Posts Tagged ‘traffic’
Warning: Some pictures in this text show severely injured people. Do not continue reading this post if you find such depictions upsetting or objectionable.
There are some things in Vietnam I just can’t understand or get used to. I’ve written about eating dogs before. That’s one example. Here’s another one.
There’s a hospital in downtown Hanoi that has a glass showcase on its outer wall. Displayed in it are very graphic pictures of injured people. I originally thought they showed victims of traffic accidents, because reckless driving is a big problem in Vietnam. But a friend told me that the photos depict work injuries and virus or bacterial infections treated at the hospital.
Are these people the hospital was able to save? Or are these the cases where the doctors couldn’t help?
Are these pictures meant to show what horrible injuries the hospital doctors have to deal with? Or should they serve as a warning to people to be careful and drive cautiously and avoid such injuries?
The pictures make me sick. I try not to look at them whenever I pass that street corner.
I disapprove of displaying these pictures on a public intersection in the heart of Hanoi. How do the people depicted here feel about being shown like this? What about the friends and relatives of the victims? These are things that passers-by – and especially children – shouldn’t have to see.
What strikes me, though, is that Vietnamese people don’t seem to be as squeamish as me or as sensitive to the ethical questions that displaying these photographs etail. They just don’t seem to mind these pictures. They’re able to ignore them.
These days, a street cafe has even put out its chairs right underneath this traumatizing display case. Cafe patrons sit just in front of these horrible pictures of severely injured people. They eat, drink and chat as if they were sitting on the banks of a balmy lake.
There are some things in Vietnam I just can’t understand.
But then what’s the message these traffic cops in Phnom Penh are sending out? Their guard house clearly displays an advertisement for beer.
It’s sponsored by Asahi breweries. The company is based in Japan and just trying to get a foot in the door in other Asian countries.
Aaccording to the company website, Asahi’s corporate philosophy is:
The Asahi Breweries Group aims to satisfy its customers with the highest levels of quality and integrity, while contributing to the promotion of healthy living and the enrichment of society worldwide.
Ah, so that’s what all this is about: not drinking and driving, but “…the promotion of healthy living“.
In that case: cheers, officer!
Downtown traffic in Thimphu usually isn’t too bad. But in recent years, the number of new cars has increased. So you’re liable to see a rush-hour traffic jam even here.
Nevertheless, the 70 000 citizens of this Himalayan capital don’t want any traffic lights on their streets.
Traffic is regulated by traffic signs and by a police officer at the town’s busiest intersection.
A few years ago, the traffic police officers were given other tasks and a stop light was installed in their place.
Modern times had finally arrived in Thimphu!
But, alas, the people of Thimphu couldn’t get used to the idea of red and green lights telling them when to stop and when to go.
They missed their traffic police officer.
Even the country’s king intervened when dissatisfaction with the impersonal stop light spread.
And soon, the traffic policemen were back in their little gazebo on Thimphu’s busiest intersection.
To this day, you’ll find them here, directing traffic in moves so elegant you’d think they were solo dancers of a ballet.
No wonder the people of Thimphu considered this unique institution part of their cultural heritage worth preserving.
The one problem with all these roundabouts that Spanish traffic planners haven’t really solved yet is how to fill the void in the middle of the roundabouts.
It’s open space that craves to be filled.
In some cases, they’ll put a streetlight, or plant a tree or some bushes in those circular spaces.
But in many other cases, they’ll make the roundabout a little island of creativity and liven up its center section with a little art.
And that leads to some bewildering, amusing and inspiring roadside experiences.
The examples in the slideshow below are from the Spanish island of Mallorca.
It’s not a Picasso, Dali or Miro
Unfortunately, the art that you’ll find in your average Spanish roundabout isn’t exactly by Picasso or Miro. It’s – how shall we say – somewhat more basic.
Cheaper, I guess. And that may be a good thing: after all, roundabout art could easily be damaged if some driver from hell failed to make the turn and smashed into the sculpture.
So the sculptures in Spanish roundabouts are usually pretty robust. They’re often made of corrugated iron or stone boulders.
Big forms that are easily recognizable to the drivers circling around them.
What’s this one supposed to mean, for instance?
What you see when you drive around it is a large rusty spiral. If you look really close, you can also see some small zinc houses tumbling out of the open end of the spiral.
Is it supposed to represent a hurricane? Is this a Spanish impression of the Wizard of Oz?
It’s beyond me. But I guess “Toto, we’re not in Catalonia any more…”
A few days ago, I discussed with a German and an American friend what our preconceptions of Vietnam had been before we first came here. What did we expect to find here? What did we think the country would be like?
And, more important still, what was the biggest surprise for us when we arrived in Vietnam?
That’s obvious, one of us said, we’ll all be answering that question in the same way.
But as it turned out, the three of us were all surprised by different things in Vietnam.
Picture postcard views
One of us hadn’t anticipated the fact that people here were still wear conical hats. And that they still carry heavy loads in baskets balanced on a wooden board carried on one shoulder, which makes the whole contraption look like an old scale.
But even though the hats and the carrying devices look like they are straight out of a brochure published by the Vietnam tourism board, they’re not. They are still a very common sight all over the country.
Where to eat? The sidewalk!
My other friend hadn’t expected to find all the city sidewalks crowded with people eating. As a matter of fact, the sidewalk food vendors are where the Vietnamese have many of their meals. They sit on little plastic stools around makeshift tables and eat in the countless sidewalk restaurants. There’s one every few meters.
As a pedestrian who’s trying to make his way along the city sidewalks, you feel like the whole town is one big open-air restaurant. You constantly have to weasel your way around the tables and the eating people. And you’re constantly stepping on chicken bones, fish heads or other things the sidewalk eaters have discarded…
They call it “Creative Driving”
Asked about what surprised him most in Vietnam, my other friend immediately said: the traffic. Indeed, the way the Vietnamese drive is pretty unique.
No one who owns a set of wheels cares about red lights or traffic rules. And I’ve never seen this many motorbikes on the streets anywhere else in the world.
Bigger is better
The general traffic rule in Vietnam is: the bigger your vehicle, the more rights you have. Drivers of cars almost always feel like they have the right of way. They feel safe and secure in their vehicles – so if you’re a pedestrian trying to cross the street, you’d better get out of the way – even if your light is green and that for the cars is red.
Drivers of motorbikes, on the other hand, are even harder to predict in city traffic: they’re fast and can manoeuvre easily between the cars and bicycles. They’ll take any chance that presents itself to get a few inches ahead – in front of the other drivers. The result is chaos.
In the narrow city streets, the result is often a deadlock. Oncoming cars get squeezed in by motorbikes and blocked by other cars or scooters who want to go the other way. No one is able to move forward any more, but no one’s willing to back up a little to resolve the deadlock either.
Oh, and don’t expect the motorbike drivers to stop at red lights either. The only thing that will make them stop at a light is if there’s massive traffic crossing their path. But the most daring drivers will even risk their lives cutting through those.
If you’re a pedestrian trying to cross the street and you see a horde of motorbike drivers coming at you, the best thing to do is to pretend you didn’t notice them and keep walking at a steady pace. They’ll calculate how fast you’re walking and try to avoid hitting you. Usually they’re pretty good at just barely scraping by…
And finally, the most vulnerable
The third group on Vietnamese streets is the one that causes others the least problems: people riding their bicycles. Unfortunately, their numbers seem to be dwindling.
Whether that’s because more people are turning to motorised vehicles as the population gets richer, or because more bicyclists are getting run over and killed, I don’t know. But it’s sad.