Southeast Asia: Working It Cool

The days-of-empire tales of Southeast Asia by Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad pulse and perspire with descriptions of the region's searing heat and sapping humidity. Southeast Asia's weather hasn't changed—Bangkok's November temperature still averages 80°, and in Singapore the humidity stays at 84%—but it is being dealt with in a way that might have forced Maugham and Conrad to rewrite some torrid passages. Air conditioning has come to Southeast Asia in force, cooling public places and some homes, changing ways of life, and coining money for the entrepreneurs who work it cool.

Climatized Clients. In Hong Kong, where air-conditioning sales...

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