Xin Chao from Vietnam,
Sorry for the delay but I’ve been very busy experiencing all that Vietnam has to offer before sitting down and writing about what I’ve learned so far about this beautiful country.
Arriving into Vietnam after a 14-hour journey and exiting the airport where the humidity hits you like a slap on the face was one of the first senses that exploded for me here. Every part of me was sweating. I never realized that even your eyelashes could sweat before however I can genuinely say that I have now acclimatized like a pro and even wear trousers on a day where it is 38 degrees with a real feel of 45 degrees. This is a very proud moment for me and I wear those trousers on a hot day like a medal of honor.
The second sense that overloaded my western mind was what I saw. Hanoi is an extremely populated city and the preferred mode of transport is motorbikes as you can easily sway in and out of very heavy traffic on the roads. At first glance you might mistake the chaos for unorganized madness on the roads however a few weeks in and I understand that there is a method to their madness and it is indeed very organized chaos. There is a system in place and you must obey the unwritten rules of the road (note how I said unwritten as opposed to written). There is a tiered system on the roads whereby at the top of the tier is cars/trucks/buses who have complete control of wherever they would like to manoeuvre on the roads and they beep continuously to let you know of their intention to move to the left of right hand side lanes. You must listen to these beeps as they warn you of any vehicles that are creeping up behind you and have intentions to mow you down if you do not get out of their way as they are on the top tier of this organized chaotic system.
On the second tier of this system is the motorbikes. They continuously manoeuvre like snakes through the condensed traffic and always find their place at the front of the traffic lights when they are red, awaiting impatiently for them to turn green. Some motor bikers do not even wait for the light to turn green (they can always turn right on a red light and some of them even go brazenly straight through the traffic lights).
The second last tier is the pedestrians who must sometimes cross 6-12 lanes of traffic without any traffic lights or pedestrian crossings. I felt like a hero of my very own mini drama series called ‘Cliona’s life in Hanoi’ after risking my life on the second day here in Vietnam to cross the road. I found the trick is to edge out slowly from the footpath, like Neil Armstrong, ‘one small step’ at a time. Raise your hand to the oncoming traffic in a ‘stop’ signal to show them that you mean business and you will cross that road! This is one of many of the unwritten rules I was talking about earlier. One Vietnamese lady even commented to me about what a ‘local’ move it was to raise my hands to the traffic, as if I had lived here for years. That was music to my ears, especially since the whole purpose of my trip is Intercultural learning and immersion. My advice is don’t be afraid of the traffic.
The final tier and the bottom rung of the proverbial ladder is the poor cyclist. They have no say in these unwritten rules of the road. They slowly work their way through the madness at a snail’s pace in a straight line as opposed to the slithering motorbikes and its unsettling to see them on the 6-laned highways of Hanoi. These lonesome and rare cyclists are generally older men who work in the field of logistics and carry the most bizarre cargo in their tuk-tuk style carriers like full king size mattresses or 60-inch flat screen tv’s.
As you can tell from my in-depth reflections on the Vietnam driving system, I have thought long and hard about this subject matter. The reason for this is I made the decision to rent my very own motorbike for the duration of my time here and can honestly say it has been the most amazing and liberatingly immersive experience.
To be continued……
About the Author:
Name: Cliona Langley
Age: Over 18
Applied for: NUIG ALIVE Award