Look left — one thousand motorbikes rush past me. Look right — one thousand more thunder with equal ferocity. I stand paralyzed, only my neck turning for a complete minute. Look left. Look right. Still hordes of whizzing metal clackers, no end in sight. Sweat drips down my neck — I need to get out of this melting sun. But my hotel is across the street. Still stupefied, I notice an old caretaker beside me watering the grass. He turns a moon-faced smile my direction, underneath his traditional cone hat. Though we can’t speak the same languages, I understand his gentle nod and hand movements: this rush is perpetual. I just need to go across. Move forward, he gestures again.

Look left — one thousand motorbikes still screaming. I don’t look right. I take a deep breath and step forward, my luggage wheels clattering off the curb behind me. With the caretaker’s gentle nod, I’d assumed this would be easy. But I’m now standing in a swarm of migrating wildebeests. Gasoline fumes swirl in the air as the steel animals roar past — their clanging now accompanied by duck-like honks. A sensory overload of noise and smells and adrenaline as I beg my forsaken god that none of the brutes hit me.

This is a far cry from Japan — the absolute order of absolutely everything. Where rules are followed because they are The Rules, and nobody questions them (unless its the appropriate questioning time and we’re in the appropriate questioning place). This isn’t even Penang or Chiang Mai — both with their unique chaotic flows, but worlds apart from this anarchy.

No, Vietnam is something new.

Breath held, head on a swivel (like coach always said!), one tiny step at a time, I get through. First, to the middle of the road — the eye of the storm, where I can catch my breath. Then, finally to the other side. A tiny alleyway that I recognize from the hotel’s online pictures. I’m a puddle of sweat, but I’m smiling in the sun. I turn towards the caretaker on the other side and he’s waving back with a laugh. I think he’s being friendly, but later I’ll wonder if his chuckles weren’t playfully sinister. Because, of course, he knows what I’m about to find out: it’s only 1pm — rush hour hasn’t started yet.

Welcome to the jungle, my friends.

Background photo by Der Tomtomtom


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