For those of you who have ever driven in a car with me, you know that I struggle more than the average individual with the rules of the road. I’ll be the first to admit that I lack a certain set of qualities dealing with anything relating to directions or common directional sense. I love backseat drivers, rather I encourage them, and if they say that they would rather drive altogether . . . even better. Friends from just this past year have memories a plenty of Andee driving mishaps (I hope not too haunting) . . . “Andee, you know you’re driving on the left side of the road right now right?”
Despite my deepest wishes to stay as a passenger rather than a driver on Ho Chi Minh City’s crazy street, after five weeks of living here, the annoyance of negotiating with moto drivers and getting ripped off by taxi drivers has trumped my personal driving fears, and I bought myself a fresh pair of wheels. However, while one of my roommates went for a moto and another went for a scooter, I decided to go down a different road. I have a brand new, bright yellow (I thought standing out in traffic would be wise) electric bike! Good for the environment, good for my health, and good for the well being of everyone else on the road. They go a little slower (which is fine, I was never a speeder) but they’re lighter, easy to maneuver, and handle really nicely.
Yesterday, just six hours after purchasing, the time came for me to abandon my behind the wheel insecurities and face the ultimate driving fear: rush hour traffic. I boldly braced my wheels and launched myself into the fishbowl. Was it stressful? Incredibly. But I made it to work and back without a scratch. It was a gold star moment.
Driving in Saigon is like swimming in an ocean. There seem to be no driving “rules” yet everyone is understood on how the road operates. Sure you can oppose oncoming traffic on a one-way street, run red lights, and stop whenever you feel like it, weave between “lanes” (if people actually stayed in lanes) or basically do anything that helps get you to your destination. Strangely, everyone on the road accepts this and works with this mindset rather than against it. In the U.S. people react with anger and horn honking, but in Saigon people just accept it. People honk horns not as an expression of anger, but rather as a head’s up to let others know they are there. The work together rather than against each other.
Traffic operates like a school of fish; everyone is swimming or riding independently but is constantly aware of their surroundings, connected to those around them by the flowing current and silent interactions and communications that take place during the swim.