If you don’t mind, take a moment and think back to the largest city in the United States that you’ve been in recently (maybe you live there already). Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Denver, you name it. Now remember your history lessons about the “Mongolian hordes” . . . remember them? The Khan armies of nearly a million? Finally, instead of horses, put those armies on speed bikes, dirt bikes, vespas, scooters of all shapes and colors (just not Harley Davidsons and certainly not touring BMWs) and unleash those masses into that big city you were thinking about a moment ago.
This is Hanoi.
The big difference between the city you’re thinking of and Hanoi? There aren’t really any signal lights and I’m pretty sure there aren’t too many traffic laws here. And if there are any of either no one really cares. A one way street? Well, for the most part, but there’s a good chance that 1 or 2 dozen motos will be coming the wrong way a moment later. Or was that the right way?
Okay, maybe I’m over-exagerating. Just jump to the sidewalk after crossing the busy intersection for a break from the pack after pack of moto mania.
Nope. That’s moto parking. And if it’s not moto parking, then have a seat on a plastic stool 6 inches off the ground next to a moto. It’s not real comfortable, especially for your big American legs, but in a moment when there’s a piping hot bowl of Pho or a wok full of frying fish and veggies or a delicate plate of pork dumplings or beer brewed that day (beer fanatics rejoice, this is watered-down hoppy sour goodness) put in front of you, you’ll forget about the stool you’re on (until it breaks underneath you).
Okay, back to the street. You know the sidewalk is no good for walking and now you know to look both ways many, many times before crossing, (just like your mother taught you). Travel a bit further beneath the low-hanging neon signs, wind down another curving street in the Old Quarter (you really wish you had your compass now because you’re pretty sure you just made a 90 degree turn without realizing it) and find yourself in the market:
Huge bags overflowing with spices, big plastic tubs of catfish and crawfish and eel, heck there’s even a pig walking around here some place. And all the clothes and home supplies and school books and office gadgets you ever need right here in Costco size quantities ready for purchase and re-sale and re-purchase. Fruit and vegetables? Yes of course, you’ve seen the stacks of fresh goodness before, but how do they get it all out of here?
No, really. Those same buzzing speeding zipping street bikes are packed to the brim with all this stuff. Perfectly balanced, tightly strapped down (you hope) ready for a knee skinning ride through this true delight of a city.
Sure there are the old ways: the long stick counter-balanced over the shoulder by two baskets filled with goods (looks like the symbol for justice, and just might be) or maybe the carefully packed traditional bicycle or even a cyclo.
But these forms of movement are becoming obsolete. Too slow for a city on the move and moving fast? Yes, maybe. But the real reason? You can’t balance six full kegs of beer on a shoulder basket. You just can’t do it. And on a hot afternoon like today, that beer needs to be delivered.
How about six kegs on a moto? You better believe it.