Our family cabin in Northern Wisconsin, Winter 2013-14 – A DOOZY.

You know it’s hot here, which makes it all the more important to know how to regulate your body temperature in the tropics.

I pretty much can’t shut up about how hot (or, alternately, how rainy/humid/flooded) it is, every single day – if there are two things Westerners like to talk about, it’s politics and the weather… and you can’t talk about either here.

I’m still not entirely sure how I got here, weather-wise.

I’m a generally warm person descended from people that originated in northern Europe (Norway, Sweden, Germany, etc), and I’ve lived all my formative years in places that usually received a pretty decent load of snow and freezing cold crap for several months a year – Wisconsin and Chicago can be very cold places.

So, naturally… Vietnam! …Huh?? But it was new, different, the development pace was right, and the challenges they were facing as a people/city/country were fascinating… so here I am in the tropics, sweating my butt off and playing fast and loose with body odor.

I’ve had to find ways to survive the heat.
Average F* temperatures in HCMC.
They were slightly higher last year.

Weather doesn’t have the meaning that it does in places with four seasons, and time dilates and contracts in unexpected waves, leaving your time sense a mushy, sweaty mess. You start to accept the fact that you will never, ever be dry again, and pretty much always smell like a sweaty, hard-workin’ dude. Even if you’re just laying in front of the fan in the AC – still a sweaty dude. Maybe even if you’re a female – no way of knowing first hand, but I’m making some educated guesses about biology and heat.

It’s been a process of trial and error as I attempted to emulate Vietnamese habits without side-eyeing too hard about how strange they might appear at first glance. Deodorant is a necessity, even if it doesn’t last more than a few hours. Cologne is a fanciful pipe dream. Ice cream is amazing at any hour of the day or night all year round. The insides of grocery stores are suddenly fish-scented frosty wonderlands.
Fortunately, after a year of Tropic Weather even I have been able to discover a few methods to reduce my heat madness… and maybe saving me from actual psychological madness in the process.
  • Shade. Stay in it. Saigon is full of enormous trees (really, really huge, in some cases) and they provide a fair amount of shade. If you’re on a motorbike, feel free to stop several meters away from the light, even if there’s no one else there, to take advantage of 30 seconds of shade. Others will take it if you don’t, so don’t feel silly! Furthermore, midday is a serious energy-sapper. Try and move as little as possible and, for god’s sake, don’t exercise outside during this time. You could hurt yourself.
  • Drink warm liquids. DISCLAIMER: I avoid this, because warm water is gross, obvs. But Vietnamese insist, and science indicates they’re probably right – even if it’s a counter-intuitive thought to me. The warmer a glass of water is, the less energy your body expends bringing it up to your core temperature, and the ‘cooler’ you stay. True, you don’t have that immediate relief from the heat you’re dying for, but your average temp remains lower.

Soo–oop of the mooorrrrning, beautiful soup
  • The same goes for meals – hot soup in the morning will help you avoid putting something like cool foods or breads into your body, which take more energy to digest. When you’re a zillion degrees, every single calorie counts – as well as how it travels through your body.
  • Graze: avoid big meals, unless they’re soup. Eating a big meal will warm you up as your metabolism kicks into higher gear, especially one with lots of proteins. Try to eat smaller meals and snacks throughout the day, and you will keep your core temp down… and stay healthier, too.
    • The cold exception: fruit juices and shakes. Always cold. Always delicious. Probably psychological, but this is the tropics and there’s fruit everywhere – you’d have to be a fool not to get all the fruit nutrients your body could want, and even more foolish to not drink that sweet nectar chilled.
Proofreading english exercises yields some fun surprises sometimes.
  • Loose, light clothing. This is often a challenge for me because I’m a teacher – I have to wear a dress shirt and slacks everyday. Furthermore, I personally can’t NOT wear an undershirt, because otherwise I have nothing to soak up that first layer of sweat in the morning. But if I could, I’d wear much less, and encourage the flow of air – there’s usually a nice breeze. Conservative Vietnamese culture really prohibits people from getting as loose and light as I’ve seen in other SE Asian countries, especially in the cosmopolitan city. I’ve heard that seersucker is a good fabric to wear if you’ve got any. Or just as little as possible.
Terrace Time
  • Turn off the heat-producing devices. Stay away from the oven (if you have one that works). Try not to iron or run machines that produce a lot of heat during the day. My laptop is the devilish exception to this – it’s fairly old now (5 years) and it produces a TON of heat – ~130-150 degrees F regularly, sometimes up to 170 – and, since the skin on your wrists is some of the thinnest on your body, typing for long periods of time tends to make me much hotter than I otherwise would be. Outside is not a good place to work on my laptop… and my lap is a much worse place for it to be, ever.
  • Cool your wrists and temples. Run cool water over your wrists (if it’s available, we have no hot/cold water here, it’s just all kind of warmish) or splash some on your temples. You’ll feel fresher and your core temp will lower. The back of your neck is also a good place to put a cool rag. As water evaporates from your body, your temperature will lower.
  • If you can, plant trees and plants in a breezy place. I don’t know if it’s physical or psychological, but it makes a hell of a difference to me. It could also be that I spend time in my terrace garden, which is quite breezy, and usually in the evening. The tops of residential buildings are great places to be on long, lazy Saigon nights.
Or make your own shade!
  • Keep cold bags in the freezer. I use several of those hot/cold bags for injuries to keep me cool in extreme temperature. I also have a rotating collection of half full plastic bottles filled with ice (yeah, cold water, sue me) that I fill with drinking water right before leaving the house. There’s usually a bit of ice left by the time I get to my first school for the day, and a bottle of very cold water to boot! And it stays that way for like 20 minutes!
  • Fans. Ceiling fan. Floor stand fan. USB-powered fan. Extra fan on the bed. Hand-powered fan. Use a fan, or 7.
  • Cold showers. I take 1-2 showers in an average work day. It’s simply too hot. Get under the water and close all your pores… they’ll reopen soon enough, don’t worry.
  • Drink isotonic liquids. These are drinks like gatorade – ones that provide B vitamins and salt for your body, replacing the massive amount of electrolytes jumping ship through your skin. My favorite bottled version here is a drink called Revive, if I can’t find a fresh, cold coconut on the street (I resisted coconut water for so long, even when I worked at a gym, but I’m a complete convert now! So refreshing). Most of the other bottle brands are a flavor called ‘salty lemon’ which is exactly what it sounds like (and occasionally craveable).
  • When all else fails… find a cafe with AC and wait for that great flaming ball of cancer to set. Don’t worry – night falls early here year-round, and the relief is almost immediate.
These are a few of the tricks I use to prevent puddle-ation. And they all work for me… to some degree (ha). I’m naturally just a very sweaty person, but that’s good too – sweating is your body’s attempt to cool down. Got any other good ones? Please leave them in the comments! My body thanks you in advance!