The Visa Collector

A blog about travelling with a Filipino passport, and life overseas

Encounters with the fourth season

Posted by VisaC on December 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm

What blog about Filipinos living abroad would be complete without a post about winter? With December upon us . . . it is time.

I have a friend at work, a Canadian-Armenian, who had seen one too many winters and maintains romanticized notions about the tropics and palm trees. In a classic example of “grass is always greener in someone else’s garden”, we regularly exchange nightmare stories about each other’s home-country weather. He’d talk about stepping out of a properly heated airport into freezing, humid winter air and not being able to breathe. On my end I would relate how tropical humidity would trigger asthma attacks and other heat allergies.

We both liked to make light of the other’s climate preferences. I’d also give him a hard time whenever he complained about the air-conditioner in the office being set too low, or if he showed up with a jacket on just-slightly-chilly days. For his part, he liked joking about sending me on a one-way trip to Manitoba in January, and sharing videos like the following:

He once asked me “How many Filipinos really share your dislike of heat, and don’t believe that they are living in a tropical paradise?” Without hesitation, I said: “100%”. I shared that question with friends and relatives, and they all laughed in agreement. On the flip side, given how temperate-climate people love to soak up the sun in spring and summer, its arguably safe to say that winter doesn’t hold the same fascination for them as it does a tropical person that hasn’t really seen the worst of winter . . . yet.

My first falling-snow experience happened in New Jersey in December of 2005. My wife and I were visiting my brother for Christmas. We had just gone to bed, when my phone rang. It was my brother’s eldest son. “Uncle, go outside, quick!!!” he said.  Apparently light, feathery snow had started falling, and he recalled a conversation earlier that evening about my only having seen snow on the ground in my first US visit in 2001. He wanted to be the first one to make the introduction to the stuff that regularly buried their drive way each year.

More snow was in the cards on that visit. On the day we were to visit New York City, the weather had turned bad. We had originally planned to take rides on the upper deck of Greyline double-decker buses for a hop-on/hop-off tour of the city. But both my brother and sister-in-law warned that it was too cold for what we wanted. “People get killed in this weather” my brother said ominously.

So, as any good tropical person would, we headed off to NYC, bundled in wool coats that my brother lent us as replacements for our pathetically inadequate San Francisco cold wear . . . and went on the roof-top bus ride anyway. Cold . . . shmold.

The adventure started uneventful enough. We found the bus, and proceeded to the top deck where we saw a fair number of people who felt as we did about missing out on views of the city’s skyscrapers. As we waited for the tour to start, we were treated to our first daylight glimpse of snow fall. Large, cotton-like flakes were drifting into view . . . sideways . . . which was a surprise.

When the bus finally started moving, fascination with the flakes, gave way to a new-found appreciation for thermal underwear — which we didn’t have. I knew things were going to get interesting when I started losing sensation in my toes. Even on the coldest days in Baguio City, Taipei, and San Francisco, that never happened. All of us on that deck pretended that everything was fine for a few blocks. Then when the first couple stood up and made for the stairway, we were all gone faster than it would have taken any of those snowflakes to melt in a Philippine-noon in summer time.

Believe me that experience stuck. When we made preparations for a cruise to Alaska a couple of years later, long johns and thermal socks were on the top of the list of things to buy. As we stood on deck watching the local wildlife, while our boat navigated through glacial melt, my wife and I were warm and toasty (more on that cruise at a later time).

First encounter with large volumes of fresh powder-like snow, not the solidified brown slush pushed aside by snow plows, was in February of this year at Sierra Summit, 65 miles northeast of Fresno, CA. It was too short of a trip to learn winter sports so I spent my time discovering the small things that children at this latitude probably take for granted by the time they learn to write:

  • The way snow sparkles like hundreds of tiny pieces of glass
  • How it crunches as you walk on it, and how it accumulates on your boots
  • The way snow spreads in a powdery arc when you kick it
  • How snowballs do indeed get bigger when you roll them down hill

As expected my Armenian friend told me I was nuts for having gone through such lengths for an opportunity to get frostbitten. I simply smiled and shrugged.

If I ever got him to the Philippines, I figure the tables would be turned. My father-in-law, who used to work as a shipping manager for an export company in my home town, once told me about a Russian ship whose crew couldn’t get over how green the mountains around the port were. I suspect these boringly plain mountains would have the same effect on him. Wait till he sees the folding leaves of a “Makahiya” plant, or the pods of what we used to call as kids as “water bombs”.

All this writing about grass-is-greener-in-someone-else’s-yard got me thinking. If snow is to a tropical person, what thick greenery is to a cold climate person . . . ever wondered what would fascinate a sand-blasted-all-his-life Bedouin?

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