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Four seasons in one day

January 28, 2011

One of the weirdest things about living in Vietnam, or anywhere close to the equator, is that the weather never changes.  From January through December is hot and humid with the occasional burst of rain.  The sun always sets at the same time of the day.

The reason this is weird is that it really messes with your temporal reasoning abilities.  Your episodic memory relies on a number of clues (what you were wearing, whether you had hot or iced coffee, whether squash was in season) to let you know how long ago something was.  When all the cues are gone, you have this blank, homogenous expanse of time in which nothing ever changes and thus no progress seems to be made.  You’ll say “hey, remember that movie we went to last week?” and your friend will say “no, pal, that was three months ago.”

Christchurch has the exact opposite problem.  There’s an expression to the effect of “Christchurch gets four seasons in one day” that is fairly prevalent here.  It means that the weather changes so frequently you can literally feel a year pass by in 24 hours.  Here’s a tip: New Zealanders are chronic understaters and so when they say things like this, you need to immediately double that (EIGHT seasons!) to make it realistic and then square it (SIXTY FOUR seasons!!!!!) to make it resonate with those accustomed to American hyperbole-style reporting.

Basically, a typical day in Christchurch entails waking up to the thickest, dampest fog you’ve ever seen.  You will then take a shower and when you emerge the sky will be blue and the birds will be chirping in the apple tree like it’s an old-school Disney movie until, a half hour later, the weather turns on you in a Joan Crawford-esque rage and all of a sudden there’s a cruel wind blowing straight off an ice burg in the Southern Ocean and into your face.

But wait, there’s more.  See, once you’ve gone inside and put on a sweater the sun will come out and beat down on you with the force of a thousand Saharan summers.  And once you’ve been adequately sunburned and your garden flowers parched, a tropical storm will set in and it’ll start to rain.  Usually, by then, it’s time for breakfast.

Figure 1. How to dress appropriately for New Zealand. (drawing by my sister)

This does not at all bother locals and if you mention the schizophrenic weather, you’ll be told that the trick is to dress in layers.  Do not be fooled.  This is another classic kiwi understatement.  A mere cardigan cannot do battle with this climate.

I tried dressing in layers, once when I had a big day of running around planned.  My layers flapped awkwardly in the wind, my scarf tried to choke me, my legs were too hot in jeans, my arms were too cold without sleeves but then too sunburned to enjoy the addition of a jacket.  And my bag, heavy with discarded layers of clothing, hung off my shoulder like an albatross.  It occurred to me then that ‘dress in layers’ may have been a euphemism for ‘stay inside’.  That appropriate outer layer?  The walls of your house.

Staying inside also allows time to pass normally, you know: sun up, sun down, consistency in between.  Because the weather here messes with my head just like it did in Vietnam.  “Hey, remember that movie we saw last winter?”  “You mean the one we saw yesterday?”  “No, we went to the beach yesterday.”  “That was this morning.”  If it weren’t so totally disorienting it would be kind of magical, all the time travel.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tay permalink
    February 6, 2011 10:40 pm

    Hahaha, hilarious. You really need atleast 5 layers to be successful at this. Especially on the top, e.g. a typical outfit would be a singlet, then a tank top, then a cardigan. On top of that you put a hoody (for rain) and a jacket (for cold/looks). Then you put on a skirt, but under that you put some leggings, which you can take off if it gets too hot. And it depends if it looks like heaps of rain or just a little or no rain whether you choose shoes, jandals or boots. Usually you stick with jandals to be safe. Anyway this is the EXTREMELY EXCELLENT way of wearing layers :)

    • February 7, 2011 7:26 am

      Haha thanks for the tips! I need some leggings, but otherwise I think I can manage that outfit.

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