Because I spend quite some time in tropical climates, everybody thinks that I have a constant tan and a golden glow to my skin. The reality, however, is very different. I am much paler than you would expect – most of the time as pale as in winter in Europe. In cities like Bangkok or Singapore, you can actually tell who is a tourist and who is there for work or who lives there. The ones with a great tan (or a burned face) are usually the tourists.
The reason is that in really hot climates, you rarely spend time outside. A typical day starts with a car ride to your office, you may walk to the gym or to lunch, back to the office and then back home. Or if you head out for dinner, it is most of the time inside. But why would you stay inside when it there is constant sunshine? Three reasons: heat, humidity, and sometimes even air pollution. I often compare it to winter in Europe – it is ok to be outside for some time, but soon you will move inside because it is just more comfortable.
A hot climate is nice for holidays – especially by the beach. Because if it gets too hot we just take a dip in the pool or the sea. We can walk around with loose clothes or swimsuits and without makeup. If you come to the tropics for a work trip or stay for a longer period of time, the romantic illusion of enjoying the sun every day will be crushed when you have to walk for 500 metres in your work attire because you cannot get a taxi. This is no joke – 500 metres sounds like nothing. But in 35 degree heat and humidity (and even pollution), it is unbearable.
I used to make fun of locals in Singapore or Thailand who always prefer to sit inside and “enjoy the air conditioning” instead of the beautiful al fresco dining area. But after one or two sweaty nights on a rooftop I understood why. My hair started to get frizzy, I was sweating like crazy, my makeup literally streamed down my face and after half an hour it just felt uncomfortable. And even though most of the condominiums have beautiful pool areas, they are mostly used during the cooler parts of the day when there is some shade. In Singapore I only tried to improve my tan once in the afternoon. After no less than ten minutes in the sun, I switched to the shade. Despite substantial amount of sunblock, my skin was already turning red and I just could not stand the heat.
Before I lived in Shanghai, I used to hate gyms. I always preferred to be active outdoors. However, due to the heat and the air quality, I soon saw myself on one of the treadmills in a gym inside a shopping mall. On average, I walked only 1,000 steps a day (compared to over 20,000 in Europe). The treadmill was the only option to move…
Hong Kong was an exception – I used to walk a lot because the area around Sheung Wan and Central is very condensed. Furthermore, Hong Kongers love to hike (a large part of Hong Kong is actually natural parks) and to sail.
One of my favourite stories is when my friend Sash and I wanted to meet for a picnic at the Botanical Gardens in Singapore. We had everything prepared just as she would have done it in South Africa and I would have in Europe. When we started to unpack our lunch, we saw a giant lizard making its way into the pond. This was still exciting because that lizard was about 20 metres away from us. But while we were watching the lizard, a flock of pigeons spotted our food and got ready to attack us. (I am not exaggerating, they were really strategic about it.) It just ended to be a nightmare – hiding the food from aggressive pigeons while sweating through our lunch break.
So when you look at my pictures on Instagram, now you know why I do not have that “golden glow”. I guess I need to wait for the Austrian summer. 🙂