Vietnam: stories from the street

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about holidays; reflecting on past adventures and fantasizing about future ones.  On our last holiday in November 2011 we explored beautiful Vietnam. 
I took a lot of photos and ate a lot of noodles – bliss! 

Different people have different travelling styles. Some collect extreme experiences, like heli-skiing in Canada or bungee jumping off Victoria Falls. Some collect photos of themselves looking glamorous in front of classic landmarks, like the Trevi Fountain or Angkor Wat. One couple I met in Ho Chi Minh had recently graduated from the Cordon Bleu, and were travelling the world collecting culinary skills.  When Lachy and I travel, we tend to collect friends, snippets of new languages, and experiences of how the locals do life.  

One of my favourite things about travelling is the way it challenges your concept of “normal”. In Australia, we tend to keep our home lives quite private – we close our curtains, and are uncomfortable if our neighbours can easily see into our backyards.

By contrast, the Vietnamese live far more communally. Homes and shop fronts are one and the same, and daily life sprawls out onto the streets; whether that be eating,

Lunch time in HaNoi

sleeping,

Afternoon snooze in Hue

working,

The Bong-and-Ladders-Shop. For all your smoking and climbing needs.

or playing.

Teaching Little Sister how to ride a bike.

Pavements become an extension of people’s homes, and also double as parking for the family vehicles. Not much, if any footpath is left for walking on, leaving many an awkward tourist dithering about how to get from A to B.

I didn’t mind though, not when moments like this can be stumbled upon on your way home from lunch.

cuddles with Bà Nội

But back to the dithering. I don’t pretend to be a Vietnamese traffic guru – we certainly did our fair share of hesitating and double-backing, particularly in HaNoi’s Old Quarter where the streets are narrow and the motorbikes are many. Negotiating Old Quarter traffic is quite an art form, like a finely choreographed dance involving pedestrians, bicycles, cars, scooters and motorbikes.

Step 2, 3, back 2, 3, pause, twist and change partners…

Once you know the steps, you’re fine, but it does takes a fair bit of practice before you can get your groove on with confidence. 

When crossing the road in Melbourne, we look left and right, wait for a break and go when it’s all clear. In HaNoi’s Old Quarter there is no break. Ever.

What about now? Hmm, no.                                                Or now? Hmm, no…

Generally the best technique is to muster your courage, step out with confidence and maintain a steady pace. Don’t stop in the middle, whatever you do! You want your movements to be predictable to the oncoming traffic, so that they can pre-empt you and drive around accordingly. And they will, don’t worry!  Hesitation is bad though because it makes the traffic hesitate, and that’s when the dance falls out of time with the music. Bang!

When all else fails, close your eyes and just keep walking.

Like many other forms of dancing, the Old Quarter Shuffle is made easier by the consumption of alcohol. 

Feeling flustered? Duck in for a cold one, and a chat with the locals.
The walk home from Bia Corner is always far less stressful.

Mot.. Hai .. Ba …YO!

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