Ladybird Hats

28 Feb

Z Wearing a Helmet above the Tonle San RiverIn South-East Asia, we’ve been spending a lot of time on the back of bikes. Call them motos, xe om or motorbike taxis, they’re generally the cheapest and always the quickest way of getting around. And, put it this way, I wouldn’t drive anything smaller than a tank in Saigon traffic.

The safety laws in Vietnam are an improvement on those in Cambodia. Everyone has to have a license, although to the untutored eye it would be hard to tell. A driving instructor friend gave us a lift to buy some DVDs, and, my god, the man must have nerves of steel.

Anywise, in Cambodia, only the driver has to wear a helmet, and this is rarely enforced. In Vietnam passengers do too.

Or at least, adult passengers do.

For some reason the law does not extend to children. Perhaps their skulls are supposed to be harder?

Or, as Z, who can hop on and off a bike like a trouper (he’s learnt the hard way to avoid the side with the exhaust), said, “Maybe we’re more disposable.”

Saigon moto drivers exhibit all the verve and aggression of a New York taxi driver, without the protective armour. They brake for noone (although they swerve PDQ for buses). They turn at will. And, unlike in Phnom Penh, their vehicles have the vim to reach speeds well outside one’s comfort zone.

Roundabouts, in particular, are a white-knuckle ride, through a web of scooters, coming five or six deep from several directions, everyone hooting to announce their presence and intentions, weaving merrily across and into each other’s paths.

During the school run, mothers in surgical masks come flooding out of alleyways, children in brilliant white shirts clinging to their backs and/or sitting upfront, sometimes with a baby-seat attached to the handlebars, sometimes with Hello Kitty backpacks cramming the front basket.

Set against a backdrop of neon, skyscrapers, street stalls and grand French architecture, it makes for glorious local colour when viewed from a safe vantage point such as, say, a bus or a cafe table.

From the inside? It’s unnerving, whether one is crossing the road (best done slowly, incrementally and at an angle, making like a barn owl with the head) or endeavouring to map-read from the pillion.

We’ve gone the wrong way against heavy traffic after the engine cut out, nipped merrily over pavements when the traffic got too dense, braked sufficiently hard to come off the ground to avoid a head-on collision, carved up cars, old ladies, cyclos, fruit stands, tuk-tuks, even hand carts.

On one memorable journey, the driver would not stop at all for fear of the engine cutting out. We progressed through the 30-second traffic light countdown at a snail’s pace. Which wouldn’t have been so bad had he managed to accelerate when the lights picked up.

I’ve been giving Z my helmet, as one does, but last night, on our way to a restaurant in Don Khoi the driver was panicked about a fine. So an appropriately-sized helmet is on our must-buy list.

We found a stall last night. They had everything from helmets styled as baseball caps to knocked-off-Adidas branding and, Z’s favourite, a Hell’s Angel styled affair with silver Iron Crosses on a black background.

“It’s good,” the saleswoman said definitively, as he tried it on. He liked it too.

I was not convinced. I strapped him up and implemented the classic bike helmet test (cuffing him on the back of the helmet). It didn’t so much slip off as head for the stratosphere.

The saleslady didn’t see this as a problem. I did. I tried to explain in sign language that I wanted one that fitted.

She directed me to a set of very cute helmets, in pink, scarlet and turquoise, styled as flower-printed ladybirds, complete with springy metal antennae.

Z was having none of it. I said we could cut off the antennae, buy some paint and customise it. He was still having none of it.

Since it appears that one size fits all, apart from the ladybirds, which are definitively small, if we can’t find one that fits sir’s sophisticated aesthetic, he will be travelling several hundred miles over the next four months or so garbed as a small, cute ladybird. And, yes, he will hate me.

2 Responses to “Ladybird Hats”

  1. Helen February 28, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    Need a photo of Zac wearing said helmet, or perhaps I should wait till hens have teeth.

  2. MummyT February 28, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    Yep, they will have teeth alright… I should have put him in it. Actually have some really cute pics, and, i think, access to a decent internet connection which will allow me to upload…

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