Published: April 8th 2012April 8th 2012
Having lived thirty-five years so far, all of them in one city or another, I am fairly confident about my street crossing skills. And although I haven’t been all over the world, I have seen a bit of it and have had to cross the street in just about all of the places I have been in my life. And yet, each and every time I went to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh City I had to give myself a little pep talk and take a deep breath before stepping off the curb. One crosses many streets while a tourist in a new city, and regardless of the number of times I did it successfully, right before I took that first step I grappled with a fear of not making it to the other side.
Mopeds with a sprinkling of cars and trucks dominate the roads in Saigon, as most of the locals still call it. They have an attitude, it seems, similar to most of the bicyclists in the SF bay area: red lights, stop signs, and rules of the road are malleable and more suggestions than anything else. A big difference between the two, however, is that the moped drivers of HCMC consider themselves a part of the wave of humanity that makes up the flow of traffic across the city instead of in opposition of it. They work with the cars and people to create a steady flow in all directions at all times.
It’s a highly complex algorithm, really. In order to be a successful pedestrian, one must jump into said flow with both feet in order to… well… survive. Literally. The only way to succeed at such a venture is to follow a few important rules of crossing the street: #1 – move at an even, slow speed. Never slow down or speed up under any circumstances. #2 – never go backwards or abort the mission and return to the same side of the street. Never. No matter what, keep going. And like I said in #1, don’t change you pace. #3 – if at all possible, cross the street with your eyes closed. Or at the very least don’t look in the direction of the traffic, which is in every direction. I’ve done some pretty adventurous things in my life (among them skydiving and the like) and there is no adrenaline rush like crossing the street in Vietnam.
The video is of the traffic on a street, followed by me crossing it.