Former snow bunny Claire Byrne tries to beat the heat. Photograph: PHOTO Nathalie Marquez Courtney
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but it’s been a little toasty of late. Balmy even. Yep, it’s scorching, it’s sizzling, it’s sweltering. It is hot.
I come from a country where the national default conversation-starter is the weather. And I come from Ireland, a nation of few climatic extremes. It rains often, snows rarely and gets a handful of sunny days a year. Yet considering this, we live and die by the weather. A day of heavy rain makes national headlines, 15 degrees is an excuse to wear shorts and take off your shirt and a bit of sleet brings the country to a standstill.
Given that Cambodia is a country of great meteorological contrasts I was shocked to get here and realise the only people who are fazed by the weather are the foreigners. Even when it flooded, it took well over a week before it was deemed newsworthy. And seeing as it’s been hot for, well, what seems like forever, I think it’s high time we Reapers recognised it.
Its name is The Heat.
I’m writing this at 8am. Already The Heat is creeping up on the day like a cruel spectre. The fan is on, the door is open, and I’m scantily-clad (and not in a good way.)
Last night there was a brief interlude in the searing hotness. There was a storm. For one glorious night, I peddled around town glistening from a light rain shower rather than my usual “glow” of perspiration. I sat in a bar without downing my first drink – not because I’m a booze hound – but because I’m usually so thirsty that any liquid, water, beer, margarita, whatever, is like nectar of the gods to me. Last night, I slept with, shock, horror, a sheet over me. Forgive my zeal, it’s been a while.
Now I can’t say I wasn’t warned about The Heat. Since arriving last July, I’ve heard lore of The Heat. Been told: “You won’t be able to handle it”, “You’re going to want to kill yourself” and “You think this is hot? Wait ‘til April”, more times than I care to remember. In truth, I was petrified. Spending a month in varying depths of brown flood water was going to be nothing compared to The Heat.
March gave a taster of what was in store. A smattering of 40 degrees-plus days made me all the more fearful of what lay ahead. Then April kicked in and if anything, it was breezier. There were occasional showers, the humidity was bearable, the evenings were a gorgeous sultry kind of heat. “So far so wonderful” I thought, “These guys are a bunch of wimps.”
Khmer New Year came and went, and a week was spent by the beach, taking tepid dips in the sea, the sun soothed by a wafting breeze.
And then I came home.
Facebook had been the precursor. While I was away I read ominous status updates about killer temperatures; the dust, the humidity, the inability to take a fresh breath of air. We arrived in at 8pm at night, it could have been midday. Even the air was hot to the touch. Stepping out of the air-conditioned mini-van was like stepping off a plane for your summer holidays. Except rather than the novel excitement, there was dread.
The past two weeks have offered only occasional respite from The Heat. Sporadic storms are met with great exhilaration, at least by me. I now, after all my years of complaining about Irish weather, understand the concept of the rain dance.
Skype conversations home, (to my three degrees-suffering family) are filled with me, like a spoilt brat, pleading my case as the unfortunate one, “Dad, I had to go to a really nice hotel last night, just so I could sit in decent air-con for an hour.”
I have discovered pores I didn’t know existed and perspired from every one of them. I have suffered infinite amounts of what my friend coined “sweat attacks”, a sudden, yet unrelenting wave of The Heat that causes your skin to reject all liquid within, and thus, for you, to lose any dwindling grains of attractiveness you still possess.
And that leads me on to my next point. Glossy magazines and music videos are jammed with girls gyrating their way through deserts, bumping and grinding at sweaty parties. There is nothing sexy about sweat. And there is nothing sexy about The Heat. Is has pilfered my ability to wear the clothes I want, my hair how I like it, any make-up whatsoever for longer than 26 seconds.
Most traumatically it has pinched my ability to accessorise. Last week, upon wearing my favourite (albeit fake) necklace for no longer than two hours, I broke out into an ugly, itchy, mangy rash, that’s only now starting to diminish.
Okay, so I’m being superficial. The Heat causes more than just wardrobe malfunctions: work is difficult, getting around is arduous, and for people all over the world The Heat leads to drought, failed crops and starvation. Here is Siem Reap, we are lucky. In a few weeks, the ponchos will be out, the afternoon showers will return, and all will be right with the world again. And if we’re lucky we’ll escape such disastrous flooding this time around.
But until then, we foreigners who are unversed in the perils of The Heat will work our days around ducking and diving the worst of it and dipping into a/c every chance we get. And as for the locals, they’ll continue to shock me with the hoodies, scarves and gloves they swear keeps the heat off.
Please forgive me if I seem too fervent about how freakin’ hot it is right now in Siem Reap. It may not be newsworthy, but it’s news to me.