All in a sunny day's work
Last Sunday was declared the hottest day of the year. We cursed the Sun, the suffocating humidity and the sticky heat that drenched us in sweat. But for some people, working outdoors is unavoidable. Life talks to these professionals who endure the heat in order to provide us the services we can’t live without
Sub Lt Suwit Phantrakul
Sub Lt Suwit Phantrakul, 58. Hours in the sun/day: 5 or more.Clothing items: Heavy, heat-trapping police uniform
A balanced diet, plenty of chilled water and going to the temple to help manage daily stress have collectively played an integral part in helping Sub Lt Suwit Phantrakul, deputy police traffic inspector at Bang Na Police Station, to weather scorching heat in the height of summer each year.
For the last decade, the 58 year-old has manned traffic at a handful of intersections and traffic-prone spots in the Bang Na area. If there is one thing he has learned from being out in the sun for up to five or more hours a day is that one never gets used to the heat.
“With this type of heat one has to pay special attention to not just the physical, but also emotional side of one’s well-being.
“In such relentless heat one doesn’t really have an appetite, so a chilled glass of water gets me through the next hour. As I am not accustomed to using any sunscreen, I try not to expose my face to the sunlight too often,” Sub Lt Suwit said, while directing traffic at Bang Na intersection.
“While drinking ice cold water perks me up physically, praying at the temple cools me off emotionally from the simmering heat and mental stress that comes with being on the road for long hours.
“Being in the sun can affect your mood, and as traffic police, we cannot afford to allow our emotions to get the better of us. We are here to serve the public, so our duty is to keep the peace. As we often bear the brunt of motorists’ emotional outbursts, it is crucial for us to not let this lead into an argument. We have to be polite. This, however, takes a toll on our emotions.”
To get some idea of just how much heat traffic police have to endure in their uniforms, the veteran law enforcement officer said “the best way to describe it would be the feeling one gets from standing in the sun in a suit”.
- Yvonne Bohwongprasert
Siriwan Kummana, 41 Hours in the sun/day: 8 Clothing items: Shirt, hat
Construction workers are a familiar sight in Bangkok. Sriwan Kummana, 41, is one among the dwindling number of Thai labourers in the business, since the job now employs mostly migrants.
Siriwan has been a construction worker for a year, and has to brave the summer heat every day to support her family, including a grandchild.
“Before this job, I was a housekeeper, but I often had to leave to work and help relatives, who are construction workers,” says Siriwan, who’s working on a site in Thung Makamek.
“I have to endure sunlight for approximately eight hours a day, 7am to 5pm. On some days, work starts at 8am. I do everything on the building site, such as checking supplies and helping other workers pick up equipment and pieces of steel,” she said.
The heat, as we all experience, sometimes makes us feel moody, and Siriwan admits she can’t help it. “When I feel bad, I’ll walk around the site to cool down. It helps a little.
“Before coming to work, I also apply sunblock lotion and facial cream to protect myself,” she added.
As we know, the building site is full of male workers, but this isn’t a problem for Siriwan. She said that the male workers always help her, including when she can’t carry out some work that is too heavy for a woman.
Siriwan believes that nobody would want to work in this career because the long hours are tiring. “If I could change the past, I would like to stay in my hometown and work there.”
- Sasithorn Chuansri
Motorcycle taxi driver
Pravit Boonpok, 44 Hours in the sun/day: 6 at least Clothing items: Shirt, light vest, cap, balaclava, shades.
Sometimes during his 30 years earning a living as a Bangkok motorcycle taxi driver, Pravit Boonpok thinks he works like a rice farmer.
“The heat is almost unbearable. We ride under the scorching sun, it is hard to imagine unless you try it yourself,” said the 44-year-old, who is based on Ekamai Soi 30.
Having had to work under Thailand’s hot summer conditions for more than six hours a day starting at 11am, Pravit said the best way to stay cool is to keep himself hydrated. A bottle of drinking water is with him all the time, along with his favourite camouflage cap, extra dark shades, a balaclava and a safety helmet.
But with all the heat-protective gear on, Pravit is far from comfortable. But he has no other choice. “With the long-sleeved shirt, sunglasses, cap, mask and helmet, it is uncomfortable,” he admitted. “But despite the discomfort and sweat under the outfit, it is better than exposing oneself to the sharp rays and getting burnt.”
Before leaving his house every morning, Pravit never forgets to apply sunscreen. During work hours when he is not ferrying passengers to their destinations, he tries to rest under the shade of nearby trees.
Preferring the freedom of his job to desk-bound or time-restricted duties, he said he never thinks of changing jobs despite the intolerably hot working environment that depletes his whole energy at the end of the day.
“It’s hot, humid, sweaty and sometimes frustrating, especially when one comes across picky passengers. But after all, this is my job. So all these things become inevitable and I simply have to live with them.”
- Arusa Pisuthipan
Thairat Panduang, 37 Hours in the sun/day: 7 Clothing items: Long-sleeved T-shirt and wide-brimmed hat.
Water constantly drips from Thairat’s glass fruit cart. In the scorching April heat, the blocks of ice, which would have lasted all day at any other time of the year, completely melt in a few hours.
The 37-year-old has been a fruit vendor for almost 20 years, and she says this has been one of the hottest summers in years.
“From late April to May is the hottest time of year,” said Thairat. “I leave home early in the morning and the day starts to get hot from as early as 10am. During this time of year, the heat drags on to five or six in the afternoon.”
The heat is not only bad for the fruit, ripening them faster and affecting the taste, but it also drives customers away. “A lot of customers don’t exit their offices during lunchtime, choosing to buy what’s available inside their buildings instead.”
Thairat wears a neckshade flap for her cap, which protects her neck from the UV rays. Sunscreen is a must, without which she says she would get burnt.
“I have thought about moving my business indoors, and did move for some time. But there were quite a few regulars who asked me to come back and would look out for me.”
But despite the heat, a good-humoured smile is always on her face. “It’s more about the control of your emotions rather than the weather. If the weather is hot and we let ourselves be upset by it, the hotter it will get. If we keep ourselves calm, things are not too bad no matter how hot it is.”
- Kaona Pongpipat
Piraporn Adam, 19 Hours in the sun/day: 5-8 Clothing items: Long-sleeved T-shirt, hat, umbrella.
Teenagers generally don’t enjoy working in the sun, but Piraporn Adam sees an advantage in toiling in the April heat as a caddie. “The more I work, the more my skin gets better, because I earn enough money to buy cream and skin products.”
For three years Pirapon, who’s also a second year student at vocational level, has been working as a caddie, hauling golf bags for men and walking around in the heat at Krungthep Kreetha Golf Course. “I decided to be a caddie because it’s close to my house and the pay is good — around 1,500 baht a day. “I work in the sun for long stretches — three hours for a nine-hole round and five hours for an 18-hole round. Each caddy can work only two rounds each day,” she explained. “Before working, I will apply sunblock, BB cream, and I eat some vitamins, which make my skin bright.”
It’s hot out there, Pirapon says, but it’s not that bad. “Everybody thinks that it must be hot, but our course has a lot of trees and shades, and players will rest after playing three or four holes. So this is time for caddies to rest and drink water.”
“I am proud to work as a caddie. I think I will do this until graduating from the college,” she said.
- Sasithorn Chuansri