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The Kirwan Twins Adventures We've finally graduated, so we're setting off for three months to backpack around India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand before entering the "real world."

How to cross the road in Vietnam - and survive

VIETNAM | Friday, 18 May 2007 | Views [3248]

Like most countries, Vietnam has paved roads both in the cities and small towns.  Actually, Vietnamese roads are better than many New York streets since they don't have any potholes and you don't have to worry about braking an axle or getting electrocuted as you take your dog for a constitutional.  Most roads also have lovely sidewalks, often with trees along them, though you can't walk down them as they are taken up by parked motorbikes and scooters and the gaps between are used as sidewalk cafes by ladies who set up cooking stations over charcoal fires in metal basins and turn out amazing meals for people who squat on little stools 3 inches above the pavement.  Sometimes the Bia Hoi ladies will squeeze in with their barrel of freshly brewed beer that is siphoned off through a piece of plastic tubing.  You can use one of their glasses to try it (though you wouldn't if you saw what they rinse them off in between customers).  We used an empty water bottle and passed that around -- lovely beer, and we were cheered on by the chap who'd obviously been stuck into the barrel for a while.

Since the sidewalks are full of bikes and cooking stations, the only place left to walk is either the gutter or the street.  The Vietnamese gutter isn't a polite little indentation at the curb.  It is a much more significant part of the urban infrastructure.  I'm not sure how, but they all seem to flow downhill.  The reason I know this is that there's always something flowing, and it's never clean water.  The cooking ladies get their water either from a hose that snakes out of one of the many alleys which are always dark so who knows what goes on back there, or from a spigot that comes up at erratic locations, usually at the edge of the curb.  In the States this wouldn't work because they'd be a magnet for dogs, like a hydrant, but since there aren't that many dogs wandering the streets of Vietnam (doggie is a special dish, though we didn't try any....) the water is safe to use for washing your snails, filling the soup pot, rinsing customers dishes and doing early morning laundry.  Then the waste is dumped into the gutter where it mixes with all the rubbish which is also dumped there so that the trash collector ladies can get it after 10pm at night.  It's all quite efficient really.

So this brings us, the pedestrians, back to walking down the road.  Having eliminated the sidewalk and the gutter, the only place left is the road itself.  I'm not sure where the population of Vietnam currently stands but I am pretty sure that every Vietnamese owns a motorbike, scooter or bicycle and, you'll have to trust me here, everyone in the country rides their vehicle at the same time.  There are no delivery trucks so everything is delivered by bike, be it construction materials, dead pigs, live poultry, paintings, refrigerators, kids to school (4 to a bike is totally normal).  It's quite amazing.  Interspersed with this mass of people and goods on two wheels, there are the umpteen women carrying gigantic loads on two baskets hanging from a rod across their shoulders (you've seen the movies....)and a few bigshots in cars and the taxi drivers.  Some of the very largest intersections have traffic lights, mostly ignored as far as we could tell, and the major roads have Jersey barriers down the middle though people routinely go the wrong way down busy roads.  So I'm not sure if you get the picture here, but the point is that the traffic is pretty solid on every street with vehicles of some sort coming at you from all directions and no observable or observed traffic signals. 

Anyone who has ever driven round a British roundabout is familiar with the concept of feeding into the traffic and never stopping.  It works really well.  In Vietnam it works at every crossroad and intersection because, despite this overwhelming mass of traffic, noone ever, EVER stops, you just keep going, nose into whatever direction you want to go, honk your horn constantly to let everyone else know your location and then just go where you want.  If you're in the right hand lane and want to turn left, just move over, hand on horn and people weave around you.  Our bus was stopped at a railroad crossing and our lane of travel was full of cars that got there before us, so naturally we drifted over to the other side of the road so we could be ready to beat the other lane.  Naturally, the people on the other side of the crossing had done the same so as the barrier rose we were like two herds of cattle facing off, road totally blocked in both directions.  Somehow it all got itself sorted out with little fuss and lots of honking.  Very strange.

So if you, the pedestrian, wants to get across the road what's the routine?  There are a few rules to follow, the main one being not to panic at all and NEVER run.  Think of playing chicken and then take a deep breath.  It's best to wait for a slight lull in the flow of traffic if you can, but if there's no letup in sight, just take a deep breath and imagine you're walking sedately down a promenade.  Go very slowly, avoid eye contact with the drivers and they will, honest guv', weave around you and before you know it you've reached the other side.  If they honk, it's just to let you know where they are and to tell other drivers that they're moving around an obstacle (you).  Once you get the hang of it, it's quite fun.  Well, I enjoyed it anyway!

(Written by our lovely Mamma)

Tags: Adrenaline

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