By Bruce Northam


“The heart doesn’t have to be clever.” (photo: Basil Northam)

Don’t be hot and cold.


To keep things real while visiting developing countries, I prefer to stay in family-run establishments because some of the best aspects of any destination are usually those that pertain to family. Occasionally, I’ll spring for air conditioning. Before setting out into northern Cambodia’s humid jungles on a motorbike, I spent five nights in a Phnom Penh guesthouse either huddling beneath a mountain of blankets battling teeth-chattering chills, or waking up repeatedly to kick off those blankets and lie drenched and shivering in my own sweat.


The horrors of dengue fever, malaria, and other tropical plagues overtook my mind. Getting into a pattern, I’d fling off the covers and gradually cool down until, an hour later, an Arctic frost would send me back under the blankets to restart the ritual. I became practiced at drenching one side of the bed, then shifting to the other side while the wet side dried. On day three, I got a short 50-cent haircut—via a sidewalk barber using hand-powered shears—so my oft-soddened hairdo would dry faster and not soak the pillow. Anyone who has backpacked extensively doesn’t go to doctors unless someone else carries them to one.


Perspiring like a freshly emerged swimmer, on the fourth night, I stormed over to unplug the non-adjustable air-conditioner and discovered instead that sauna-hot air was billowing into the room. As I stood there, relief gushed into my veins. This woeful AC dinosaur had been blowing air ranging from 55 to 95 degrees in two-hour cycles. Just when I’d resigned myself to a hospital visit, I realized that my viral rollercoaster had been instigated by recurring rounds of polar misery upstaged by a humid inferno delirium.


Enjoying a mini triumph, I attached a “broken” note onto the demonic appliance, checked out, met my brother Basil, rented a motorbike, and throttled north.


∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞


“The heart doesn’t have to be clever.” —Cambodian motorbike shop owner’s reply to question about neighboring Thailand and Vietnam being more clever at business.


“Hey man, don’t sweat the big stuff.” —Humboldt County, California farmer


(from: The Directions to Happiness: A 135-Country Quest for Life Lessons)


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