While riding through rice paddies, coconut palm plantations, pineapple groves, and purple yam farms, I’ve been noticing the farm workers. While Eric and I are dripping with sweat and melting by mid-morning, the workers appear to be dealing with the sweltering temperatures and dripping humidity much better than us.
I’ve been trying to figure out how they do it. They’re dressed in rubber boots, long pants (often Levis but probably knock-offs) gloves, long sleeved shirts and smiles. I’m dressed in knee length biking shorts, a short sleeved shirt, and high-tech super- biker-cool white arm bands made from synthetic fibers with a guaranteed SPF of 50, a biking helmut and Shimano two-ton clip -in bike shoes.
We look almost the same….NOT…but I do notice our biggest difference. Our hats (or head protection as I like to call it). There is a helmut law in effect here. As a matter of fact, every ten kilometers or so while pedaling down the highway, we see a purple highway sign showing a motorcycle helmut and the symbol “100%” I take that to mean Thailand wants (or requires…does purple mean law or suggestion?) everyone to wear a helmut.
Then, exactly 2 seconds later I see a family motorcycle of four – toddler in front, dad driving, sister squished behind dad with mom bringing up the rear – and nobody is wearing helmuts. Instead, mom is often wearing a colorful hat like the one I just bought (see me in exhibit A), dad wearing a mask that looks like a Ku Klux Klan mask except in bold prints rather than the more threatening white, and the kids looking like zombies from the movie of the same name because their faces are painted with “skin whitening cream” or Zinc Oxide, I can’t tell which.
But this brings me back to coping with the sun and hats. I wear Neutrogena 100 SPF sunscreen ( or “sun cream” as the Oxford flash cards for teaching ESL in a country that used to have lots of British influence call it). And the sunscreen is so hot it’s like turning my face into a beef wellington – pastry on the outside, cooked meat on the inside.
I wear a helmut because I’m a good law-abiding American citizen, even though wearing a helmut over here tells everyone I’m a “good law-abiding American” Even the Dutch, the cyclists of the world, don’t often wear helmets. My “obey the law” helmut keeps the heat packed around my brain just like a neoprene wet suit keeps a diver warm. And let’s face it, the helmut is NOT going to save me from an attack of a two-trailered semi-truck going 140 kilometers per hour down highway 4 in Thailand.
But, today I decided to try something new. I’ve had my eye on the colorful “worker hats” for several weeks now, and today I finally found a shop that sold them. I skidded to a stop on a steep downhill with a tail wind. (Cyclists will understand how much I wanted one of these hats…generally we cyclists like to enjoy hills and tailwinds and save our stopping and excuses for uphills and headwinds). Inside the crammed shop, there were about 25 hats of many different colors – probably made from the “sale of the week” fabric.
Regarding shopping, I made a decision about two years ago to limit my selections to anything in purple. It take the stress off of shopping decisions. (Yes, for me, riding a bike uphill in a headwind like we had today, is much easier for me than shopping). Luckily, today in the dark, dingy shop there was a hat that “fit the bill.’ That could be a pun but the bill of the hat really did fit perfectly.
So, the hat does fit and it really does work. It protects from the sun. It’s lets a breeze flow through my sweltering head. Even the tie under my chin to keep the hat from blowing off from the strong headwind feels great.
The only downside to my new hat is that when I wear it the locals think I’m a “local” and stop yelling “hallo.” Thus, I may have to limit the hat’s use to the very mid-day, because I love the “hallo’s even more.