Thursday, March 08, 2007

Highway to hell... and back again

A year and a half after an accident on the road from Phan Thiet to Ho Chi Minh City, Teddy de Burca Jnr. found himself reluctantly on an all-too-familiar road

The vans overtaking the trucks overtaking the cars overtaking the buses are making me nervous. The weather is hot and the AC is not firing on all cylinders, but that’s not necessarily why sweat is dribbling down my cheeks.
The fact that my driver is – judging by appearances – 12 years old is not helping matters. I look down to check his feet can reach the brake pads. Much to my surprise they can. Not that I'm reassured - this means he is actually going to drive and not just - as I hoped - keeping the seat warm for an adult with a driver's license.
My dearly beloved Mrs. De Burca is not speaking to me, because I’m not speaking to her. So we sit in silence. The sounds we hear are the familiar but not very reassuring sounds of Vietnam’s highways – the stretched out-sound of beeps as vehicles zoom past at a million miles per hour.
It reminds me of a joke: what’s the sound of a cat driving at 150 miles per hour? Answer: Meeeeeeeeeeeowwwwwwwwww… But I’m not laughing, and not because the joke isn’t funny, I just can’t relax. In my lap there’s a book I’m not reading. There’s no chance of me falling asleep. So I switch on the radio and we listen to some Cham music, but still my eyes never leave the road. Every car, bicycle, motorbike, truck, van, bus, SUV is an accident waiting to happen in my head.
Road trauma, I suppose, is expecting these accidents to happen. I believe they will. It’s just a matter of time. The 12-year old driving the car probably believes they won’t. I don’t know what Mrs De Burca thinks, because she’s not talking to me, but I’m to blame as I wasn’t talking to her first.
You see it has been about 18 months since I discovered without joy what happens when a very fast moving vehicle smashes into a much larger stationary one. Not quite the answer to the rhetorical riddle: what happens when the immovable object is hit by the irresistible force, but, nonetheless, of interest to some one out there, I’m sure.
You see I was inside a taxi with a driver hell bent on travelling at the speed of light (click that link, see three posts down) somewhere outside Xuan Loc town in Dong Nai province. Our course was interrupted by a rather large truck. On impact our bonnet crumpled, the truck didn’t budge. I was hurled into the front seat and smashed my humerus bone – which wasn’t very funny, ha-ha-ha – and my left foot too. Mrs De Burca was sleeping and bounced off a chair and was ok, apart from bruises; she is blessed with double jointed arms which are disturbingly flexible – rather like Elastigirl from The Incredibles. The taxi driver, while knocked unconscious, would live to explain his way out of jail. Only I was broken into smaller pieces.
My journey was far from over, after a makeshift fix up at a local hospital with two planks of wood and a hefty dose of painkillers (nhieu kudos) and a rescue run by International SOS (mucho kudos for you too) in Ho Chi Minh City, I ended up on my own chartered plane (the Mango-something-or-other which flies to Ko Samui every other day) jetting off to Bangkok where all the King of Thailand’s doctors and nurses tried to put my arm back together again.
But trauma takes a little longer to heal, if it heals at all, and ever since sitting in a car with another driver has not been easy for me. Even the relatively short trip from my house to Noi Bai airport is an excruciating experience, like getting slowly beaten up, I imagine.
This year after our Tet obligations were done and dusted, Mrs de Burca and I decided to head south for a quick holiday. Originally I was led to believe we’d be taking the train to Phan Thiet, but it was full.
With a room booked and friends meeting us there, we didn’t want to renege on our decision. Mrs De Burca assured me she’d hire a good car with a good driver. She had a number. That turned out to be the number of the 12-year old, which is why I’m not talking to her, which is why she’s not talking to me.
The journey takes over four hours, a spell during which I constantly picture pile ups, smashing windscreens and other gruesome possibilities, or probabilities, as I believe.
But then suddenly, just when I think this journey will not end, we’re winding down a drive way to our resort tucked in along the rugged coastline of Mui Ne. We have, much to my surprise, arrived in one piece. The 12-year old did it; the precociousness of youth, says you.
I step out and breathe the salty-sea breeze deep into my lungs. I’d feel refreshed but all I can smell is the nervous sweat which has soaked my shirt through. As we walk into reception I decide to start talking again.
“Well, I’m definitely never doing that again, let’s take the train back.”
The eager receptionist overhears me and, after welcoming us to Mui Ne, informs us that the train back to Ho Chi Minh City is fully booked for at least another week, which is why I’m still not talking to Mrs de Burca, which is why she’s not talking to me.


Anonymous said...

That's the thanks I get for organizing 5 days full of sun, sea, sand, and seafood? Hmmm ...
Mrs. De Burca

elliott said...

Enjoyed this one, I did. Glad to see you incorporating principles of Time Out behavioural management into your every day life. Hope the bones are feeling stronger...

Jon Hoff said...

Sounds like you were lucky in the previous smash. It's a very real part of living here, the threat of being mashed up -- not a pleasant thought.