Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
Last week saw the second heatwave this year to sweep across the northern provinces of Việt Nam. From the northwestern mountains of Điện Biên and Lai Châu to the eastern shores of Quảng Ninh and Thái Bình, for nearly a week, the daily temperature stayed at 38-40 degrees Celcius but it sure felt like 50 degrees.
The weather map on national TV showed deep orange to bright red colours with warnings for forest fires and droughts, while people were told not to go out at midday. Methods to keep cool including wearing an ice belt around your waist, wearing a few layers instead of just one, or keeping yourself hydrated by drinking water and eating fresh fruit.
Vitamin sea was the thing everyone needed but few could get. The fourth wave of COVID-19 infections has been wreaking havoc in the country, with more than 500 cases recorded on a single day last week.
The summer heat and the constant threat of disruption from the pandemic have made life tough. No sooner had the people of Đà Nẵng City been able to go out, have a walk by the beach or go to gyms or restaurants, only three days after the lockdown was lifted, a new outbreak set everything back to square one.
Summer is creeping towards the finish line but schoolchildren can't enjoy the break or have some good time away from hot cities.
When you come from a tropical country, you take enjoying the sun for granted. Our eyes get used to bright sunlight every time we go out and in summer, which can last from April to November, we tend to find ways to hide away from the sun, either in the shade or by wearing long gloves and sunscreen to protect our skin. We think of the sun as more of an annoyance than a natural resource.
But wait a minute, the heat of summer helps farmers sun-dry their newly harvested rice before the stormy season comes and in the mountains, people sun-dry their meat or sausages for winter and bamboo shoots and mushrooms for Tết (Lunar New Year holiday).
In fishing villages, fish and shrimps are sun-dried to last longer and transport farther to dining tables in big cities. Demand for sun-dried squid (and of course beer) has soared during the European Championship.
The natural energy from the sun drops on us like a God-given resource, and if used properly, it can make our lives easier rather than harder.
The use of solar energy may be low at the moment, but the country is starting to tap into this huge potential.
A few years ago, one of my colleagues in Việt Nam told me that she could not feel sorry for some poor people living here.
"Look, you have the sun, you get to drink from a coconut, it's heaven for us. All you have to do is find yourself some work to do. If you think of homeless people who live underground to avoid winter and never get to see the sun for months, you'd think life in Việt Nam is not that tough," she said.
I get the point, from an outsider's view, but life is tough for everyone in a different way. If you can think and act out of the box, then you'll achieve more than expected.
Laments about the heat and high temperature were widespread among netizens last week, but when you learn a recipe to sun-dry meat like those in the mountains, the solar energy might not seem so bad.
Before you know it, there will only be a few more sunny days, then the temperature will drop, followed by rain showers.
When you know the ordeal will finally end and that you don't have much time left to do the things you wanted to, time flies fast, and your mood gets better.
All of a sudden, a seemingly endless flow of uses for the sun's heat come to mind, like drying radishes for sour pickles in winter, sun-drying red hot chillis to make our family's favourite winter porridge, sun-drying cherry tomatoes to make your children some pasta, or sun-drying some marinated beef to wash down with a glass of bia hơi (draught beer).
Our friends who live in the UK texted me: "You're so lucky to enjoy the sun! Now in the middle of summer and I'm here shivering like an old lady because it's still cold."
I wish we could send her some sun over to warm her up. But it's impossible to do that and COVID-19 has halted a lot of long-haul international flights. I hope they can hop on a plane soon and enjoy quarantine in a qualified hotel or resort by the beach in Đà Nẵng. VNS