MullerHitchhiking Vietnam
Page 48

The tarmac ended with a six-inch drop and the road turned to rot. It didn't get narrower or lose the appearance of a road. It simply sprouted ruts and protrusions in such profusion that the rideable path became a single-lane bike trail that wove in and out among the rocks. Occasionally it left the road altogether to dip down into a sunburned garden or gutter. To my guide's wide-eyed surprise, I had little trouble maneuvering the bike between obstacles, but a more pressing problem emerged. The track had become a funnel for all two-wheeled vehicles and I was quickly introduced to the only steadfast rule of Vietnamese country driving - the Law of Tonnage. Smaller vehicles were expected to give way to larger ones, without exception. Given the rather unintimidating dimensions of my chariot, I wasn't much of a threat to anything larger than a chicken or an exceptionally cowardly pig. I quickly learned to distinguish between the squeaky horn of the moped, barely worth edging to one side for, the rusty honk of the ubiquitous Minsk 125 cc, the rare and endangered Honda bike bleat and the deep, reverberating blast of the Bus, demanding instant compliance. I resolved to buy a bus horn.

...and to find courage somewhere in a corner of my soul. It was self-defeating to give way every time I heard a honk behind me, to nudge my bike onto the jarring cobblestone rocks, only to discover that I had been displaced by a smirking six-year-old who was years from growing onto the seat of his oversized bike.

If I couldn't have courage, at least I had spite. I watched the young male motorcyclists, frustrated in their attempts to force me off the path, take matters into their own hands. They gunned their engines and assaulted the road, using their bikes as weapons to jackhammer the recalcitrant stones into submission. I felt the morbid satisfaction of seeing two enemies beat each other to pieces.

I pedaled along, watching schoolgirls in spotless ao dais weaving gracefully along the road, young men revving their fickle engines to slew around sandy turns and gnarled old-timers in cranky three-wheelers, their skin turned to leather under the relentless sun. The country road was an obstacle course of sleeping mongrels, antique trucks, weary bicycles with quarter-ton loads, and the mercurial ebb and flow of geese. Graduates of this rural training ground eventually migrated towards the bright city lights, armed with maniacal courage, lightning reflexes and an utter contempt for such infantile restrictions as streetlights, stop signs and one-way arrows. Saigon city driving was starting to make a lot more sense.