Since the very beginning of recorded history, non-tropical minds have envisioned the Tropics as a space where the heat slowly sucks the life out of you, a vast organic mess where nature has run amok, creating monstrous life forms unfathomable to the temperate (see what they did there?) mind.
In the imagination of Ctsesias of Cnidus (born 416 BCE), a Greek historian, in India “the sun looked ten times larger than elsewhere, people died in hordes from the heat, and its waters were so intemperate that fish shied away from the surface and kept to the ocean floor.”1
Even today, the Tropics in popular imagination are represented by images of deserted beaches where the white-hot rays of the sun blind the viewer to all but the glassy blue sea beyond. Or we have images of dense jungle and the Amazonian rainforests. Human beings rarely make the cut.
After all, it’s inconceivable that people could live here (never mind that 40% of the world’s population already does). And forget about great civilisations or tropical cities of excellence (in the words of the late, great Lee Kuan Yew).
What travel agent in her right mind would advertise a tropical vacation as an urban getaway?
All of which is to say, historical prejudice can remain stubbornly persistent in the face of evidence to the contrary.
The fact is, if you care to reflect about the matter, it’s foolish to make any sort of generalisations about such a vast area. Yes, the Tropics are sometimes hot, but also sometimes not. Did you know, for example, that there are glaciers–yes, glaciers–in Papua? And that in some tropical regions, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in cold and drippy England?
That’s why the Rhododendron, a flower native to Asia, has thrived in Cornish gardens halfway around the world. These tropical beauties were brought to Cornwall from Myanmar by the botanist Frank Kingdon-Ward during the early part of the twentieth century.2
But here’s the kicker: if the climate in Myanmar is sometimes the same as the climate in England, what else about the two cultures is the same?