Thursday, January 06, 2005

Notes on Winter

Winter here came suddenly. Without precursor we went from sweat inducing temperatures of around 25, down to 10 overnight. For a brief time this is where things stayed, while we huddled under our blankets and burnt all our firewood, then it jumped back up five degrees or so and things became bearable again.

As a temperature of course it's not very low at all. Nothing to compare with the frozen wastes of the northern part of the continent, or Alaska, or someplace where removing your clothing at all is something they only do before burning your deceased body for warmth. However the bathroom has become uncomfortably like an ice chest in the mornings, and the mornings themselves are fast disappearing before we rise for breakfast. Last Monday in fact, breakfast only came at 4.30 in the afternoon.

Although the women have shown of late a love for knee high leather boots giving the streets a brothel like atmosphere, at nights they dress fairly poorly for the weather here. The women can often be seen hopping about in skirts and stockings with younger girls wearing less, as is the norm everywhere. The men all wear hats, the older men favouring berets and pork pies and the younger men Nike or Adidas beanies. A new jacket I've seen is a type of pea green, elephant corded thing, that looks brutally ugly in a wrecking ball way. It's bulky and lumpy and screams prison issue and has a slight popularity. Nothing in comparison to a Manchester United shirt though.

Winter hasn't stopped everyone from eating out on the streets. As a city, it is set up for outdoors living. Most restaurants popular with the locals are open door affairs or more often no door at all. Most people just pull up a footsool to a plastic table that has been set up on the footpath and eat there. These sorts of restaurants spring up in the early evening or at lunch time and then disappear again until the next day. In the busy areas footpaths often serve two masters, as it were. By trading hours they have a shop front where people park their motorbikes before entering, but by night these footpaths have been changed into restaurants, teeming with guzzling patrons churning their way through steamed crabs or fried tofu with mountains of noodles. Most restaurants will have five or six small tables and one or two persons serving them, however there are also the basket carrying women who sling a whole restaurant on a pole over their shoulders and set up for one or two people at a time, wherever they stop. They keep four footstools in one basket with some plates and a flaming charcoal bricket in the other under a pot of boiling stew or soup. They carry the whole affair around the city, stopping here and there all night.

In people's homes there is very little in the way of insulation from the cold. Most people's rooms are very open and many don't have glass in their windows. To ward off the chill shutters are closed up and doors unopened so that these rooms become little boxes. They must however be cold boxes as they are all concrete, with concrete floors and thin mattresses often sitting directly on the floor. The restaurant beneath us has no bedrooms at all, well actually no rooms other than a dining room, as all cooking is done outside and the only real room they have is reserved for the patrons. At nights the staff roll out a bedroll and sleep on the floor beneath a thin blanket. Most of the staff seem transient and the life is quite hard for them here in the city. What lures them though, is the promise of a better life than in the country, so how grim that can be I will leave to your imagination.

Luckily there is no great wind so, though it is cold, it could be worse. The skies however are a formless continuity of grey. They closed in over us about three weeks ago and apparently won't lift again until March. The bleak mood they purvey is limited to lack of sunlight, with little in the way of rain coming from them.

Coincidentally the cleaner just arrived with a man to deliver firewood. Two heavy cords of wood for 52,000 dong about $4.50 AUD. That should warm things up for us.


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