Friday, March 11, 2011

Walks, Looks and Drives Like An Ace

Driving in Hanoi is a constant adventure. It’s a test of coordination, navigation and quick reflexes. Things that I generally lack but seem to oddly possess when it comes to driving. Perhaps because if I didn’t I’d be in the hospital or mangled on a daily basis.

Ironically, I had planned to write a post about the perils of driving and the day I planned to do so I get into an accident. (I’ll discuss my crash a bit later.) This keeps happening to me, maybe a sign from some higher power to STOP planning my blogs but just write them on a whim.

While the roads themselves are a picture of utter chaos, there does seem to be some kind of sense to it all. Yes, there are always motorbikes whizzing past you but the drivers seem to be in control. When I am walking, I rarely try and navigate myself around the traffic but tend to walk right through it, confident that it’ll bypass my body. I’m usually correct.

There are some glaring issues with the traffic here, mainly being that there aren’t many rules that are upheld. One way roads are simply a suggestion, sidewalks serve as an extra lane if traffic becomes too congested, red lights are actually just stop signs, and honking is more of an identification rather than a warning.

I must admit that I partake in breaking these rules; I have begun driving on the sidewalk when I didn’t want to sit in traffic, I don’t take the long way around if I can just drive directly the wrong way to my destination.

I don’t have an issue with these things because I truly believe most people riding motorbikes have a sense of what they’re doing. My issue is with the cab drivers and the buses. Who are, in my experience, among the worst drivers I have ever seen in my life. Period.

The buses have little to no regard to anyone around them. They seem to operate with a Goliath mentality, they can beat you so get out of their way. They don’t slow if they see a pedestrian or a motorbike in front of them. At a red light they don’t mind squeezing a parallel biker off the road to a scary degree. I’ve witnessed and been privy to a bus hitting someone and carrying on as if it’s the injured fault. They should’ve moved faster. I am genuinely frightened of buses simply on account of their lack of regard to anyone or thing around them.

Taxis are another story. They know what’s going on around them, but they still seem to be completely inept at allowing traffic to flow around them. They’ll run you off the road, and at red lights (when most motorbikes zip through the cars to inch to the front spaces) will block access. This doesn’t make sense to me, if there is a massive space for motorbikes in front, why block access to it? It doesn’t allow them to proceed to their destination any more quickly, it just seems to lack common logic. Instead of allowing more people access they’d rather “prove” to their passenger that they’re ready to go by moving a few inches, thereby denying anyone else the opportunity to move. I was stuck at a light for five minutes as a direct result of this. If only the cab had given me a tiny space I would’ve been able to go right through, but no, they didn’t, so I had to wait for two sets of red and green to finally make my turn. AGGRAVATING.

I’m a pretty good driver, if I do say so myself. I can drive in stilettos, carry 200 pound men and zip in and out like the best of them. Most of the time anyway.

Today was one of those days that reminded me, once again, that I am not invincible, and no matter how adept I think I am becoming at driving a motorbike in Hanoi, that it’s still a learned skill, by no means second nature.

On my way to work, I was driving down a one way road and out of nowhere someone comes from a side alley speeding in the wrong direction. Shocking, I know. Normally I’d be fine with this, but due to the rain, it was slippery and I hit the hand brake and skidded, and went down. Partially my fault, I should have mastered the foot brake but still stupidly use the handbrake 98% of the time.

I’m not hurt, really. Only my left side is damaged. Bleeding and cut/scraped up and my pants are torn. My only pair of leggings. I’m trying to mollify myself by saying it’ll make me look rock and roll but the truth is it actually makes me look trashy. Leggings with holes = not cool.

I did however appreciate the men who rushed to my aid. Picking me and my bike up, stopping traffic as I got back on, and making sure (using charades) that I was ok. I was fine, shaken up and the rest of my drive to work was a daze but no permanent damage, aside from that to my ego. Now, I’m in a degree of uncomfortable pain. Not unbearable but just annoying. Like I just got stitches or something. Also my wrist from a previous injury is now resurfacing. I can tell I’ll be really sore tomorrow.

I had been so good. When I first started driving (Jan 2010) I had a bad record, an incident a month until July, which was my first clean month. After July I was in control and golden (apart from the time I was mugged and pulled off my bike to the ground but I don’t really count that since it was extenuating circumstances and not in the least bit my fault/in my control) and now this. TARNISHING my almost year long streak. Typical.

I’m just bothered by the fact that I can’t seem to stay uninjured in this country. I always have some kind of affliction, and as soon as I start to heal another one crops up. My trips back to the US serve not only as visitations but also recuperation.

While driving here can be painful and exasperating, for the most part I love it. The motorbike experience is one of the things I adore the most about living in Hanoi. I love the feeling of being on the bike, the freedom it offers me, and the sense of accomplishment I feel when I drive somewhere successfully without incident. And it makes me look so damn cool.

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