VietNamNet Bridge – A few years ago an American academic was writing a paper on chaos theory. He based his research on the flow of traffic in Ha Noi. Two weeks after arriving in Viet Nam, he was hit by a motorbike and seriously injured.
Now there’s a moral there somewhere, something like, brains and motorbikes don’t go, or, look left and right before crossing the road.
Wacky races: Motorists jockey for position on an inner-city street in Ha Noi. — File Photos
Even if God doesn’t play dice with the world, as Einstein famously said, crossing the road in Ha Noi, or HCM City for that matter, is gambling with death.
According to chaos theory, in a dynamic system, small differences in initial conditions yield widely diverging outcomes, rendering long-term prediction impossible.
So was the academic being foolhardy? After all, the chances of being hit by a motorbike or car while crossing the road, let alone while standing around on street corners, is fairly high, even predictable, rendering his research kind of meaningless. But one thing his budding thesis did prove beyond any shadow of a doubt was that the streets of Ha Noi are a dangerous place for living things.
I’ve been here for over four years, and I ride a motorbike. I have fallen off five times, none seriously, which is a fairly good record. I might not have won the lottery, but at least I’m alive. However, I have seen a number of fatalities.
So what can be done about it? A mass-transit system would certainly help shuffle commuters around more efficiently and get some people out of their cars or off their motorbikes. I remember living in Bangkok before the Skytrain was built and it was a living hell, congested, dusty, noisy and stressful. And Ha Noi is fast heading down that road.
To be fair, the country has been busy fighting for centuries, but that is in the past, and something needs to be done about the present chaos on the streets.
Motorcycle mayhem: The commute to work is a daily battle.
Of course, every major city in the world is plagued by traffic problems. It should be borne in mind that London was experiencing congestion problems in the 1850s as overland trains were not permitted to travel into the city centre and commuters had to take horse-drawn carriages and trams. The solution was The Underground, or Tube as it is was later affectionately known.
But a mass-transit system here won’t improve drivers’ behaviour on the roads. A South Korean friend of mine who has lived in Ha Noi for over a decade, believes the Vietnamese have yet to get used to motorised transport. Certainly, car drivers have adopted some strange practices, such as turning on their hazard lights to indicate, they intend to go straight on rather than left or right when approaching a crossroads. Another peculiarity is the flashing of the headlights. Now in the West, that is an indication that the other motorist or a pedestrian is being given the right of way. If you were to take this as a signal you can cross the road here in Viet Nam, you wouldn’t last long.
But it’s not all bad news. Lawlessness has its advantages. I have never been given a speeding ticket or fined for running a red light or driving the wrong way up a one-way street. And, I have never got a dreaded parking ticket.
So is it unkind to say that traffic in Viet Nam is chaotic? And was the US scholar wrong to base his theory of chaos on the driving habits of Hanoians? Well, I suppose it’s academic now, seeing as he didn’t get to complete his work.
VietNamNet/Viet Nam News