Few things on earth can prepare you for the undiluted and complete chaos that is traffic in Ho Chi Mihn City. The city is filled with the noise from thousands of whining, small scooter engines amplified by an uninterrupted shrill of pre-pubescent shrieks from their hooters – wheeep, wheeep, wheeeep.
These bikes are everywhere, all the time. At the change of a traffic light they stream down the street like a swarm of angry fire ants, ready to attack and consume who or what ever cross their path.
During those first few days, crossing the street was a task not unlike coming to terms with the Holy Ghost. You know you have to do it, but you have no idea how. It took me a whole week to figure out which side of the road they are supposed to drive on.
I went to bed with the hooters, and I woke up to them. But I felt none of the inspiration Neil Diamond must have felt when he wrote ‘Beautiful Noise’.
It was only after someone showed me how to cross a street Ho Chi Minh style that I discovered what a great city this really is. But first you need to brutally suppress the instinct to flee, and then from somewhere, find the guts to fight back.
In short, you just walk. Key to this is the faith that these drivers do not intent to kill or maim you. That war is, after all, long over.
They are simply in a hurry to get to their destination and they are quite content to drive around you provided you do not confuse them. Just get of the pavement and walk.
Do not pause or hesitate. Or mill in a circular pattern because you’ve received a phone call from your mother or best friend. Do not take that call.
If you feel helpful, indicate whether they should pass by your front or back. But do not stop walking. Ever.
The pavements are very quiet compared to the streets. People just sit around. Drinking tea. Chatting to friends. Fixing scooters and selling helmets with decorated with all sorts of funny motives and fancy trinkets.
And waiting for their favorite Banh Mi lady. Vendors with their push-carts loaded with French baguettes, cold cuts of meat and a blistering array of pickles and condiments that have made the French sandwich a whole lot better.
So next time you cross a street in old Saigon, I hope it is to get one of these. You won’t be disappointed.