Crossing the Street in Vietnam

It was in Europe where I first discovered that people in the rest of the world don’t wait for green signals before they cross streets. There, people actually crossed streets if the light was red! I couldn’t believe these jaywalkers; so bold! so brazen! Weren’t they worried about getting a ticket? Then I realized that people are usually smarter than streetlights when it comes to crossing intersections, and I was soon gleefully rebelling against my rigid American upbringing by crossing streets against lights.

But when I was on a walking tour in Rome, our guide told us to just step into traffic. The drivers will adjust to you, he said. The first time I crossed that street I was bulging with adrenaline. Now I was a real rebel.

Then I went to Vietnam. There, the streets are clogged with motorbikes chugging through city streets. As in Rome, when crossing the street you don’t wait for a break in traffic — you just go. Drivers anticipate you, and the worst thing you could ever do is hesitate. Hesitation gets you hit, because traffic flows around you.

I knew this as I was walking back to my guesthouse after dinner one night. I’d been in the country only a day or two, and as I stepped off the curb and into the stream of traffic, I freaked. I paused, and knew with sudden certainty that I was a goner. Suddenly someone clutched my arm and practically pulled me across the street. When we were safely across, I looked down to see a tiny old woman, less than 5 feet tall and with none of her teeth left. She still had my right arm hooked in her left, and with her right hand she patted my forearm and murmured comfortingly although incomprehensibly.

She kept hold of my arm as we wove in and out of traffic, across streets and down bright alleys. After a couple of minutes we parted ways, but from then on I never hesitated.

Thanks to RawSun on Flickr for the photograph of a different woman, but who reminds me of the woman who helped me.