When KMN and I decided to make the move to Singapore, I was worried about a few things. “Staying in touch with family and friends” was at the top of the list. Not far behind that was “The Heat“. Before the move, I’d already been to Singapore half a dozen times, for anywhere from 1-3 weeks. And every time, I found the weather stifling. Average daytime temps are around 29-31°C (84-88°F), and the relative humidity averages around 75-80%, making for a “feels like” temperature of somewhere between 33-41°C (92-106°F). Things are a bit cooler in the evenings, but seasonal variation is slight.
I’d usually be OK at these temps for a short time – I grew up in the Northeast US, and we’d get this kind of heat several times throughout the summer for a couple of days. And there’s a pretty standard coping strategy: head to the movie theater, or the air conditioned mall, or grab your swimsuits and hang by a pool for the duration. BBQ, and eat salads, and hightail it for the ice cream. Everyone gets a bit lethargic, and we’d sleep with fans blowing on our faces. Things slow down for a few days in the heat. Then, a huge thunderstorm comes through, the weather breaks, and normalcy returns.
But in Singapore, the weather never breaks. So a few days into our visit, I’d get tired of steaming. Then, the sun would manage to peek out through the haze, and I’d feel like I was both roasting and steaming, simultaneously. Locals would tell me that it was the “cooler” season, or say, “Oh…doesn’t that breeze feel lovely?” I thought they were all delusional.
I had no idea how people would sit in an open-air hawker center, eating a big bowl of (sometimes spicy) hot noodle soup. Who eats spicy, steaming soup when it’s 90°F outside? [Answer: Singaporeans do!] While staying with KMN’s parents, I’d sit at the dining room table, or help my mother-in-law in the kitchen, or do some chores around the house – but after a few hours of sweating, I’d be waiting for the moment when I could politely take a break upstairs in the bedroom, where I’d turn on the air conditioner and lie on the bed in a lazy, heat-induced stupor. I’d spend our entire visit guzzling water, and still always feel thirsty. KMN and I would go for a short run, and I would feel so uncomfortable, frustrated, and stifled that I would cry – while running. [Note: I don’t endorse this tactic as a way to make your run easier, or cooler.] I would come home and make up a big glass of ice water, just so I had an excuse to stand in front of the open freezer for a few seconds.
So although I pretended that a permanent relocation into tropical heat didn’t scare me – “I lived in upstate NY for 6+ years and learned how to deal with half a year of dark/gloomy/cold/snow, I can definitely do this. It’s just weather!” – I was worried.
Fast-forward seven months, and I can honestly say that the heat doesn’t bother me anymore. Actually, it hasn’t bothered me for months. Sure, it’s warm, and humid. But I guess I’ve adapted. I only drink 2-3 Nalgenes of water a day, except on really long workout days. Certainly my running times have taken a hit in the heat, but I seldom get annoyed/frustrated/discouraged by the heat while working out – it is what it is. I can sit at a hawker center and eat…whatever…without flinching. Hot noodles are sometimes my preferred meal. We use the air conditioner in our bedroom at night, and sometimes we’ll turn on the one in the study, especially if we’re dressed to go out – but we seldom use the air conditioners in the rest of the apartment (energy wasteful and expensive). I cook, clean, do laundry, compute, work, stretch – everything – with the windows open and fans on.
But there is one thing that I haven’t gotten over. There is one thing that still bothers me: The sweat. I sweat a lot. Yeah, yeah, I know – everybody claims to sweat “a lot” (and have a “high pain tolerance”). But seriously, I do sweat a lot (not sure about the pain tolerance). I believe that this is genetic. [Thanks, Mom.]
As an example, let’s take a look at my day yesterday, with an accounting of the number of sweat-soaked clothes I left in my wake:
I got up and put on capris and a T-shirt (yay for working from home!). I had breakfast, made some phone calls, and did some computer work. Then, I cleaned the sinks and mirrors in our bathrooms and prepared the apartment for sweeping. I slowly walked (two blocks) to the store and back, and by the time I got home, my T-shirt was soaked through (like, I could wring it out) and darkened with sweat. This was both uncomfortable and unsightly, so I changed my shirt. [First Sweaty Outfit]
I walked across the street to grab a quick lunch, then came back and did a bit more computer work. An hour later, I swept and mopped our apartment. Mopping is the sweatiest chore I know. I sweat like I’m running (effort + leaning over a steaming bucket), but there’s no movement/breeze to evaporate anything. Just to be graphic for a moment, the sweat pours down my stomach and back and into my shorts. It runs down my forehead into my eyes. It drips off my nose and chin onto the (freshly mopped) floor. I keep a small towel around my neck to sop up my sweaty arms/neck/head – and that ends up soaked, too. I had plans to go to the gym later, but was too sweaty and stinky to subject my fellow gym-goers to me, so I hopped in the shower and put on a clean set of workout clothes. [Second Sweaty Outfit]
After a bit more work, I packed up my bag and walked to the MRT (subway) station, which takes about 12 minutes at a leisurely pace. My undergarments were soaked by the time I arrived. But, I hopped right into yoga class. Afterward, I headed home and finished assembling dinner, then KMN and I cleaned up the kitchen and did a bit more work. Finally, just before bed, I peeled off my wet (again) clothes for a second shower. [Third Sweaty Outfit]
Laundry tally for the day:
3 sets of undergarments
2 pairs of shorts/capris
Of course, every day is different. This day was a light workout day (yoga only) – usually I have another set of workout gear, too. And on days when I don’t do much cleaning around the house, the sweat quotient is reduced. If I worked in an air conditioned office setting, I probably wouldn’t generate quite as much laundry, either. But at least this gives you an idea of how warm it can get around here. Any why our laundry sorter often looks like this:
So while there are lots of lists, tips, and tricks circulating around the running blogosphere for “Staying Cool While Working Out In The Heat” (Miss Zippy, Defy Your Limitations, and Fashionable Miles are three recent ones that come to mind), here are my (largely irrelevant for most of you) “Tricks for Living (24/7, 365) in the Heat”:
1. Light, wicking fabrics aren’t just for workouts. They’re for daily life. At least the sweat will dry faster.
2. Avoid light colors if you’re self-conscious about sweat-stains. Personally, I’m (mostly) OK with them on my shirt, but I find crotch sweat lines embarrassing in anything BUT a workout situation. I’ve already relegated several pairs of capris (pink, light blue, khaki) to “only wear if you’ll only be inside” duty. Nowadays, I stick to purchasing black, dark blue, and dark brown bottoms.
3. Wear sandals whenever possible. A little breeze on your feet goes a long way toward keeping you cool.
4. If you must wear shoes, always wear socks. Shoes of mine that were totally comfortable and lovely when worn sockless in the US suddenly became blister-machines in the humidity of Singapore. Out here, I can only wear my cute ballet flats if I also don those clever little half-socks.
5. When you get sweaty, CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES. For a few months, I resisted this idea: Why dirty an extra set of clothes? Because you hate sitting around in soggy shorts, that’s why! If I get back from errands, or lunch, or even just finish emptying the dishwasher – and my clothes are damp, I put on dry ones. I go through multiple pairs of underwear every day, and I don’t care. I often even carry a spare pair with me, just in case. [Ladies: Staying dry also helps keep your lady-bits healthy, FYI.]
6. Don’t underestimate the power of a fan. My husband loves the “Rotate” button on the fan. Whenever he leaves the house, I stop the rotation and point that dang thing directly at me. Ahhh….
7. Hydrate. Water is great. I love water. But water is only so interesting, and you may need to switch things up a bit so that you keep drinking. So I drink something else for one or two glasses a day. Sometimes that’s Nuun (like, after a particularly sweaty mopping session), but I also like juice cut with sparkling water (~1/3 juice + ~2/3 sparkling water = a party in your mouth!). Unsweetened or lightly sweetened teas aren’t bad options, either. Are you hydrated enough? Check out my post on Good Hydration Habits.
8. Walk slowly. Singaporeans have perfected this – in fact, they even walk slowly indoors. But when you’re outside, if you have the time, don’t walk like a New Yorker. Think about strolling instead of walking. This is still terribly hard for me, but it does help. I promise.
9. Learn to treat a shower as a business deal, not a leisurely treat. You’ll be in there a few times a day, and if you don’t learn how to speed things up, you’ll lose significant amounts of each day in the shower. I can be in-and-out in about 3 minutes.
10. Ladies, if you have a sweaty face, forgo the makeup. You’ll wipe off your moisturizer and foundation by dabbing the sweat off your face during your walk to the subway, and your eye makeup will quickly start oozing its way down your face, no matter how sweat/water-proof it is. And “moisture absorbing powder” was never intended to absorb all the sweat that your face will make in Singapore. If you simply can’t go without your makeup, then wait until you get to work – and apply it once you’re in the air conditioning and have cooled off.
And there you have it! A little glimpse into one aspect of life in Singapore, and a (relatively straightforward) set of Tricks for Living in the Heat.
Would you rather live in the tropics or in Alaska?
What’s your favorite tip to beat the heat in your every-day life?