From Stacey: May 3, 2008
As we are nearing the end of our voyage, I am trying to get caught up with journal writing and picture organizing (5,000 now), inventorying purchases and sharing the precious time we have left with some very special people who have traveled the world with my family and me on this incredible journey. When my friend, Evelyn, read me her entry for Vietnam, I loved how she captured the experience of crossing the street so very well. Her descriptive writing is comical and paints such a vivid picture. She has graciously agreed to let me post it on our blog. Thank you, Evelyn. Evelyn's story is as follows:
March 26, 2008
Crossing Streets in Ho Chi Minh City
Today was another lovely day spent exploring the city and shopping. However in Vietnam an explicit shopping report would make no sense without an equally explicit traffic report. So let me explain about the crazy Vietnamese traffic and emphasize what affect that traffic had on my nervous system and therefore my shopping skills. Like any other major city there are plenty of cars, trucks, bikes and buses on the road in Ho Chi Minh City. Now add to that a gazillion motorscooters with one, two or three passengers (some carrying parcels or babies) zipping in and out of the normal car, truck, bike and bus traffic. I know that there is a code about crossing streets safely but unless you grow up in Vietnam you will never decipher that code. Rules seem to be random, stoplights seem to be random and whether you will get splattered on the pavement is random as well. What we were told is that ... 'when it feels right you step out into the traffic and you keep walking'. Then they added, 'Try not to step out in front of a bus that can't stop easily but don't worry the scooter drivers will try at all costs not to hit you. The most important thing to remember is that once you get on to the road you can't stop half way; you must keep moving because that's what the drivers expect and they guide themselves accordingly'.
When I heard this advice my first impulse was to skip going into the city completely. Maybe I could just stay in my cabin and read? I wasn't interested in being Vietnamese roadkill except I couldn't bear to miss their spectacular shopping opportunities. This city probably has the best bargains ever, better than India and better than China. Normally Vietnamese water buffalos could not drag me across those streets but the t-shirts, DVDs, lacquer bowls, shoes, jewelry, scarves, purses, backpacks, and 'fake-everything' beckoned. I was almost ready to suffer in order to get to the other side.
Since I hate intense pain I took the least dangerous path. I looked for a local man that seemed conservative, a person that wouldn't put his life in danger and stepped out into the melee in tandem with him. I made sure that he was on the side closest to the oncoming traffic and prayed as I walked beside him. Lo and behold my first attempt was successful. I got to the other side without direct contact with a scooter. Now I could shop a complete block without anxiety. I scoured every inch of commercial space putting off the need to cross the next street. Finally, it was inevitable. This time I chose a female vendor carrying a lot of sweet potatoes in her baskets. I thought she would make a great shield. No one wants to purposely hit a local woman sending her veggies flying here, there, and everywhere. I chose well again and I was on block two. For block three I met up with SAS students who agreed to walk me across the street. Except this time when I saw cars coming straight for me I stopped and held my arm up (like a traffic police) demanding that the traffic halt. I was frozen in place, a deer caught in their Vietnamese headlights.' The only thing that saved me from being flattened was the student who yelled, 'Evelyn, don't stop, keep walking.' For days afterwards on the ship they teased me relentlessly, imitating my traffic cop stance.
With time comes experience; it was on the next corner that I struck 'beat the traffic' gold. I found out that there are lovely policemen in bright green uniforms who are completely at your service. It is their job to walk scaredy-cat tourists across streets in order that these foreigners feel relaxed enough to keep spending their U.S. dollars. All you need to do is smile and wave to them. Faster than you can say, 'I'm a shopper' they are at your side and getting you wherever you want to be'. Then I discovered Vietnamese cabs. For one or two dollars they will drop you off anywhere you want to go within the city center. By day three I had a stash of $1.00 bills in my pocket, spent them gladly and moved with ease from one shopping area to the other.
I visited the local covered market with its warren of mini stalls and absolutely no moving air to speak of. I bargained and learned to offer 30% of what I actually was willing to spend on any one item. I thought I was so clever when I bought three t-shirts for $10.00. Back on the ship the students told me that $2.00 per shirt was the going price. I sharpened my skills and went to another shopping area: blouses were $8.00, scarves were $2.00 and I had two linen shirts tailored from scratch for $16.00. I was on a roll now. Into my shopping bag went smocked dresses for little girls, dragon t-shirts for little boys, pajamas, Christmas decorations, dvds, pens, and a partridge in a pear tree. Oh my goodness it was fun... and best part of all ... I never had to cross one scary street all by myself.
Evelyn Hannon, Editor
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