Thursday, 3 October 2013

the feeling

"We have road rules in Vietnam but we prefer to go with our gut feeling. If the light is red and there are no police, we just go." Hai Pham, Intrepid Guide

Which is mesmerizing to watch when you're sitting in a bar with a $2 beer and not actually amongst it. To the uninitiated it's a little tricky to get a good sense of the feeling.

He who hesitates is lost has never been more true when crossing the road in Vietnam. There was a lot of paint wasted when they put in pedestrian crossings. They mean nothing. And as for the little green man as an indication it is safe to cross..? Forget it. You just have to throw yourself amongst the onslaught of motorbikes and attempt some sort of eurythmic approach to getting to the other side.

The same can be said for attempting to cycle in city traffic. I joined three cycle tours, two in cities, and I experienced some of the most hair-raising moments in my life. Especially in Hanoi. Hanoi has a population of 6.5 million with 3 million motorbikes. I think every last one of them was on the route we took. We had a guide who led the weaving and negotiating through the craziness. But there were some fairly fast heart beating moments there.

There are 85 million people and 26 million vehicles in Vietnam. 95% of these vehicles are motorbikes. For a long time, the Honda Dream was the big seller. Then it was the Dream II. Apparently, the nicer your motorbike the more attractive your girlfriend. So they say.

There is a story that relates Ho Chi Minh meeting Martin Luther King. When the leader of the Afro-American Civil Rights movement declared to the Communist revolutionary, Prime Minister and President that he had a dream, Ho Chi Minh is said to have sagely nodded his head and replied, I have a Dream II.

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