|Motorcycles in Saigon|
Traffic in Vietnam is a rather complicated matter, especially when it comes to motorcycles. When you have to face it while crossing a road at the beginning you might feel that what you are about to take on is an impossible deed. Then you put together all the useful virtues that you are equipped with: intuition, quick reflexes, previous experience in similar situations. And don't forget a massive dose of folly. So you take the first step. Every move must be accurately weighed: you can't afford any gross mistake, as you would immediately be run over; the minor ones can always be fixed with a sudden jump or an acrobatic number. Every single progression must be planned and measured with care as for timing, speed and maximum length. At the right time in fact it's necessary to resist the temptation of greed, content oneself with the space left behind, stop (even in the middle of the road) and immediately focus on the next try, just like in an American football game.
A pedestrian who dives into a typical continuous flux of motorbikes in Saigon must move in a resolute way, perfectly cutting in between the wake of the bike that just went by and the path of the one that is about to come, looking the opponent straight in the eyes. The motorcyclists, in fact, must understand at once the intentions of those who are crossing the road. Every advance must be carried out quickly but without sudden starts, which would inevitably puzzle those who have to decide without hesitation whether they should drive their bike behind or in front of us.
However, pedestrians are only one part of the problem after all: the unbroken sequence of zig-zags, abrupt braking and sudden side moves make it very likely for bikes to crash against one another.
On my first night in Saigon, ten years after my last visit, during the exploratory walk that I always take to get acquainted with a city, when I have already witnessed the usual pathetic squabble with insults and off-target slaps between an English speaking tourist and a local fake T-shirt seller I finally come across the scene that since the very first step out of the airport one keeps wondering why he has so far failed to see. Two motorbikes are leaning on the middle of a street while a bunch of people are forming a circle around a poor devil who is sitting on the asphalt holding his head. There is a puddle of blood between his legs. Fortunately everybody understands at once that it's just a scratch between his temple and eyebrow, nothing serious. The onlookers start to busy themselves with acts of solidarity both quick and extremely sensible. Obviously everybody here is used to this kind of operations. Without panic and confusion, following a surprisingly appropriate sequence, different people bring to the unlucky fellow tissues, water and finally band-aids. The poor guy's mood gradually changes: from stunned and desperate he becomes lucid and calm. When someone tries to tell a joke he laughs with everybody else. The guy who hit his bike offers him a cigarette: he takes it and the general burst of laughter that follows marks the end of this little drama. The injured guy stands up, starts his bike and leaves while everybody is still smiling: nobody complained, checked for damage or tried to obtain compensation.A minor drama typical of this place, that the traffic of Saigon - like those old AKs that lie dusted and rusted in the Vietnam war museums - blasts away at its residents every day.
A couple of videos on the subject that I took in Saigon.
1. Chaotic traffic at a crossroads
2. Heavy traffic at twilight