Sunday , June 23 2024

Foreigners’ love-hate relationship with air conditioners in Vietnam


John had never thought of air conditioners as something he needed in life. Until he spent a summer in Hanoi, that is.

When he and his wife first moved from Shanghai to Hanoi in 2015 for work, the couple rented a rooftop apartment in the capital city, and quickly regretted it.

“No amount of service would help on the hottest days since the air conditioners were old and the landlord spent no money on maintaining them,” the 55-year-old American-German, who works as a quality director for a multinational firm in Bac Ninh Province outside Hanoi says about his first apartment in Vietnam.

“It also did not help that the apartment was on the top floor with a full southern exposure; so it received direct sunshine from dawn to dusk.”

The heat in Hanoi was uncomfortable and persistent, unlike in Shanghai when he lived for 12 years. In the event, the air conditioner became their lifeline during summers.

The couple later moved to a different apartment, but air conditioners have remained a constant. This time they installed a better air conditioner.

Many foreigners are surprised at first to see how popular air conditioners are in Vietnam, but later realize the reason why when summer comes around.

Homes and offices in many European countries rarely have air conditioners thanks to their climate. A survey by Japan’s Inaba Denko corporation says only 3% of U.K. homes have air conditioners, and the figure is below 5% for France and Germany.

“None of the apartments or houses my families had in Germany had A/C,” John says.

But with heat waves becoming common in recent times, a shift in consumer behavior is evident. During the peak of the heat wave in July last year, the U.K.’s Sainsbury company received around 300 calls every day for installation of air conditioners instead of the usual 20.

Stuart, a 25-year-old office worker who moved from the U.K. to HCMC over a year ago, said the heat in Vietnam is far more uncomfortable than in the U.K., and air conditioners are indispensable in summer.

He often goes to his office early and returns home late at night just for its air conditioner; on days off he goes to air-conditioned cafes.

But not everyone is addicted to air conditioners: John himself refrains from using them whenever possible.

He himself turns on an air conditioner in one room and always closes all doors and windows.

Both John and Stuart say one of the biggest concerns over the use of air conditioners is the environmental impact.

Air cooling devices consume around 10% of global electricity, which is mainly generated from fossil fuels.

They also place a big burden on the power grid since they are often used at the same time, usually during the hottest periods of the day.

There are some other people who refuse to use air conditioners out of environmental concerns. Mary, 63, a teacher in Hanoi, says she went through the first heat wave this year without resorting to them.

The Englishwoman says she opens her windows once the sun goes down, drinks plenty of water and wears cool fabrics to combat the heat.

At school, she tells her students to refrain from using air conditioners, explaining to them the effects of climate change.

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