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Summer in Vietnam: fans or air conditioners?

Monday, July 01, 2019, 15:54 GMT+7
Summer in Vietnam: fans or air conditioners?
A woman opens the window for fresh air and turns off the air conditioner in her house in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City to save energy. Photo: Tu Trung / Tuoi Tre

My housekeeper makes a disaster of cleaning my house fans.

She cleans them well enough, washing away the accumulated dust with ease but she just doesn’t have the knack of reassembling the darn things properly without them wobbling and shaking so much that I imagine exploding shards of plastic fan parts and zitting electric sparks all over the place. 

This has happened before although in her defense, she had nothing to do with the breakdowns. The fans were cheap shonky pieces of malevolence trying to rise up against their owner. Fortunately I was able to put down the revolutions by throwing out the recalcitrant rebels.

Now my trusty yet past the ‘use by’ date fan is about to give up the ghost. It responded well to house moving, being kicked and licked by my dog, enduring countless acts of frustration by guests jabbing the speed buttons and forced to work in my small outside courtyard during gales and heatwaves. I’d had more than a few different brands of fan (try saying that) until someone recommended the ‘Asia’ model to me. It was one of the few times I was truly proud of my purchasing prowess.

Until last year, I was never a big fan of air conditioners (pun accidental) – I believed that a fan’s portability made it a better option but the experience of getting head colds from hotel air conditioners when I travelled puts me off using air conditioning in my own house.

I have recently moved to a new rental, a small one-bedroom, single-story house and for the first time, I have had air conditioning in my bedroom. Each day before my afternoon nap or midnight snooze, I start the air conditioner and put the second shonky fan in the bedroom to turn it into a refrigerator. 

As the air conditioner is relatively new, I don’t suffer much from air quality problems as the filters are still clean. Then I just leave both machines running while I sleep. The dog loves it and refuses to leave the room unless I leave the bedroom door open rapidly warming the space.

In the early evenings I have the main ‘Asia’ fan spinning in the living room and the second fan ready to go out in the courtyard as I often take a break from the computer with a quick drink and smoke in the yard. I like to pretend I’m living a lifestyle of pure luxury with all these cooling gadgets, secretly hoping my neighbors are sweating it out in agony.

Sure the combined bill for all this is expensive yet nothing like the electrical bills I used to suffer in Australia. Besides, anyone complaining about a fifty-dollar EVN bill in this country is a cheapskate in my opinion. At the very least, we expats are living a cool lifestyle without any care in the world – something I’m occasionally embarrassed seeing locals sweating away in their local market shops.

People’s preferences, fans vs air conditioners, are fascinating in their convoluted justifications. “Oh, I prefer the fan in my bedroom because I just can’t stand the air conditioner on my skin.” Huh? It’s all just hot air to me.

Or the other rationalization: “Ah! The air conditioner is so much cleaner for my sinuses than the fan!” Checked the air filter lately? Amazing how much gunk accumulates in the machine. Interesting how many expats will pay a local to come and clean the things instead of learning how to do those things themselves. Is this more evidence of expat elitism? Or simply mechanical snobbery?

One aspect I follow infrequently is the idea of solar cells on the roof and a battery to offset the costs and help me deal with those frustrating days when the power is off (scheduled) or the unpredictable moments when the electricity vanishes as my neighbors decide to fiddle with the outside fuse-boxes. Some companies are already offering these products but it’s still early to say if this will commercially take off and become an affordable trend. I hope it will – anything to take the load off a power grid already badly stretched and struggling to supply enough power in many parts of the nation.

At least I’m so well off that I can afford two fans during the day and air conditioning at night; there are plenty of hard working Vietnamese out there who still don’t have these unaffordable luxuries. It’s a shame, particularly in 2019, which seems to be shaping up as one of the hottest summers on record in Vietnam and life is tough enough as it is.

Whatever happens with the weather this year, I hope you all stay cool mentally and physically; and if the power goes off? Use a hand fan!

Stivi Cooke / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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