Friday, 30 October 2015

What I think while motorbiking in Vietnam

So, an entry I've been looking forward to doing for ages: Back to my beloved Vietnamese motorbike, and thoughts I have whilst dodging all my fellow traffic on the streets of Bien Hoa, the insane streets of Saigon and a few scenic countryside roads too. Firstly, a nice photo of my exploration north of Bien Hoa, where I was taking a picture of the sign. Only when I got home I noted the motorbike driving past...

LET'S START (and though I do not admit to exaggerating, I admit to being hypocritical and sarcastic)

  • Don't you dare beep at me while driving the wrong way towards me down a one-way street... 
  • That's a full size fridge you're carrying on your bike... Safe to say, it still impresses me.
  • How many people do you think the average bus driver has killed?
  • Oh hello suicidal pedestrian.
  • I wonder what that big pink thing is on the back of that dude's bike... Oh, it's a tied up live pig, oh dear. Half a minute later: “I guess not something you'd see anywhere...” I am seriously becoming immune to Vietnamese traffic, er, can I say wonders in this context? Specialties.
  • Ah, yes, of course I forgot to check, whilst planning my route, if you were a one-way street. And of course you are. And of course not in my favour. (This conversation I have had a mirriad times with especially Dien Bien Phu street and Pasteur street.)
  • Rush hour in Saigon: Why I am happy I don't live in Saigon. The first month or two it was exciting and fun and incredible. After that, just frustrating. Literally would be faster to leave my bike here and walk. Literally literally.
  • Do you think the police intentionally always flag down the person behind me, just to give me a mini heart attack?

  • So, I know Nam Ky Khoi Ngia street is parallel to Pasteur and opposite one-wayed. I want 52 Pasteur, so I just go down NKKN for a while, then turn left and onto Pasteur, and find 52... Right? Simple? Yes. HA HA HA HA let me pause for a laugh... or two... or fifty-two... Or maybe fifty-two minutes, because that is roughly how long it took me to do a route that would look like max. five minutes on the map.
  • Oh hello suicidal pedestrian. Don't you have anywhere better to be than standing in the middle of a street packed with motorbikes coming straight at you??

  • Ok police coming up... Staying within the speed limit, check. Helmet definitely on, check. Helmet definitely definitely on, check. Avoid eyecontact, check. (Yes, the first time I got stopped by the police was purely because I had literally forgotten to put on my helmet.)
  • Oooo, dragonfruit on offer on the side of the road! Excuse me fellow bikists as I U-turn back...
  • Oh hello suicidal pedestrian. What if I did hit you... Would you just shout at me? Fall to the ground? Get a little bruise? Get injured? DIE? How would I ever be able to live with that... Vietnamese prisons probably aren't the funnest place to be... and my mumsie wouldn't be happy...
  • Is that a dog in the front basket of that bike??
  • Oh dear poor little hens/chicks/birds in a little cage on the back of the bike, if your bike crashes into something it is destiny that you be free....
  • Is that a dog sat in front of the driver??
  • Super-speeding helmetless young man driving at break-neck speed towards me... Keeping clear of this one.

The cool kid in the bike school
  • Is that a dog on the back of the bike? Literally seems to be just standing behind the driver! How's he attached so he doesn't fly off? …. Oh, he isn't. Good luck darling...
  • Super-careful completely covered young woman (I presume, though it could be anything hiding underneath that disguise of sunglasses, face mask, neck mask, hood, hoodie, coat, gloves and modesty skirt), wobbling (with her bike) slowly on the extreme right-hand side of the road... Keeping clear of this one too.
  • Is that something that used to be a dog?? I will not look too carefully to find out...
  • Oh hello suicidal pedestrian. Yeah, fine, don't even look at these little motor machines speeding towards you. 
  • Oh dear I felt a wet drop on my face. Either it will a) start bucketing down within seconds or b) it's that dodgy drug thing my friend told me about, where they drug the driver so they feel woozy and stop, then they rob them... Dunno which I'd rather prefer.

  • Oh, dude behind me, you bumped into me... I feel obliged to frown and be displeased with you... But then, it was an accident, and only a bump? One shouldn't overreact, one doesn't overreact if one is in a crowd with many people and one happens to brush against you?
  • Don't you dare beep at me while trying to cut across the main road I am on, idiot. I'm on the bigger road. I have right of way and I know it doesn't belong to your vocabulary but I will attempt to teach it to you anyways.

  • I'm glad road rage isn't a Vietnamese thing. And I'm not being sarcastic, it really isn't. They don't seem to get bothered by people cutting in front / braking suddenly / bumping into you / taking 'your' place in the, erm, WAITING OCEAN (you can never, ever, ever use the word 'queue' to describe motorbikes waiting at lights). As long as you maintain a balance of selfish aggressiveness and flexibleness, you are fine on the roads. 
  • I LOVE SAIGON BRIDGES. (Especially at 1am. Seriously, you need no other happiness in life.)
Unfortunately bridges aren't the best places to stop and take pics tho...
  • A booming BEEP BEEP. Yes ok bus/truck, I will get out of your way...

  • The occasional prospect of being part of a bus sandwich is not on my list of favourite things in life... 
  • A booming BEEP BEEP. Yes ok bus/truck, I can hear you, but I cannot physically get out of your way at the current moment... Please understand that and don't drive over me.

  • "Truck drivers use horns like brakes," said my wise friend Richard once. Very true, I am constantly reminded.
  • Ooo, hello flooded road!
And this was so surreal: I hadn't witnessed it rain the whole day. Then I came across this one single flooded street.
  • It is really all about instinct. Don't think too much, just go with the flow, and focus on what's immediately in front of you. In a way, you should just simplify your brain to the raw minimum – don't worry about people behind you, people to your side, all those things that could happen (coz trust me, you would go insane), just focus on what's ahead. All natural raw human animal instinct. Right?
  • A booming BEEP BEEP. Yes ok bus/truck, but where are you? I can't see you! Are you a motorbike with a very booming horn?
Handy parking
  • Do you think the truck drivers get to choose their own horn tone? There is a great variety of horn sounds, from the bass and booming to the high and squeaky, to the melodious tydydydyyy, all equally beautiful. Wait, I think I mean extremely irritating.

Trucks waiting to cross The Deadly Junction on the way to Saigon
  • A booming BEEP BEEP. Yes ok bus/truck, but where are you? Oh, are you literally the one which is in front of me? Why does it sound like you're behind me? I wonder if you're hiding in my blind spot... But wait, you're a bit too big to be hiding in my blind spot, right...?
  • The hierarchy of Vietnamese traffic is similar to the hierarchy of Vietnamese people. Respect your elders, be polite, do not start anything before they do. Same with traffic – respect your largers, give way, do not think you have any authority (or enough lives) to cheekily aggravate them in any way. Think of vans as cheeky twenty-somethings, who don't deserve your fellow twenty-somethingy massive age-respect, but you should avoid them for your own good and for the peace of the world. Think of the taxi-drivers as the confident, sometimes cocky middle-aged fathers who should be allowed to U-turn in the middle of a packed road, right!? Think of the normal cars as slightly hesitant, stylish mothers. Not as cocky as them fathers, but still demand the equal amount of respect. Think of the buses as grumpy grandmothers, who have seen enough of life to know you will get nowhere if you do not aggressively just continue going forwards, shouting at anyone who is vaguely in your way. And beware the grandfather, the Truck, of whom a video was posted a few weeks back smashing into a few innocent motorbikes at some crossroads. The grandfather is pretty grumpy too, and not always completely with it... Also, as in human life too, the older you get the slower you get. So even though them grandparents demand the utmost respect, you still get a little satisfaction from speeding past them on your little agile self. (Yes, you have time to think while biking.)

  • Do people actually every buy lottery tickets from them people at the lights!? Let alone stop and buy from the guys waving them on the side of the road!?
  • A booming BEEP BEEP. Yes ok bus/truck, eff off.
  • Ah. Hello rain.
When I joined the gang waiting under a bridge for the rain to stop... It didn't. So I continued my trip. Obviously it stopped five minutes after I had left my shelter.

  • Dude... seriously, I was at the petrol guy before you... Did your mumsie teach you NO manners... But wait, ok, this is Vietnam, Vietnamese traffic, where it's instinct, not manners. In the end, he's probably not purposefully barging in front of me, evilly chuckling to himself "beat that tosser to it, hehehe idiot", but just blissfully unaware, just parking in an empty spot and happening to be served first...
  • Dear truck I am passing, I can hear your 'hello's but I'd rather stay alive than turn my head to greet you back.

  • Thanks crazy speeder for overtaking me – if there's police ahead, it's you they'll be getting not me...
  • I would rather be a serial killer than a Vietnamese bus driver. At least all the killing I'd do would be intentional.

  • So, fellow bikist, ever thought that if you're turning left, wouldn't it be easier for the others and you if you attempted to go to the left-hand side of the road/lane before stopping at the lights and then cutting everyone else off with your horizontal dart across the road?

  • YOLO
  • Ok, big roundabout coming up... Find truck/bus/taxi to take shelter next to while making your way through. (Also should be added to Tips for Motorbiking in Vietnam.

  • I cannot think of many more pointless jobs than a Vietnamese zebra crossing painter.
  • If I don't look to my right maybe they won't hit me...
  • Which would be less death-inducing – checking my mirror to see how close that crazy honking bus is, or focus on the motorbikes centimetres away from me in front...?
  • How can anyone regularly listen to music while driving and still be alive!?
  • Go away family of four with helmetless kids, you make me paranoid...
  • Don't dare you flappy hand me! (= indicating with your hand that you are turning. So, if you can't be arsed to actually attempt to carefully manouver yourself to do that left turn, just flappy hand it and trust that the other bikers are cowardly enough to obey it. Who needs indicator lights anyways.)
  • Well, they're often left blinking for the next ten minutes after you turn in any case, so they aren't a massive amount of help.

  • Oh hello bouncing stray helmet on the street I manage to dodge... Now where is your owner... Ah yes, hello guy carrying a long pole on his bike, doing a U-turn in the middle of the road to drive towards oncoming traffic to retrieve his helmet.

  • Oh dear, those people at the bus stop are eagerly putting out their arms. Meaning there is a bus immediately behind me.
  • Ok, hello there, car driving top speed at me on my side of the road, flashing its lights (meaning I will not dodge you, petty motorbiker). It's a surreal moment, like you're in the middle of an action movie.

But most of all:
  • WHEEEEEEEYYYY this is life. I love, I adore biking. Swervy countryside roads, Saigon bridges at night, speeding down the empty highway... Seriously, I have never got this much happiness from an everyday activity.
It's not all rush hour and hassle

Here were some thoughts, a miniscule percentage though. Hope you enjoyed it!

Till next time