The Unbearable Lightness of Being (and Living) in Ridiculously Humid Climes



A month or two ago, my third external hard drive in three years decided to just stop being a functioning external hard drive.

It was only a year and a half old when it died and took all of my laptop’s back ups with it. As a neurotically careful archivist of my own clutter, I have 6 back up hard drives (each of which backed up the previous and then some), half of which have failed spectacularly after spending time in Shanghai and Hanoi.

I’ve lost countless photos, music, writings, books, odds and ends I felt compelled to keep. Every season of X Files, Lost, and lots of Anthony Bourdain. Movies, recipes, the lot.

It’s not the heat (that’s what made my first Mac battery explode in Shanghai) but rather the humidity that does it. That super exotic lifestyle, surrounded by palm trees and slow turning fans and ladies on bikes wearing conical hats? That one that sounds like a nice place to live and work remotely?

Yeah, it kills electronics.

The average lifespan of a good quality external hard drive is around a year, maybe two. Just enough time to fit within the warranty for getting a new one- but you still lose all your data. Every year if you’re not lucky.

In Hanoi, March is referred to as Mouldy March because it’s so humid that staircases are slick with water and your shoes rot and your clothes get covered in mould and everything is just wet and heavy and falling apart. The yellow painted high walls that hide so many houses from common eyes around Hanoi are streaked with drippings of green algae, and the puddles below also teem with slick, green slime.

The rest of the year isn’t much better.

In the supermarkets you can buy cheap plastic dehumidifiers- essentially giant silica gel packs made of plastic the size of a brick. They suck the moisture out of the air and it drips down through the silica gel layer into a little holding tank. The one in the closet had about three inches of water in it after just a few weeks. The one in the living room filled up even more quickly.

This is all the water that would have been absorbed by the intricate mechanisms in your hard drive, in your laptop, in your phone, in your iPod, whatever. The water that gets in and wreaks havoc.

I’m writing this now on Michael’s laptop because mine is in the shop, messed up beyond reason. My third laptop to go kablooie since 2010. It’s an expensive trend.

Laptops and hard drives, so ephemeral in these climes.

I’ve spent the past 24 hours mentally absorbing the idea that not only did my backup hard drive die, but so did my laptop. They are so fragile.

I’ve lost more than I can actually remember.

I don’t have books on my shelves or photos in hard covered albums or music on CDs or LPs or writings in tangible notebooks. Nearly everything is just ones and zeros, easily lost, easily corruptible.

I am so portable!

I can move from country to country with only clothes and a few pretty nick nacks and I can set up a home!

And just as easily and quickly as I have made that home, I can disappear entirely from it.

And that kind of freaks me out.

I feel like I’m treading so lightly on this earth at times that if Facebook suddenly shut down and my blog’s host vanished and my hotmail got hacked and my other three hard drives succumbed to the whims of the local climate, I might vanish entirely.

My self-preserving zen voice says, fuck the lot! Vanish! We’re small, temporary and pointless in the universe anyway- no sense holding on to stuff.

Let it go!

My other voice, the one that squeaks out its fears at 3am, notes that I had all of my photos in there- baby photos, wedding photos, courtship photos, life photos. And writings. I wrote stuff. Can’t remember what, but I did.

That sort of thing.

We tread so lightly here.

Aside from the memories in my head and the relationships I share, it’s all mostly just ones and zeros these days.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.