I have not settled back in to the rhythm of life here as yet. I felt while I was away that this might happen and perhaps my sub-conscious has overridden the conscious and made it so. Whatever the reason, nowhere is it more apparent to me than when driving the Vespa back in the Sai Gon traffic again.
Before we went away I was having a discussion over a glass of red with a non-driving colleague who asked me if driving in this country made me feel stressed. I answered that no, it didn’t get me that way, in fact driving in this heavy traffic usually relaxes me. I went on to say that the times when I get a bit stressed driving here are usually caused by me reverting to the driving habits that I was used to back in Australia. If I drive here and go with the “flow” of the traffic then I am fine.
What I mean by going with the “flow” is that here, if I am about to make a right hand turn I don’t stop to look to my left and check whether anything is coming towards me, because that is how everyone else does it and nobody expects me to stop and look, that could cause some chaos. As long as I remember that here, a good percentage of the driving population don’t understand the concept that a red light means you should stop at an intersection and wait until it changes to green. Here, even if the light is red, you go across the intersection when it suits you and then get a bewildered look on your face at all the traffic that is trying to cut across your path.
The fact is that, no matter how bizarre (to foreigners) the methods of driving may seem in this country, it all seems to work somehow and the traffic ebbs and flows and people make allowances for pedestrians walking the middle of crowded thoroughfares and just go around heavily laden food stalls being pushed across their path.
The problem for me is that while we were in Thailand recently we hired motorbikes both in the north and south of the country and hired a car for two days while in the north. For those readers who may drive a car every other day, hiring a rental car may not seem like a big deal, but you have to remember that it has been nearly two years since I have been behind the drivers wheel and in that time I have become used to driving motorbikes on the right side of the road. Thailand, similar to Australia, drives on the left side and not only that, the Thai drivers obey the road rules. A very scary proposition indeed!
At first when driving in Thailand I was actually getting annoyed with people stopping at intersections for red lights and pedestrian crossings so that walkers could cross the road. What the hell were these drivers thinking? Don’t they know they are in SE Asia and here we don’t stop when a light is red and we certainly weave our way around pedestrians, we don’t stop and wait for them?
It was all good and well for me to think this way and after a couple of days riding a motorbike in traffic with a much heavier percentage of cars, buses and trucks than Viet Nam I did begin to warm to the fact that there was a certain predictability that I could rely upon. When I finally sat behind the wheel of the rental car it was comforting to know that I wasn’t likely to have other drivers passing me three abreast or coming head on toward me on the wrong side of the road doing over 100 kilometres per hour.
Driving in Thailand was an absolute joy. The roads are some of the best that I have seen or had the pleasure to drive on. We drove from the Ancient Thai capital of Chiang Mai north to Chiang Rai and then further north to the border town of Mae Sai where we “walked” over into Myanmar for a quick look around. We travelled on both the national super highway, a six to eight lane divided main artery, and secondary main roads that wound tortuously through the high mountain passes and were ecstatic at how well designed and maintained the roads are and how courteous and well behaved the drivers.
One very noticeable feature on the Thai roads was the lack of any rubbish along the verges or further into the forests. In fact the only time that we ever saw any rubbish was when we came across small village markets and there was the usual pollution that goes hand in hand with these bustling places. How different to Viet Nam where the ubiquitous plastic bag, the broken rubber thong, the large chunks of thick Styrofoam and take away food containers are spread far and wide along the verge of every road and hang caught up in every wire fence, tree and shrub. But pollution in Viet Nam is an issue that I will talk about at another time, meanwhile my current dilemma remains.
After nearly one week back here I still feel unsettled. Yes, it was good to get back “home” and not have to live out of a suitcase and sure it was heart-warming to be welcomed back by Mimi and her family, not to mention our neighbours in the hem and the vendors who sell food and drinks here as well. But that not what is troubling me. The problem is that I just haven’t got back into the rhythm of this place yet, I’mjust not going with the “flow” of life. I’m still questioning things and have not reached the point of acceptance that is necessary if you want to survive and live well here. I expect that it will come back to me after I have relaxed a bit but until it does, doing anything here, particularly driving in the traffic is stressful and difficult.
Maybe I need to go sit in the lotus position and hum to myself for a while