In Hanoi the sip lid hole is an inconvenience.
Every single coffee shop offering takeaway has a roll of tape at the counter. Your coffee is prepared, lidded and the hole, or holes, are taped to stop spillage. The cup is bagged and the bag hooked onto your motorbike as you continue your journey to work or home.
People don’t walk in Hanoi. Nobody strolls sipping from a takeaway latte.
This is what all those tourist traffic tales and tips for crossing roads don’t get. Yes there are ways to cross the road, but most of us will go months between crossings. Hanoians don’t cross roads. When you literally park your bike in your kitchen, then on the pavement outside work, a cafe, shop or bar, why would you?
Even if you’d like to walk you can’t. The pavements are full of bikes.
The coffee is for the destination. Not the journey.
My latest column for The Word is proof, if you hadn’t realised it already, that being married to a strong Vietnamese woman gives you plenty of material to write.
My wife suggests I buy an Air Blade. A friend of hers has one.
“You could put your shopping under the seat.”
I don’t do any shopping. I’m not trusted to do shopping. I’d apparently only pay too much.
I put my foot down. If we’re talking automatics I definitely don’t want a Honda SH. They’re universally driven by morons. The Honda asSHole: for people with an SUV attitude but not quite the money to back it up. The Honda SHithead. I could go on.
Read it in full here. Click the pic of the Word to download the full magazine.
After six years in Vietnam the temptation to take photos of traffic is lessened but hasn’t completely disappeared.
Recently I tried in vain to film a school boy on his motorbike on his way to classes, desperately trying to finish his reading. He was driving incredibly slowly, his book in one hand, holding the page open in front of his face, the other on the accelerator. Every so often he’d have to juggle driving with page turning.
I wondered if he’d considered driving much faster, arriving early and reading before class instead.
Yesterday I was driving to the inlaws when I spotted this mirror being carried in front of me. I’ll admit I followed it for some way trying to get a better picture of it. Large sheets of glass are often carried by motorbikes across Hanoi. It’s hard not to imagine the range of injuries it could inflict. Gripping the pane by its side with bare hands, you’d think more fingers would be lost.
If the glass was to shatter, well it’s best not to think about it. But I can’t help it.
Of course while I’m not adverse to tutting motorbike mobile phone users – I’m hypocritically stil taking photos with mine. In Hanoi there are various levels of madness.
Answering phones is bad but it’s a lesser sin. Texting on motorbikes seems near impossible and yet it’s constant – even with a wife and kids sitting helmetlessly behind.
The last of my two small accidents on a motorbike in Hanoi was when I encountered a driver going the wrong way on one of Hanoi’s faster roads. That in itself would have been not so unusual as to cause me to crash. Neither was the fact that he’d decided to text at the same time.
What threw me was that he stopped in the middle of the road to complete the task. It was a traffic variable too far.
As a volunteer here I wasn’t allowed to own my own motorbike, I also didn’t get paid enough to take taxis.
Instead I had to rely on motorbike taxis (xe oms).
The volunteer organisation for insurance reasons, insisted that we had to wear a full face helmet on a motorbike. If you actually have a motorbike you’ve somewhere to leave your helmet, if you don’t then you carry it around all day. Having no bike and yet being permanently attached to my helmet was especially curious to Vietnamese people and I didn’t begrudge them their giggles.
Now free of such regulations, but with Vietnam sensibly making no helmet a criminal offence, I now use a skateboard helmet.
I don’t doubt that full face would be a better, safer option. But it would also be cumbersome, hot and sweaty – not nearly as big a blow as sustaining head injuries but one inconvenience is daily, if minor, and the other – well you hope it never happens.
Because the common sense option is not just wear the full face, it’s don’t ride a motorbike. It’s don’t go out in the traffic. It’s don’t move to Vietnam. It’s stay at home.
I once had to fill in a form from my volunteer organisation asking, among other questions, about what special measures I took to avoid traffic accidents when crossing the road. I told them I kept my eyes open. For tickbox, paperwork purposes that appeared to be enough but I’m sure they’d rather I didn’t cross the road at all.
The skateboard helmet is a trade-off. Certified, western-made, not of cheap, Chinese eggshell design but not full face either. We instinctively make such risk management trade offs daily.
I’ve been in situations where the choice is to go with the drunk driver or be left in the dark in the middle of nowhere.
That’s a decision that a risk manager can’t answer for you but it’s still the kind of decision you have to take sometimes.