Cambodia is hot. Not the kind of hot that makes you want to put on your flip flops and go walk around a park. The kind of hot that makes you want to hibernate inside a dark, air-conditioned room and never leave. The kind of hot that makes your skin smell like a cheap gym. And the kind of hot that has you willing to Hunger Games your best friend for the last Häagen-Dazs ice cream bar in stock at the Qwik-Mart.
I’ve committed to staying here for a year, and although I spent last summer – the hottest months of the year – in Phnom Penh, the heat still took me by surprise this time around. After doing a year-long grad program in Canada, where it was snowing for six of those months, and raining for another four, you’d think I would appreciate the perpetual summer weather. But being dropped into a continuous 35-degree heat wave has shocked my winter-bred Canadian system to the core. I’ve found myself drinking more iced coffees in a month than I drank in the last decade, making decisions on where to go out based on the quality of the location’s air conditioning units, and sometimes forgetting where I am because heat stroke has completely addled my brain.
For the first three days in my new apartment, the AC didn’t work. Like, at all. And there was no wind – and tons of hungry bugs outside – so leaving the window open wasn’t really an option. For those three days, I lost my mind. A Christine-shaped sweat puddle was left on my bed every morning, after a night of being slow-cooked in my room. My sleeps were filled with thoughts of burning slowly, hellish fires, and being trapped in saunas. I dreamt of snow on more than one occasion. Sometimes I’d wake up clawing my sheet, Exorcist-style, in the middle of a panic attack because I thought I was melting.
I also have to confess, I’ve done some things I’m pretty embarrassed about now because HOT! Some of these shameful things include:
– Walking into a coffee shop, pretending to ponder the menu options for a good 5-10 minutes – enough time to allow the cool air to bring my neural functions back to a normal level – before *suddenly* deciding that I don’t actually want anything. I am probably the first person ever to steal air conditioning.
– When meeting friends out, sitting beside someone I don’t really want to talk to, because they are at the closest proximity to the air conditioning unit.
– Doing the “sneak off to the bathroom” trick, where I pretend to go to the bathroom, and on my way back, I tilt a fan that was pointed at another table toward my own.
– Stealing a sip – or several sips – of a friend’s iced coffee when she was in the bathroom.
– Forgoing a shower, even though I smell like used gym shorts, because it’s too hot to even go into the bathroom to take one.
– Lying on the floor tiles of my living room like a dead animal because it’s the coldest place in the house before the AC kicks in.
– Sticking my head in the refrigerator for prolonged periods of time until I start to feel human again. I don’t even care that my hair smells like a ripe banana afterwards.
Yes, I have done all of the above on one or more occasions, resorting to animalistic and sometimes quasi-criminal behaviour in order to accomplish my main survival goal: staying alive in the heat. So, if you are one of the people whose iced beverages I’ve stolen, whose fan I’ve usurped for the evening, or whose couch I’ve left a sweaty puddle on, I apologize. My social conditioning and proper etiquette functions turn off as soon as it gets above 28 degrees.
In April and May, it’s supposed to be about 40 degrees. Almost every day. Without rain. If you find a human-shaped mass of sweat on the floor in April, it’s most likely me. I’ve probably melted.