Saturday, March 2, 2013

Where the streets have no name

I like to use song lyrics as my post titles. Sometimes they're relevant to what I'm writing about, sometimes they're just from the song I happen to be listening to at the time. Well, the U2 lyrics I've used for this post are definitely relevant to my new life in Hanoi, because so many of the streets really don't seem to have names. Map reading has never been quite this challenging. Neither has crossing the street. Vietnam is incredibly different to Australia. In fact, it's incredibly different to anywhere else I have ever been, and I've been to quite a few places.

 Asia is a whole new world to me, so chaotic and confounding. People are going about their daily business with so much purpose and I'm standing on the side of the road, in the mud, just gaping at the people going past on motorbikes carrying their entire family, entire business, or entire farm (slight exaggeration on the farm, but I've definitely seen a couple of goats and some chickens taking a ride).

There don't seem to be any discernible road rules other than everyone merges with everyone. Buses don't look out for anyone else on the roads, cars don't look out for motorbikes, motorbikes are everywhere - often on the sidewalk. Aside from  other useless foreigners such as myself, I don't think pedestrians even exist...pedestrian crossings certainly aren't taken seriously. I am having a difficult time adapting to the lack of public transport, I'm told buses do exist but have been advised against them (I'm sure I will ignore this advice and seek them out eventually), a tram? a train? HA! No way, man, motorbikeless people get taxis everywhere. Catching a taxi here means always having to be on-guard: have they turned on the meter? Did the meter start too high? Is the meter jumping up too fast? Do you have enough small notes to ensure they don't take your larger note and claim they don't have any change? Have you made it clear enough where you're going? So many reasons to dread having to get taxis. What makes it worse is that even the times when ripping you off never even crosses the driver's mind, you're still in the back paranoid that the meter is hooked up to the sound system and will cost you 5X the amount it should. I really need to get a bike.

Despite the chaos. Despite all the differences. I'm still very excited to  be here and quite content with my job. More to come on that.

To rubbish bins, Hanoi says NO.
So this is a rather ugly photo to post as my first Vietnam photo, but it lends itself to a topic I think is interesting. The Vietnamese don't use rubbish bins. They place their rubbish bags out on the street usually under a tree on a street corner. Early every morning people come round on bikes (usually old women, I'm told) with wagons attached and collect the rubbish bags. In the last few years the government tried to 'clean up Vietnam' by putting out communal rubbish bins. Apparently these bins were used but then rarely emptied, so the Vietnamese simply ignored them and went back to putting their rubbish on the streets. The first time I had to dump a bag on the street I felt so guilty, I dropped it under a tree and quickly walked in the other direction, cringing, waiting for someone to come along and yell at me. Nothing happened and the next morning it was gone.

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