Returned back to Saigon late last night and found out that my month old helmet had been snatched from my friend Son’s motorbike. The helmet was wrapped around one of the metal hooks on the front of the bike which was parked in a garage…but the thief just yanked the helmet off…hooks and all. My friend’s helmet was untouched.
Since I didn’t want to risk getting a ticket for not having a helmet… today I had my Xe Om guy take me back to same helmet store near my Aunt’s house and bought the exact same helmet…down to the color and pattern. Last time, my Aunt #7 had purchased the helmet for me…she got a bit of a discount and paid only 200,000 Dong for it. Apparently, since I am not a local the discount doesn’t apply to me and I had to pay the full 240,000 Dong or about $13. Cheap, cheap cheap.
You can’t even buy a half decent bicycle helmet in The States for less than $30….and my motorbike helmet in VN is considered an expensive helmet. Most of the helmets you see in VN are sold curbside for 35,000-60,000 Dong ($2-$3). They don’t offer much protection…and are mostly worn to avoid traffic tickets and used as cheap fashion statements. My Xe Om driver kept trying to convince me to buy one of those helmets instead of my “fancy” one….since the other kind would be less likely to be stolen. But I insisted on getting a helmet that offered a modicum of protection.
According to some statistics…even with the majority of helmets in VN being of the cheap variety….deaths associated with motorbike accidents have decreased by more than half since the helmet law took effect in late 2007. Ironically, most children riding around on motorbikes in Vietnam still don’t wear helmets because the helmet law only financially penalizes adults. You will often see a family of 4 or even 5 on a motorbike, with only the parents wearing helmets.
When I purchased my first helmet I also bought a couple of Neomask anti-pollution masks as recommended by Kevin Miller on his blog Saigon Nezumi. The masks have replaceable filters and are actually pretty cool looking . I bought a couple of blue ones to match the color of the stripes on my Protec Helmet. The masks kinda made me look like the character Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Unfortunately my ninja fantasies were dashed when I came home to try out my new masks. I have always had very sensitive nasal passages…and it doesn’t take much airway obstruction to make me feel like a 90 year old man trying to do Tae Bo. I tried the masks inside my air conditioned room and even then I could barely breath….I can’t imagine having to wear it stuck in Saigon traffic in 90+ degree weather….I would probably go into cardiac arrest soon after putting it on. My mom wasn’t too happy to hear I wasn’t wearing anything to protect me from the pollution…but I told her that I would rather take my chances breathing in all the fumes and dust then passing out and crashing because I can’t breath and then getting run over by a bus.
Before arriving in VN I had imagined myself riding around in VN looking kinda cool cruising the streets of Saigon on a motorbike, with my shades on….and a cool ninja-like face mask. It did not turn out that way. First of all…although I do appreciate being able to use my late uncle’s old bike…it is anything but cool. Is there any such thing as a cool looking moped anyways? Secondly, my oversized helmet may offer me much better protection than the standard helmet on VN streets…but it also makes me look like the character Toad from Mario Bros. Last and most disappointing of all was my inability to put up with the face mask. All in all….I must make a completely ridiculous looking sight riding around town. Oh well…maybe I’ll just give my masks to my nephews to use on Halloween when I come back home.
Need a couple of days of R&R and I will put up a post about my trip to Gia Rai.