I have vivid memories of the brutal snowstorms of my childhood; I have clung to my cat while hunkered down in my bathroom listening to the howling winds of hurricane Katrina in Florida; I’ve sheltered my eyes from the stinging sands of the shamal of Dubai and, lo’ and behold, now we’ve got the monsoons in Thailand.
Inevitably in every polite conversation that we expats have with family and friends back home the question of weather always comes up. What’s our obsession with weather? Maybe it’s the power it has over us as we helplessly watch things blow away, riverbanks overflow or sheets of ice form. I swore when we left Canada that I’d never scrape another windshield again. Those icicles hanging from the eaves outside my mom’s kitchen window in Canada were beautiful when they captured the refracted light in just the right way but as my mom always says, “It’s lovely to look at as long as you don’t have to go out in it.”I felt that very same way the day before I left Phuket for my summer sojourn to Canada. We had to make that dreaded trip into Phuket Town to immigration (I know, I can see everyone cringe… it’s the one thing that’s worse than having to go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles in any country, but that’s another story). On this particular day, the last day before I was to leave, the heavens had opened, the wind was howling and the rain was horizontal. The perfect day to read a good book or do a chick flick marathon. I could feel a whine coming on, as I knew we had to go out in ‘it’.
Funny thing is, the Thai people just go about their business, the floods in Bangkok last fall a distant memory. They may stop briefly under a bridge to let a particularly bad gust go by or to tighten the rain gear around their kids but life goes on. The roads are just as busy and the shopkeepers just add a few sand bags to keep the water from flowing in as the traffic goes by.
You don’t have to shovel it, but it’s still ominous. I was reminded of a book I read last year by Tim Brookes called Thirty Per Cent Chance of Enlightenment. A prolific (and very talented) writer, he had been contracted by a high profile magazine to travel to India to do an article on how people there prepared for monsoon season. In Canada, to prepare for winter, we put our snow tires on, make sure the tank in the basement is full of fuel and change the wardrobe from summer/fall to winter (it happens so quickly that you inevitably have a few left-overs from the summer season… hope springs eternal, as they say). Point is, Tim never wrote the article he was assigned to write, even though it became the basis for a great book. Why? Because what he discovered, after many unsuccessful visits to the head meteorologist, is that they don’t make preparations per se. They just go about their daily lives and deal with it, if and when ‘it’ comes.
Amazing! So, with a degree of stoicism (from me, not my husband as nothing seems to phase him at all and he wasn’t even aware of my fear of heading into the storm), I donned my rain poncho and hopped on, ready for the long trek into town. Oh, one small detail… we don’t have a car, just motorbikes so the rain gear is a must. Now, I wager that even the most ‘stoic’ expat cringes at the thought of going to immigration. Add to that a tight deadline, a monsoon, and an hour’s drive on a motorbike… it’s enough to send anyone home to mother and mine always has her arms wide open.
As my daredevil husband drove, I put my head down and prayed. Most of the way we were riding behind a big dump truck, which ordinarily would be frustrating and one would pass at the first opportunity. However, like Moses parting the red sea, our mud-covered, iron prophet led the way along the road that otherwise wouldn’t have been passable on our mode of conveyance. I could hear the wave of water falling back into place behind us. If we had tried to make an unassisted pass through this section of flooded road, our little motor would have been waterlogged in two minutes flat.
Well, suffice it to say, we made it in one piece, soaked from the waste down. I really don’t mind being wet, but wet and cold is a vicious combination. I’m always one to look on the bright side so that day, as I shook the water off my poncho and hung it on a plastic chair outside the immigration office, I stated with a wavering smile and more bravado than I felt, “At least it’s warm and it keeps things so nice and green.”
As I eagerly await my return to the lush, green surroundings of my island oasis of Phuket, we stoke the wood stove and pull on our sweatshirts (even though it’s still summer). I promise I won’t complain about the warm rains of the ‘farther east’ again. I’ll simply reminisce about the damp Canadian cold that seeped into my bones as I bent over my keyboard to write this column.
A published author and freelance writer, Anne O’Connell, has been an expat since 1993 when she and her husband escaped the cold of Toronto, Canada and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They enjoyed the sun and sand for 14 years, while she worked in the PR field, and then decided it was time for a new adventure. Heading for even more sun and sand, they moved to Dubai in late 2007 and then on to Thailand in 2011.
Anne has been working as a freelance copywriter and communications consultant since 2007, specializing in marketing, corporate communications, public relations, social media and website content. She and her husband have a passion for travel and that adventurous spirit has taken them all over the world. Anne grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has a bachelor of public relations from Mount St. Vincent University. You can visit her website at www.anne-oconnell.com or her blog at www.anne-writingjustbecause.blogspot.com.