aircon’d

cloud cover over hanoi, sunsetmost of the days since we came back from our trip to Sapa and Lao Cai (which deserves its own blog post) have been cruelly hot and humid, wavering between 35 and 45 degrees Celsius, prompting me to tweet the following message a few days after returning from China: “good morning Hanoi. heat is hovering around 40 C and weaker air conditioners are breaking down, including the one at home. -_-;;” After spending almost thirty years growing up in Canada, I’ve never known an agony like trying to sleep in 40-degree weather (104 F) with no air conditioning. Well, OK, trying to sleep with a kidney stone was definitely worse in terms of agony, but this one’s up there too. I spent something like four days staying with Duyen—one of the Baha’is on the Vietnamese Nat’l Spiritual Assembly—and his family, because they have pretty powerful air conditioning. That’s when I learned about the cultural characteristics of air conditioning. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Canada, 21 degrees C (~70 F) is considered a comfortable room temperature, right? Not in Vietnam. If I set the air conditioning to 21 C I would get smacked. When I discussed it with him before going to bed, Duyen told me he would usually set the air conditioner to 30 C to be comfortable—which made me go O_O.

Above and beyond mere numerical values, people seem to use air conditioning in a different way here, too. I’ve tried setting air conditioners to 21 C here and what actually happens makes the room seem way too cold. Maybe this is because people use overpowered air conditioners in small rooms, or put the thermostats in odd places. I tried setting the temperature to 24 C for a few nights and found that it was uncomfortably cold. What’s more, the air conditioner didn’t seem to shut off at all, it just kept on blowing cold air into the room as if it was blissfully unaware of the temperature. Where I would expect a comfortable, cool-ish temperature, I feel as if I have to wrap myself up into a blanket to keep from catching a cold. All of this just leads me to ask the question: how in God’s name am I supposed to use the air conditioning here?

Speaking of catching colds, by the way, I learned the hard way that I have to be proactive in dealing with air conditioning here in Vietnam when I caught a cold from sitting in an absolutely frigid air-conditioned Vietnamese coffeeshop around the beginning of the month, which persisted until a few days ago, when I agreed to undergo a traditional Vietnamese herbal steam treatment to cure me of my lingering sniffles. It worked, but not after I dragged a persistent cough and cold through three different countries on a trip through Hong Kong, China and Macau—and this at a time just after the WHO decided to label the H1N1 swine flu crisis a pandemic, triggering automatic quarantine if you so much as cough at a border station.

Since then, I’ve been acutely aware of these wide-mouthed cooling machines lining the ceilings or rising up from the floors, and wary for those that are set to some innocuous temperature like 18 degrees C, but which, in reality, are set to Cirno-style “CRYO-FREEZE WITH ENGLISH BEEF” setting. Sigh. …why do so many things have to be so different here?

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