Are you warm enough, Hoi An?  

I know it’s the rainy season but look at the locals in Hoi An, a small town in central Vietnam, they think it’s the beginning of a three-month Ice Age

Hoi An trio covered from head to toe! Photo: Stivi Cooke

Wearing a thin T-shirt while sipping a cappuccino in my favorite coffee shop, surrounded by Vietnamese dressed for the North Pole, is another example of surreal Vietnam.

Or maybe they’ve got things confused at Christmas time…

I know it’s the rainy season but look at the locals in Hoi An, a small town in central Vietnam, they think it’s the beginning of a three-month Ice Age.

Every local baby has been swaddled up sufficiently to cope with a snow blizzard. All you can see is a narrow slip for the eyes between a Swedish woolen hat and a scarf bigger than the kid. Mothers don thick hats, mittens and facemasks to protect them from the imaginary sunrays bouncing off the ice sheets covering the landscape. 

There’s the urban vs rural aspect too.

The farmers around my area, not that far from the rice fields, slosh about the muddy fields in bare feet while Hoi An’s townsfolk begin to cover up with sneakers and dare I mention it… socks.

Winter coats are on sale at a clothing store in Hoi An. Photo: Stivi Cooke
Winter coats are on sale at a clothing store in Hoi An, Vietnam. Photo: Stivi Cooke

The buffalo herders concede to the weather with a second T-shirt layer although their hardened feet could walk across glass. I wonder if it’s an energy-saving tactic to never take off a flannel shirt – summer or winter.

I’m writing this with the kitchen door open and my dog loving the cool 21 percent degrees breeze waffling across the courtyard. Totally freezing… I’m in shorts and that T-shirt. Every minute or so, a neighbor roars past draped in a beanie hat and artic jacket yet puts on two-year-old sandals.

The townsfolk crowd the local second-hand coat shops near Tan An Market, bargaining for clothes that can withstand sub-arctic temperatures, snow and white-outs. Clearly climate change has gone to their heads. 

Sure, it snows occasionally in the far north of the country yet no one listens to me when I try to convince them that Sa Pa weather doesn’t sweep this far south. I’d better check the local textbooks to make sure the maps are correct.

One of my neighbors complained that she was so bored now that she couldn’t go out at night because it was so cold. Say what? I laughed and told her to build a chimney, she wasn’t amused. With a dead pan look, she explained that her husband didn’t know how to build that. Thank goodness, for that, I thought to myself, there’s enough smoke around here as it is.

There is distinct quietness to Hoi An at the moment with the roads lovely and quiet in the suburbs after about 7:00 pm as the locals, I’m sure, are huddled around a campfire in their kitchens. Still, this does account for those massive, thick Chinese (often red) blankets that take days to dry out. 

Great for me, I can pop around town without too much trouble and sit outside for an evening nibble (in the imaginary snow) without being bothered by the locals trying to sell me something.

A Hoi An rider is rugged up against the cold. Photo: Stivi Cooke
A Hoi An rider is rugged up against the cold. Photo: Stivi Cooke

If you were in the mountains, I could understand that. It does get quite cold after days of rain, heavy cloud cover and houses not well designed for keeping in the heat. Yet again this reflects the rural toughness when you see pictures of mountain kids racing around the dirt playgrounds in bare feet and a thick jumper, as well as their poverty.

My only concession to the weather is wearing a jacket maybe five times in a year when the rain chills the air. Other than that, shorts all year round. Strangely, after ten years of living here, I still haven’t found truly thin T-shirts. I mean like the undershirts people wear to bed. Generally, I buy a year’s supply on visa runs to Cambodia or Australia when visiting my family. These are brilliant for ‘breathing’ in the hot, humid summer conditions so I don’t sweat too much.

Funnily enough, I’ve got a three-thousand-watt heater that I switch on those same five days of the year that I wear my jacket. It costs a fortune in electricity, about an extra seven dollars per month – scandalous.

My second oldest brother (I’m the youngest) tells me it’s beginning to snow in America – quite unreal to read that as the grandma from next door strolls pass in a duffle coat and a conical hat. Ha ha, I think. Vietnam was the right choice for me! Although this cold spell is not for long, I do have plans.

This year, I’m planning to sell ski pants and snow goggles. I should make a fortune…mittens, anyone?

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