Traffic in Ho Chi Minh

Absolute chaos... or, more precisely, chaotic, with all the sometime subtle difference that distinguishes on from the other. A proud princess in a beautiful cheong-sam, riding side-saddle on the back of a Honda, an island of serenity as the torrent of cars and motorbikes breaks all around, like a flower in the rapids. Opposing streams of traffic, lacking a defined centerline, somehow slide past each other, a boundary of laminar flow between two immiscable fluids. Individual bikes cruising slowly into a gap in the opposing traffic, the oncoming cascade somehow gracefully parting, to swallow the miscreant whole. Cars keep towards the centre, even making right turns in front of the pressure from the incessant motorcycles in the right lane, somehow, again, the flow accommodates the intrusion with nary a protest beyond the normal background of soft beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beeping. The very right hand lane is reserved for those adventurous soles who, bored with the bustle of their own side of the road, have made the decision to buck the flow and go against the flow. Again, the main flow... flows around them. The occasional pedestrian, impervious to the traffic, walking calmly across the flow. Jesus walking on water would seem no more of a miracle. Constant beep-beeps as drivers inform each other of their presence. The constant murmur of two-stroke engines. Crazy contraptions carrying all manner of goods, 3 meter steel rods balancing on a shoulder, 4 meter galvinated drainage pipes pointing forward and back. Families on a single scooter. The concept of a scooter as a cargo delivery vehicle. Princesses with gaily coloured scarves as face masks. Modern style queens with long legs in patterned prints sailing along with the flow, beautiful dark hair streaming behind. A young child's eyes peering out over the handlebars through his father's arms. Babies held in suckling position on the back of a scooter. Wild, large, incomprehensible objects being carried nonchalantly along. Casually smoking a cigarette with one hand, the other hand controlling both throttle and brake through the turmoil. The rules are different - decide what you're going to do, then slowly do it, regardless of the pressure from the surrounding and oncoming traffic. Traffic operating more on the principal of a larva lamp than rules of the road. Warm, moist heat. Open-front shops crowding the street, with sometimes mysterious wares spilling towards the road. Vehicles nudging each other aside, not with material contact but the imminence of material contact. Flocking or swarming behaviour, but much less defined.

Chris Dunlop, Ho Chi Minh City, 15/09/2003