While I was in Da Nang, Vietnam, there was excitement in the air, at least with the tourists. As I mentioned before it was Christmas time. One side note, in Vietnam all the little kids from 0-4 get dressed up like little Santa Clauses, it’s really adorable. There was also a large concert on Christmas Eve where a Vietnamese pop band was performing.
I had gone exploring that day, as I typically did. Eventually I wanted to go home and decided to take a motorbike. They don’t really have many taxis in Vietnam, you usually just hop on a motorbike and they drive you where you need to go. This is actually for a couple of reasons. Most importantly it is cheaper for gas. Almost as importantly, their streets aren’t as car-dominated. Actually, let me explain that, first check out a picture of a typical street:
In the cities in Vietnam motorcycles and scooters are much more common than cars. Watching a street is like watching animals in a jungle. At first all the movement is overwhelming, but quickly you learn certain rules that govern the previously seeming randomness. Larger vehicles, like trucks, have the right of way. This is both because they can not move as nimbly as the smaller ones as well as the fact that they have less to lose if an accident were to occur. Cars have the next right of way, and motorcyclists rest at the bottom of the hierarchy. Actually, I suppose pedestrians are at the bottom.
One crosses the street by looking into the continuously oncoming traffic and spotting a small space between motorcycles. They won’t stop for you, but if you keep walking at the same pace and look at them so they know what you are doing then they will adjust their path to a foot either behind or in front of you. It also helps them if you put your hand slightly forward to show you are one of the tourists who knows what they are doing. Most tourists are overwhelmed by crossing busy streets and will stop and go in the middle as they try to get motorcyclists to stop. Though in western culture this works better, it is actually just really confusing and nerve-racking for Vietnamese drivers who are used to just avoiding pedestrians.
Back to the story. As I was taking a motorcycle back the streets were crowded. The driver of the bike I was on was going quickly, but not fast enough to get a second glance by anyone. We were nearing the event, when all of a sudden I saw a boy dart into the street. He had been hidden by a car just a moment ago. The driver tried to slow down, but I knew from the instant I saw him that we would hit him. We were able to slow enough so that the kid was only knocked back a few feet. He had scrapped his arm but was completely fine.
Now this is when the situation got interesting. There was an English tourists walking along the street who upon seeing this accident instantly started berating the driver: “Why the fuck were you going so fast! The street is busy if you were going slower you wouldn’t have hit him! What the fuck were you thinking!” The mother of the child, however, instantly began scolding her boy.
This was one of the major differences between cultures. There the responsibility of your safety fell almost exclusively onto yourself where in western culture our legal system has created a shared responsibility. Culture in context, I did not blame the driver, he was in the right.