Motorbike Diaries – Vol. 17

October 10, 2009 17 Comments »

Rush Hour
Rush Hour

Start from the Beginning – Motorbike Diaries Vol. 1

Resistance is Futile – Assimilation

I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve become one of them. I wear a jacket (which I’m boiling in), a mask, a poncho, ….I’m a Vietnamese motorbike driver. I’ve become used to being squeezed into small places and driving through them. I can drive really slow and coast while keeping my balance. I can drive through flooded streets with my feet up on my seat so that my feet won’t get wet while still balancing the bike. I can dodge slow pedestrians. I can maneuver the bike into the narrowest parking spaces in alleys. I have learned how to honk to simply let someone know I’m ‘here’. In fact, I use my mirrors less and less and my horn more and more. Seriously – how the hell did this happen? I so vividly remember my first time I took the bike out of the living room and accelerated into this crazy motorbike culture scared to death.

I’m absolutely convinced I will have to retrain my brain to look left before turning right again as I don’t even get the urge to look left any longer. I’ve learned that you don’t wait for opportunities (for a lull in traffic) when driving in Vietnam, you make opportunities.

Me and my motorbike - and one flat tire...

Me and my motorbike - and one flat tire...

Six months have gone by and now I’m able to do what I previously thought was impossible; I zone out. I actually look at stuff around me, notice new restaurants, can read street signs, and most of all I use the driving time to think. I’ve even been able to zone out the horns that are constantly honking at me. Nor am I shocked or horrified by what I see around me any longer – 4 people on a motorbike, a guy carrying a refrigerator on the back of his bike, a dog on the bike, or a boy standing on a bike seat behind the driver – yes, standing. However a boy sleeping between his parents on a motorbike in the pouring rain did catch my attention for a bit the other day. I think I was simply jealous of his ability to sleep in a impossible environment.

Last week I was so zoned out that I didn’t notice the broken glass that I ran over until it was too late – 2 flat tires…yes, 2. I pushed my bike to a corner that had a tire tube propped up on it (the Vietnamese symbol for tire fixer nearby) and 10 minutes and 75 cents later the guy had fixed the holes and I was off.

I find that I still do have a couple of ‘limits’ on what I won’t do. I won’t drive on a sidewalk; it pisses me off when other people do it while I’m trying to walk down the street, so I won’t be one of those people. I won’t go the wrong way down a one way street. (My high school driver-ed teacher would be so proud of me) I won’t carry a refrigerator, a flat screen TV or a computer on the back of my bike! However just recently I did find myself carrying a 30 lb backpack on my bike driving through flooded streets praying that I wouldn’t lose my balance. Finally, I won’t wear flip flops while driving as I’m too scared to lose one of them! I can’t tell you how many flip flops and sandals I see in the middle of the street; deposited there accidentally, never to see it’s other half again.

The most stunning thing is that I know it is my motorbike that I will miss the most out of everything in Vietnam. It is the thing that scared me the most and the thing that I loved the most about my time in Vietnam; which goes to show you – I’m completely dysfunctional. Learning to ride in Saigon was one of my goals, and even though it took me 5 months to get up the nerve to try and then 2 more weeks to actually take it out of my living room and put the key in the ignition; I conquered the fear, and for that I’m immensely thankful.
Video of my taking off on my bike after my flat tire was fixed.

Follow my motorbike journey from the beginning with the Motorbike Diaries Vol. 1 – Learning How to Drive a Motorbike in Vietnam

Get your own Vietnam Motorbike License and get out on the streets!

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