I debated even writing about this but then I figured that since I’ve been warned since the moment I stepped foot in HCMC that it was an inevitability that I’d get in a motorbike incident at least once, it’s kind of my duty to talk about it.
To be fair, only two of the three crashes involved a motorbike. The other one happened while in the backseat of a cab. So for those who are worried about my safety on a bike, crashes can happen anywhere.
Anyone who knows me (or my mother) knows how much the two of us love fun and quirky jewellery. Here in Vietnam I can’t wear nice jewellery when I’m going to be out in public or riding the bike.
I’ve been warned too many times both by people I know and random security guards around the city that I must be careful walking or driving around at night because thieves will rip nice-looking necklaces off my neck if they think they’re worth anything (which they’re not). I knew better than to bring real gold necklaces or bracelets to Vietnam.
When I came out of work the other night, I had forgotten to take off my faux-gold necklace. As I was starting up my bike, the security guard, who has taken on the role of my older brother since my arrival, motioned at me to take my necklace off. I went to hop off the bike so I could put my necklace in the seat of the bike (the safest place for anything of value).
I forgot the number one rule when it comes to dismounting a motorbike: turn off the engine. I let go of the brake and was still touching the throttle. Yikes!
I managed to grab the left handle so that the front tire remained a pivot and the back end of the bike careened and spun into a curb instead of traffic. All damage was done to the curb with no damage done to my bike. (Thank Jesus, Mary & Joseph!) Our landlord already fears we’ll kill ourselves. I don’t need to come home with physical proof of my perceived incompetency.
The cause of the most recent motorbike accident yesterday evening, on my way back from a lovely afternoon with Rhino and Pistol, was yet another idiot not being able to conceal his gawking.
While staring has become a normal part of life for us, (especially when there are two relatively tall white girls sharing a motorbike) in the past couple of days I’ve absolutely had it. I hate that I’m treated like a zoo animal. And yesterday was the icing on the cake.
I was driving in rush hour traffic so it is difficult even when drivers’ undivided attention is on the road. However, last night, just like any other time of day, I had people staring at me at every single stoplight.
There was one notable gentleman though. I was moments from home, stopped at a red light and I noticed the man beside me, head pivoted at a ninety degree angle in order to check out the Western girl next to him. As the light changed, we both began to accelerate slowly.
Only problem was, buddy kept his beady little eyes on me instead of on the road and as any driving instructor will pummel into your head, “Wherever your eyes are looking is where the vehicle will go.”
Well it shouldn’t surprise me that buddy clearly missed that part of Defensive Driving 101 because most Vietnamese drivers don’t even have a license. (It’s a joke of a test and just a cash grab.) Needless to say, as I accelerated straight, Buddy accelerated forty-five degrees to his right, caught my back tire and launched me over the left handlebar.
I managed to put my hands out and ease the rest of my body onto the ground fairly gracefully but not before catching my upper rib cage on the left handle and leaving a humdinger of a bruise that didn’t make its full appearance until hours later.
I immediately remembered all the advice I’d been given about bike crashes: get yourself up off the ground quickly and move everything over to the side of the road to collect yourself. No one is going to stop. Especially when someone hits a Westerner.
Wow! Was that advice ever accurate. No one wants to be held responsible for a crash with a white person here because they know our way of dealing with crashes is very different than theirs. They’re always afraid we’re going to lawyer-up.
All kidding aside, I’m absolutely fine except for two little scratches on my palms from breaking the fall with my hands and the bruise on my rib muscles. I wasn’t even in shock. I guess I’d been prepared for this since getting on the bike for the first time. All the worst-case scenarios had run through my mind and this particular instance was the least scary of anything I’d concocted in my head.
However, when Bagheera and I got on the bike today to run some final errands for renewing our visas and preparing the next steps in our work permit saga, I was less than patient with people as I had the luxury of hurling insults and being an overall Scrooge from the safety of my passenger’s seat.
Traffic was particularly bad today. Really poor decisions made by umpteen drivers. Even Bagheera agreed which made me feel justified and a little less Scroogey. I’ve had it with the staring. I gave myself permission to be an asshole today and just rudely pirate-stare them right back today – with an extra-villainous scowl for the real piss-me-offers.
I was warned about this phase. The I-Friggin-HATE-The-Way-This-Culture-Does-Things-Sometimes Phase. So I’m not concerned. I’m sure I’ll go back to being a roll-with-the-punches, amicable expat in a matter of days but in the meantime, I’m going to live it up and be downright moody and rude.
Speaking of errands, I’ll switch gears now, slightly, and whine about the work permit process in this country. We spent the day getting documents signed for our permit. First of all, the Canadian consulate needs to make it easier for Canadians to get documents authenticated. Especially when the seal of a Canadian notary public is already affixed to the document! Each document that we had authenticated at the consulate here in HCMC cost us $50 CDN. That’s incredibly steep, especially by Vietnamese standards.
If the Canadian government is truly interested in having its people represent their country on the world stage, document authentication needs to be more affordable. Oh, and there was no capability at the consulate for them to accept Visa or debit. Cash only. What the…?!
We waited a few days for the consulate to verify that our notary public was in fact a practising notary in Canada and then we took our documents over to the Vietnamese Department of Foreign Affairs to be further authenticated by them.
Note to anyone going through this process, photocopy your documents ahead of time if you don’t want to bounce back and forth in lines and lose your place each time. And just go directly to the counter and find the standing file with all the loose papers in it and fill out your “Request Form” before even going up to the wicket the first time. It’ll save you a ton of time. We picked up our documents a couple of days later and paid a whopping 90,000 VND (about $4.50 CDN) for the authentication of three documents. Huge discrepancy!
In terms of Vietnamese offices, this one was pretty civilized and included a number system so that no one could feign ignorance and jump the line. Queuing is a lost art form in this area of the world which makes us Canadians into less-polite people pretty quickly if we want to get anything done in this country.
Luckily, with work slowing down in anticipation of Tết (Lunar New Year), which officially begins on the night of February 9 this year, it has allowed me some time to be with people who understand the value of waiting their turn, holding the door politely for someone, queuing and waiting politely for someone to serve them.
I can subjectively say that I work at the two best campuses in the entire city due to one reason: my co-workers. Bagheera and I talk often of how great our campuses are because of the staff. We all get along so well, in fact, that we have seen each other every single night this week and we never get sick of each other.
I don’t know how Vee You Ess did it, but they managed to pack a stellar group into two campuses. We celebrated two birthdays in the past week, had two ladies’ nights, an afternoon at the cinema and a trivia night to boot.
As much as I just ranted about the frustrations of life here at times, I wouldn’t change it for the world if it meant that I had to leave this great group of friends that I’m quickly becoming obsessed with. I’m so grateful and truly blessed!
*Sorry for the ranting and the resulting lack of photos in this post