One of the disadvantages of living a solo life is that when you have one of those experiences that you just want to tell someone about – there’s normally no one around to listen. So, instead of bottling it all in, I blog; which makes me feel as if I’m telling someone the story, yet it does kind of lack a conversational feel if I can’t see or hear people’s reaction. Hell, it’s the best thing I got though – so here goes.
While driving from District 2 to District 1, I was caught in a horrendous traffic mess today. This is kind of the norm for here, but it seemed to be particularly bad today. Maybe I was just in a shit mood because I was short on sleep, hadn’t had any coffee, and had missed my yoga class due to a schedule change. Not a good start, but when I came upon the mess of traffic near the construction zone, I immediately knew that my day was going to get worse.
This particular stretch of road (if you can call it that) is always a problem as it’s all torn up from construction and there are only two ‘lanes’ that wind around the construction. The potholes are large and feel like they will swallow my little motorbike tire. It probably only lasts for ¼ of a mile, however when you are on a little motorbike surrounded by huge semi trucks and beeping buses with no regard for you – it feels like a 5 mile stretch.
The ‘lanes’ are supposed to provide a place for cars and motorbikes – however during rush hour it appears that whomever has the most mass wins…which normally means that the bikes get squeezed out to the small, narrow space between lanes/vehicles, effectively making the bikes single file while the big, fat cars and trucks take up all of the lanes.
As a side note, I have found that the more I drive here the more upset I get when a car/bus is in the bike lane; it drives me crazy. I think most of the private cars and taxis are being driven by drivers toting around business people. The passengers sit back and read their papers while their drivers are encroaching on my space. I wonder what they would think if they were in my position – on a bike getting squeezed out of their rightful space by an oversized SUV or taxi. Then again – the concept of ‘rights’ doesn’t exist here.
As I sat in this big traffic mess of semis, buses, private cars/SUV’s, motorbikes, bicycles, cement trucks, and the random pedestrian, I had a lot of time to think. In addition, I had a lot of time to inhale way too much exhaust fumes. I thought about how in most countries there is a traffic pecking order regarding rights. The rules generally go that if you come across a vehicle that is smaller or has less power than you, you give them right of way. This is how it works in sailing…the sailboat has right of way to boats with motors. Pedestrians and bikes tend to have right of way to other vehicles as they are weaker and slower and can’t maneuver as quickly. This makes sense. Give the little guy a break.
However the pecking order of right-of-way is generally lost in most of Asia. In the land where there are no queues, there are also no rights for the ‘little guy’. In fact – it’s kind of opposite here. The trucks with the loudest horns and presence simply move right on through a traffic situation without slowing down and the sea parts for them – mainly due to fear on my part. The same for pedestrians – they are the lowest in the pecking order here. They are like ants, just scurrying for cover when the big ‘foot’ comes through.
So I sit, sucking in exhaust fumes, pissed that a car is in my lane backing everything up; I want to scream at them…but I know that will get me nowhere..so I try to stay calm. The rest of the motorbike drivers have taken to driving up on the sidewalk – the only real place left to go as we are squeezed out by the cars. The pedestrians on the sidewalk scurry and the motorbikes eventually get all jammed up on the sidewalk.
The picture looks like this: 2 ‘lanes’ of beat up pot-holed road filled with big trucks and suvs, a few scattered motorbikes between the rows of vehicles (that’s where I am), a sea of motorbikes driving on the sidewalk, and the pedestrians pushed up against the store fronts with no where to go. The pedestrians are the low man in the pecking order and they ultimately loose out.
Deep breath…calm…patience; this is the mantra that I’m trying to force through my mind. Yet I feel like screaming at everyone – I try to find my ‘inner-Asian’ and be calm. I’d like to think that my patience level is better than average after living here for 8 months, however my patience is lost when I feel like my own personal safety is at risk. After 20 minutes of trying to get through the ¼ mile without getting flattened like a pancake and with the incessant honking of horns, the construction area ends, the road opens up and we are all freed to take off.
As I throttle up to speed, I try to suck some fresh air into my lungs. I think, it’s only 9:30 in the morning, but I could really use a martini right now.
If you have a rant to share about traffic in Vietnam, please leave a comment and get it off your chest!
By Ba June 3, 2009 - 2:54 pm
I really enjoy your blogs and your amazing photos. Thank you for sharing your experience in VN.
By Jon Hoff June 4, 2009 - 12:37 am
It’s a rite of passege when living in HCMC. You have four stages with the traffic:
1) Amazement and wonder.
2) Initiation and integration.
3) Horror, disgust, frustration.
4) You move.
By Ba June 10, 2009 - 1:17 pm
The only traffic rule when it comes to driving in VN is that there is no rules.
By admin June 11, 2009 - 9:24 am
@Jon – I guess this means that I’m in stage 3. I was hoping that stage 4 was “acceptance”…but it’s not looking like it!
By Brian Bowling June 17, 2009 - 8:20 am
I am new to your website. So far I love it. I too am an American living here in HCMC. I am better with my anger in traffic now but I am still prone to lose it. I don’t even know how to drive a moterbike yet. My wife drives me everywhere. I sit on the back of the moterbike and say a few prayers everytime we go out. I have found myself on a few occasions yelling and cussing at some of the suicidal/homicidal drivers. Of course they don’t understand what I’m saying but they probably get the idea through my body language. Hahaha. There are no real rules over here when it comes to traffic. It just seems like everybody has a death wish. I have always thought of traffic over here as “organized chaos” if that makes any sense. My wife gets angry with me when I get so bent out of shape in traffic. She just dont get what I am so upset about. The traffic madness is just normal to her. Wll, just wanted to share that with a fellow american. Thanks. And be careful out there. They will run you down and not blink an eye.