Saturday, February 21, 2009


The billboard on Kim Ma street is rather ominous.  The grand billboard with electric displays lists Hanoi traffic accident and fatality statistics.

As I was roaring past today, the statistics were enough to release the twist of my hand on the handle accelerator.  Number of traffic accidents yesterday: 1.  Number of traffic fatalities: 1.  Most of the time when I make the daily turn from Kim Ma street to Lieu Giai, on my way home from work, I send a passing glance to the board.  0 traffic accidents yesterday.  I send an exasperated, whew, in the midst of the roar of traffic.  Right before I swerve around the city bus.  

156 accidents thus far this year.
142 traffic fatalities thus far this year.

What actually constitutes a traffic fatality?  I was left pondering the meaning of this english translation until I inquired.  Death.  142 people have died so far this year from traffic accidents.  Fortunately I haven't seen any terrible accidents yet or dead bodies sprawled on the street.  

Of course there are the fender benders.  Luckily the most damage that I have incurred thus far is cracking the hard white plastic covering of my old Honda Dream when I toppled over in the FPT University parking lot.  Needless to say, maneuvering the bike in small spaces is one of the harder parts of driving.  Most bikes are expertly parked in tight rows outside storefronts and looked after by an attendant.  Most of the time, the attendant hands you a numbered ticket before you park the bike which you must produce along with 2,000 or 3,000 Vietnamese dong ( about 30 cents) when you retrieve your bike later. 

Helmet laws are enforced and perhaps the pollution masks people wear when driving will become a future law.  The surgical looking mask drivers wear to protect against dust and exhaust fumes also serves as a fashion statement.  My cloth mask is a pink, blue, and green floral pattern.  

In terms of rules of the road, there aren't very many.  Or I should say there are rules such as traffic lights, roundabouts, and one-way streets but followed under your own digression.  The no man's land of the road are fairly busy intersections with no traffic signals.  These are best approached with caution and a heavy foot over the break.  Slow down for the tour bus to pass, swerve around the man slowly making his way across the street, speed up before the student on the bicycle collides with you.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


There are numerous blog topics in which I could continue writing about in lengthy discussions and descriptions of even minute things in Vietnam.  And it would take me weeks of non-stop writing and contemplating to have polished prose.  So now I list a random assortment.  Consider these the cliffnotes.

I toured a house available for rent two days ago.  I wondered how much it would cost to buy it.  

I need to buy shower shoes for my bathroom.  There are no shower stalls in Vietnam so you just shower yourself with a hose from the bathroom wall.  The problem is when I reenter my bathroom with dirty feet on a wet floor.  

Three days ago I was bitten by bedbugs.  Now when I say "Don't let the bedbugs bite!"  I will speak with experience.

Today I ate streetside bun cha, a lovely Hanoi speciality of juicy bits of pork in fish sauce eaten with rice noodles and fresh herbs.

I love driving my motorbike.  Even after today when I got pulled over for turning left on a red light.  Frankly I was surprised when the policeman blow his whistle.  People commonly drive through red lights with intent.  Unfortunately the policeman spoke English which ruled out my plan to speak English very quickly and shrug my shoulders and shake my head to avoid a ticket.  But thankfully he let me off with a "Be Careful".  I didn't even have to give him bribe money.

Pollution and Corruption are some of Vietnam's biggest urban problems.  

I sleep under mosquito netting.  

Since being in Vietnam, I have received four scarfs as gifts.

I am currently attempting to learn how to sing a Vietnamese pop song.  

In the future, I want to bring little peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to my students.  

Vietnam does not have ovens.

Last week I was almost pickpocketed.  I screamed and turned around when I felt someone unzip my backpack.  After reassuring my valuables remained I watched the teenage boy slowly scuffle past me on the sidewalk as if nothing had happened.  I walked 5 feet behind him for 100 meters before he turned the corner.  I was shocked by his audacity, wanted to properly scold him, and tell him to try being a little slicker next time.  Those european pickpockets would laugh in his face.