Beating the heat in Hong Kong

As we enter the fiery heart of Hong Kong’s seemingly endless summer, the minds of all good Hong Kong men converge on a single thought: have I sweated through my shirt yet? I was obsessed with this question earlier this month. Since I work in education, I ordinarily am allowed to dress in ‘Subtropical Slob’ style, i.e. khakis and short-sleeved cotton shirts in Happy Plaids. But for a couple of days, I was press-ganged into serving as the Master of Ceremonies at a conference. This required a necktie and, much worse, a jacket. So I decided it was time to list out my top 10 tips for wearing a suit and still beating the Hong Kong heat:

  1. Stay indoors all the time. This is the only foolproof tip I can give you.

  3. Although I can briefly avoid sweating no matter how fast I walk, eventually being out in the heat breaks down my defenses. It's crucial to note, however, that for me the effects of simple exposure to the heat proceed in a predictably linear fashion. But hurrying even a little increases my propensity to sweat exponentially. So -- counterintuitively -- if I try to walk faster to reduce my heat exposure, it's a colossal mistake. After many years of careful experimentation, I've distilled these revolutionary insights into Mr Tall’s Formula for Walking in Hot Weather While Wearing Far Too Much Clothing:



H=Heat exposure

R=Rate (of walking)

My optimum hot-weather walking rate is therefore in the sloth zone: I can be assured I’ve reached it when I am eating the dust of toddlers, grandmothers, and those sidewalk-dominating amoeba-like blobs of 11-year-old girls. So take heed: the longer you take walking in the heat, the better off you too may be.


  • Plan any walking route so that you can stay indoors as much as possible, hopping from one ‘island of cool’ – i.e. building – to another via walkways and tunnels. This tactic is especially feasible in Central, Wanchai, and Tsim Sha Tsui.

  • You may want to consider taking off your jacket and folding it over your arm in a maneuver I call ‘The Sommelier of the Streets’. Yes, you look silly, but you’ll be a lot cooler, and you may get the occasional tip.

  • If you’re going to be in the public eye, and you’ll need to take your jacket off and swing it around periodically in a manly way, you may want to wear an undershirt to keep from sweating through your main shirt. This is fine, but a warning: at the end of a hot day, your undershirt will be toxic. Handle it with all possible care, and do not expect your wife to come over and give you a hug and smoochie while you’re wearing it. Or, at least, don’t expect my wife to. Not that she’d kiss you anyway, you smutty, deluded reader.

  • Speaking of shirts, don’t wear blue broadcloth ones. How did this color/fabric end up as the default option in Hong Kong, when it goes all splotchy if you just mutter the word ‘sweat’ in its general vicinity?

  • Carry little packs of tissues. Yes, they’re girly, but when the sweat’s running down your face, you’ll be glad you listened to your Uncle Tall. And I’m not asking you to haul one out in the middle of a board meeting, am I? Instead, find a dark corner down the hall in which you can huddle furtively, then draw the tissues out of your inside jacket pocket like a pack of dirty playing cards at a Baptist potluck. Take one out, and mop mop mop that troubled brow!

  • If you need to go farther afield, your transport options are generally your allies in beating the heat. If you have a company car, you’ve got it made, plus you’re not reading this article, since you’ve long ago found more productive uses of your time. For the rest of us, note that HK taxis are usually nice and cool; the MTR is adequately air-conditioned (but watch out for open-air exits that require you to walk up stairs!); and buses are also almost uniformly comfortable. Your major transport enemy is the tram – it’s a guaranteed sauna in the summer.

  • Here’s a slick, sassy idea that makes a stylish summer statement: carry one of those reflective tinfoil umbrellas, aka a parasol. I used to snicker automatically at the occasional middle-aged Hong Kong man I’d see promenading down the street under cover like this, but recently I must confess it’s looked increasingly sensible. So am I losing my grip on reality, or have I been suffused with a wave of confidence-building testosterone, to the extent that I no longer care what anyone thinks? Do I really want an answer to that? Let’s just move on.

  • At some point, you may give up trying to beat the heat, and decide to just live with it. As I’ve written elsewhere, too much concern with petty comfort issues leads to needless unhappiness. But even if you stop caring about how your fine suits are smelling, find a good dry cleaner, because the rest of us still do.
  • Comments

    I find sloth speed can be

    I find sloth speed can be counter-productive as it lengthens your exposure to the heat inbetween the cool islands. Pocket-sized tissues need to be good Kleenex or Lotus brands otherwise one may end up with that just walked through wet toilet paper look.

    My tips

    In preference to a pack of tissues (i concur with the soggy, sticking to forhead type scenario) i recommend finding some good, slightly thicker cotton hankies or face towels. Keep one folded flat in a trouser pocket and whip it out for that all important wipe, as and when needed. Yes, on a bad day it gets a bit damp by the end of the day but it is quicker, more effective and more cost effective than buying paper tissues all the time.

    Hot in the city

    Mr Tall, I've just come back from a family vacation to the UK, and wish I'd had a copy of your advice to hand out. The UK has just had one of its infrequent heatwaves, and was suffering. I had to chuckle at the weatherman who informed us that 'with temperatures finally dropping below 20C, we'd all be able to get a good night's sleep at last'. Wimps!

    As a little add on to point #8 above, on an MTR train stand in the middle of the carriage between the two doors and there's a lovely cool breeze from the fan above.

    Another pleasant spot in the hot weather is just above any of the floor vents in the HSBC headquarters building, as they blow cool breezes up your trouser leg. Surely there's a customer service opportunity there for other public companies? I'm thinking short hoses sticking out of the floor wherever queues form, so you can position yourself over one to de-steam while waiting at the bank, post office, etc. There would need to be some tuning to avoid any Marilyn Monroe-style incidents, but what a step forward in the battle against the summer heat.


    Hot weather gear

    Sydney was 47 Celsius on New Year's day this year.
    In Australia therefore, discriminating businessmen prefer to beat the heat by wearing designer shorts coupled with traditional blue singlets. To avoid discommoding foreign visitors, the singlets should be changed at least every six months. A refreshing local fragrance, such as Odour de Canecutter, completes the ensemble. Going commando, while popular among the ambi-dexterous, is not recommended for those wishing to preserve the environment by cycling to work.

    locating washrooms

    Mr Tall,

    I encountered this problem too. It is a big problem for me, esp. when I start to perspire just by standing in the shade for less than 15 sec outdoors. I think cotton hankies are better than tissues, since I bring along 3 packets and apparently they aren't enough for me.

    Otherwise, those which are oil absorbent are also recommended.

    Another tip: Know where the washrooms are, I mean those indoors (malls, walkways) etc. You can do all the wiping up or have a cold break by spending just 5 mins in the air conditioned cubicle. By the way there aren't washrooms in most of the MTR stations and that is horrible, esp. in summer.

    Toilets, Hankies

    Hi there, P. Maniac;

    I'm with you on lamenting the MTR's lack of toilets, but hey, they provide a heck of a service already, and you can usually make it out of the typical MTR station into some kind of mall or development that will have one. And I can testify that if your small child is really, really, really bursting and will NOT make it out of the station without giving in to the Way of Nature, you can approach MTR staff, and they'll take you by secret ways into the Toilet of their Inner Sanctum. I do not know if this would work for grownups, though -- comely lasses might do just fine, but I suspect that no matter how I clutched at my privates and hopped about from one foot to the other, it would not melt the icy demeanor of the average MTR stationmaster. Or maybe it would. There's a little diversion for this weekend . . . .

    Oh, and about the hankies: yes, but speaking of toxic -- what must one of yours be like by evening if it's filling in for 3 packets of tissues? Maybe you could use it to blackmail the MTR staff into letting you use a toilet, though!

    Mr Tall

    Toilet seats for hankies

    Hi Mr Tall,

    You will never melt the icy demeanor of the MTR stationmaster, especially in Hong Kong. Forget it, trust me! Beware that there may NOT be toilets open to the public in some of the shopping malls, since they are reserved for the staff of the shopholders. I will only approach the MTR stationmaster if an explosion had already taken place in my gut.

    Regarding the tissue, I have found that there are some new disposable toilet seats papers in some washrooms. They are good for wiping: more oil absorbent than tissues and stiffer than Tempo.

    Perspiring Maniac

    this brought to mind.....

    memories of the dear old ladies at the Star Ferry toilets who used to sell single one-ply sheets of toilet tissue.  Aaaah sweet memories.