Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Writing yesterday's update reminded me that traffic is a perfect subject for one of these "miss about Vietnam" entries. The odd thing is, I don’t know which kind of entry to include it in. I feel pretty ambivalent about it. So I'm going to do both: what I will and also won't miss about Vietnam (volume five and five): traffic. Before coming here, we were warned. Maybe warned isn't hysterical enough. Everyone had plenty to say, usually in a wide-eyed and high-pitched aside. We usually laugh this sort of thing off, but arriving here we discovered the situation really is terrifying. It took months to get comfortable navigating around town by foot. The sidewalks are as dangerous as the streets. Nearly everyone has a Saigon Birthmark: an oval of waxy second-degree scar about muffler-high on the calf. Everybody knows someone with ten stitches in their brain or gravel embedded in their face. But that's Vietnam: its spaces constantly, maddeningly, numbingly, chaotically cram-packed, jacked-full, overwhelmed with endless, odorous, hot, heavy traffic. Twenty-four. Seven. Nineteen months later we still talk about it all the time. Everybody does. But this subject, fact of life, force of nature eventually does become understandable. Scooters are just metal pedestrians to me now. I feel as safe walking with them as I do with any crowd. I never look for traffic lights to cross the street anymore. I hardly look for traffic. (It's easier to cross between intersections because the scooters cross at crosswalks.) Once we've left Vietnam, I'm going to miss the adrenaline rush of walking around town, the relative safety of slow-moving traffic which might leave my leg burned. But I'll also enjoy coming home to pedestrian right-of-way and regulated crosswalks. And scaring the hell out of people who are coming to Vietnam. [Cavin]

Monday, April 27, 2009


Earlier the traffic was nuts. Well, it's always nuts, but this was the worst I've ever seen six o'clock traffic get: backed up from the light at Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai and Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa Streets--for as far as I could see from our front door. When traffic halts on these roads it's incredible. Scooters just pack so amazingly densely, thousands of colorful helmets wedged into everyplace, including sidewalks. Of course, we'd already asked the man to hail us a taxi, so he was out there trying to move heaven and earth to get one over to us. We couldn’t walk through there, anyway. Eventually, a cab turned down the one-way road beside our building, so we were irritated about having to catch a metered ride in the wrong direction. Dinner, when we finally got there, was nice. Afterward, we decided to even the score by walking home, allowing us the illusion we'd gotten our money's worth for a round-trip ticket. It had rained in the meantime, and was breezy. One of Reunification Palace's sidewalk trees had blown across the road. Several men were breaking it apart with their hands, headlights streaming around them. Hopeless. The trunk was as round as a plate. No chance this was the earlier obstruction, though, certainly this had happened during the dinner storm. On around the corner onto Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, we came across a burnt-out car laying in the road. Probably a taxi. It was dark by then, and all that ash camouflaged everything until we were much too close. The doors and hood gaped, the rear fender and tank were scattered pieces across the road. It was a spooky thing, hard to see, wrong. How long did it sit there? The rest of the night felt weird. [Cavin]