Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Close calls and near misses: traffic flow in Hanoi

It has all the ingredients for a multi-moto-mashup: pedestrians, bicycles, swarms of scooters, cars, taxis, and minibuses; weaving in and around each other from all directions and going different speeds, intersections without traffic lights, scooters strapped with impossibly huge loads (boxes and boxes of wares, dozens of eggs, families of four, gigantic rolls of foam), and yet there is an amazingly collaborative magic that keeps traffic flowing without incident.

First of all, there doesn't seem to be the road-rage inclined egos that we have at home, where everyone thinks their time and entitlement to road space is more important than someone else's. Here, there seems to be a consensus by necessity that everyone will get where they're going, so speeds are adjusted, concessions are made, directions are changed, and it all flows like water.

Drivers are extremely deft and alert to be able to maneuver so quickly to the changing situations. Crossing the street is an act of faith, and it is as people said it would be: just pick a line, and go. Don't step into anyone whose going too fast, but if you wait for a break, you'll be waiting for a long time. So just go, and trust/hope that they will go around you. The whole look-both-ways-before-crossing-the-street, applies here in the sense of look, and then go anyway. (Sorry mom). But so far, so good.

The near-constant honking of horns led us to come up with a game where we see how high we can count between them. It generally goes something like this: beep!, HONK, beeep, one, BIP!, one, hooooonk, honk!, onetwothre----BEEEP!, beepbeephonkbeep!, onetwothreefour, HONK!, honkBEEP, and so on... The highest I've ever gotten is eight. To us it's all just white noise, but the horns seem to be a signalling system alerting other drivers of each other's presence. Or maybe they're just saying hi. It's hard to interpret.

But oh my, it's mesmerizing to watch.

Mark took this video yesterday, on Christmas Day, so traffic's actually a bit lighter than usual...


  1. Wow, crazy! It looks like ants and beetles all scurrying past each other!

  2. This video makes me chuckle. Very haphazard.