Hanoi is a spiteful mistress. Mere days after recounting the four minor road incidents I’d had during the past ELEVEN months, I had my most serious yet when I slammed into a car that had abruptly stopped at an intersection.
This post isn’t about that, but the short story is that the front of my bike was cracked, the driver of the other car spent five minutes pointing at invisible damage to his car before trying to extort some cash out of me. I won’t even go into the fact that he took my keys from me (I could have punched him for that), that it was partly his fault, and that I was the one hurt and bleeding. He left his car in the middle of the intersection and pretended to call the cops, I refused to pay him or let on that I knew Vietnamese, and we were at an apparent stalemate, with both of us sitting on the side of the road presumably waiting for the cops to come.
The cops weren’t coming, and after 15 minutes on the side of the road, his extortion strategy had failed and he gave me back my keys. The worst part about the whole affair were the old Vietnamese dudes sitting on the side of the road laughing at the stupid westerner who’d driven into a car. Anyways, with a bloody knee and bruised ego, I continued on my merry way to work.
A week later, it was time to return my rented bike since I was departing for vacation at home the next day. Growing up in America, I’ve got it ingrained in my soul that auto-mechanics were born to rip you off, so I was a little worried about returning my damaged bike and having to pay for repairs. This turned out to be no big deal, as the entire front shell of the bike was fixed for only $26, much less than the $100+ that I had suspected it might be.
But the real treat was what happened on my way back. Vietnam’s soccer squad was playing in the semi-final of the Southeast Asian Games, a big deal for the Vietnamese. Before heading out to the old quarter to return my bike, I’d seen that Vietnam had beaten Singapore 4-1. When I reached one of the main roads leading to the old quarter, the road was packed with people riding their motorbikes carrying gigantic Vietnamese flags, honking their horns, and laughing and shouting their heads off. I realized that I was headed to the same place they were, the old quarter, and I was dreading the nightmarish traffic that awaited.
As I continued making my way toward the old quarter, the shouts and laughs of my companion motorbike drivers gradually shifted my mood from annoyed (at traffic) to a celebratory, and by the time I reached the old quarter I had my helmet off and was laughing and shouting with everyone else. I knew this kind of scene doesn’t happen often, so I bought a huge flag from one of the dozens of entrepreneurial individuals that magically appeared with large inventories of Vietnamese flags, paid him $3 for it and joined the madness of traffic hooting and hollering and driving around the lake.