Sweaty State of Mind

Posted: October 2, 2010 in Life in the Philippines
Tags: , , , ,

Are you laughing at my parasol, fellas? If you lived here, you'd carry one too.

How do you know you live in the tropics? When you haven’t taken a hot shower in nine weeks–and there’s no problem with that.

To call the heat here a “climate” is almost an insult to the towering, malevolent presence that lurks inside every day, waiting to waylay any careless biped who makes the mistake of inadvertent sun exposure, quick movement, or excess clothing. As with its counterpart the rain (the only time when it’s not hot), the heat is respected and accounted for by all but the foolhardy, the ignorant, and the dying.

How to put it in context? Here’s a brief bulleted list for the businesslike or attention-deprived.

Possible non-sweat-inducing activities:

  • standing or sitting in the shade
  • sleeping in a basement
  • being in a coma

Sweat-inducing activities:

  • washing dishes
  • walking sans umbrella
  • toweling off too briskly after a cold shower
  • thinking too hard

To illustrate, early in our stay here, I made the mistake of being the fastest-walking person on the street (hurrying to work)–but by the time I realized my mistake, I had sweat dripping down into the waistband of my pants after five minutes. It was more sweat than I excrete during a ten-mile trail run back home. And if you forget deodorant, woe to your co-workers and neighboring riders on public transportation! At first I puzzled over the women and men walking under umbrellas on sunny days, but it soon became clear to us that portable shade for that 100 yards between jeepney and trike can be the difference between spritzing and soaking your shirt.

What astounds us is how Manileños seem to be acclimated.  I’ll be panting, doglike, in dri-fit t-shirt, shorts, and tsinelas (Tagalog for flip-flops), while all around on the jeepney are locals rocking dress pants, jeans, and sometimes (cerebellum-smasher) long-sleeved shirts!

Oh, and apparently we missed the really hot time of year. Great.

* So where does everyone hang out in metro Manila, where people don’t want to be tan and there are few parks anyway? Malls. Why? They’re the only free public spaces with air conditioning.  Before we came to Manila, we did our best to stay away from shopping malls, and could never imagine why Filipinos would hang out there; now we understand.

*As a footnote for those of you who have lived in or traveled to some toasty places, according to BBC World Weather, Manila has a more uncomfortable climate than Houston, New Orleans, or Phoenix in the US, or than Cairo, Mexico City, or Mumbai. After a pretty thorough search of said BBC site (why is quantifying suffering satisfying?), I found only 7 major cities wordlwide (out of hundreds listed) with more months ranked “extreme” discomfort: Bangkok, Thailand; Calcutta, India; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Karachi, Pakistan; Kuwait City; Muscat, Oman, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia–although only Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh have every other month ranked “high” discomfort like Manila.

  1. Quamme says:

    Laura & Nate- I saw my friend Markus from the Phillipines. He said he’d heard from you but didn’t open the email until the 2nd one because he didn’t recognize the address. He will respond but was waiting to talk to his parents and some friends. I’d be dying in that heat and humidity. My head drips at 65 if I exert myself at all. Had dinner at Toni’s tonight with some other friends and we had a nice time. Take care and stay healthy! Love, Quamme

    • freeisaverb says:

      Hi Quamme! We have so many people and connections to follow up with, so I’m sorry we haven’t made the connection with Markus. Things are going pretty well here, but it never hurts to have more advice! Thanks for reading, and stay cool!

  2. jack davis says:

    Sounds like plenty of good material for a short story titled “Sweat”! J.D.

  3. Mike Clark says:

    It makes me smile to think that even folks accustomed to those climes like the a/c in the mall.

  4. hilary says:

    well, i feel pretty self-righteous about having braved summer in one of the few cities ranked higher than yours. Although I do remember Manila being righteously hot, which is one of the reasons they had us “orient” (ba-dum-ch) to Asia there before heading to In-ja. Way to appreciate the mall for the first time in your consumerist American, advertising career life.

  5. gabriele says:

    Last comment wasn’t completed – don’t know if it will appear.
    Anyway Nathaniel, you did a wonderful job of making me “feel your sweat” but chuckling at the same time. Hope you are Laura are eating enough. Are care packages permitted?
    Love you,
    Aunt Gabriele

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks, Aunt Gabriele! Yes, care packages are permitted, but (as we learned the hard way), mark the dollar value of the package very low on the customs form. They charge for mail on both ends here, but usually for smaller packages it’s not much. We’ll do another post on Filipino food sometime soon! Love you!

  6. Sarah says:

    I can sympathize- we are living in one of those more miserable climates now (Muscat, Oman) and are moving to another one soon (Kuwait City). But it’s funny- you definitely do acclimatize. I don’t sweat nearly as much now than I did when we first moved here…I think you blood thins or something. Great job on the website- keep up the great work! We’re living in the hub of imported slave labor, and I’m so glad that you are calling attention to this.

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks for stopping by Sarah! I thought of you as soon as I noticed Muscat was one of the rare “more uncomfortable than Manila” spots around the world. Stay cool, and hope we can cross paths again sometime when we’re all back in the north country.

  7. […] With the enervating smog and climate in Manila, exercise is far from the mind of the average Filipino.  In fact, one native trait we’ve adopted is doing almost anything to avoid walking; Filipinos will stay on a bus those extra ten feet, take a tricycle to avoid a plodding two blocks, and of course stand on the escalator rather than step up it as impatient Westerners do.  Let me be clear that we’re not talking about laziness here—we’re talking about self-preservation, which is what’s required if you don’t want to always carry a backup shirt (see our earlier post, Sweaty State of Mind). […]

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