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
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
, 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….