Setting an Example: West Meets East



Yes, it is true that Talia and I are getting a little worn and tired. We are almost seven months living out of bags and the strain is starting to become a little too much. We spent ten days in one city, eight of those we barely left the hotel room. I got a cold and then after two days’ sightseeing we both got food poisoning (for the first time since we started really, which is very lucky) which left us in bed for two whole days.

We are continuing along and we still have six and a half weeks in Vietnam before we beach bum for a month in Cambodia again (because we loved it so much the first time!!) and then off to China for another year.

Continuing is certainly not easy either, though. Considering how tired we are. We have been eating from local food stalls and restaurants for so long that our well being is starting to slow us down. We sleep more and find ourselves pretty lethargic even on the best of days.

And driving a motorbike can be difficult too. We don’t have the option of saying “let’s take the bus this time,” because how does the bike get there?

Right now we are in a national park called Cuc Phoung, and I arrived here a little shaken up. While driving a motorbike has way more liberties and is a lot more enjoyable for us than public transport, it has its negative moments too, one of which Talia told you guys about before when we were in Sapa, another when we were in Laos and Talia came close to having a serious accident, and today was another.

We only had to drive a short distance today, around 50km or so from Ninh Binh to Cuc Phoung and all I wanted was an uneventful spin to our destination. As we drove along the road northbound, I was looking for our left turn to take us to the national park. While all of this looking for non-existent signs, Vietnam traffic and making sure Talia is behind me stresses me out, it doesn’t help when you look ahead and see a crowd of people standing around what is obviously an accident.

While in a western country a crowd of people would signify a fender bender, in Vietnam there are no fender benders. Almost everyone rides a motorbike, so when you see bikes whizzing around trucks on a main road of about the same quality as a road a westerner would be more accustomed to seeing at the bottom of a quarry, you can be sure there has been a serious accident.

I looked across and could clearly see two policemen in their beige uniforms standing over the body of a man, wrapped around what was left of his motorbike. The man was face down with his helmet still on, lying in an awkward position with one leg under the twisted ruin that was his Honda Dream. The seat of the motorbike was jutting off to the side and just as I passed two men moved the corpse’s leg off the bike and had to roll the bike over it’s front wheel just to get it free from the earth and body.

I saw it as we rolled past slowly and thought it best not to point this out to Talia, I kinda regretted seeing it myself considering I, too, was riding a two wheeler through the same traffic the empty vessel on the ground just was.

As I drove onward I was having a little freakout of my own about having an accident. It’s not uncommon for my emotions to surface and for me to speak my mind but, today, I had a little freakout.

As I drove along with two bikes in front of me in single file, the bike in the middle began to overtake. “Great!” I thought, so I followed behind the overtaking bike. Suddenly the overtaker hits the brakes, with me behind, and slows down to have a chat with the overtakee, leaving me slamming on my brakes and boxed in with traffic coming towards me from the other side of the road.

I held out my fist and got ready to teach a lesson to the rider of the bike as I was passing, and shouted “YOU STUPID F*CK*NG C*NT” as I passed and just grabbed onto my handle bars with a dead man’s grip out of pure anger. Anger at how, not five minutes after I see a lifeless body on the road, I am almost in a road accident myself. A road accident that would have probably left the foreigner taking the blame, could have got someone badly hurt or killed, but worst of all, an accident that could have been easily avoided.

I thought to myself “If I am coming off this motorbike it will be on my terms and not because of someone else who shouldn’t be in control of a hula hoop, never mind a motorbike.”

We made it to our destination with a couple more shouting matches in our trail and I thought it was time to calm down. One of the weird things about the whole experience, the mangled body, the twisted wreck, my anger, reminded me of something.

It reminded me of a time when I was in Jinzhou and I was cycling to work with my flatmate Matt. We both cycled along, me in front, crossing the bridge over the river when I spotted a small dog, in the middle of the four lane bridge. The dog was stuck and the drivers couldn’t see it through all of the traffic which meant it didn’t have much longer to live.

I remember shouting “SH*T NO” and pointed the scene out to Matt, who didn’t know what was happening. I stood there in my stupefied state not knowing what to do after hopping off my bike to see if the dog would make it or not, when Matt, in all his dog-loving glory, jumped off his bike –while it was still moving full speed- ran without hesitation to the middle of the road, through the traffic and somehow scared the dog to the other side of the road, almost causing a very bad accident for himself.

I remember seeing Matt do this but today I realized why I remember it so well. It’s not the act of saving the dog that matters, It’s the act of a foreigner saving the dog. The fact that the white man in the sea of yellow risked serious injury to help, not just a stranger, but a dog. Something which is a lesser commodity than an inanimate object in most Asian countries.

The whole thing reminded me of how we are all ambassadors to our own countries when we travel. We are all people who represent who we are, where we come from and what we stand for. It’s our reactions to what we see and what others say that makes us who we are.

I may not be the epitome of international ambassadors--in fact I have a long way to go--but on a good day, when I don’t have a freakout, I try to do my best.

The fact is I don’t want to westernize the east, but I also don’t like to see death and heartache for no good reason when it can be avoided. For one person, when I shout at bad drivers it’s out of my own arrogance, which I can understand. But regardless of the expression, the sentiment of trying to prevent an accident is the focal point and can’t be lost behind an idiotic veil of pleasantries.

Honestly, I do regret shouting at that man today, but maybe if enough people shout at him he won’t end up wrapped around HIS Honda Dream in the next week, or cause a bad accident for someone else.

I’m not saying everyone should visit foreign countries and shout every time something happens that is different from the way it happens back home. For me, personally, I try to set a good example by not littering, by smiling, learning the local language and culture etc. For Matt, his idea of setting a good example (whether consciously or sub-consciously) was doing what no Chinese person would do to save the life of a mere stray.

I may have lost control today in a small fit of anger, but as an ambassador for my country I may have made someone pay more attention to the road in future.

Or just made someone racist, who knows….







2 comments:

  1. Susan here. Just got caught up on the blog. Interesting stuff.

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  2. Susan here again. Sorry for the lame post earlier, I just wanted to get something posted before Haley grabbed my phone. I really like your guys blog, but blogs about travel always make me wonder if the interest in travel blogs comes at the expense of the peoples and cultures around the travelers. It was something I thought a lot about when I was writing about my experiences in China. Sometimes I felt like I was exploiting the Chinese people and the Chinese culture and making a mock of it to spark interest in my travels. I think you guys do a good job with being sensitive and not mocking people too much, It's an easy thing to do on accident I know I did when I was writing about China. Sorry just sharing my thoughts. Keep on traveling! So happy you guys are getting to have so many cool experiences.

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