Thursday, January 09, 2003

I Have to Measure My Head

Picture conical hats. Picture orchids and romantic strolls around Ho Guom Lake. See Uncle Ho. Engage the locals in conversation. Speak of industry, hardship and resilience. Haggle. Get ripped off. Take a saunter through the Old Quarter, pay double for a shoeshine and calculate it still only cost 30p. Marvel at it all.

Yet when you get home there is only one guarantee, first you’ll speak of the traffic. It’s all everyone here speaks of. It is our daily bread.

It all comes on vehicles large and small. Juggernaut trucks, speeding taxis, cyclos, soft gliding bicycles and a million or so motorbikes.

I take my life in my own hands twice daily. I can’t find a helmet to fit my head so I drive gingerly, once in the forenoon, and once in early evening. Sometimes I have to pull to the side of the road and take a deep breath. Then I plunge in once more.

As I weave in and out of the mess I see post-accident scenes. Police pulling fights apart. Blood stains and shattered glass. Crowds of onlookers gaping. It always reminds me, I have to measure my head.

The police remind me too, as they measure how many centimetres the bikes are from the sides of the road. Then they chalk around the bikes as if they are corpses in a homicide. People will be fined for moving their bikes before the Police arrive. In one instance I witnessed a man trying to get out from under his bike being pushed back to the ground by the Police who chalked around him while he lay beneath. The man looked more bewildered than a new born baby. I wondered what happens when a truck overturns. Which reminded me I have to measure my head.

Then I met a friend, a photographer, who tells me he spent an evening in casualty at the Viet Duc Hospital. He told me of his horror as hundreds of people were dragged past him. Grazed, bloody, shredded and teary. Some were wheeled past in a coma or perhaps worse.

“Yes…” Explained a doctor, “If the head travels at a certain velocity, and a certain angle, straight at the ground the person will die”

My friend told me all this in Puku café on Hang Trong. He was wearing a helmet and drinking scotch. I explained he was safe. We were on the second floor. He snapped at me like a war veteran. “This thing could save my life”

I looked at my hand. I had to measure my head. It was written there. Underlined twice for emphasis.

People ask me why I don’t have a helmet. I tell them my head is rather large. A family legacy. We are all plagued with healthily sized skulls.

Before I had taken some walks down Helmet St. known to the locals as Pho Hue. I politely asked if I could try on their biggest helmets. I had no luck. A strong mean looking woman emerged rolling up her sleeves. Allow me, she said. With scant regard for my ears or scalp she succeeded in squashing a helmet on my head. I could hardly breathe.
“It fits!” She said smiling hopefully, “Very stylish!” I motioned her to take it off. It took her and her friends 15 minutes to get it off in a scene straight out of the Ladybird classic ‘The Giant turnip.’

That was when I e-mailed my father. How can I get a helmet to fit my head? The reply came swiftly. He’d found a website. They make helmets for all shapes and sizes in America, where else. I’ll order one, my father wrote, but you have to…

I had to measure my head. I had no measuring tape. Just a ruler. So I went to a tailor, on Tailor St., Hang Gai to the locals. I looked up measure in the dictionary before I left home.
“You want some trousers?” He smiled at me holding his cashmeres. “No my head, I want to measure my head” A cashmere hat? He looked at me as if I was slightly dumb.
“I’m not stupid, I’m willing to pay you to measure my head, no cashmere”
He shook his head and made a hasty phone call. I over heard him telling some one there was a strange westerner in the shop. Very quickly a woman arrived. It was his English speaking daughter bursting at the seams to show off her exemplary English.
“How can I help you?”
“Yes, I would like you to measure my head”
“Yes, I know,” She replied briskly, “You want to make a hat”
I have learnt sometimes its best not to fight.

So now I know. 65 cms. That is the size of the hat so therefore also the size of my head. The helmet has been ordered. My father assures me it will be here in no time. Now all I have to do is avoid falling towards the ground at a certain rate of velocity at a certain angle, as my new linen hat won’t save me. That’s a guarantee.

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