Friday, September 24, 2010

When it rains, it pours

            When I say I'm from Seattle I get one of three responses: 1) Oh, that's where (Microsoft, Starbucks, Pearl Jam, Being, Jimi Hendrix) is from, right?  And yes those are about the only options ever known when you're abroad.  2) That's in America, right? 3) It rains there all the time, right?  There is a bit ore to Seattle than just the list from number 1, but I understand that it's not important if you're not from there.  Regarding number two I've had some interesting conversations.  One was with a student in Spain, an adult of intermediate to upper intermediate competency.  We'd been working together about three months when I showed up at her house for our regular lesson to be greeted with "HEY!!  There's more than one Washington!  There's Washington DC and Washington and you're from WASHINGTON!"  I've learned that most of the world only seems to recognize the one that's not a state and followed by two little but important letters.  We'd had numerous conversations about America but she hadn't understood where I was from, or why I complained about the distance to go home.  *as an aside, I realize many folks from countries outside the US (ahem, Rodrigo, ahem) will take issue with my use of America in place of US, USA or United States.  I began doing this when many other people, in other countries called the US "America".  No, it's not technically correct, America could be the three country grouping of North America, it could be both North and South Americas, but America is a term many languages use and I seem to have adopted it as well. If you are at all confused about where I mean when I say America please ask and I will provide an explanation.

            Coming back around to point, it does rain in Seattle.  A fact most people don't know or believe is that New York City gets more annual rainfall than Seattle does, yet Seattle is known for being a "rainy city".  The primary difference is the way it rains in Seattle.  I try to use London as a comparison because people think of London as a gray, city with lots of rain showers in the Autumn. From October or perhaps the end of September until the middle of spring in May, our normal winter consists of gray, foggy, rainy days.  In years past, the weather was not unbearably cold but oppressively blah.  Many people who move to Seattle are affected by SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder when a persons moods tend to follow the weather, therefore gray, unky days lead to depression. Some Washingtonians suffer from this as well, I know I have had my moments. Many "outsiders" will also notice that the weather forecasters on the local news have an excess of different words to refer to the rain, and for us they do all mean something different.  Rain, showers, drizzle, sprinkle, sprinkling, downpour, storm, torrential  rain, mist, dew, wet fog, etc etc.  Loads of people I have met were surprised that they went to Seattle and the weather was nice.  I nonchalantly ask when they went.  "oh, July".  Right because we do have a summer.  Seattle summers are brilliant too, hiking in the mountains, more lakes and rivers than you can shake a stick at, and the ocean if you want it.  It's rarely "hot", the last two year again being the exception with weeks over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius.  Just because Seattle is known for rain doesn't mean it rains 365 days a year.

            That said, I was shocked to move to places that routinely receive snow and lots of it.  Blame global climate change, blame La Niña, but it's happening and Seattle seems to be in a snow-upswing the last two years with enough snow to close the city. Of course Seattle, like Rome is built on a series of hills.  That combined with the fact that "Seattle never gets snow" mentality that leads the city to never invest in enough plows or salting trucks and everything shuts with an inch on the ground.  Or the snow melts due to an air current form Hawaii and then refreezes when we get Canadian winds that follow. A quarter inch of ice will screw things up just as badly.

            In Indonesia, as in Guatemala, the rain is an authoritative power.  The rain here can last 15 seconds as it did last week.  It was literally long enough for me to take two steps back to the door for a jacket and the rain stopped.  It can last days.  The rain can flood streets in a matter of minutes and can continue torrentially for hours. Thunder often shakes ones bones. The lightening can be seen for miles, with or without the rain. It's definitely the brightest, most impressive lightening I've ever seen.  It varies from a flash that lights to sky to a straight strike leaving one to wonder who god might have been targeting.
 I've seen intersections that look like this, though not huge sections of the city.  There have been places like this since I've been here and I've followed the new coverage. in the Indonesian language they call downpours or storms Hujan Besar, or in English "Big Rain".  Seems fitting eh?

            We are in a transition period from the dry to the wet season. Generally the wet season is October until March, and then dry season April until September. We are not, however, affected by the typhoon season that hits many of the Asia countries to our north. Jakarta seem to have been reached by climate change as well.  Most people told me that it never used to rain during Ramadhan (see previous post) and this year we had rain at least a dozen days.  A general rule of thumb is that the rain starts in October.  It is September 24th and I can remember more wet days in the last two weeks than dry ones. Afternoons start to cloud up and by about 3 o'clock the rain is imminent. I have been caught in more than one downpour.  As I ride an ojek to and from work, and as work lets out at 3:30 most days, I have invested in an uncomfortable, less than stylish plastic rain suit.  The jacket has a zipper and a hood. The pants could make Heidi Klum look like a hippo. The plastic keeps body heat trapped in like a zip-lock bag. But with raindrops as big as a quarter (or Euro) coin, and storms that last an indeterminate length of time, it beats waiting under a tree.  I have also given in to carrying an umbrella in places other than Seattle but as a true Seattleite, I refuse to use one at home.  Colombia jackets are always preferred.  I got some cool wellies last year, but mostly for the snow.

            Being from Seattle I've always taken note of the rain as you can tell.  I miss Seattle rain.  Wearing just a sweatshirt and shining from the drizzle but not ending up soaked.  The cool weather that necessitated an extra layer or two. The smell when rain is on it's way, and the clean rinse smell afterward. I even miss the mellow and occasionally depressing mood of those gray days.  Nothing lets a person really revel in a bad mood like that weather.  Oppositely, I am still amazing by rain that's not cold.  Rain that can swoop in and out like a swallow in a barn, starting and stopping so quickly it takes me by surprise. The fact that there isn't a change in smell but still a change in the way the air feels so you know it's coming. Lastly, the fact that SO MUCH rain can fall so fast.

           I know growing up in Seattle I must have done my fair share of complaining about the rain.  I can't recall but I'm sure my mom could ring in with her memories of me as a whiny kid. I always thought of myself as a warm weather lover, which I still am.  Not much makes me happier than spending days in the sun and wearing a new tan out. And yet, I am happy to be inside, listening to the rain as the world gets dark and using it as a great excuse to be home, alone, doing my own thing.

           I didn't realize I would write so long about rain but there you have it.


  1. One of the things I remember most vividly about Indonesia is the rain and the flooding, although from what I've seen in the news, maybe seems the flooding in Jakarta is worse now? (or possibly the urban development hasn't accounted for what to do with all the water now there's more concrete and tarmac about...)

  2. That's something I don't completely miss about living in a tropical country. It was the same in Venezuela, once it rains it really rains, and can cause sever damage to the less fortunates. Once, it rained for a straight month in La Guaira (about 45 mins outside Caracas), and the rain and mud destroyed basically the whole city, destroying good and bad buildings/houses/comerces alike.

    Your reference about "America" to talk about the US, it's so typically Spanish, and we all get caught up at that and say it as well.

    Plus, seems like people here like to compare the place you are from with something or someone. In my case: "I'm from Venezuela" "Oh! What do you think of Chavez?" or "I live in MI" "MICHAEL MOORE!!!" Ugh..


    P.S. Can you see I'm cathing up with your posts?

  3. Hey you!
    I wrote about rain too!
    And when I think of Seattle, I always think of Frasier first. So there.