Perched on the back of a motorbike taxi and puttering past uneven pavements filled with food vendors, open-aired plant nurseries, tailors and old men hawking mechanical bits and pieces; I sat as high as possible to take advantage of Saigon’s hot, thick ‘breeze’. My driver, for the last ten minutes, had kept up a constant stream of advice, pointing out interesting places we passed – temples, parks, mosques, markets – and shouting questions over his shoulder at me. Such a shame I can’t speak a word of Vietnamese. But, my smiles and nods of agreement to everything he relayed allowed for an easy hour of orientation in the city we had just landed in,
Scanning the sea of bicycles, scooters, Vespas and motorbikes of all descriptions; I spotted Ross further ahead, photographing Kathy (also motoring along close by) one handed while clutching the back of his seat with the other hand. Seeing Ross is exciting. Having left home and Australia over seven years ago, I’ve had very little interaction or contact with him. In the time I’ve been away he’s graduated from both school and university, widened his acting experience, gained niche skills as a barista, he’s become his own person and now … he’s seeing more of the world. And with me. I’ve waited a long time for this.
Pulling up to red traffic lights I realised it was necessary to become as streamlined with the bike as possible. Slotting in between other motorbikes with relaxed legs meant a possible loss of knee caps or contact with exhaust pipes. All limbs need to be tucked in and then eeling through Ho Chi Minh’s revving humanity, unscathed, is possible.
Ignoring very obvious red lights, some drivers took off veering around crossing pedestrians and beeping in irritation at oncoming or turning traffic (who by the way had right of way). Bemused by this, I caught the eye of my man and he shrugged, pulling away in the glow of red lights too. Gracious, this was getting interesting.
Twisting in my seat, the scene behind me was pure mayhem. Drivers in their hundreds were picking up speed, yet those on foot continued to walk the intersections with small children, baskets of produce across shoulders and with the elderly hooked into the crooks of arms. Nobody dithered, lost courage or changed direction. To do so would mean an accident. Smiling to myself, I quietly agreed with Lonely Planet – those without wheels must cross with confidence.
Day one in Vietnam and we still had a full three months ahead of us. Perhaps by the end of it all, we’d dither less and simply stride out (confidently) into the mayhem of SE Asia.