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10 summer hacks picked up from an expat (& repat) life spanning Japan, the UK and the US

summerhacks_US

The summer ideal, so rarely achieved (apart from the cocktail), Public Domain CC0 via Pixar.

New York City, where I now live after years of being an expat on two small islands, the UK and Japan, had a particularly brutal winter in 2014. You would think I’d now be in the mood for summer.

But no. It hasn’t worked that way.

The moment the temperature and humidity levels skyrocketed here in the city, I realized my feelings about summer haven’t changed. Basically, and as expressed in this space before, I can’t stand it. Or, in the somewhat more poetic words of Swedish black metal trio Woods of Infinity:

Summer is not my friend. Satan, let it end.
Sunshine, hurting my eyes. Making my skin look like…argh.

Which brings me to today’s topic: summer hacks. What hacks have I picked up from the three countries where I’ve lived—Japan, the US and the UK—that can help me through summer’s doggiest days?

FROM JAPAN:

1) Avoid the sun at all costs.

Japanese women seem to have been the first to get the memo about avoiding sun damage. During the summer, which in Tokyo can be particularly brutal, most would not venture out in the heat of the day without a hat or a UV parasol, sometimes both. (Note: A regular umbrella will do in lieu a proper parasol.)

2) Carry a fan and a handkerchief.

If the heat becomes unbearably hot, say, when standing on the subway platform or getting into a car, one of the easiest ways to get cool is via a simple fan, either the kind that folds or an uchiwa. And if you find yourself perspiring profusely in a public place, try dabbing your face and neck with a handkerchief folded into a neat square. (When living in Japan, I used to find it entertaining to go into a department store and look at the vast array of handkerchiefs on display in the ground floor accessories. Every major Western designer has done one, meaning they’ve all had to struggle with translating their unique look into a small square of cloth. Who knew?)

3) Eat sparingly (cold soba) or else for energy (grilled eel).

On a hot and humid day, one of the healthiest meals is the simplest: a plate of cold buckwheat noodles, or soba, which have been cooked al dente. The noodles are dipped into a cup containing a special sauce (consisting of dashi, sweetened soy sauce and mirin), to which has been added fresh wasabi and sliced spring onions. Alternatively, if your body feels depleted during a heat wave, you can go to the other extreme and have a meal of unagi kabayaki, freshwater eel that has been glaze-grilled: it is served over white rice, typically with a cold beer to accompany. (By tradition, Japanese favor this meal from mid-July through early August, to counteract the lethargy and debilitation that occurs mid-way through their blistering summers.)

4) Drink plenty of cold tea and, for short bursts of energy, iced coffee with milk and a shot of gum syrup.

In Japan you can buy, at every convenience store, huge plastic bottles of green tea or oolong cha (my fave) to refrigerate so that cold tea (most people don’t ice it) is always on hand. You can also make mugicha: a caffeine-free barley infusion, said to be the “flavor of summer” in Japan and always served a room temperature. Before moving to Japan, I had never before tried iced coffee , where apparently the Japanese have been drinking it since the 1920s. Usually, it’s served in a glass to accompany or finish a restaurant meal—not in a plastic disposable cup (it’s impolite to eat and drink on the streets in that part of the world). Although hesitant at first, I became an immediate fan and was pleased to see it had caught on in the West by the time I returned. Now you can even get iced coffee in Dunkin’ Donuts. And, whereas I don’t usually add sugar to coffee, I will sometimes add to the iced version as I find my body needs that extra bit of energy to get from A to B. (In Japan, one always adds gum syrup, which dissolves much better than sugar, but it’s hard to find that here.)

FROM THE US:

5) If you can’t stand the heat, move to a cold dark box, aka a movie theatre.

Maybe it’s a New York City thing, but I’m thinking of Michael Maslin’s New Yorker cartoon showing a movie theatre with a marquee that says:

AIR
CONDITIONING

and a movie

6) Eat ice cream.

One or two scoops of freshly made ice cream in a dish or a regular sugar cone (nothing heavier or fancier) is one of life’s simple pleasures. Many people die in heat waves (no joke), so this is one to have, and keep, on your bucket list.

7) Seek invites to places where you can swim—in a pool, a lake, the ocean.

Nothing is more refreshing on a hot day than plunging into some cool water. Another tip is to put on a shirt or dress that is slightly damp—it will be dry by the time you reach the subway.

8) No opportunity to escape to a house in the Hamptons or equivalent? Have a cocktail.

See my still-relevant post of three summers ago on cocktails as mini-summer escapes to exotic locales, entitled Some enchanted drinking…

FROM THE U.K.:

9) Seize the moment and go crazy.

British summer tends to be short and sweet—and blissful (not too humid). Should you have a day where the heat breaks and temperatures and humidity levels are bearable, EMBRACE SUMMER AS YOUR FRIEND. Now, British people go to extremes by stripping down, as noted in this recent post by Annabel Kantaria in her Telegraph Expat blog, hence risking sunburn and melanoma. (As an aside: Did you know we once did an interview with Annabel? Check it out if you haven’t seen it.) At the very least, perhaps you could pull off an impromptu picnic or bike ride, or else try to score an outdoor table at a popular restaurant or pub.

10) Have a cuppa.

Contrary to the Japanese and American customs, tea is drunk hot in Britain because it makes you sweat and therefore cool down. This hack is one of the more practical legacies from the days when the Brits occupied India. To this day, I will sometimes make a cuppa when I’m boiling hot. Think the science sounds dubious? Listen to this NPR story. In any event, tea is an important summer drink in all three cultures, for good reason. It sustains you. See my post on the virtues of tea-drinking.

* * *

Readers, it’s your turn. What can you add to my list before that Woods of Infinity song starts haunting me again:

Awake at night again. No tears to weep and too restless to sleep. Thinking of all and nothing and got stuck in between.

Hurry, please! Any foods, drinks, rituals, Bacchanalian festivities or other hacks you’ve picked up from your lives of displacement? How about current films you’d recommend? SOS, I’m melting over here…

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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11 responses to “10 summer hacks picked up from an expat (& repat) life spanning Japan, the UK and the US

  1. actonbooks July 11, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Twinings — and only Twinings — Earl Grey at a temperature midway between lip scalder and baby sick IMHO

  2. Thea Butler July 11, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Reblogged this on Thea's Blog.

  3. cindamackinnon July 12, 2014 at 12:02 am

    It takes awhile to pick up on customs the casual traveler would not be aware of, but it is the little things that can make a culture so interesting.

    • ML Awanohara July 12, 2014 at 8:54 am

      Yes, the devil — in this case, the salvation — is in the details. But it can be hard to do some of these things (like carrying a parasol, drinking hot tea) at home without feeling self-conscious. Hence the never-ending feeling that you don’t belong in this place. But at least the cocktails are a consolation!😉

  4. Judy July 12, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    From 8 years in the Middle East I would add, get up very early or stay up late at night to avoid the heat of the day (sleep in the afternoon if you can), and go “malling” (ie hang out in an indoor mall where it’s cool)🙂 Even after 5 years back in Canada I still automatically walk on the shady side of the street.

    • ML Awanohara July 21, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      Thanks, Judy. Yes, “malling” is on a par with spending time in a movie theatre though in the latter case you’ve completely avoided the sun! And I love the idea of a siesta. I have a futon in my office for that purpose though sadly haven’t really been able to use it.

  5. actonbooks July 12, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    I try to park under the shade tree in supermarket car parks even if it is just an English summer. (You can tell when it’s summer in England because the rain gets warmer.)

    • ML Awanohara July 21, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      But these days, at least here in America, there are fewer and fewer trees in car parks. Just an endless sea of asphalt. I know this b/c I have dogs and if I’m going somewhere where they have to stay in the car, shade is a must. Fascinating about the rain getting warmer during summer in England. I can’t say I noticed that but will check it out next time I’m there in the summer!

  6. Diary of a Muzungu (@CharlieBeau) July 14, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Have a cuppa cha, yes … As a Brit, I assure you “it’s the answer to just about everything in life!” However, not if you’re in sticky climes and can’t immediately take a shower afterwards… The sweat can be momentarily refreshing but the post-tea soggy clothes are a definite downside for me. Here in Kampala, Uganda, I swear by regular cold showers. Oh yes and cold beer🙂

    • ML Awanohara July 21, 2014 at 2:12 pm

      I think you’re right about the cold (or at least cool) showers. I don’t think the American obsession with hot showers is a healthy thing, even in winter! (Or am I saying that because I’ve been Brit-ified?!)

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