The Visa Collector

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

Tag Archives: snow

Light, shade, and temperature


In February of last year, a good friend stayed at our apartment for a long weekend. On his second day, I took him to a Filipino restaurant in San Mateo for brunch. We arrived early, so the place, called Kuya’s, hadn’t opened yet.

As we waited outside the establishment, I noticed how my guest started to shiver from the late-morning cold. So I found a patch of sunlight, stood there, and asked him to join me. When he stepped into the light, relief from the cold was almost immediate. It was as much a surprise to him, as it was to me the first time I noticed the temperature differences between light and shade in my first winter in Taiwan. I snapped the following photo to commemorate the “aha” moment.

Under the blazing tropical sun, shade is associated with relief. Leaving the shade for relief was a foreign concept. It’s a lesson that you learn quickly, however, even in sub-tropical countries that don’t really have snow — like Taiwan.

I experienced an even sharper contrast between light and shade when I went to Kanata, Canada (a suburb of Ottawa) on a business trip a couple weeks short of Christmas. This is what greeted me on my first morning.

Overnight, a layer of frost had formed on the cars in the hotel parking lot. This wasn’t California-style, turn-on-the-wiper-and-you’re-done frost. You actually had to scrape this stuff off. Surprising as that phenomenon was (it was the first time I’d ever had to drive in that kind of weather), what even more surprising was how the curvature of the windshield was enough to keep the morning sun from melting all of the frost. Hence the powder-white patch on the right side of the car.

For most of my stay at the hotel, I parked where the photo above was taken. However on Thursday night, there was a hockey game at a nearby stadium and game parking spilled over to the hotel parking lot. So I ceded my usual spot and parked behind the hotel building. It seemed like a good idea at the time since there was virtually no competition on that side of the building.  I found out why the following morning.

The parking slots there were completely shielded from the sun. So I had a whole lot of scraping to do. I know my east coast and European friends who are more accustomed to full-blown winters will look at that picture and laugh. But hey . . . we don’t have that issue in the tropics . . . or California for that matter. It was as new to me, as the light-and-shade revelation my friend experienced in February.

The things I enjoy most about travelling are the little discoveries that tell you “you’re no longer at home”. A close second is taking visitors, who are new to my part of world, around to experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of my living space. Through their comments and questions, things that had become routine and mundane become fresh all over again.

Thank you for that visit my friend, and for that re-discovery of the non-tropical relationship between light, shade, and temperature.

Jun 17, 2012

Snow at sea-level in the Bay Area?

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After having travelled far and wide to experience snow, looks like there’s a 50-50 chance that it will actually snow in the Bay Area itself. No travelling up winding roads to the mountains. We’re talking snow in the low-lands.

As per the San Jose Mercury News (see here), an Alaskan cold front due to arrive here on Thursday could bring the mercury low enough to cause frozen precipitation. If it does, it will reportedly be the first time this has happened since February 1976.

Its such a rare event, that the last time it snowfall occurred, a San Jose resident went outside, made a snowball, placed it in a peanut butter jar and saved it for posterity. She still has it (See here).

I took a friend to Portola Valley last Saturday, and up there (ironic name for a mountainous area) we did encounter snow on the ground. Its been a pretty cold winter.

Will history be made on Friday the 25th? Stay tuned.

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Feb 23, 2011

4th season encounters: A surreal walk to work


I travel a lot for work, and my company has a fair number of offices in cities that receive their share of snow. So it was really only a matter of time before I was sent to a snow-bound office.

One of the projects to which I am assigned is based in Kanata, Canada — a suburb of Ottawa. I travel there periodically, and half-expected that this would be the place where I’d eventually have to walk through a field of white. Although I am fascinated by snow, I do not look forward to driving in it. So thus far, I’ve been careful to plan my travels ahead, or before, any possibility of “black ice”. As of writing my efforts have been successful.

Then came a trip to Munich . . . a week before Christmas.

It was only my second visit to Germany. My first, back in 2004, had been in summer so this was going to be a completely different visit. I touched base with colleagues at our Munich office well in advance of the trip, and they all reported that the most I needed to worry about was cold rain, since it never really snowed that early. But as luck would have it, Munich went through an unusually cold winter in 2010. So I was greeted by the following.

The part of this trip that will be most memorable, is arguably the part that everyone else around me probably felt was the most mundane: the walk to work. Anyone who’s grown up with snow will, in all likelihood, have sloshed through snow more times than they care to remember. But for a tropical person who hadn’t put together a snowball till earlier in the year . . . this was still coool (figuratively). Check out an older blog post about winter: Encounters with the fourth season.

The hotel was a mere 10 minutes from the office, so getting a taxi was absurd. So everyday that week, I walked the path shown below.

I can only imagine how odd I must have looked to the folks driving by: a grown man stopping by plants along the path, taking off his gloves, and then scooping the soft literally powdery ice off the tops of leaves. When faced with fleeting opportunities, curiosity trumps awkwardness . . . as well as the feeling of “freezer burn”.

With fields of powder white visible from our office window all week, two words eventually formed in my head “snow” + “angel”. Hook or by crook I was going to make one before I turned 40. After taking pointers from incredulous friends about snow-patch selection and the “proper” technique for angel fabrication . . . voila!

My coldest evening ever happened while at the Munich Christmas markets, on the last night of my visit: -9C (15.8F). It was a mercury value to which my Canadian friends (who’ve been openly plotting to send me on a one-way trip to Manitoba in January to get me over my cold-weather curiosity), simply shook their heads. Mild weather for folks accustomed to -40C weather . . . but still a first for me.

The unexpected discovery of the evening was how cold could actually make you lose facial sensation. It felt like dental anesthesia, and actually added a level of difficulty to speaking. You don’t see that in the movies.

Here are a few other things that Hollywood doesn’t show that I found on this trip:

– Snow “cakes” everything. Shoes, mud guards, road surfaces, etc. The stuff forms a substantial layer on everything. You can’t easily scrape the stuff off the pavement to see the asphalt.

– Stores can get very wet and messy as patrons walk in from the cold with their snow-covered boots. Leaving tracks and even pools of water as they move about.

– You can still sweat in -9C if you exert yourself and you’re bound up like a burrito

The warmth of good camaraderie trumps cold

Many thanks to the locals that added the many highlights on this trip. You know who you are.

Jan 9, 2011

Encounters with the fourth season


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?

Dec 11, 2010