Thursday, March 22, 2007

Crosstown traffic
In the urban jungle Teddy de Burca Jnr. spots a hitherto unknown species on the Hanoi streets – Zebra Crossings

Near the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum I almost knocked a pedestrian over. He was crossing in fits and starts, unsure whether I was going to the left of him or the right, straight down the middle, or, the highly improbable last possibility, actually stopping to let him cross.

I eventually went to the left, the polite choice I believed, as he was walking left to right, but then he decided to do a bit of a moonwalk and take two steps back – I almost clipped him but fair play to the young fellow, he half hurdled my front wheel, and made it to the pavement, slightly flustered but alive.

I heard him shout “Dien (Crazy)!” and I thought that was a bit harsh as I wasn’t driving very fast and had done my best to veer around him – he was the one walking forwards and backwards in the middle of the road. When I looked back to shrug my shoulders indifferently he was pointing down at something I’d never really noticed before – a creature known as the Zebra Crossing, hitherto unspotted in the little supervised wilds of Hanoi’s traffic, but not unfamiliar to me in my past life as a pedestrian back in the homeland.

How long had I been ignoring these hapless pedestrians rightfully, yet understandably gingerly, stepping out onto the Zebra Crossings? Well pretty much since the day I got here. Sheep-like, I’ve just been following the masses. No one else stopped so I didn’t either. There are no red lights, no traffic cops and no lollipop ladies with red-lettered STOP signs – what can I say, except I’m sorry?

I drove on, feeling a bit guilty, promising that I’d do my bit – forever more – and take note of these crossings and stand up (or slow down at least) for pedestrian rights, after all they have feelings too.

As I rounded the next corner a group of tourists stood on the side of the road, one took his chances with the Zebra Crossing and bounded across, I slowed to a near halt, feeling thoroughly upstanding with my new pedestrian-friendly persona. He half-acknowledged my courtesy with a flapping wave, and kept going, but arcing around me at about 50kmph a young man on his moped came through, still blithely unaware of what a Zebra Crossing is, where to look, what to do when you see one in the urban jungle.

Nonchalantly he swerved around the petrified tourist, who scurried to the other side, while behind me a large SUV lurched forward, honking at me – places to go, people to see, don’t you know. The tourist’s friends abandoned their crossing. The traffic surged forward, what could I do but roll away with it, leaving the endangered pedestrians and Zebra Crossings behind.

A couple of companion vids off youtube from HCM City:


elliott said...

Know the feeling. Zebra crossings were something I had to learn all over again when I went back to the "civilised" world. The weird thing about Japon is that the rules seem to fall somewhere between how I remember them in NZ and how I completely ignored them in Vietnam. In Japon, traffic is required to stop and give way to pedestrians when turning but it's perfectly OK to plough on through without stopping if going straight. It's very different in NZ where the slightest inkling that anyone is going to step onto a zebra crossing has cars slamming on their brakes in earnest in a bid to allow them safe passage. Trust me, the very last thing you want to do in Aotearoa is not stop for a pedestrian at a zebra crossing. It ranks right up there with stealing from another man's flock...

elliott said...

Personally, I like Oslo's story about the drive to get people to cross at a crossing in a group as opposed to bits and bobs. I'm sure he can tell it better than me, but it has something to do with "consolidating"...