HCMC Traffic

Being in Ho Chi Minh City for a day has led me to realise that the rules by which my life is led are very rigid indeed, and from now on I will be adapting some Vietnamese (or perhaps I should say Saigonese) concepts to my life back home.

New Rule #1 – Red traffic lights: A red light will henceforth mean something like “Marvel at our careless abandon as we burn electricity for no apparent purpose. If you see this light, admire its vivid crimson effect, but by all means continue to drive your vehicle forward, even if many hundreds of other vehicles are driving across your path. Have a nice day!”

New Rule #2 – Green traffic lights: A green light will mean “Look upon this glowing emerald illuminance and know that the electric system is still functioning”. It will have no significance in the mediation of traffic.

New Rule #3 – Amber traffic lights: Will be superfluous. These would just confuse people.

New Rule #4 – RRP: If you are selling something and have agreed on a price of, say, two dollars, this is now merely a suggestion. On delivery of the goods and/or services, the real price should most likely be at least double that, but you should at first feel free to multiply it twentyfold. If nothing else, this provides hilarious expressions of outrage from the customer. To help justify this exorbitant increase from the initial price discussed, make sure you explain that you are raising sixteen children, looking after two elderly parents who were in the war and that your wife had her legs blown off with a land mine.* Failing that complain about the heat and how hard it is to work on the streets† When paid, even if you receive ten times the agreed fee, look at the money as if the customer has spat in your hand and is perhaps the most despicable human you’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.

New Rule #5 – Time: ‘Half an hour’ actually means ‘Three hours’ unless there is shouting involved.

New Rule #6 – Logic: ‘No’ actually means ‘Yes’ and vice versa. As in:

“You want to go to the American Market?”

“No” (with head shake)

“American Market, yes?”

“No” (with head shake and hand motions)

“OK, American Market!!”

I don’t want to sound churlish here; most of the people in this town are lovely and seem scrupulously honest. I bought some incense from a woman at a Chinese temple, and she was fastidious about giving me exact change from only $15,000 dong (about one US dollar). And, quite honestly, I can’t blame all the impoverished cyclo and motorbike drivers from trying it on. But all things considered, I’d just prefer that they told you it was gonna cost you ten bucks to go to the War Museum, and that was that. Or at the very least, haggled up front and then stuck to the agreement. In time, they will be their own worst enemies; tourists will become suspicious of them, not trust anything they say, and give their business to the high-end company-run services. Friends say that it’s getting worse in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s a shame.

Tomorrow… further afield.


*Lest this sound sarcastic even for me, I just want to say that I was most saddened to hear it the first time, slightly suspicious the second time, and after the fourth and fifth times, kinda over it. These people have crap lives I have no doubt, but duplicity, on any level, just breeds mistrust, and after you’ve been burned a few times you end up trusting absolutely no-one. That just makes me feel sad.

†A cyclo driver (who I paid very generously I later discovered, although he made me feel like dirt at the time) cycled me around all morning without even the merest hint of exertion, so much so, that I marvelled at how he could do it. Then, quite uncannily, when it came to payment time, he broke into a copius sweat. It was astonishing.