Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tropical cold - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Cold. As impossible as it may seem, I'm feeling cold. And it happens quite often: I'm forced to take shelter from cold in a city where for most of the day, twelve months a year, the thermometer needle exhaustingly staggers over 30ºC.
No, I'm not under a violent attack of tropical fever. The fact is that in Kuala Lumpur, for some reason that escapes me, the unrestrained use of air conditioning must have been enforced by law. I've been wondering why. Could it be the ancestral terror of the equatorial climate? The rather questionable choice of a status symbol? A substantial difference in the perception of heat between the local population and myself?
The LRT ride from the hotel to the training center is brief, only three stations long, and it doesn't take more than ten minutes. And yet, if I don't adopt tactics worthy of a polar expedition manual, chances are that I'll get off the car with the clumsily symmetrical limp of the penguin. Or worse, belly-flopping like an adult male walrus.
That's why, under the puzzled, astonished and vaguely compassionate looks of the other passengers, I keep dashing from corner to corner and door to door, from the central aisle to the gangway bellows, muttering my frustration, swearing furiously even, lifting a moistened finger like a kite rider looking for the perfect gust, striving to figure out the direction of these arctic wind jets in desperate search of a "blind corner", a blessed combination of coordinates that escapes the crossfire of these vents, which can probably work as snowguns as well. It's useless though, as anywhere I hide one of them will always manage to hit me between nape and shoulder, freezing in a matter of seconds an unsurvivable number of vertebrae. I get out of the train unfailingly defeated. Sometimes a penguin. Others a walrus.
The situation back at the hotel is not much better. After I arrived, for two days I lead a senseless idealistic rebellion against the system. I mean the air-conditioning one, of course. The power switch set to low, the thermostat wheel like a sunflower facing its sun, tirelessly hitting the full scale value: a little "30" that I thought was referring to the temperature in the centigrade scale. But I am afraid that it might actually be measured in degrees Fahrenheit(*), or maybe they really are Celsius ones, on the wrong half of the scale though.
I also informed the reception that I had been forced to take refuge in the minibar-fridge to reach the end of my first night at the room alive. "Of course Sir. We'll fix it straight away!" If there has been any variance my body didn't detect it. Who knows, maybe during the first acclimatizing hours I irremediably compromised its thermal sensitivity.
Afterwards, when I noticed that between the closet and the desk a stalactite and a stalagmite were about to join, I finally made up my mind. I turned off the air-con, I waited long enough for the effect of the reverse cycle to fade and upon noticing that the temperature was just about perfect (maybe still a little under the ideal one), I never turned it on again. I don't really understand this miracle of thermodynamics: although it's torrid hot outside a clear spring evening atmosphere lingers in the room. And the air-con has been off ever since.
I have to make sure that I never drop my guard though, because every time I enter my room and insert the key-card in its slot the "winter-ecosystem generator" will start automatically and I have to unfalteringly fling myself to deactivate it. The slightest oversight can cost me dear. The appearance of a dense veil of mosses and lichens on the carpet is the signal of the imminent catastrophe. A five minute-delay is tantamount to a Himalayan avalanche of diarrhea. Five more minutes: chilblains. At that point I am already glued to the toilet seat by means of a thick layer of ice while I helplessly look at the landscape changing around me. The diarrhea has turned into a plug as hard the the surface of a Yukon lake in winter, evoking some of the most picturesque scenes of Jack London's arctic stories, while a sprinkling of shit-frost lies like chocolate pralines on what is porcelain for toilets but could well be a chilled vanilla dessert. A crumpled towel has changed into a snowman and I'm quickly becoming a snow-covered man myself. The stream of pee that I had started to emit got frozen in mid air like the Perito Moreno. Immortalized in this kind of Nordic Christmas creche scene I can't prevent the inevitable escalation from taking place: every five minutes two of my toes freeze and fall off, then my fingers are gone too. Once the set of sacrificial appendixes I was granted as a bonus to placate the warm blood-thirst of the god of ice has been used up the inexorable epilogue gets under way: loss of consciousness caused by frostbite and final hibernation for the benefit of paleontological studies that will be carried out by future generations, by species that will succeed us or maybe, who knows, even by different forms of life that will occupy our planet after the disappearance of the human race. Disappearance to be attributed to the victorious revolt against their creators of a breed of advanced and sophisticated air conditioning systems.
As soon as I enter my room then, even if Claudia Cardinale - back in her twenties - were lying naked on my bed in one of those poses favored by first-wankers, the first thing I do is pouncing on the nightstand where the switch lies to defuse the device that is about to start the next ice age. Once I've managed to save the world I turn to face Claudia to receive her due grateful smile, the one preluding the scene that won't be aired either during prime time or late fringe, filled with all the rewarding acts that a hot chick of her caliber owes a hero of mine. But she disappeared, or maybe, like an ice statue, she just melted when I, undaunted, with a feral jump managed to break the temperature control of the ice museum. It will have to be do-it-yourself entertainment tonight as well. Never mind: lonely nights are nothing new for those, like myself, who watch full time over the world thermal balance.

(*) Equivalent to 1.11 degrees Celsius

Photo of "The Ice Hotel" by nate2b (CC)

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