Việt Nam, I was told, is a tropical country – mostly hot and humid.
To me, this means mostly miserable.
Not long after I arrived in Hà Nội, a Washington D.C. native who had lived here several years told me the weather was indeed “like D.C. ten months out of the year.”
One August in that steambath feels like ten months.
My Saigonese American wife likes to say I’m cold-blooded, because I’m comfortable in shirtsleeves when she shivers inside a sweater.
“It’s your North Sea blood,” a friend with African bloodlines suggested in Los Angeles one chilly morning when he met for a round of golf.
He was bundled up and I wasn’t.
And yet, here I am about to complain about how damn cold it’s been in Hà Nội – “bloody cold,” as an Anglophile Vietnamese friend put it.
My hands felt like ice after a five-minute motorcycle, and inside the office my coworkers and I wore jackets even though the heater was on.
The Hanoians here seemed impressed with the deep chill.
Another friend made a point of posting the temperature on Facebook:
As an American, I don’t speak Celsius.
I just knew how it felt.
And it felt like, oh, maybe 40 degrees Farenheit.
And I’ve always felt I’m pretty good at making such estimates.
So I was a bit surprised when I looked up the conversion:
10 Celsius = 50 Farenheit.
Not as cold as I thought – and not that close, either.
All of which seems to verify the notion that your body indeed adjusts to weather – that my North Sea blood is climatizing.
Maybe that didn’t happen to my friend from D.C., but I find myself appreciating the change of seasons.
In that sense, this damn, bloody cold isn’t entirely bad news, provided that doesn’t stay too long.
All considered, I find myself thinking Hanoi’s weather wasn’t as placidly disappointing as advertised.
I’ve found reason to be pleased with the weather and my adjustments.
Like the other day, riding on Âu Cơ – the dyke road – toward Trúc Bạch, I noticed a thickening grayness dead ahead.
I pulled over, flipped open my motorbike saddle and unfurled the bright yellow slicker I’d bought after getting soaked some months earlier.
Having beaten the raindrops by a matter of seconds, I soon motored happily past the natives who were getting splattered as they pulled over and hustled to put on their rain gear.
And on another occasion, I was enjoying sinh to bo – an avocado smoothie – on the banks of Tây Hồ at the refreshment shop called Heaven, feeling the cool breeze riffling over the lake.
The weather had been clear, but as we sat I noticed a quickening in the wind and a gradual darkening in the distance toward where the Red River flowed to the sea.
“Look,” I told my kids, pointing.
“A thunderstorm is coming.”
Five seconds later, we heard the first rumble.
We finished up and motored home, about ten minutes ahead of the rain.
On another memorable day in the fall, a lengthy spell of heat and humidity had broken.
Motoring around the lake to Liễu Giai, I found myself marveling at the warmth, the breeze, the sunshine, the light, the perfect smattering of clouds.
Later, when I remarked on the beauty of the day, the pretty smile of a Hanoian brightened it further.
“Oh yes! It’s autumn in Hà Nộii!” she declared, as if saying “springtime in Paris.”
So in this frigid January, I find myself feeling a bit warmer toward this land that is mostly hot, mostly humid, and often too damn hot, too damn humid.
Some foreigners profess to love Việt Nam, but most visitors come just once and leave with a been-there, done-that attitude.
To this expat, the relationship has been something of a constant negotiation, an internal process of acclimating myself to an enigmatic land.
The process seems to be working – and it might help to buy some gloves.