Published on 25th December 2018
For someone who’s never explored Vietnam, crossing the road in a city like Hanoi or Saigon is a daunting and an extremely intense experience. Try it if you haven’t already!
On this trip, I learned some valuable lessons in life that I’d like to share with you that I discovered through the simple act of crossing the road.
Be a learner every day
Sometimes we take advice that we’ve picked up along the way for granted. In my case, the advice I was given to help me cross a chaotic road full of cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and bicycles coming from different directions all went out the window. I realize that the most reliable and worn out road rules didn’t really apply in Vietnam at all. Why? Because they have their own set of road rules. Stopping at a red light, driving on the correct side of the road, staying in your own lane, and giving way to pedestrians were rules that were non-existent. To overcome this terrifying task, I needed to take a breath (literally!) and adapt myself to the environment through observing and learning from other locals crossing the road. This might sound silly but re-learning the very basic thing that you always thought you knew inside and out can be very constructive. Learning sometimes requires us to erase or at least put aside some of our old learned concepts and accept the new ones; which was something that I certainly had to do! Never in a million years did I imagine crossing the road would be this difficult.
Vietnam echoes with constant honks and toots. At first, I found the noise quite irritating but after speaking to a local Vietnamese, I learned that honking in Vietnam is their way of communicating to each other on the road, to say hello or to remind people to watch out as their cars are approaching. Their honks and beeps are not necessarily anything related to impatience, anger, or rudeness (which is how it’s often interpreted in the Western world). To truly embrace diversity, we need to acknowledge the differences and be open to understanding each culture’s traditions, lore and history. By learning to live and breathe like a local, I was able to have a better experience as well as enhance my learning of the Vietnamese culture.
Just go for it and stay focused
If you plan to wait for the green light to cross the road in Vietnam, you may never get to the other side of the road. Firstly, most roads don’t have a traffic light, let alone a stop sign. Secondly, rogue motorcycles can literally come from any direction of the road at any second (even when the green man is on). This resembles us in real life. Sometimes we want to achieve a goal but find ourselves surrounded with plenty of obstacles and distractions (sound familiar?).
The best way to cross the road with such disorderly traffic is to a) focus on your path, b) identify your golden opportunities (catch that very split second when you have a relatively clear road, free of big vehicles), c) take a deep breath, step out, and walk steadily (keep cricking your neck to check traffic conditions). Surprisingly, you may find hundreds of motorbikes driving past you skilfully or sometimes slow down for you (but may honk at you to say hello). Make sure to keep your pace and keep going. Don’t run, don’t suddenly stop, and don’t turn back in the middle of your crossing. In a few seconds, you will find yourself successfully on the other side of the road and relieved that you actually made it!
“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.” I hope you enjoyed reading my reflections learned from crossing the road in Vietnam. Vietnam is a very interesting place and I had such a wonderful time there. I look forward to sharing more with you next time. Thank you for reading.
by Tracy Tam