Posts Tagged 'weather'

Typhoons Vs. Monsoons, Hanoi Vs. Southeast Asia

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So here’s something I never needed to know the difference between before moving to Asia: monsoons and typhoons.

Both big-ass storms, right? I must have learned what they were at some point, in some half-assed curriculum from some out-dated textbook during my laudable California public school education. But seeing as though this knowledge had zero relevance in my life, I conveniently siphoned it off to the mental slush pile along with all the other useless shit that had no impact on my life, such as Civil War dates, the metric system and the geography Midwestern states.

Well I’ll be damned if suddenly some things from that slush pile are not now extremely relevant, with extremely immediate impacts on my life (NOT Civil War dates or Midwestern geography). One, the metric system. Do you know how tall you are in centimeters? I didn’t for the longest time, despite it being an easy conversion for which there’s now an app. I also know how much I weigh in kilos (NOT telling) and how far my morning jog is in kilometers.

The other thing I now know the difference between is a monsoon and a typhoon. Cambodia has monsoons. A monsoon season, in fact, which they’re now in the middle of: big daily rains where it’s like the heavens have unleashed, like someone slashed a cut in the sky and a million silver coins come thundering down, plodding on your tin roof like they may as well be metal. They’re pretty predictable, usually striking some time in the afternoon, so that you can structure your day around them. It’s almost kind of nice, as long as you’re not stuck in it—an hour or two, like dusk or dawn, a way to divvy up the day and mark the passage of time. Like a really long, wet cigarette break.

Monsoons come like this: clear mornings and bright skies. Slowly over the course of the day the clouds thicken, the humidity gathers; you feel the heat press down like a big invisible hand. At around 3 or 4, you see these dark-ass clouds march in, like horsemen of the fucking Apocalypse. The branches start flailing, trying to snap themselves off their trunks and look for shelter; the wind becomes a living thing with a high, howling voice. And just when it feels unbearable, all this tension about to burst, like being inside a big-ass bubble—boom, snap, pow, the pressure pops and the skies open up and it does its thing for a few hours and then it stops, leaving everything flooded and blinking-eyed and with a pleasant little evening breeze that almost makes it all worth it.

I was just starting to get the hang of it, the rhythm of it, when it was up and time to move to Hanoi. Hanoi is tricky cause it’s secretly not Southeast Asia. It’s not Northern Asia either—it’s own little pocket of Something Else, Chinese and French influences toppled on top of its own defiant culture that I can’t quite classify yet but love the hell out of.

The people here don’t really look Southeast Asian; they’re lighter skinned, got none of the trace Khmer brown. They don’t play that smiley, welcoming, submissive thing that often gets associated with Southeast Asians. (How many times during my arrival did I get yelled by motorbike drivers for not knowing my way around the city?)

They’ve got a coffee culture to rival Italy or shit, even the Bay Area. The French brought it over, but the Northern Vietnamese high-jacked it and turned it into their own strangely unique, immensely caffeinated, sugary and DELICIOUS concoction. I mean, who the hell else in the world puts yogurt in their coffee? But then you taste it and the question changes to why the hell has no one else thought to put yogurt in coffee?

And another huge friggin difference is that there’s seasons in Hanoi—real seasons!—with a proper summer and an even more proper winter that I’m totally and completely dreading.

During the summer months, it rains a lot here. Like Cambodia. Cool, I’d thought, I’ve been living where it rains; I’ve at least got this part down.

Well, no. Like everything else, I’ve been surprised by how different Hanoi really is from the rest of Southeast Asia. And I’ll be goddamned if even the way it rains isn’t yet another example.

So, in case you missed the unit in school or tuned it out (which you’ll probably do again unless you suddenly find yourself in Hanoi; don’t say I didn’t warn you…), typhoons are completely different monsoons. Technically speaking (okay, I Googled it), monsoons have to do with wind patterns, while typhoons are storms that rip through the Pacific and the land fringing it. Instead of everyday, they occur once every few days or every weeks. The basic rhythm is that same, the slow build up of pressure and heat, but the tempo is stretched out, elongated, and it varies, skats like a goddamned jazz singer and while I can appreciate the unprediactability and ingenuity, I’m often left in a plastic poncho with my sandals in my hands, wading down my flooded alley wondering what the hell happened.

Wading home

The biggest difference for me is the way the pre-storm pressure gathers. Monsoons feel like something pressing down on you, while typhoons feel more like a thickness, like the air literally gets thick with charged particles, buzzing around like mosquitoes and damn near humming as loud. You can feel this kind of electricity, moving down your spine, and you swear everyone else can feel it too, the way they zip around when a big storm is about to hit—“like pouring water into an ant hill,” a friend says.

I don’t remember it ever drizzling in Cambodia either, but here the rain will strike and recede, drizzle for a bit then start up again. Sometimes I’ll think it’s over but it’ll just keep going; other times I’ll put my poncho on and be sweating under the sheath of plastic like a jack ass. (Hanoi seems to get a private kick out of making a jack ass out of me, and I’m only too happy to oblige.)

So I’m still working on getting the timing and rhythm of this whole thing down. I’ll probably have it just about figured out by the time the season ends and the cold sets in. In the meantime I stare out of my bedroom window at the sliver of sky between the buildings and try to ascertain what in the hell the weather is gonna go. For the sport of it, I take a guess and invariably I’m wrong. Which is secretly another thing I love about this place—that it’s not so easy to figure out.

So I try to never leave the house without a poncho and not get too bummed when I’ve gotta slosh through the flood water to get in my front door.

Cause you’ve gotta hand it to Hanoi—it’s a city that’ll keep you humble.

Home sweet home

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The Coming of the Storm

It was coming. The way it’s always coming, except for just after it’s came: a big-ass storm that’ll flood the alleys and clean the air and give the mosquitoes new pools of water in which to hatch.

I wake up exhausted—6:30am, out on the bike by 7:30, class at 8. A string of kids who won’t listen, a little boy who cries three hot angry tears when I kick him out for talking. It’s worse than if he sobbed, those three tears, worse in their restrain and fury—maybe at me but also at something else it seems, at whatever that thing in him is that can’t listen, can’t sit still, can’t stay in his fucking seat.

Hour break before I’ve gotta be back across town for tutoring—a private lesson for a Korean teenage boy about to start at the international school in a few weeks. His English isn’t great but he’s smart as a whip and well-mannered and tries hard, even when I can tell he doesn’t want to. Sometimes I suspect it’s just to humor me but it’s trying nonetheless, making a difference nonetheless, so I pretend not to notice.

Order a coffee, review my notes, brain too foggy, give up. Feel like my eyelids are weighted, sleep like a big mouth wanting to yawn around my forehead and take me back with it. Wish I could let it, sip my coffee, resolve to take a nap later.

Get on the moto, space out as I feel the humidity gathering, growing thick in the air like a cloud of bugs. Arrive at the apartment complex: one of four high-rises you can see clear across town. The building’s on this housing development, tacky and landscaped, with really crisp sidewalks and these massive sculptures of wild white stallions at every round-about—the kind of place a foreign company will put its workers up in, which is what my student’s family is.

I’m early so I go sit on the big foofy sofa in the foyer. It’s going for a French aristocrat look—tassled pillows and little clawed pegs, a faux-Impressionist painting on the wall that seems to dominate, overtake the room in way I haven’t ever quite seen another painting do. The effect is something other than what’s intended, almost Murakamian in its alienation, in a way that makes me feel like I’m in a novel instead of someone else’s real life.

Sit there and listen to the elevator ding and the security guard pacing in her clicky shoes and military cap. Try to read a bit of the book I downloaded last night, have a hard time digging it—get lost in the sentences, fend off that same feeling of all-consuming sleep. Have a brief pang of homesicknesses for Flannery O’Connor, homesick for my fat old Collected Works—not that I miss her but that I crave her, crave that line in Wise Blood about how Jesus was a wild ragged figure in someone’s mind, “motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown.”

Resolve to Google the quote when I go home.

Check the time, ride the elevator, struggle my way through the hour and a half, dim brain and dull eyes. The boy does well today—write down what he says and show it to him, compare it with what he’d said a month ago, note the improvement. He smiles.

Drink the milk his mother gives me, the donut holes she fried in the kitchen while we were working. Eat them with a little fork. We don’t say much but smile a lot. She pays me, I thank her, she thanks me.

Get on another bike; the first few drops start, not light and misty but in heavy, deliberate plops. Stop, put on my plastic poncho that I don’t leave home without, strap my helmet back on.

Ride back but the rain doesn’t come, it peters out and receedes and I’m the only one on the road wearing my poncho. Feel like a jack-ass.

Get home, down some water, crawl up the stairs. Flip on the AC and collapse into bed without taking my dress or my leggings off.

It’s one of those sleeps that seems to kidnap you, to hit you like a dump truck, turn your limbs to lead and your brain into a pile of black at the front of your skull. Go thick and dreamless; roll over once, gasp, return.

Have a dream, a crazy lucid dreams where I’m completely cognizant, completely myself, but don’t know I’m sleeping. There’s a girl. A phantom really: pale skin and fangs. She might be a vampire. Sometimes she’s chasing me and I’m running—I go up on a ledge and she meets me there, hisses. But then it’s me who wants her, almost as though I want to seduce her, like something is compelling me to seduce her, and I knock her over and I grab at her ankles, draw her close to me. The world spins steeply beneath us.

I lose my grasp on her and she’s gone again, goes back to chasing me and I’m terrified. I feel her around me all the time; I “wake up” in a house (which isn’t waking up at all, and isn’t a house at all, more of a skinny hall of mirrors) and there’s a little girl there. She’s sweet and I’m trying to talk to her, to listen to her talk about Barbie’s or whatever—trying to be normal when really I feel that other girl, that vampire girl, everywhere, lurking around the house, trying to get in.

I squint as though my eyes were fogged. I have to write this, I think in the dream, write down what happened before it’s gone. But every time I try the pencil smudges and my vision blurs and something distracts me, some question or task, until I can’t see the fucking paper in front of me.

I wake up then. For real wake up, just long enough to roll over and wipe the drool off my chin. My head feels like a block of cement on the pillow and the room is black, blacker than it should be at 4pm. The sliver of sky I can see through the window is ripe and swollen.

What was she? I ask in my half-awakeness.

Writing, my black brain answers. She was writing.

Feel myself getting sucked back into sleep, quicksand-sucked, as the rain finally starts outside my window.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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