Feel the heat

Sun, 03/10/2002 - 00:00

Nice,eh? Too bad it's far from Manila

By Alan C. Robles

First-time visitor to Manila? Forget "mabuhay!" Remember this instead: "Ang init!"

Depending on your inflection, you'll be saying "Jesus, the heat!", "it's hot!", or "it's goddam hot!" and 90 per cent of the time you'll be right.

You see, what will instantly hit you when you emerge from the airport won't be the noise, the pollution or chaos. It will be the feeling that you've smacked into a shimmering wall of warm gelatin. Even standing still you'll find pores opening that you never knew you had. As puddles blotch your body and sweat trickles down your inner arms, you'll realize the one song that will never have any meaning here (other than as an entreaty) is "Let it Snow."

if you don't duck into airconditioned shelter, a few minutes in this cloying miasma will leave you drained, with barely enough energy to pointlessly flap your sodden shirt front against your sticky skin. Gasping, like the rest of us, "ang init!"

Welcome to hot Manila. So you're here precisely to get some sun? Be aware: there's a difference between basking in the glorious light of Boracay and Palawan, and baking in the air-polluted asphalt and concrete roads of Manila. Speaking of streets, an American doctor who came here a hundred years ago noted fascinatedly how the heat could melt the asphalt paving and tar filling.

This isn't the dry, frying heat of the Middle East, nor is it the temperate hotness of a European summer (though Rome approximates it). It's the blistering, heavy and oppressive humidity of the tropics. On a typical March or April day you'll feel you're both frying and bathing. Mad dog or Englishman you might be, OUR midday sun will turn you into a squishy poached egg in a few minutes.

Electric fans and airconditioners help, but not always. You know how to tell it's summer here? The aircon's on max but the cool air doesn't even make it across the room. Another indicator? You've parked yourself right in front of the damned appliance, but only the side of your body facing it feels the cold blast. The other half's tingling warmly.

Describing the climate's effect, the American doctor, Victor Heiser, wrote that "the white man in the Philippines is oppressed by the humid heat and has to drive himself constantly. Perspiration begins to roll from him the moment he leaves the shelter of the cool interior, even to walk across the street."

How do we Filipinos stand it? Heiser discovered that Filipinos "have sweat glands evenly distributed throughout their bodies, whereas a Caucasian's glands were clustered in the forehead, armpits, back and groin." Interestingly, he established that Caucasians who stayed here a few years showed an increase in their sweat glands. In other words, until they could really sweat, they just had to sweat it out.

The truth is glands or no, summer can be maddening for everybody. Heiser (dilligent duffer, wasn't he?) found out that the heat could turn the sugars in certain Swiss strawberries into formaldehyde. If it can do that to the sugars in fruits, imagine what it can do to the salts in the brain. It's probably why one presidential candidate once promised that he would enclose the Philippines - all 7,107 islands of it -- in an airconditioned dome. He wasn't clear on the specifics, but knowing how things are done here the kickbacks for contractors would have been colossal.

While a really hot summer day in Manila can induce a feeling of listlessness, there are ways to get around it. If you can't hie off to a beach, or to the highlands, which are the optimal solutions, you can do what everybody does and duck into a mall. Wait for the day to cool down (in the Philippines, anything below 29 C is cool, but between November and February it becomes really cool - less than 20 C).

Carry a small fluffy towel. Drink plenty of fluids - iced tea, a calamansi soda, a mango shake, any of our great beers. Don't stagger back out into the sun if you've knocked back a brew, you might live to regret it. Cool off with some ice cream or try halo-halo -- literally, all mixed up -- a sundae made of shaved ice, various tropical fruits, sweet beans, milk and ice cream.

Stay in the city a while and you might actually get used to the blistering heat. Stay longer and you'll experience one of our famous typhoons, which are basically cyclones with lots of water in them. You'll see streets flood, signs blown away, rain fall nonstop for days

Well, you'll never be bored by the weather here.


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