Start from the Beginning – Motorbike Diaries Vol. 1
Sunday…today is the day it has to happen. No rain, no motorbikes in my way, just the hot sun beating down on the pavement and the open road beckoning me for adventure. Well, actually I’d like to believe that it was beckoning me…but it was hard to hear over the noise of my inner fear. However my pride won out and I knew that today had to be the day I got on that damn bike and joined the motorbike masses.
I waited until lunch time, the traffic wasn’t too busy, and before I could really think about it, I just went. It’s like jumping into a cold lake. You can’t just dip your toe in or you’ll brain will take over and screw everything up. You need beckon your pride and use your heart and just go for the adrenaline rush and do it…jump!
I put on my sunscreen, and my best helmet. I put my insurance card in the front of my wallet, and I put the medical center biz card right behind it that says all of the directions in Vietnamese; and I jumped in. Off I went. I drove around the block about 3 times trying to get used to the turns on the bike, the acceleration, and simply having to pay attention to road signs and traffic lights again; something I never have to do on a Xe-om. I tested out the horn and learned how to turn off the turn signal. I was doing ok – yet I had only made right turns to that point! I ventured down a few other roads with more traffic and tried to get used to not worrying about what was behind me or on my side; it seems as if the only space you are responsible for here is the space directly in front of you (12 o’clock) and the space from 10 to 12 and 12 to 2…everything else doesn’t matter. You don’t do a check over your shoulder when you move over, you just move over and everyone moves out of your way as if you all travel in a giant wave and are all somehow connected.
This is really rather counterintuitive to me. I like side mirrors, I like over the shoulder checks, I like to know who’s in my space around me so I found this hard to let go. But you need too else when you look over your shoulder to move over, you will run into the person in front of you.
I decided it was time to take some left turns so I pointed the bike towards District 2 where I had friends and there was some empty road out there where I could practice more turns and get better balance. This meant that I had to drive about 15 minutes on the big road that led out of town along with big trucks and buses…and plenty of motorbikes. It also meant that I had to cross bridges with little narrow bike lanes. I had done this a million times on the back of a xe-om, but never by myself.
I was a granny driver…I stayed on the far right of the road and puttered along slowly as other bikes sped past me. Heck, even the guys carrying big palettes of flowers on the back of their bikes passed me…I was a slow poke. I had a strange feeling of being 16 again; the feeling of being behind the wheel for the first time alone. It was a feeling of independence yet I was ultra sensitive to every movement and action around me trying to figure out how I fit into the moving puzzle. God – that was 23 years ago…shit…déjà vu but with wrinkles now.
The granny driver made it over the bridge slow but fine and then navigated through the busy intersections. I stopped at my friend’s house and had some much needed lunch. I wasn’t feeling exuberant about my driving experience, but I was feeling a cautious optimism.
There were only a few times where I panicked because a car pulled out in front of me and I knew I needed to stop – but my brain hadn’t retrained itself yet to know that the break wasn’t at my foot – it was at my hand. A weird feeling when for a split moment you know you need to stop, but can’t remember how to do it.
While at my friends place it poured rain, which made me really nervous to get all the way home again. I waited out the rain, and got back on the bike to go driving through puddles back to my apartment. When I got back into town, I felt a little brave. I decided to take another spin around the block to experience more city traffic. I went down a little motorbike road and there were a bunch of motorbikes going the wrong way and coming towards me. I was a little peeved because the road was already narrow, but I slowly inched by. The fact that they were driving the wrong way down the road didn’t even phase me – that’s normal here. However when I got to the end and turned the corner onto the larger road, there were the police pulling people over! Shit! I’m a foreigner without a license that barely knows how to drive a motorbike…shit, shit, shit.
My tactic…pretend like I didn’t know how to stop (that’s not too far from the truth)! Actually, I slowed down for a minute as they were point to various people with their sticks and making them pull over, and one of them looked at me, I just gave that confused ‘I don’t understand’ look and kept going…never looking back! I was a little worried that Ponch was going to get on his bike and track me down, but no one ever came after me, However , next time I go to the post office I’m a bit worried I will find my face on a wanted poster! After that, I made a bee line home! I tucked the bike safely back away in my living room with the help of my roommate. Damn that bike is heavy!!! I even sprained my wrist trying to get it inside!
All I can say is – I deserve a beer. And I need more practice…baby steps, baby steps…
Get your own Vietnam Motorbike License and get out on the streets!
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