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.
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!
By Ace October 11, 2009 - 10:18 pm
Saigon’s traffic scene is crazy! You deserve a round of applause for doing it like the locals.
By Son October 12, 2009 - 6:50 am
Finally, I saw your motorbike. What a sporty one! ^^
You look so professional rider when you’re on Nouvo Yamaha like that. keke
By Dave and Deb October 12, 2009 - 8:12 am
Look at you go! I love how you just drove off in front of everyone stopped there at the intersection without even a glance in their direction. You really have become a true motorcycle rider in Vietnam. Love it!
By Heather on her travels October 12, 2009 - 2:32 pm
Is riding with that backpack your equivalent of the guy with the fridge? I’m amazed you’ll risk it in shorts – I’d shudder at the thought of you coming off the bike with bare legs>
By Shawn October 13, 2009 - 3:38 am
Excellent progression on cycling. You-tube, and others, is blocked here in Turkey, so I am not able to see the video, but I will catch it in Bulgaria.
By admin October 13, 2009 - 6:44 am
@heather – I normally NEVER wear shorts – that was a really unusual day! The backpack certainly felt about as heavy as a fridge that day!
By Barbara @ Hole n The Donut Travels October 13, 2009 - 1:16 pm
Has anyone ever told you what a remarkable woman you are?
By Anil October 14, 2009 - 5:38 pm
You know how I feel about motorbike and cycles – looks like you’ve got it down! One of the most fun ways to travel 🙂
By Oisin October 31, 2009 - 7:26 am
I love this, you are a very brave woman. I dont think I could do it, it all seems so chaotic.
By tom November 1, 2009 - 9:45 pm
The rush hour picture is great, but I would be too scared to drive there.
By Donna Hull November 11, 2009 - 6:13 pm
Heather, I wouldn’t have truly “gotten” this post until I visited Vietnam last month. OK. I was one of those tourists in the pedicab. Was that you on a motorbike coming towards me?
By Jorrit Jorritsma November 12, 2009 - 7:39 am
I’ve just discovered your site. What a blast. Congratulations for giving up the old life and relocating to Vietnam. It sounds like a fantastic adventure.
By Rebekah December 19, 2009 - 1:48 am
Sherry- you’re a STAR! It’s funny to read this post- proof that you can do anything when you put your mind to it!
By Roger from Arlington, Virginia May 12, 2010 - 12:35 pm
I read your Web comments on motorbiking in Saigon before I made the trip and decided to rent my own, hoping to capture the same mix of fear and exhilaration. Now that I’m a veteran of its mayhem, and am sorting the photos and video I shot while riding, I can smile at being part of that rolling, roiling mass, the densest concentration of scooters in the world. But I’ve been home a week and am still coughing from the pollution, despite the nose and mouth filter that I bought on the street for 35 cents.
By admin May 12, 2010 - 1:33 pm
Roger – I’m SO glad you dove in! That’s not an easy thing to do and you did it! It took me 5 months to finally get up the nerve to get my own bike after being tired of taking motorbike taxis all the time. Yes – the pollution is horrible…in the end I bought a carbon filter mask…but still not the best. That’s really why I only stayed a year…I felt like I might as well be smoking a pack of cigarettes a day!
Where are you posting the photos and video – I’d love to see them and feature them!
By Craig Zabransky October 14, 2010 - 2:20 pm
Love the how the traffic light seemed not to matter in the video. You did assimilate. Kudos.
stay adventurous, Craig
By admin October 14, 2010 - 2:31 pm
traffic light…there was a traffic light?