How to Cross a Road in Hanoi

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Hanoi, capital of Vietnam, is full of mopeds, and I mean that quite literally. The roads are crammed with the things, a constant flow of high-pitched engines in no particular order whining past wherever you go.

There’s a beautiful park in the city with a temple in the center and it was there that I wanted to go one day. Problem was, there was a road – a fairly wide road – running around the perimeter of the park. With no tunnels under, or bridges over this road to speak of, the humble pedestrian must endeavor to cross this chaos of vehicles directly.

Having walked without success all the way around the park in search of a crossing, I joined a throng of people gathered at a slightly narrower section of road. Nobody spoke, but we all knew why we were there. There were seven of us I think, which is the official amount designated a throng: four locals, two other tourists, and me. Two of the locals were standing off the sidewalk and on the road itself, with mopeds whizzing past a few inches in front of them, horns buzzing. The rest of us waited on the sidewalk and assessed the situation.

One of the Roadies – a tiny woman with white hair – suddenly stepped forward. I gasped. A moped swerved to avoid her. I feared a collapse like a row of dominoes, but miraculously the rider only grazed another moped and nobody fell. Traffic continued relentlessly, just marginally narrower now that one of our group was in the road.

Now the path had been cleared, the second Roadie joined the first. The other two locals also stepped into the road. Me and the other tourists remained steadfastly on the sidewalk.

I don’t know how to describe what happened next without it sounding preposterous. But here goes. The first woman, having secured her place on the road, now just…walked across. It was at least ten meters. Traffic didn’t slow at all. It was like she was Moses parting the Red Sea, only Moses was a little Vietnamese lady and the Red Sea was a tidal wave of mopeds. Horns blared more violently, more swerving happened, but no accidents. Only five seconds had passed but one of our throng (now a mere bunch) was across.

One by one the other locals followed suit, in order of age. Experience counted for a lot here. That left just me and two other tourists. Wanting to be brave and impressive, I closed my eyes and stepped into the road, feigning nonchalance but in actuality terrified to my very soul. I didn’t die. I heard a horn buzz and buzz and when I opened my eyes I realized a moped was stopped in front of me and the rider was screaming at me. I stepped back onto the sidewalk. The rider yelled something else and zoomed off.

Another tourist stepped out. Nothing happened. Traffic diverted a step but kept flowing. Horns buzzed but nothing directed specifically at us. The other tourist joined the first, holding the first one’s hand. Presumably this was a couple traveling together but if they just wanted support from each other I wouldn’t have blamed them.

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A few minutes passed. The other tourists remained in the road, me on the sidewalk, all of us watching the oncoming traffic, trying to assess for any openings. A few times the tourists tried another step but instantly retracted.

I looked over at the park. It was very pretty. Lots of beautiful trees and a big lake and the top of the temple peeking out from over the canopy. It would be a perfect place to spend an afternoon. But how could I get there?

Suddenly I had a brainwave. My eureka moment. The solution to getting across this road was obvious…

Just don’t. I gave one last look at the traffic and went home. Maybe I’d come back at dawn and see if there was less traffic. Probably these two tourists would still be standing here.

 

P.S. Here’s a video showing traffic in Hanoi, if you don’t believe me.

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