Whenever the we get that first bitterly cold night of the year, I am reminded of our time in Chiang Mai, in April.
The first part of that April was spent in Laos, in towns with exotic sounding names like Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. There was a two-day boat ride along the Mekong River with an overnight stop in Pak Beng, the second day ending in Huay Xai. A rickety little ferry took us across the river into Chiang Khong, Thailand, the next morning. It had been warm all of April, getting warmer as the days passed. By the time our bus from Chiang Khong pulled into Chiang Mai in the early evening, the temperature was well into the thirties.
Our hotel that first night lacked a few important ingredients, namely walls and sheets and pillows that made any attempt to avoid replicating the air temperature outside. And without air conditioning in the room, there was no escape from the heat that seemed to be increasing into the night.
The following morning we secured a new room at a hotel just around the corner from the heat sink. A cool mist of water sprayed out from under the eaves of the hotel, and we often found ourselves passing back and forth through that mist several times before entering the hotel, where several cases of glass bottles filled with cold water awaited us. "Please take some up to your room!" read a sign above the bottles. Rooms were equipped with air conditioning that was more than up to the task, along with mid-sized fridges to store a great many bottles.
After a couple hours of early-morning wandering on that second day, we came back to the hotel just to check the temperature. Our laptop informed us that in Chiang Mai, it was 45 degrees this day. The forecast? 45 degrees for the next four days. The overnight temperatures would occasionally plummet below 35. Needless to say, Chiang Mai's slurpee machines got a workout that week from four Manitobans in particular.
Once the sun rose above the level of the trees, say by around 9:30 in the morning, it gathered you in a molten embrace whenever you dared leave the safety of shade or the confines of a 7-11. The early hours of the day were spent visiting temples and collecting the life-giving slurpee, before Laura and one or both of the kids would give up and head back to the hotel to be treated like asparagus in the produce section, often leaping upwards to catch as much of the spray as possible before it evaporated. The reward for an early return to the hotel was as many bottles of cold water as you could carry up to the room, doing your utmost to drink as much as possible without needing to have the beautiful elixir pumped from your stomach to avoid a medical emergency.
It was during these afternoons that all my days of outdoor summer basketball came to the fore, providing a force field of sorts from the soaring temperatures. There was no question it was hot, hotter than I'd ever experienced, but with the occasional scamper to the shade and the consistent application of the Manitoban's favourite tonic, it was not life-threatening.
It was on one of these solitary afternoon sojourns, caked in a lava of a sweat made of a mixture of syrupy sugar and bodily salts exiting in generous fashion from every (and I mean every) pore, that I came across this gentleman. He sat in the shade made by the small canopy of his tuk tuk, staring at nothing on the ground before him as though he were simply pondering the benefits of life inside an active volcano, and how that made you oblivious to the feral, diabolical heat of a day like this.
And then he lit up a smoke.
It was coffee break.