Though Malaysia doesn’t enjoy the changing of seasons that many expats find familiar, it’s not all bad. Editor Chad Merchant finds a sneaking satisfaction in donning shorts and flip-flops on the weekends at this time of year, when friends and family back home are shivering through the winter months and despairing over soaring heating bills.
I always chuckle when my Malaysian friends describe any rainy day here as “cold” – you know, when the temperature plummets all the way down to 26°C or something. For those of us hailing from places with actual winters, the only truly chilly places in Malaysia are shopping malls and office buildings, where they set the air conditioners to their absolute coldest setting, a temperature typically reserved for meat lockers, and run them full blast. But once you’re outdoors, of course, Malaysia is a land of perpetual natural warmth, surely one of the country’s primary attractants for winter-weary expats accustomed to barren trees, bitterly cold nights, and spiralling heating costs.
We’re often puzzled by reports and surveys we see identifying the weather as one of Malaysia’s liabilities among foreigners. This is in stark contrast to what we have been told in our own surveys by expats living here. Indeed, a strong majority remark that the neverending summer is one of the best things about life here in the tropics. No bracing against bitter cold wind, no shovelling snow from the walk or scraping ice from windshields, no slipping and sliding on snow-covered roads… truly, can you even imagine the mind-boggling horror of KL traffic with a healthy dose of wet snow added to the mix? In our “Expat Extracts” feature each month, people routinely list the weather as one of the top three things they like about living here. How these international surveys could get this so completely wrong is something of a mystery.
For me, the only downside to the lack of seasons is an ever-present confusion about what time of the year it is. With the same 12 hours of sunlight every day, year-round, and certainly no big cues from the temperature to tip off my subconscious mind, I often have to pause a beat to sort out whether it’s March, August, or December. I’ve pondered with colleagues before whether that sort of climatological monotony lends itself to a certain indifference in daily life. If you consider the world’s modern, highincome, industrialised nations, virtually all of them are in the northern latitudes (or in a two cases, their southern counterparts). In fact, perhaps the only countries in the tropics at the end of the 20th century that could boast modern, fully developed infrastructures were Singapore and Hong Kong, and of course each of those citystates is rather unique, each an exception to the rules in many more ways than one. So maybe, centuries ago, the weather actually helped to speed development along in the northern hemisphere. After all, you had to build things and plant seeds and prepare your home and harvest crops – to make hay while the sun was shining, as it were – if you were to have any hope of surviving the long winter. In the tropics, of course, there was no such motivation. What didn’t get done one day could just as easily be done tomorrow, or next week, or next month. And so it remains today. Could it be that this warm day-to-day uniformity in the weather inspires a more laid-back, lackadaisical approach to life?
As I write this, an early December snowstorm is sweeping through the Rockies and Great Plains of the U.S. My family have sent emails chronicling the impending misery. My mother is fretting about the tires on her Jeep, asking my advice about getting them replaced before the storm wallops Denver. Forecasts of one to three feet of snow in the mountains of Colorado are in the news. Arctic temperatures, some plunging down to -30°C, are gripping parts of the American Plains and much of interior Canada. Across the Atlantic, Europe is on track for another harsh winter, with some meteorologists there predicting one of the worst winters in decades. Meanwhile, the temperature here in KL is a balmy 31°C. That’ll be the temperature tomorrow, too. And the next day. In fact, pick any day in December or January, and chances are the high will be within a degree or two of that mark. The joy of equatorial positioning, right? Though the weather here may lend itself well to the tidak apa attitude so prevalent throughout Malaysia, I admit that it’s a small price to pay for never having to shovel snow, lace up cold-weather boots, or spin out on a frictionless ice-coated highway. I wonder if I’m the only expat from wintry lands who delights (if only ever so slightly) when friends and family from back home complain about the cold. I confess that I don’t often try too hard to dissuade the impression that my all winter days are spent under sunny skies and swaying palm trees. And it’s not entirely untrue, right? Both of those are abundant in KL, of course – I just leave out the part about the lingering haze, maddening traffic, and endless construction of buildings and roads! Accentuate the positive, I say!
Source: The Expat January 2014
- The Battle with KL’s Taxi Drivers
- Hi There (January 2014): Living in the Real World – Asia
- The Ghost of Christmas Past for An Expat in Penang
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