Sunday, December 14, 2008

Same same but different

There is something about the curiosities of travel that opens your eyes to different ways of thinking. The contrast to our normal life and routines highlights the human condition, those traits we share with people who live in an entirely different culture. While the similarities are a comfort to the traveller, it is the small diferences which excite the senses, such as a family of four riding one small scooter, the constant merging and dividing of traffic, the electricity poles covered in cables like ivy, the music vendor of wheels, blasting out music as he wheels around the streets. And all this just in the car ride from the airport.

Flying into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) the hazy yellow lights illuminate busy streets and shanty towns, then suddenly you're in a taxi which is inside the flow of scooters, some with babies wedged in between the parents, sleeping peacefully. They weave in and out, riding on the footpath when the road is full, carrying mattresses, crates of beer, pigs, chickens, car tyres, and using the seat for canoodling when parked next to a lake. Crossing the road is a daunting experience. The first attempt is the most difficult because it takes faith in the scooter riders to go around you. It is a Moses-like feeling as you stride out into a busy road and emerge safely on the other side, despite the traffic never having stopped.

As a foreigner you assume they all know what they're doing, but we were told later than there are over 25 deaths per week just in Ho Chi Minh, and an enourmous number per year in all Vietnam. When you see people riding one-handed while talking on their mobile, it's not hard to see why. We saw about five accidents ourselves, a couple in front of our eyes, so any appearance of safety is an illusion. The protocol when riding in traffic is to avoid the people in front of you, but ignore everything behind you. It is their responsibility to beep their horn and let you know they're behind you. You also don't have to give way (or look) if you're turning right onto a busy road, it's other people's responsibility to miss you. All this adds up to noisy and chaotic streets, but it's part of the colour and excitement of Vietnam.

No comments: