Crossing the Street in Hanoi

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Flag of Vietnam  , Ha Ná»™i,
Thursday, November 3, 2011

My cousin-in-law's advice for crossing the street in Hanoi is to always cross with some locals. This proved inefficient, so we had to learn on our own. We took this very seriously, since in the hostel we stayed at the first two nights, there was a young woman with a large bandage on her knee who had been knocked over by a scooter and lacerated by the tire. She was NOT a happy camper; looked like she was in pain and I can only imagine how many stitches she had under that bandage.

It's impossible to wait until there is no oncoming traffic. Further, if there are signals, it was impossible for us to understand which traffic was paying attention to the signals (apparently only the oncoming traffic on large streets but not left and right turners, and on small streets apparently only the larger vehicles heeded red lights.)

We soon found & practiced further advice: 1) Wait until any trucks and buses have passed. 2) Start crossing slowly, using a consistent pace. 3) Either leave space between yourself and other pedestrians or walk abreast wotj them. 4) Watch the oncoming traffic closely in order to participate in the telepathic process occurring among all the nearby traffic participants.

Essentially, we were relying on each individual scooter driver to see us and calculate our progress as they also kept track of the other traffic and pedestrians. When impact seemed imminent, each one would swerve slightly and miss us.

This was another instance of Asian city driving similar to what I witnessed in Chengdu, China. Speeds are a little lower, and each driver (and pedestrian) is hyper-alert to both visual and audio events so that traffic moves smoothly, courteously, and totally chaotically to Western eyes.

Even so, there was one busy four-lane (or more) street where we contemplated hailing a taxi to take us across the street(!) Also, alas, I must rule out Hanoi as a place where I could live, since I would never feel comfortable driving a scooter in that city, and the bus system seems geared more towards commuter travel than inner-city travel.
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