Welcome to Hanoi- the capital of Vietnam, and apparently the global capital of motorbike mania! I though we saw a lot of motorbikes in Thailand and Laos- they don’t even come close to the craziness that is rush hour- or ANY hour, for that matter- in Hanoi. There seems to be no rules of the road at all- people careening all over the road, no lanes, no left side or right side- its just kind of go wherever you find a place to slide into and not get run over. Old men in straw hats, barefoot little kids, women in business suits on the way home from work- anyone and everyone, beeping away on their little motorbike horns, trying to find a way through the masses. It’s actually all very entertaining, especially when there is a minor bump, and the two parties involved simply nod their heads and get on with it. At least there seems to be a helmet law, though solely for the driver, apparently. We saw families of 5 all piled onto one motorbike, the smallest child in front of the driver, the other two squeezed in between the driver, the mother hanging on for dear life in the back. Insane.
I’m not sure what causes the roads to be overrun with the little mopeds- probably because it is a more economical way of getting around as opposed to a car, and probably because there are now so many motorbikes that getting around in a car is virtually impossible. You wouldn’t get ANYWHERE trying to drive a car through that mess. And if you think driving a car would be hazardous to your health, just try crossing the street… Motorbikes coming at you from both directions, with no intent of stopping to let you pass. There are no traffic lights, no crosswalks, no breaks in the flow of two-wheeled scooters to allow a pedestrian safe passage. Fede and I stood on the side of the road for awhile, just watching the madness, and realized that there was no semblance of rhythm or reason to the mayhem, but that somehow it was almost like a symphony, all the parts playing their seemingly incongruous role to create the greater whole. Somehow, it all seems to ‘flow’. Amidst the haze of exhaust fumes, the incessant beeping of horns, the shouts in Vietnamese, and the whirring and humming of thousands of motorbike engines, life in Hanoi motors on.
It turned out there was a rhythm, but one that a couple of Westerners couldn’t pick up in an afternoon. It was something that took years to understand, a lifetime to master, and many trials and errors to perfect. As a testament to this, as we stood there wondering how we were ever going to get across the street, an ancient Vietnamese man, dusty, crooked, and grey from years spent meandering the narrow streets of this ancient city, walked straight out into the traffic without even a glance to his right or to his left. He walked slowly, as if moving on cue, by memory, his left hand extended at his side, a slight wave of the fingers seeming to brush the oncoming motor scooters out of his path. We watched in amazement as he made it untouched and unworried to the opposite corner, and continued to slowly shuffle down the sidewalk, into the smog and out of sight- an old master of the streets of Hanoi. Fede and I looked at each other- if he could do it, so could we, right? A deep breath, left hands extended at our side, we stepped off of the curb and out into the street. It was time to face the music.
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