Thursday, March 09, 2006

Ha Noi Traffic

Welcome to Ha Noi! Land of communist propaganda posters and young Vietnamese on Hondas!

I loved the street sellers - especially early in the morning. Rows of women with baskets full of roses, marigolds and carnations lined up alongside Ho Hoan Kiem (lake) to sell their wares. Each one had only one colour and type of flower in her basket. If I lived in Ha Noi, I would wake every morning to buy flowers.

And some Ha Noi folk are just plain crazy.

The best part, however, is crossing the street.

It is an unusal sight to see Ha Noi traffic stopped at a stop light. Most drive blissfully through, horns honking away. Only outside the Presidential Palace and the Parliament building are the traffic lights obeyed - and that's probably because there are guards/police loitering nearby.

So crossing the street requires a hardy constitution. The old people do it best - by taking their time and stopping for no one. One takes a deep breath and places an exploratory foot onto the road, withdrawing quickly as another Honda goes past. But waiting for a break in the traffic is futile. One must step onto the road when at least there is enough room for a body and begin a steady and slow saunter across the road. Do not - I repeat do not - stop suddenly for anything other than a bus honking its horn urgently. The Hondas flow around you as you edge across the road and you must have faith in their ability to see you and dodge you. You do not dodge them.

I perversely enjoyed crossing the road in Ha Noi, horrifying my sisters when I crossed diagonally across a five way intersection because a gallery over there caught my eye. There must be a kernel of crossing crazy Viet traffic in my blood, because I have always been a somewhat absent minded road crosser and, though dangerous in Australia, am rather suited to Vietnamese city traffic. With your mind on other things (like the brilliant red oil painting you can only just glean the corner of or what you will have for dinner that night) the incessant horn-honking morphs into a pleasant, chatty background noise; everyone is saying "Hi!", "Hey There!", "Nice Coat", rather than "Get out of my way!" or "Idiot! Trying to kill yourself?"

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