The Motorbike Diaries – Vol. 13

June 29, 2009 7 Comments »

Vietnam hand signal

Vietnam hand signal

Start from the Beginning – Motorbike Diaries Vol. 1

The power of the hand…

I hopped on my motorbike tonight at 8:30 PM to find out that my headlight no longer worked. It would only work when I throttled the bike up – but after I slowed down, the light went out. This created an interesting strobe effect as I drove. So much for not trying to call attention to myself as a foreign driver! I shouldn’t be too surprised about the flukiness of the bike as the speedometer has never worked before, and I am convinced that that shocks are thee just for show.

Surprisingly one of the things that does work on my bike are the turn signals. However the locals don’t even use the signals on their bike. They opt instead to use their hand. I’m not talking about the ‘official’ hand turn signals that we use in the US; no, that would be way too organized! Instead they simply stick their hand out low and at an angle and normally wave it a bit as if they are ‘shooing’ off a fly.

Shortly after moving here, I was riding through a traffic circle the first time I saw this and had no idea what it meant. Little did I know that it was the universal sign for merging in Vietnam! Now as a motorbike driver I find that I naturally yield to the hand wave signal.

I haven’t quite figured out how to do the hand wave signal myself though. Granted, I know shaking your hand isn’t rocket science; it works pretty easily when you have a left hand turn as you right hand is always on the throttle. You can easily take your left hand off, do the hand shaking thing and turn. However I haven’t mastered this at all with the right hand – in fact, I have no idea how you would accomplish this!

Move over - I'm coming thru!

Move over - I'm coming thru!

The hand turn signal clearly works best when there are two people on the motorbike. The driver doesn’t have to worry about signaling any turns, they just turn and leave the hand signaling to the passenger.  It’s the true definition of a back seat driver! After living here for about 2 months and riding on the back of a motorbike taxi as my main form of transportation (before I became a master motorbike driver myself!), I often found myself doing the hand signals for the driver. It’s one of those things that initially you look at and think “What the hell are they doing?!” Then all of a sudden you find yourself adopting the action while sitting on the back of a bike wildly shaking your hand as you merge through a traffic circle in front of a bus. How does this happen?! It’s the same feeling I have when I am wearing a coat when it’s 88 degrees out; wonder how this foreign, crazy culture has crept into you.

I think the hand wave signal has it’s origins in pedestrian crossing here. When the traffic is particularly heavy and pedestrians cross the street, they tend to put up their hand and wave it so that you’ll somehow miraculously see them among the mass of motorbikes speeding along. ‘Hey, hey – look at me, I’m crossing the street!”

I guess the hand wave signals are just a way to call attention to yourself – and when you drive among 5 million motorbikes, trust me, you need to get their attention somehow!

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

Like what you read?  Then keep reading!

Motorbike Diaries vol. 14

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