One morning not long after I arrived in Thailand, I walked out of my hotel to a bit of a shock. Although this is the cool season and temperatures should range from the mid- 70’s to the low 90’s, that was not what greeted me that morning! The temperatures were in the lower 60’s, and there was a strong northwesterly wind that made the wind-chill feel like the low 50’s. I almost considered going back for my light packable down jacket, but thought that the temperature would inevitably rise to the 80’s and all would be well. As I settled on a breakfast place in an outdoor market not too far from the hotel, I actually felt that I was sitting in Thailand, but feeling like I was in New York! Everyone was talking about the weather– how cold it was, how they had to get blankets last night, need to buy warmer clothes, etc. But mostly the conversations were around the topic: What is going on with the weather? This kind of weather is not that unusual up in the mountainous North, but in Bangkok it is strange to say the least.
I had to laugh when one of the market ladies caught a glimpse of a Western tourist walking by in tank top and shorts! “How can she stand walking around like that in this weather?” she remarked half in awe and the other in criticism. Fortunately, I was on my way to visit a local temple, so I at least was wearing long pants. She did cast an assessing eye in my direction to see if all Westerners were so crazy, but instead she seemed to decide to move on to rattle some pots before coming to any firm conclusions on the subject.
Now I know some of you are wondering what she was complaining about. The fact is when you’re used to living in temperatures in the 90’s, temperatures in the 50’s are probably the equivalent to 20’s in our more temperate world. I remember one June years ago visiting home after two years here. I stopped off for a few days in Amsterdam. People thought I was nuts too because I was walking around in a jacket while the temperatures there were unseasonably hot. When I finally moved back to the States, I arrived in mid-December. It was the worst feeling. No matter what I did, the core of me could not get warm enough. Adding to the problem was that my dry skin problem resurfaced fast and the years of accumulated tan blew off me like snow in a blizzard.
A few days after the temperatures moderated, I was on my way to Bang Saen by intercity bus to confirm arrangements to rent the condo. Ninety minutes into the trip the warm sun was shining through the window wrapping me in a cocoon of magnified heat. The constant hum of the bus had rendered me into a half-dream state. Suddenly, the sky began to darken and I was jolted by an amazing unseasonable monsoon downpour! The bus had to stop and I could see that cars, people and objects of every kind were being inundated by water rushing down from the side streets. The water in an instant had gotten up to the top of the wheel wells of some of the cars! At first this is alarming, but then you realize it would be over soon. Well, it continued on for about 10 more minutes. In the meantime, the roof of the dated bus began to leak heavily along my side. The man in front of me was soaked in no time! And then just as suddenly as it had begun, the rain stopped.
The bus continued on and within 20 minutes I was getting off the bus at Nong Mon market. We were ahead of the storm and the dark, threatening clouds were moving quickly our way. I decided to go for it and jumped on a minibus. I arrived at the hotel just as the clouds began to circle above us. Amazingly, not one drop of water fell. It just moved on further down the coast to harass another town, I’m sure. The strange things about these storms is the speed in which they travel, the intensity once they start releasing, and how quickly it all dries up once it passes and the sun comes out again. Within 20 minutes you can go from flood to almost all the rain water being dried up!
I started to laugh to myself recalling one of my former English-language students back in New York getting off the school bus one day in a heavy rain storm. I looked at him and said with a lot of mock drama and not too much exaggeration, “Wow! It’s raining cats and dogs!” To which he quickly replied, “No! It’s raining elephants and pigs!” I’m sure that was the year he exited the program!