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Laptop gets (overly) warm welcome in Hanoi

A scalding hot summer day in Vietnam and a pack of chewing gum result in a cautionary tale involving an overheated laptop.

On summer nights in Hanoi, people escape to air-conditioned ATM kiosks for relief from the oppressive heat. Viet Dung

Editor's note: CNET editor and Crave contributor Dong Ngo is spending several weeks in his homeland of Vietnam and will file occasional dispatches chronicling his adventures. To read stories from Dong's last visit, in December, click here.

HANOI, Vietnam--A word of advice for travelers: turn off your laptop when you leave the room.

This isn't the first time I've been back to Vietnam, but it's the first time since I left the country some 10 years ago that I've come back during summer. It's really hot in Hanoi during the day, often 100 degrees or more. And as it has always been the case with me when traveling, stuff happens.

After about 48 hours of traveling and coming to terms with the jetlag, I turned my laptop on for the first time. There were so many things to download: new episodes of podcasts, RSS feeds of different news sources, videos--and of course the 3.0 firmware for the iPhone.

As the Wi-Fi I got hooked up to was running at just around 60Kbps, these essential updates of my digital life (though most of them I can't find time to enjoy) would require hours to download. Like usual, I had a huge urge to download all of the data right away and decided to leave the computer running and go out for a jog. After all, it was almost midday and sunny outside.

Here is part of my gum supply for the trip. I may never chew gum during summer again. Dong Ngo/CNET

I started the downloads, opened a pack of Orbit gum, took a piece, and left the rest on my new loaded Dell XPS M1530 (for this trip, I upgraded from the smaller XPS M1330, mostly because my eyes are worse now). Before leaving the room, being a good citizen of the world, I turned off the air conditioning.

The moment I opened the door of the room, a wave of stifling heat engulfed me. Outside, the sky was high and pure, and it was so sunny I felt I could hear how bright it was. Or maybe it was the sound of my sweat starting to ooze out.

Unlike the dry and lovely San Francisco Bay Area or somewhat humid New York City, it's so humid in Hanoi that once outside there's no way you can escape the heat during hot days. It's hot when it's calm, and it's hot when it's windy, and fans won't do anything. The breeze actually helps the heat traverse to every corner. Once in a while a quick and so-heavy-that-you-can't-see-anything downpour comes, only to accentuate the heat when the sky is clear again.

For a lot of local people, there's no way to stay away from the heat, as air conditioners are still considered a luxurious commodity that most can't afford. (Plus, they have survived many years without one.) The water in outdoor swimming pools gets so hot that by midday you can't swim in them. During some extremely hot days, you'll even find people staying inside air-conditioned ATM booths to enjoy some free cooling.

After just about a few minutes of jogging, my glasses started to get blurred by steam and sweat and I had to take them off. Four miles later, I looked and felt like I had never worked out so hard before: my T-shirt and baseball cap were completely soaked with sweat and my forehead was dripping.

As I slowly walked back, I stopped by a familiar beer stand to enjoy a few well-deserved glasses of "Bia Hoi," under a common makeshift cooling system: a net of copper pipes that spray water mist in the air. Bia Hoi is a kind of light draft beer that the Hanoi Brewery never produces enough of during summertime. It made all of my sweating and sun-hating activities worthwhile.

A couple of hours later, I returned to my room imagining a cool shower and getting my stuff synced to my iPhone. Instead, I was greeted with a sight of horror: the computer displayed a Blue Screen of Death and I heard the CPU fan roaring to life. The worst of all, the sweet mint chewing gum had melted into some mushy and sticky substance that spilled all over part of the keyboard and completely covered the biometric reader. Some even dripped onto the bedsheet. The laptop was so hot that I couldn't touch it for more than a few seconds.

I immediately turned the thing off and wondered what would have happened if I came back an hour later and especially why the machine just didn't turn off by itself before it was hot enough to melt the gum. In most of my previous over heat experiences, the computer would just shut down.

All freaked out, I brought the machine to the repair shop I relied on during my last trip. Duy, the same man I talked to seven months ago, told me he has received quite a few calls about computer overheating since summer started. "I can't even play online games at home anymore, my computer would just poop out after 15 minutes or so," he said. He did tell me, however, that my accident was very "special" and that it was a big waste of gum.

(People in Hanoi are big fans of Orbit gum, by the way. Each trip here, I bring along a plentiful supply, mostly to give away. This time I picked up a $300 batch from Costco. That's a lot of gum.)

The sticky mess turned out to be not that difficult to clean. After leaving the laptop inside a fridge for about five minutes, the gum congealed and could be removed fairly easily, though the job was time-consuming. After about an hour, my computer was back to its previous gum-free state. Unfortunately, out of panic, I forgot to bring my camera along this time around.

Duy didn't charge me for the job, but gladly took a brand new (and unmelted) pack of gum that I offered. "You wrote about me and my shop last time. My girlfriend saw the article online and was very happy... Thank you very much! And welcome to Hanoi!"

That was indeed a warm welcome. Now I just have to download my digital fix again. Or maybe I should just skip that and leave time for some real-life interactions.