The first thing you notice about tourists in Hà Nội is that they spend a lot of time waiting on curbs. These lily whites learned to jaywalk in the forgiving streets of Boston or New York. But you are going to need some major Frogger high scores to get through a 99% motorbike river of punks who graduated from training wheels to Tron Lightcycles in early childhood. Let’s back up a bit.

In America, traffic intersections generally let one direction go through at a time, and people are anal about stopping on red, but there is some negotiation in the turn lane. In Europe, you will see more rotaries and more ad-hoc routing. In Vietnam, traffic lights and lane markings and rotaries exist but as a friendly suggestion for novices. Experts are free to dodge oncoming traffic and cut each other off at whim. The urbane and worldly shave across your bow or wake with no room for error; leaving a larger margin betrays a certain lack of skill that is, shall we say, provincial.

Horns are used constantly, not to indicate imminent disaster, but to cheerfully announce Death From Behind and would you please move over so I can pass, and everyone else yawns in polite disinterest. Even signals emit their own beeps, notifying others of your ardent desire to turn. Right of way is determined dynamically at runtime, in terrifying and Darwinian fashion. Such a scheme works quite well for Ethernet, over copper or through the proverbial aether, where packet collisions are cheap and inconsequential. In contrast, the traffic mortality rate in Hà Nội is a growing concern which claims a life every few days.

This is a long way of saying that the best pedestrians can hope for is to close their eyes and saunter across, slowly and predictably. The wheeled rivulets of going-elsewhere diverge around you like a stone in the stream. There are no lawsuits in this country, and people waste no time on being timid. They dare, and suffer misfortune quietly. Just go now, don’t wait for a break that isn’t waiting for you.

Hà Nội
Photoset at Flickr

~ by Paul Pham on 16 January 2007.

2 Responses to “traffick”

  1. Good post. You’re a good writer. I liked the ethernet, Ha Noi traffic comparison the best.

    Also, what is this Snap business that let’s me see the Flickr photo pages (and other pages) ahead of time? And why does it show the old incarnation of my blog?

  2. Thanks for reading, roomie! I have no idea how Snap works, but there is a link to

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