Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cultural Confusion: Thais and Heat



So. Let me get this straight. In Si Prachan today, it's 85 degrees F, but feels 92. There's only a four mph breeze, 72% humidity, and the UV index is a raging 10. Got it. Translation: Don't go outside. But here's the crazy thing- I see little to no efforts being made by those native to the region to reduce the sheer oppressiveness of the heat, and in fact, I feel as if efforts are made in the opposite- People make themselves hotter.

1. Clothing: First of all, riap roy is so culturally important, I can't overemphasize it enough. Again, riap roy is dressing appropriately for the situation- formally for work, special occasions, etc., and informally (but conservatively) for informal situations. In general, however, I more often than not see people dress in pants and/or long sleeves even when just going to markets or shops, and I'm just baffled.  Volunteers always have to appear riap roy, and the times we don't, there's always a collective sigh of relieve from us because we can dress to match the weather, not necessarily the social environment. Imagine sitting in 85 degree rooms in professional clothing for eight hours after biking one to eight kilometers just to get into work. Yes, not fun. The only reason it's acceptable to perma-sweat here is because everyone else is too.

Additionally, since the UV-index is so high, people wear long sleeves, pants, and even entire head/face masks to protect their skin from the sun. I understand this from a health perspective. However, there is also a social aspect to this, in that I believe there is generally more social acceptance of those with lighter skin than darker. It seems that beauty/society ideals here place greater value on light skin, as dark skin will connote working in the fields and thus being of lower socio-economic status. It is therefore incredibly common to see people riding their scooters completely bundled up in the 90+ degree heat.

2. Food: First, much of the food here is served piping hot. Literally, some foods have coals beneath the dish to ensure its temperature at serving time, and there are vents that just blast heat all around the table. As if sitting in an un-air conditioned area isn't hot enough, I need flames being shot at me as well. Ever eat scalding hot soup on a 95 degree day with 100% humidity? Well, I don't necessarily recommend it. Since hot food just isn't the same without an equal amount of temperature hot to spicy hot, spices are added for good measure. Phew, I love sweating from every inch of my body from the sun, hot food, and spice. I'd hate to leave one out.

3. Social gatherings: Finally, where there's food, there're Thais. I'm getting the impression Thais live for social gatherings. I've been here two weeks and have been to two festivals, two weddings, a pre-wedding dinner, and a monkhood celebration. In each case, there were hundreds to thousands of people indulging in the entertainment. Many of these venues are also incredibly small, either by design OR space is limited by the minimal amounts of shade, where people often tend to settle. In the case of the festivals, streets are overrun by overhead tarps (trapping in heat), shoulder to shoulder people moving as quickly as they can, and vendors selling hot treats. At weddings, people are seated under shade tents, shoulder to shoulder, eating blazing hot food. See where I'm headed with this? I swear there is no relief from any heat. Ever.

My professional rendering of how hot it is here

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