Shade a barely affordable luxury for many Hanoians working in sweltering heat

By Long Nguyen, The AnhJune 20, 2021 | 08:46 pm PT
Many Hanoians laboring outdoors in scorching weather conditions have no choice but to make do with scant mitigation measures to thwart complete exhaustion.

On a recent Saturday morning, security guard Nguyen Van Phu started his working day at a bank in Hanoi’s Long Bien District.

Sweating under the hot sun, the 47-year-old man welcomed customers and took their motorbikes to a nearby parking lot. Next to him was a fan running a full capacity, but it did not offer much comfort for Phu, who kept wiping sweat from his face with his hands.

"I have always felt blessed because I still have a job amid the pandemic, but working in this weather is such a nightmare," he said, adding, however, that he would not quit his job whatever the weather.

In the last few days, as the capital city sizzles under a hot wave with temperature on road surface hovering up to 50 degrees Celsius at noon, informal workers are sweating it out to make ends meet.

A motorbike taxi driver rests under the scorching sun in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Phu.

A motorbike taxi driver rests under the scorching sun in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Phu.

While medical experts warn of dehydration, exhaustion and heat stroke if the human body is exposed to high temperatures for a long time, people like drivers and street vendors have no choice but to venture out in the hot weather.

"It is so hot these days, I feel like my back is burning," said Le Thi Huong, a bicycle vendor selling fruit in Hoan Kiem District.

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on her business, as many Hanoians are worried about infection risks and avoid coming into close contact with strangers.

"If I do not work, I will not be able to feed my children," said the woman who earns around VND200,000 ($8.66) per day.

The heatwave has compounded problems for motorbike taxi driver Nguyen Van Thuan, whose income has shrunk severely due to the pandemic over the last year.

"No one wants to go out now, they only want to stay inside with their air conditioners; so I have only 3-4 passengers per day," said the 40-year-old man.

When he has no customers, he finds some shade under a tree or in a public park, and sits and talks with some other colleagues.

"An ideal place to rest is somewhere near a public faucet, so we can wash our faces regularly to reduce this heat."

Keeping out of the sun is a luxury for many informal workers can't afford.

To adapt to the summer heat, many have changed their working hours and equipped themselves with more clothes and water.

In Long Bien District, a group of construction workers wakes up at 3 a.m. every day to start their work.

Previously, their schedule was from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. But for the last few days, this has changed to 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

To keep themselves hydrated and cool, they bring a cloth and soak it in ice water before wiping their faces.

"We are six people, and we use around 10 kilograms of ice every day," said Nguyen Van Hung, wearing a long-sleeved shirt, a mask and sunglasses.

A woman bikes under the sun in Hanoi, May 31, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh.

A woman bikes under the sun in Hanoi, May 31, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh.

The current heatwave in Hanoi will end this week, but the city is projected to experience more heatwaves this month.

According to experts, cities tend to be hotter than rural areas due to factors like population density, pollution from industrial activities and the presence of buildings and machinery that produce heat.

For many informal workers, escaping the summer woes is a pipe dream, especially when many restaurants or coffee shops have been closed due to the new Covid wave, giving people working outside no place to shelter.

"Normally I would sit at tea stalls during lunch because they have fans and iced water, but now they are all swept away by the coronavirus," said driver Thuan as he wiped sweat from his face.

Now, during lunchtime, he sits in a public park with his bottle of iced water, sweaty and close to exhaustion.

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