Last night I stupidly let the Vespa run out of fuel. We had been to dinner with colleagues and stayed talking at the restaurant until quite late. When we finally headed for home the streets had begun to take on that slightly eerie deserted look and at every intersection the lights were flashing amber. This is a dangerous time to drive a motorbike around Saigon because drivers are not restricted by heavy amounts of traffic so they tend to race at breakneck speed and rely on the sound of their horns to get them through each intersection.
We had gone no more than one block when the Vespa conked out and I realised immediately that I had neglected to fill the tank. With Lisa walking behind I pushed the bike up to a Xe Om driver and, indicating the fuel cap, asked him where I could buy some fuel. He directed us up the street and off we trudged. One enterprising lady offered me a litre of petrol from a plastic bottle stored behind her food counter, but of course what we required was two stroke mix and she did not have any oil.
As we were standing talking with her a Xe Om driver stopped on the road behind us and explained to this lady why I couldn’t buy the straight petrol from her. He then told us that the nearest petrol outlet was about 1 kilometre up the road and offered to take us there. So, with Lisa sitting on the back of his bike I shuffled the Vespa to the front and, by placing his right foot on the rear of my bike, he began to propel me along the road.
This became quite an exciting ride because the speed at which I was being propelled was about twice that at which I was used to travelling and his method of approaching intersections was to press loudly on his horn but not slacken the pace one bit. Needless to say, I felt extremely vulnerable with very little control over the situation and indeed it seemed my destiny as we wove our way at great speed through traffic coming in all directions. Only at one particularly busy intersection did this guy slacken the pace slightly and he yelled to me to “slow down” and “be careful”. But as soon as he saw that we could miss the bus, the maxi taxi and the two dozen other motorbikes that were converging on us from all directions, he increased pace once more.
During this whole brief, and I have to admit exhilarating episode, Lisa had been laughing out loud on the back of this guy’s bike and by the time we reached the petrol station all three of us were laughing at what was a very funny situation. We thanked the guy for his help and paid him some money for his time and after fuelling up we drove home in the cool night air with a good feeling inside both of us. Sure this guy expected to get something for his trouble, he makes his living driving people around on his bike. But he did stop and help us when he saw the dilemma that we were in and the people who offered us fuel were only trying to help, albeit with a small profit in mind.
I never feel “stuck” in Viet Nam. I always feel that no matter what the situation somebody will offer to help out, it is just a part of the nature of the people here. Oh, and if I am seen with a smile on my face over the next few days it will possibly be because I am thinking about our hair raising ride through the streets of Saigon at midnight in search of fuel.