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Hanoi Vietnam

Hanoi Traffic Rant

I’m not necessarily a bad tempered person. Perhaps some people who know me well would disagree with this, but broadly I consider myself someone who is able to remain cool and calm, nay zen, in potentially frustrating situations.

I will admit to two distinct weaknesses, however, when I am aware that my lack of temper can come to the surface, and my language becomes colourful, my accent increasingly scouse, and my blood pressure heightened. The first is football. More specifically, Liverpool. More specifically, Liverpool’s defence. More specifically, Mamadou Sakho.

The second area of weakness is driving, and my lack of appreciation for drivers who show disregard for others, drive dangerously or badly, and generally make life worse for the rest of us. Given I am aware of this weakness, Vietnam is possibly the worst place on the planet for me to live.

Now, the Vietnamese are generally a kind, gentle and pleasant group of people. You get the occasional whopper, but find me a city which doesn’t have its fair selection of whoppers. But in general, I do find Vietnamese people to be amongst the warmest and friendliest you could hope to meet.

Lottery.
Lottery.
Potential metal boxes of death.
Potential metal boxes of death.
Potentially homicidal.
Potentially homicidal.
Why beep?
Why beep?
Terrifying.
Terrifying.

…However, put a Vietnamese person behind the wheel of a car, or the wheel of a bus, or on a motorbike, and they suddenly become dangerous, inconsiderate, impatient, selfish, potentially lethal, and at times just very, very, very stupid.

I’ve always worked on the concept that, if your driving ever causes another driver to have to alter their own driving, then you are driving poorly. If you pull out and someone else has to slow down, then you shouldn’t have pulled out. If you change lanes and someone else has to change direction, then you shouldn’t have changed lanes. If anything you do causes another driver to take evasive action, then you have performed an action which should not have been performed. Driving is a very simple, logical thing. Actions have potential consequences. A good driver anticipates the potential consequences of his or her actions, and if those consequences might be bad, then they’ll amend their intended action accordingly to make those actions safe.

This isn’t a complex concept. Its how I have been taught to drive at home. It means I have high expectations when it comes to driving, and a very low tolerance for people who don’t meet those expectations (my own family included – at home I would frequently berate my Dad for driving too close to the car in front).

And yet every single day in Vietnam I see countless examples of just the most astonishingly short sighted, stupid, downright dangerous pieces of driving. Taxi drivers who suddenly pull across two lanes of traffic because they’ve decided they want to turn. Busses who drive in the middle lane and then swerve to the side of the road to stop. People on motorbikes who drive mindlessly into flows of traffic in the hope, nay, the expectation that everyone else will avoid them.

Just today, a guy pulled out right into my path. He saw me coming, and so he stopped directly in my path. I had to brake, hard, letting the back end of my bike step out as my tyre skidded. Luckily I stopped short of a collision, and I drove on with little more than spitting a few angry words at the stupid idiot. But its not unusual for people to do these things, and it’ll probably happen to me again today.

Here’s a new concept for Vietnamese drivers: other people! There are, in fact, other people using the road at the same time as you! Isn’t that amazing?! I imagine you’re shocked to discover this fact, but its true. If you don’t believe me, next time you’re riding your motorbike, just have a quick look around. See those other motorbikes that are also driving on the road around you? They are in fact other people, and you have a responsibility to drive safely for their good, just as they do you.

Here’s another new concept for Vietnamese car drivers: turning circles. Another related concept: full lock. If you really must perform a u-turn, then put your steering wheel to full lock, and said u-turn will be performed in a smaller amount of space, and with less disruption to other road users. Simple and obvious, and yet a concept totally lost on the Vietnamese. I’m aware of oil tankers that require less space to change direction than some of the cars in this city.

Sometimes, Vietnamese drivers simply lack any sense of very simple logic and basic common sense. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been on my motorbike, travelling steadily but in slow moving traffic, surrounded by other cars and motorbikes also moving slowly at the same speed as me. There is a car behind me and a car in front of me. The car behind me will invariably beep their horn at me every 10 seconds.

Why? Where exactly do you expect to go? Say I move out of the way. You move up 6 feet. And then what? You’re behind another car, moving at the same speed you were before. That’s it! Just fucking be patient, be sensible, be intelligent, and accept that just for now, none of us are going anywhere quickly. And stop beeping your horn at me as well, because I’m really not going anywhere.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the real reason they’re beeping isn’t because they want to get past. It can’t be, can it? Because if they get past you, they’re then just sat behind another car. They know this. Surely no-one is that stupid?

Rather, the explanation is much simpler: Its because they’ve got a big car, and I’ve got a little motorbike, and their car is bigger than my motorbike, and so I should get out of their way. That’s it. That seems to be the mindset. Absolutely no application of critical logic, asking what am I actually going to gain. Just blunt stupidity and crude impatience. Once or twice in such situations I’ve gone to far as to actually turn around, eyeball the driver behind, and point at the car in front of me and ask, where exactly are you going to go?

There are two further groups of drivers in particular who drive me mad. The first is bus drivers. Notwithstanding the fact that the busses here pump out the most disgusting black smoke, bus drivers seem unaware of the fact that they’re driving a huge metal box around which could be potentially dangerous to other people (that alien concept again). The speed they drive at is utterly terrifying.

But the ones who really get me is taxi drivers. Arrogant, dangerous, stupid. They’ll overtake other cars and drive towards oncoming traffic at speeds bordering on homicidal. If they do pull out to overtake and find you, on your motorbike coming in the opposite direction, instead of slowing down or pulling back in, they’ll beep their horns and flash their lights at you, imploring you to get out of the way. No, bollocks to that. You get out of my lane, and stop being such a twat.

Again, with both bus drivers and taxi drivers, it seems to be simply a case that they’re driving like that because they can. They’re bigger than you, and they know if they hit you, you’re the one coming off worse. This is absolutely no basis for a driving philosophy. If it is, those adjectives I used before apply again: dangerous, inconsiderate, impatient, selfish, potentially lethal.

Just very, very, very stupid.

…I’m glad I got all that off my chest! I’m going to go take a deep breath and lie down in a darkened room for a while…