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Thursday, March 31, 2005
Taiwan is sick.
Its summers liqueify humanity and its winters do a 180.
So I laughed when the Japanese kept asking me if thier country is humid.
"Buddy, you ain't seen hot and humid til you've seen Taiwan," I would say with a snorting laugh. People's feelings were hurt. The Japanese were so sure they were top dogs in this department. I let them down big time.
Then, two years later, just to spite me, everyone turned up their air conditioners.
"See, goshfukkit," they would say, "Japan is so hot and humid we have no choice but to crank up our air conditioners."
The weather wasn't hotter; the air conditioners cooled down rooms so much that outside, by contrast, the heat seemed to increase.
They also had rules for workwear. No shorts, no bare legs, no sleeveless shirts. Perverted students and teachers ruled out skirts. They also barred me from fanning myself at work - it looked unprofessional.
By the end of my Japanese period, my defenses broke down and I admitted that Japan was almost as hot and humid as Taiwan. Oddly enough, at that same time, there were whispers that just maybe, schools would get air conditioning.
In my day, Japanese schools had air conditioning (and heating) only in the staff room. Between classes, kids clustered inside happily mopping off their sweat in this refreshing arctic. Female students prospered in the summer, when their uniforms - skirts - prepared them to face the onslaught while male students drenched their polyester track suits. (The girls got their comeuppance in the winter when their skirts offer no protection against the cold.)
The argument for schools without air conditioners was that temperature extremes would toughen up the youth of the country. Yet, three years ago, when temperatures soared to brain-melting levels, parents, teachers and the government admitted that just maybe the kids might be too hot to pay attention in class. So just maybe schools might get air conditioners.
Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi is stepping up efforts to get people to turn down their air conditioners by not wearing jackets and ties this summer. If others see his example, they might start dressing down too.
Koizumi might also want to look to solutions from Japan's past for ideas on keeping cool in the summer.
In Kyoto, there are still restaurants that have streamside patios, where diners can cool down by virtue of being near moving water. As Japanese women often flush just before letting off a stream of urine to mask their unladylike sounds, this almost-clean water does not have to be wasted; by diverting this stream of sewage water through offices, Japanese management can achieve the same effects felt in Kyoto restaurants.
Another traditional method of cooling down, is to listen to the tinkling of glass chime-bells, or fuurin. Entrepeneurs can create fuurin muzak for offices.
Then there are ghost stories: who in Japan doesn't get the creeps and subsequent chills from hearing about vengeful female ghosts who've burned off half their faces at the exact moment they've been dumped? The Japanese claim that these stories scare them into coolness. Koizumi could well heed this traditional way of thinking and pass a law to make it legal - nay, required, if energy conservation is what he's looking for - for employers to sneak up on their employees and spook the hell out of them.
Maktaaq's revolutionary defense against the unbearable summer heat of Asia has been kit removal.
A low-cost option for small- to mid-size businesses, the combination of the Maktaaq method and the fright school of cooling might be the solution. Executives, in Japan almost exclusively middle-aged drunks, work in the nude.
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