Monday, July 30, 2007

All together now – Intimacy at the traffic lights
I’ve always thought there’s a funny intimacy to the traffic in Hanoi, and I suppose Ho Chi Minh City can’t be too different. Such the volume of motorbikes when you pull up to the traffic lights (all the rage these days), everyone is huddled together en masse, waiting, in most cases impatiently, for the lights to change. And there we all are, together, for more than a moment, less than a minute. The smell of shampooed hairdos, the whiff of a high-noon bia hoi session, a fragrantly scented businessman, or businesswoman – all these scents mingle with the fumes. You glance around. You may or may not see a hip 15-year old on his father’s bike with two friends on the pillion, a gaggle of giggly girls on bicycles, a bunch of sun-kissed labourers, young glamorous couples on fancy-pants motorbikes, delivery boys encased on their own bike by eight crates of beer, a young woman holding her bicycle loaded with Bat Trang pottery upright, as well as the off-to-works, the won’t-works and usually at least one old bespectacled man with a pith helmet who judging by his incessant beeps doesn’t quite get the concept of red lights.
At traffic lights over the years, people have reached out and shook my hand, pulled the hair on my arms, deconstructed my wardrobe, tried to sell me a loaf of bread, informed me my kickstand was down; men have grinned, chic women have played coy, children have stared, smiled, laughed and wailed at me.
While waiting for red to go green, if you’re wondering what time it is, there’s plenty of folk around to ask, you can also practice your listening skills by eavesdropping on conversations around you, or if you’re feeling chipper, why not try to get a bit of impromptu banter going on yourself? Just friends you haven’t met, right? Other bonuses of static traffic are asking for directions, blowing kisses at ravishing strangers and bumping into old friends, on the minus side, there’s all that passive smoking, which reminds me I must get around to inventing the ashtray for motorbikes, which will make me a dong-millionaire one day.
Of course, no one wants to linger, you may have broken the ice and the prospect of a friendship may have flickered in your heart, but inevitably the traffic lights go green, the body of traffic lurches forward, horns blare at the stragglers, ‘di di’, forwards, onwards, away, if you don’t drive fast enough 70 metres down the road you’ll miss the green lights, then a man will pull up beside you, reach out and pull the hair on your arm. He won’t speak, but he will smile, and his eyes will say, “Remember me?”

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