One bike had 30 bird cages, each with its own live bird, in a six-foot high tower that encased the driver, leaving only his face and arms visible; a woman weaved about with a washing machine strapped to her seat; a young girl, sandwiched between a huge computer box in front of her and a desk, chair and shelves secured to the rear, maneuvered through the maze; a mobile fish market with live fish sloshing about in plastic containers fastened to a scooter, sped by.
Vietnam has an estimated population of 89 million and 37 million registered motorbikes. Elders, using rusty, worn-out bicycles must share precious road space with the motorized ones. Just then, a moped crashed into an old woman peddling her overloaded pushbike, sending her and mounds of radishes to the street. No one helped to upright her transport and wares. There is no stopping.
After reaching the hotel unscathed, the decision loomed. Would I have the courage to see Hanoi, or would I remain paralyzed on the sidewalk? The number of motorbikes had tripled for a Saturday night of bike cruising in Hanoi. It would take three street crossings to reach the restaurant. ‘Chicken queasiness’ stirred. The city sizzled, its excitement brewed contagion. Smells of crayfish hissing in garlic, herbed oil, slick night-market vendors offering knock-offs, and the zoom-zoom of Scooterville electrified me to ‘take the road test.’ I closed my eyes and went. It’s the only way. Locals told me that the bikes would anticipate my moves. I had to trust that or fail.
After that first frightful scurry, I pretended to be blind for street-crossing; in Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, DaNang and the grand prix of all motorbike cities, crazy Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City. Here five million bikers turn wide boulevards into chasms of fear. Riders drive on the sidewalks, through the central market and straight into shops. Here, chickens become breakfast ― Vietnamese Pho Bo soup.
Author’s Bio: After a life-long profession of treating the mentally ill at a PA psychiatric hospital for 33 years and also serving as its Director of Admissions, Carol retired to Lake Chapala, Mexico in 2006 with her husband, to pursue more positive passions. Her family thought that she, too, had ‘gone mad.’ She’s been teaching English to Mexican adults for ten years, in a program operated by volunteer expatriates and writing for local on-line and print publications. Using her adventures experienced during visits to over 80 countries to capture a niche in travel writing, Carol also dabbles in ‘memoir.’ A frequent contributor to Lake Chapala English magazine, “El Ojo del Lago,” she’s won several literary awards from that publication, including Best Feature in 2010 and Best Fiction in 2014. She also netted a story regarding her psychiatric field work in the published anthology, “Tales from the Couch.”