When I was in my early 20’s and traveling around Thailand I came across a photo studio in Phuket that was selling reprints of old negatives. It was obvious that the photos were from a personal collection; more everyday life pictures than set up shots. Most seemed to have been taken in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. I was fascinated to see what that part of the world looked like back then, what people wore and how the street I was standing on had changed. The photographs were scattered across a table on the sidewalk and I spent a couple minutes sifting through them, waiting to find the one. Just as I was about to walk away I came across an photo that grabbed my attention.
It was an image of a man and a woman with their backs to the camera, unaware they were being photographed. The woman’s face was not visible but her hair was expertly coiffed and her clothing well tailored. The man was in profile, I recognized him instantly. It was the King of Thailand, very much a young man then but wearing the same black Buddy Holly eyeglasses and elegance that his station demanded. It looked as if they were at an official function, engaged with an audience, but all that was in the frame was them, or rather the backs of them. It seemed like perhaps it was an outtake shot until I noticed what the photographer was really pointing his camera at.
Their backs were wet. His white shirt dark and translucence in the middle, her dress stained with an odd, almost butterfly looking shape. Their clothes were tattooed with the telltale signs of a typical hot day in the tropics; sweat.
The picture was candid and risque; one does not usually take unannounced pictures of royalty, let alone their backs, let alone their sweat stained backs. I smiled and nodded in silent agreement as I felt a rivulet of water roll along my spine. It wasn’t just me, the young Canadian that was having a hard time adjusting to living in the tropics, everybody sweats. Even the King.
Since then I have spent many more days in hot and humid climates around the world trying to retain some composure and decorum as I drip and melt into a sweat stained mess myself. I have watched the locals and learned how to cope. In my pocket is always a handkerchief to blot my bow and wipe my upper lip. In my bag a fan which usually gets me nods of acceptance from the other ladies who are sitting on bench with me, fans in hand trying to find relief of their own. I now know there is not much point working during the heat of the day, you won’t get much accomplished with sweat dripping in your eyes. And I no longer feel guilty seeking out the shade of a palm tree, the ocean breeze or even lingering in a shop with air conditioning when needed, as that’s what the locals do.
Last week in Fiji was a wash out, days on end of grey skies and rain. While it is expected for this time of year it meant we were forced to close all the hatches and had to stay inside cowering under one of our new fans (how did we survive without them?!). This week the weather has cleared, we’ve got sunny skies but it has been unbearable still.
We are preparing to leavingKate, heading off to work at the end of the month for a while. One of the most important things before leaving is doing a big clean up, ridding the boat of any salt residue. Salt attracts moisture, moisture encourages mildew. Improperly prepared and left unattended a boat in the tropics can quickly be overcome with mold; we’ve seen it happen. But how do you clean when you’re literally dripping with sweat? How do you get rid of salt when you’re excreting it? How do you keep things clean and dry when you are smelly and wet?
It takes a lot of vinegar (it cuts through salt), several changes of clothes and plenty of drinking water. And you might as well smile while you’re toiling away in that cramped hot compartment because everybody sweats. Even kings.