As dawn broke on another hot hazy sunshine morning in drought stricken Malaysia yesterday, I threw on my gym shorts quickly and headed down to the condo gym. Attempting to get a decent workout in before the unbearable heat, I’ve forced myself to wake up in the darkness, gulp down some coffee and hit the elliptical machine while it’s still reasonably cool. Now reaching over 115 days with temperatures in the mid 30’s (mid 90’s Fahrenheit), the comfort level remains horrible as Southeast Asia’s hottest winter on record continues, leaving our bodies in a state of perpetual dehydration and dryness. With three hours of relief last week, a rare rain event came rolling through Penang but only lasted an hour or two, leaving the grand rainfall since January 1st in the neighborhood of six hours for over three months. Understanding what it must feel like to a thirsty wild animal in the Serengeti desperate for rainfall, we’ve spent most of our recent days on the sweaty balcony or searching for air-conditioned event worthy of the long walk down to the bus stop.
Fortunately, Southeast Asia’s best book sale came rolling into town last week for a ten-day run that’s always worth a visit. Billing itself as The Big Bad Wolf Book Sale, the semi-annual event is held in a large hall of Penang Times Square, one of the local malls easily reachable by bus. Always escaping something, last year we attended during the middle of Asia’s worst haze since 1998 and it felt like the entire island was there. Deciding to go on a weekday this time, the crowds were smaller than the Sunday rush but there’s still hundreds of people taking advantage of the bargains and incredible discounts.
Having lived through the last four winters in California, I assumed moving to the tropics would surely eliminate the problem of drought. Unfortunately, my timing was horrible and here we are stuck in the middle of another severe day spell. Ironically, while California’s been blanketed with multiple large storms and received desperately needed rain this year, the strongest El Niño since 1997-98 is turning the rainforest into a dry forest. Although January through March normally marks the warmest time of year in Penang, it’s been over eight weeks without any rain and it’s blazing hot. Regularly climbing into the mid 30’s every day (mid 90’s Fahrenheit), high levels of humidity go with the heat making every day uncomfortable and way too hot to do very much of anything. According to Expat.go, it’s been the hottest winter since 1998 and schools are considering closing next week in parts of Malaysia.
Expat life without a car in a tropical heat wave means lots of excess dehydration for “type A” restless personalities like me that refuse to sit in he condo from sunrise to sundown. (Luckily for Diane, she’s perfectly fine relaxing with a good book all day on our breeze filled balcony). Even the locals agree it’s way too hot and anxiously await the return of cloud filled skies and afternoon thunderstorms. Without much else to do, we find ourselves hitting the air-conditioned mall quite often which gave us an opportunity to try the hottest new restaurant in Penang. Waiting to queue is something Diane and I rarely do and certainly not in Southeast Asia where abundant food choices makes it seem ridiculous to stand in line. Achieving Michelinstar status, the famed Taiwanese restaurant Din Tai Fung opened a few months ago with daily lines that snaked half way around the mall. With Chinese New Year festivities finally over and everyone back in school, we decided to give it a try now that the excitement wore down a bit.