>He who hesitates is lost.


On the streets of Vietnam, at least. At first glance, traffic here appears to be ruled by ultimate anarchy, the worst nightmare of any western traffic regulator. The truth is, the rules of the road are very simple. DON’T HIT WHAT’S IN FRONT OF YOU! That’s pretty much the only rule going. If you follow that, and you trust the people behind you to follow that, you’re on your way to a fab roadtrip in Vietnam! Of course there are some finer nuances to help you cope with the lack of any real adherence to traffic lights, road signs, or lane markers. Heck, intersections don’t even have stop signs!

Note the dude at 90 degrees to the others…he just plowed through moving traffic without a hitch.
– Steer around anything in your way…even if it puts you out of your lane. The person behind you will do the same to avoid you, even if it brings them into traffic coming the other way…because the traffic coming the other way will swerve to avoid them, and so on. Like a giant ballet.

– Always pay attention to the road ahead! Traffic conditions can change any time, from a free and clear road to two trucks trundling towards you…BOTH in your lane!
– Be confident – always remember to hesitate is to be doomed! When you are approaching what looks like a sketch situation, do it at a constant speed, so all other participants can judge your actions and plan to not be in the same place you are at the same time. No speeding up, stopping or swerving!
– Since 90% of the vehicles on the road are bikes, the name of the game is ‘fill up space’. If there are cars stopped at a light, don’t hesitate to fill up every available inch in between them with your bike. Also if there is space in front of an oncoming truck, don’t hesitate to fill that as well – the truck driver will probably expect it and be ready to slow down so that he doesn’t mow you. Just make sure you don’t STAY in that space. Or the driver won’t have much choice.
See? 90%. I counted.
Can you see any discernible order in that chaos? Can you see anything at all? Damn that camera sucked.
The city of Hanoi itself pulsates with life, the traffic twisting in and out of the streets and alleys, never stopping, yet never seeming out of place. The seamless weaving imparts an organic quality to the whole scene, as if all the bikes and their drivers subscribed to come higher conscience. The whole system rests on the competence of each individual driver, and more than anything I want to join in to this collective consciousness, to be one with the stream of life teeming in the streets of this nation’s capital city. The trust implicit in each twist of the throttle, each tap of the break, each time a driver enters a stream of traffic without so much as a glancing over his shoulder at oncoming traffic is surreal.
I loved to sit on the corner in Hanoi and have a tea at the stands set up there. People watching has never been better, and I was even lucky enough to be offered to share a tobacco bong by an old local driver. Hanoi is an appropriately fascinating city for a fascinating people. Their vigor, flexibility and resilience can be seen in everything from their leaders’ manifestos to every element of day to day life. An old man blazes past on his turn of the century vespa, followed by a young girl pedalling slowly by on her bicycle. The contrast is pleasant, the bustle of a people with somewhere to be and the tranquillity with which they do it. The feeling of the people seems to be one of exuberant happiness, an overcoming of obstacles and the final return to what they’ve wanted all along: peace and independence.
Vietnam really got the shit stick handed to them by history. I have never seen a country whose people believe more in the principles of peace, freedom, and brotherhood. Every written word of Ho Chi Minh attests to this, and his countrymen seem to have taken up the call. And yet Vietnam has been mired in war and oppression for thousands of years, first under the Chinese, and since the 1800’s by the French, then by the Japanese during WWII, followed by the senseless invasion of the US, which was criticized worldwide as completely unnecessary and overblown, a case of an oversized bully picking on what looked like the littlest kid in class. The statistics on the amount of bombs dropped during this war are jaw-dropping…there were more bombs dropped on some CITIES in Vietnam than in the entire WWII conflict in the European arena! Not to mention the napalm, the gassing, the horrific war crimes committed by US soldiers…whole villages of innocents murdered without rhyme or reason: women, children and the infirm all, because a foreign soldier couldn’t tell friend from foe. The effects of that conflict last even to today, with the ecocide of Vietnam’s jungles and the deformations of it’s citizens due to Agent Orange, or the ever present danger of unexploded ordinance.
That is a BOMB. I was amazed at the size of the shell…imagine the blast radius?
A bomb crater in the DMZ. You can’t really tell how deep it is, but these were EVERYWHERE. And those are just the ones that haven’t been filled up.
Even after the horror and bloodshed of that pointless conflict, Vietnam had no time to stop and rest, having to invade Cambodia to save them from their own rulers during the Pol Pot regime and becoming wrapped up in yet another pointless Sino-Soviet proxy war. And yet the people keep on. As Ho Chi Minh told the American administration in the 50’s – we will struggle and we will suffer, but we will not give up. I would not believe this to be true for any country more than Vietnam. One fine day on the beach in Nha Trang (a big beachy backpacker spot) I even came across a community AK-47 training session…a soldier teaching girls from 15 to 25 how to assemble and use an automatic weapon. In some countries, this would have been horrifying. But in Vietnam, you had the sense that it would be used to protect their precious independence, and not to impose war on anybody else. The Vietnamese have seen enough of that.

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