April 2010
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Xin Loi...My Bad.

My purple foot

It’s inevitable when driving in around Vietnam that you will occasionally be bumped, scraped against, or rear ended whether you are on a motorbike or in a  car….most of time it will be minor and the parties involved will  just give each other a dirty look or exchange a barrage of curses and that’ll be the end of it.  No matter how safe you try to drive, there will be some situations you will not be able to avoid because there are just too many crazy drivers on the streets.  The best way to drive is to try to stay within the flow of traffic and to only pay attention to the traffic in front of you…it’s the job of those behind you to avoid you.  When you need to turn….you should flip on your signal light and slowly angle 45 degrees in the direction you are trying to turn;  this gives the people behind you time enough to adjust to your movements.

Of course, knowing the right way to drive and doing it are two different things.  Sometimes you’ve only got a split second to make a decision and if you make the wrong one you better hope the people around you have fast reflexes.  I got into my first real motorbike accident last Sunday morning and it was entirely my fault.  I was driving back home from teaching at DRD (Disability Resource and Development) and decided to drop by the local dry cleaner and pick up some stuff I had dropped off earlier in the week.  The dry cleaner’s is located  just a couple of blocks from my Aunt’s house right off of 3 Thang 2 Street.

3 Thang 2  is always a fairly busy street….but the city recently closed off a couple of blocks west of Thanh Thai for road work,  so that there is only a single lane available in either direction….making the drive through that area especially treacherous.   Buses and cars usually take up the entire lane….forcing many motorbike drivers to resort to driving on the sidewalks.  To get to the dry cleaner’s I have to squeeze in between the cars/buses, straddle the far left side of the lane and then try to inch my way into a left turn through heavy oncoming traffic.

Turning left into heavy traffic is one of the trickier things to pull off when driving around in Vietnam.  You can’t wait for an opening to appear because it’ll never happen.  You have to make your own opening by slowly inching your way across the lane and pray that people will try to avoid you.  That morning, I pulled up to my turn just as two other motorbikes were starting to make a left turn onto the same street.  It’s so much easier following other motorbikes/vehicles when turning left since you can use them as a shield.  In my rush to try to slide alongside the turning motorbikes, I didn’t pay attention to the big green barrier (which blocked my view of the incoming traffic) in front of me and the small gap that was between the barrier and the back of the motorbikes in front of me.  The instant I started my turn, I saw from my periphery something coming at me really fast on my right side.  All I could do was just to close my eyes and brace for impact!

The other motorbike was driven by a couple who were around 50 years old.  The shock from the crash popped the woman from the back of the bike, but she impressively managed to land on her feet…although her sandals went airborne.  Despite the jarring hit….I was somehow able to keep myself and my bike upright.  My right forearm took the most direct hit….and a deep dark bruise immediately appeared.  I was in a state of shock so I just sat there and looked at the man on the bike who also was just staring at me.  I was expecting them to unleash a torrent of profanities at me….which is the usual reaction when accidents occur.  I knew it was my fault for turning into the street without making sure the way was clear first.  The female passenger was the first to say something.

“You must have not seen us because of this barrier blocking the view of the street”, she said.

“No, I didn’t see you at all” I replied.

“Are you ok?” the male driver then asked me.

“I’m fine.”

“We’re both fine too.  Sorry about that”, he added.

I just smiled and waved at them and we both continued on our way.  I have to reiterate that this was a highly unusual encounter in Saigon.  I have never seen an accident involving 2 guys where there wasn’t a ton of “Du Ma May’s”  being hurled around.  I’ve seen women being knocked off their bikes by aggressive male drivers who never bother to apologize or to help them up.  Women usually never say anything in these circumstances either since they like to avoid confrontation.

I knew I was going to get into an accident sooner or later in Vietnam….luckily my first incident was fairly minor and I was fortunate enough to meet a very forgiving couple.  Everything happened so fast that I never even thought to say “Xin Loi” (I’m sorry).  This time I was one of the crazy Vietnam drivers. 🙂

Sorry for the lack of updates lately.  I will try to make up for it in the next few weeks.

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15 comments to Xin Loi…My Bad.

  • Eak

    Ouch! Hope you feel better. I try to avoid riding a motorcycle in Vietnam,way to dangerous!

    • odgnut

      Thanks Eak. I try to hitch a ride with friends most of the time….but still need a motorbike to get around once in awhile.

      Thuy….my foot looks worse than it feels. 🙂

  • thuy

    Dude that looks bad—feel better and stay off the foot.

  • Craig N

    I cannot stay off the Saigon motorcycles! It is part of the culture.

  • Glad you’re OK. I haven’t had a stack for about 8 months and I drive about an hour daily. I think I’m getting the hang of it.
    Actually I am more interested in the dry cleaner. I’ve been trying to find one with no luck, and I think I work near the one you described (I’m at VAS 3/2). Can you post the address of the one you’ve found?


    • odgnut

      Hmmmm….feigning interest in my accident just so you can get the address of my dry cleaner…..clever Stephen….pretty clever. 🙂

      The place is called “Lieng”….275 Nguyen Tieu La. Just head west past Thanh Thai (towards D. 11) and take the first left….it’s on the right hand side next to a little coffee shop.

      I’m going to miss this DC when I leave VN. My clothes smell better and looks cleaner at 1/5 the price (at least!) than the one I used in the U.S.

  • @odgnut Ah, you got me. 😉
    You know, the way you put it I might just bring them all my washing each week. The crappy little washer I have at home is doing nothing to clean whites, and you know how dirty things get in this place!

    Curious – how do you find things like this? I ask locals for recommendations for all sorts of businesses and products and usually just get a shake of the hand and/or head.

    Thanks again.

    • odgnut

      The problem is just not the washer…..most people don’t have dryers so everyone hangs out their wash outside. Combine damp clothes with all the dust flying around and it almost seems pointless to wash them in the first place! 🙂

      I found this particular DC because my Aunt have been using them for years. She only uses them for big items…like blankets….she hand washes everything else. I don’t have the patience to hand wash things. Plus you not only have to hang them up to dry…but to iron and fold them. I get 20 pieces of clothing laundered/dry cleaned and folded for me for 100,000 Dong (about $5). I could dry clean 1 shirt in the U.S. for that amount

      If you need recommendations for minor things….or repairmen, etc., it’s handy to make friends with someone that knows their way around. I became friendly with one of my neighborhood Xe Om, and when I need anything I can call him and even if he can’t help me personally…he can usually recommend someone that can. I’ve had him over to change my fluorescent light bulbs, he found someone to repair my doorbell, helps me carry heavy stuff into the house and up the stairs, and especially useful when I need to bring in my bike for repairs. If we were to take in a bike to a repair shop….they would probably charge us double to triple the price as they do the locals. I just tell my Xe Om guy to bring in my bike for me and it’s done super cheap and quickly. Only problem for you is that, most of the Xe Om guys in areas outside of District 1 can’t speak a lick of English.

  • tuna

    Hmmm your brother looks cute.

    • odgnut

      um…think you might have commented on the wrong post…since this one only has a pic of my wonky foot. However, if “brother” is slang for “purple foot” then….thanks!

  • Tom

    You’re involved with DRD? Small world, they came to give a career development seminar at the NGO I volunteereed at, Nha May Man ^^.

    Do you know Caroline? Bich? The Viet kieu volunteer Thao Van Thai? The charismatic manager/MC at DRD Cafe? (I forget her name, chi Khanh or chi Thanh)

    • odgnut

      I know Co Yen, and Co Loan….and I’m particularly close to and fond of the supervisor, Chi Bich. I met a VK volunteer named Thao that was there over the summer….very cute girl with short hair? She came to a couple of the English club meetups.

      • Tom

        The names Co Yen and Co Loan both sound familiar; I think I may have met them when I stopped by DRD Cafe. The Bich I know is younger than me, and I’m younger than you, so if you call her “chi” then probably not the same Bich :). Yup, that’s the same Thao all right — sweet, short hair, and very cute. Too bad she returned to the US in October.

        • odgnut

          I’m pretty sure it’s the same Chi Bich. She’s about 30-31 years old, but I call her Chi out of respect. My mom gave me grief about calling everyone I met “em” when I first arrived in VN.

    • Thao

      Hi Thay Tom!
      I guess I found you! The manager that made your Sinh To Bo was Chi Thanh. Chi Bich works with the employment team and went to Nha May Mang to do employment trainings. Are you still in Vietnam? Email me at thaovthai@gmail.com, keep in touch!

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