Aircon as a status symbol

In East-European countries and Russian republic it is apparently a status symbol if you can turn up your central heating system up to ‘ boiling hot’, when outside icicles as big as Roman pillars grow from the rain gutter. I came to experience that in Southeast Asia it’s the other way round: when outside it’s too hot for even the cicades to chirp, the aircon is set to somewhere between 16 and 18 ˚C. I remember a train trip from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore once, when inside the train it was so cold that every passenger had to wrap himself into coats, towels and every long sleeved and legged piece of clothing they had in their luggage to keep warm. Outside, it was 34 ˚C.

I realise now that it’s not like that all over Southeast Asia – it’s mainly in Malaysia and Singapore that your importance and wealth is measured by how low you dare to set the temperature in whatever it is that you direct the temperature of. To my utter relief the Vietnamese seem to have chosen the number of times you can honk the horn of your motorbike and/or car in one minute as a way to express the status they think they deserve (after all, it is a communist based society, so the Vietnamese make out their own status), instead of the settings of their aircon. That saves us having to remember to pack a considerable pile of warm winter woolies every time we set foot in a train or bus. I hope we won’t forget that We Are Not In Vietnam Any More once we take the overnight train from KL to Singapore again, at the end of November.

However, as a far too spoilt Westener that has no experience whatsoever with living in a country where people don’t go ‘wow!’ and wipe our brows every other minute when the outside temperature rises to the level that we just don’t feel ridiculous any more to plug in the electric fan, I of course do have something to complain about the aircon in the overnight trains in Vietnam. I’ve been in three now, and in every single one of them, the temperature in our carriage started off at varied 18 ˚C, rose to somewhat 25, plummeted back to 18 again, and settles finally, a few hours before waking up, at a quite comfortable 23.

Tomorrow, we’ll be ont the night train from Hue to Hanoi, and at the end of next week in the night train from Bangkok to the south of Thailand. We will keep you informed about our temperature adventures.