Monday, 25 March 2013

Annoyance #1: Aircon:  Submission to the Central Controller

One of the reasons for me to go to Singapore was its warm, tropical climate. Sipping fresh coconut juice under a palm tree,  a dip in the blue water of the pool, eating a fresh mango. Just the idyllic picture a westerner has of tropical life.
Although the coconut  and mango bit are in fact true, I severely underestimated the resentment that Singaporeans feel towards their own climate. And the fact how efficiently they banned the climate out of daily life. Through Airconditioning. Or Aircon, as it is referred to locally.
Singapore offices and public spaces can be cold, very cold. 
I have been in meetings where I wore a t-shirt, a shirt, a cardigan, a fleece and a scarf to stay warm. (OK the scarf bit came from my phantasy)

Here is an interesting quote I found in this article from the New York times (see also the quotes further below):

'Some people contend that Singapore suffers from air-conditioning overkill. Engineers say offices here typically keep their thermostats at about 72 degrees, making cardigans part of many an office wardrobe.'

Please note that 72 degrees F (22 Celcius) is on the warm end of the Aircon spectrum, often temperatures can drop below 20 Celcius. This is OK when you wear a sweater, but very chilly when you wear summer clothes (shorts, t-shirt, flip-flops)

Yes, I have a whole cardigan collection at the office, corresponding the the room where I have meetings. The lighter ones I can wear in my own office, while the thick, heavy duty ones are for the notoriously cold offices. 
Now here comes the part I find more difficult to understand: Aircon temperature is regarded as the weather, it is just the way it is, you have to accept it. Whenever you are freezing your butt off in a theater, cinema, office or restaurant, and mention this to a member of the staff, you always get the same answer: 'cannot change it, is centrally controlled'. The employees do not seem to have any influence over it. It is also consistent with Singapore Airlines flights, that are by far the coldest flights I've ever experienced. But the Singapore Airline passengers know this, apart from some poor, freezing tourists in shorts and t-shirts. The regular passengers come prepared with thick sweaters and sometimes even coats. They know that the temperature is Centrally Controlled.
 Reflecting on this, I realize that apparently, in public places in Singapore there are no a thermostats with an 'up' and 'down' button. It is all done by the Central Controller. If the Central Controller were a person, you could ask that person to tone down the aircon a bit. If that were a possibility, obviously people would have done that. The Central Controller would push the 'temperature up' button a few times, and everybody would be comfortable. But that does not seem to be an option. So one can only deduct that the Central Controller is a superhuman entity, a mysterious being with a lame sense of humour.

But it is not only humour at the expense of freezing mortals that drives the Central Controller. There is more to it, and that has to do with Singapore's recent history.

'Shopping and dining in air-conditioned buildings became a mark of upward mobility. ''Escaping into A.C. was a way of escaping your past as a poor country,'' said Chua Beng Huat, a sociology professor at the National University of Singapore.'

And in a modern, rich country, even the deceased deserve aircon at their eternal resting place:

'For some, air-conditioning is a matter of both life and death. At the Ji Le Memorial Park, $7,000 buys a his-and-hers niche where cremated remains rest in climate-controlled peace. ''Chinese are very superstitious,'' said a Ji Le caretaker, Rick Chu. ''Now they're enjoying the good life. After they pass away, they want to make sure they're still comfortable.'

You can even buy duvets in Singapore, including thick winter duvets. Yes in Singapore, where night temperatures rarely drop below 25 degrees C. Searching for an explanation, I was told that some people turn their aircon down to 16 degrees C, and then use the duvet to stay warm. The world upside down: You need to create the problem because you want to use the solution.

But aircon in Singapore is not about being cool or about absence of sweat. Aircon is about wealth, about development into the modern age. 

For this sense of wealth, the following guidelines apply:
Warm = Poor, sweaty, dirty
Cool = Good
Cold = Luxury
Freezing = Bathing in gold

The Central Controller understands these guidelines like nobody else.

1 comment:

  1. haha... interesting article there

    but then, as a Singaporean born and bred here, I must confess that I'm one of those who cannot survive without aircon

    Maybe you din live in Singapore long enough (since 2011), but those days when you have to walk in 35degC to buy lunch are dreadful for many

    In fact, some of our happiest days in a year are between the Christmas Day and Chinese New Year, when the weather is relatively cool (temp can be as low as 23degC)

    and I'd exchange anything for a white Christmas in Singapore (99% not going to happen though) ;)