I was walking through a rather fancy shopping mall in the south of Singapore. The neck of my white undershirt was stretched out, exposing far too much chest; there were bright orange spots smeared all over the front from that morning’s carelessly eaten bowl of noodles; the arm pits were soaked. I was wearing the same pants I’d been wearing for a week, the insides of the legs were feeling a little too lipid-y for comfort. I’d just finished sweating, again. I looked like a bum.
I was coming from a meeting with an ambassador and on my way to a meeting with two upper-tier execs at Singapore’s Port Authority, who were going to take me on a tour of the port and its supporting facilities. I saw a reflection of myself and laughed — who could believe me if I told them what I was doing?
Transitioning from an independent blogger to a big media journalist wasn’t particularly difficult — this is the same game I’ve always played. The challenge has been looking good while doing so.
It is clear that my modus operadi of travel is incompatible with keeping clothing sharp and clean — especially in warm climates. I look at businessmen in Singapore, Phomn Penh, and Dhaka wearing suits, button up shirts, and ties, and still looking good. Then I look at myself sweating and looking like something pulled from a laundry basket. How do they do it? We’re both in the same weather? We’re both going to the same places?
I followed a sharp looking European guy through a mall in Singapore, wondering why he wasn’t looking as shitty as I was. Does he not sweat? He was wearing a full suit on a blazing hot day and didn’t have a drop of perspiration beading up from anywhere. His gelled hair was perfectly in place, his pants were sharply pressed. He was a perfect specimen of how someone should appear in public. I followed him down an escalator and over to a parking garage.
I realized something: these guys don’t go outside. It’s hot out there. Going outside makes you look like shit. They ride through their days in a bubble of air conditioning: from their apartment to the parking area in the basement, to their car, to the parking area where they work, up through the mall or underground corridors, into the lobby of their place of work, into their office, down the elevator and to the dining area of the mall for lunch, back to the office, then follow the same route home.
This never occurred to me before. Going outside, being in the sun and heat, just seemed like something that everybody does everyday in the tropics. I couldn’t fathom someone absconding into this world of air conditioning, never peaking out until the work day is done. This is another world — one that I really can’t live in.
So I carry a set of clothes in my backpack. Before a meeting I strip down in a bathroom, around a corner, or in a nook somewhere. I remove my stained-up t-shirt, put on a flower-print button up shirt, a vest, a blazer, fix the cuffs of my pants, wipe the dirt off my boots, and then reverse the process after the meeting has concluded, repeating as many times throughout the day as needed — while hoping for the best.