Sunday, March 08, 2009


The monsoon season was in full swing when I arrived just before New Year's Day. Like clockwork heavy showers confined me indoors a couple hours every afternoon. It's been raining so much that even the locals who have lived for decades in this tropical climate are complaining. The rain has been a major cause of flooding throughout Sarawak and even in better developed Peninsular Malaysia. Malaysian news has been showing outraged Kuala Lumpurians demanding that the government find a definitive solution to the flash flooding once again hitting this modern capital city. At some spots in KL, water has briefly risen above five feet, swamping cars and causing major traffic jams.

A view across the Sarawak River from the Kuching waterfront on a rainy day:

Rain outside my class at the UNIMAS old campus:

Strangely, I've actually been underwhelmed by the amount of rain. A Pacific Northwest native, of course I'm used to rain, but somehow I expected rain during the rainy season in the rainiest city in Borneo to be like Seattle rain on 'roids. It hasn't been which is nice, plus I always appreciate having clouds around midday to block that brutal equatorial sun. With little variation the temperature is mid-80s in the day and mid-70s at night.

Kuching's rain is not so different from Seattle's, but its thunder is. The weather forecast for virtually every day that I've been here has been "T-storms," but rarely do thunder and lightning come near enough to campus that I'd say I'm in a thunderstorm. Those occasions, however, can be a bit frightening. The sharp thunder "claps" are ten times as loud as the low "booms" I'm used to. At first I found it odd that people kept telling me to be careful whenever I was heading outside at a time it was raining. That was before I found out that last year a UNIMAS student was struck by lightning and instantly killed just a half-mile from where my apartment building sits. She was using an umbrella and a cell phone at the time.

I must have had an exaggerated conception of 'tropical climate' before coming here; I've found it easier than expected to tolerate not only the amount of rain but also the level of heat. I do all my running and basketball either in the morning or evening, and midday I try to stay inside or under shade. I would be wearing shorts 100% of the time if it weren't for the expectation that to class and inside the library men wear long pants, which I find uncomfortably hot when outdoors. But overall the heat rarely bothers me. In fact, some of my classes are so heavily air-conditioned that I've learned to bring along my jacket.

Below is the main entrance to the library. From a distance the windows look frosted, but up close it becomes clear that it's just condensation on the glass.

The tropical humidity has its pros and cons.
Pro: My face and hands require less moisturizing lotion.
Con: When walking outdoors at my normal pace I start sweating in about three minutes.
Pro: My muscles automatically stay looser and require less stretching before sports.
Con: The lens of my camera fogs up real bad when moved outdoors from an air-conditioned room.
Pro: I can get sweet photo effects without any fancy software.

All in all, I find the weekly weather forecasts for Kuching – which invariably read "High of 86, T-storms, 80% chance of precipitation" – to be misleading. I'm grateful that neither the rain nor the heat nor the lightning (knock on wood) has much impeded my activities here.