Do You Ever Get Used To It?
Aug. 4, 2014, Hanoi, Vietnam: Living in the exotic city of Hanoi brings with it new levels of noise and chaos and an overall sense of wonder.
Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,
Walking down a street near our house in Hanoi recently, we passed a group of four tired and miserable looking French tourists taking shelter on the stairs in front of a clothing store. One of them saw us and jumped up to block our way.
"Do you speak English?" she asked plaintively. We reassured her that we did, and with panic in her eyes, she asked us if there was any place to eat around this area. They were lost, hungry, overstimulated, and overwhelmed.
With plenty of restaurants all over the neighborhood, we were a little taken aback by her question but calmly reassured the group that we could take them to "Food Street," an alley of two small blocks just a short walk away that was lined with restaurants. The four of them huddled close to our side as we crossed a moderately busy intersection, hoping that our presence would save them from being run over by the first passing motorcycle. Along the way, one of them asked, "Do you ever get used to it?"
I considered her question and came up stumped. "What 'it' are you referring to?" I asked her.
"It!" she said, the earlier panic still evident in her voice. "The traffic, the chaos, everything!"
It wasn't an easy question to answer. The traffic and chaos can't be ignored here, but after a while, they cease to be an issue. There are ways to cross the street that may seem counterintuitive but are perfectly acceptable and safe in Hanoi. Horns are constantly honking, but they become white noise after a while. The swarms of vehicles swerve and cut each other off, but no one gets road rage and accidents are surprisingly uncommon.
On rare occasions, I still freeze when crossing a busy street. Vehicles don't yield to pedestrians, though they do avoid hitting them. You have to take that first step and keep walking, slowly and deliberately, until you reach the other side of the street. Taking that first step can be hard, though. More than once, a tiny, elderly lady has grabbed me by the hand and walked me across the street, acting as a buffer against the onslaught of motorbikes. Where I come from, we help senior citizens cross the street. In Vietnam, they help us.