sleeping Thai girlfriend at my side.  This is the kind of movie where plot complications are solved by pressing a red flashing button marked “TURBO.” There were many gratuitous and sentimental pronouncements about the importance of family interspersed with explosions and gunfire.  I imagine this mindless American export is doing big business all over the world, whereas I’m just another old guy living on social security, so who am I to judge a world that increasingly has no meaning for me?

Today is the beginning of Songkran, the Thai new year.  Here they love holidays, and the government declares new ones all the time in order to buy votes.  This is the hottest time of the year, and the tradition is to stand on the side of the street and dump ice water on anyone who dares to venture by, especially those on bicycle or scooter.  It’s sort of cute for the first few minutes, but then you realize this lasts for five more days, and nobody ever seems to tire of it.  For the next five days, this will continue unabated. Again, it has little to do with me, for I’m just another senior citizen on a bicycle, ducking buckets of ice water thrown in my face by grinning youngsters.  I would have to strain to take any of this personally.