The following is an entry from another guest blogger, Rudy Birtler. Rudy is an Intercontinental MBA Student who comments on our group experience in Hanoi:
Just as we became comfortable navigating Beijing and had the rudimentary communication skills mastered to get us to and from our hotel, the embassy and the hospital, we all piled into our short bus and headed to the airport for a flight to Vietnam. The humidity and heat were a noticeable contrast to our weeks in Beijing. The moisture in the Hanoi air was a welcome change from the dry, chalky atmosphere that left grit in your teeth and soot on your face. We gathered around our latest guide, Huang, and bobbed and weaved through the travelers to our bus.
The Vietnamese buildings were narrow structures, not altogether unlike those in Amsterdam. Taxes are calculated on frontage, so these structures were only ten feet wide, but often 100 feet long and four or five stories high. The ground floor is typically the business run by the family and then subsequent floors provide living space. The roof was an open air space and some dwellings had rooftop shrines.
Most fascinating for me were the motorbikes, called Hondas, no matter what the brand. Everyone was on a motorbike. Right and left lanes are general guidelines to be followed, and red and green lights appeared to be suggestions. The roadways were seas of humming motorbikes punctuated by the occasional automobile. Our tour bus stood out like the Titanic as the motorbikes passed on us on both sides and zipped in front of us. Women rode motorbikes with heels and fashionably coordinated helmets, entire families rode motorbikes; the most shocking (to my western eyes) vehicle I witnessed had a five-toddler on the handlebars, dad driving, infant in mom’s lap and grandma on the back. Females rode sidesaddle behind their male companions and seeing three to a bike was not uncommon. The motorbikes whirred and buzzed like angry hornets from a nest, beeping and beckoning to each other compensating for those in front of them.
The $80,000 lesson was crossing the street. Pedestrians are to wait for a slight break in the traffic and slowly begin to walk. A slow traverse to the other side of the street will give the motorbike riders enough time to steer to the pedestrian’s right or left. A fast start, running or darting are recipes for inevitable collisions. In some ways it’s like walking on a cliff. Instead of avoiding a downward gaze, you’re best not to look — just concentrate on getting to the other side. Surprisingly, during our week in Vietnam the closest thing to a wreck I witnessed was a single rider who fell off his bike. I think the incident was more a situation of operator error — perhaps an early start to the New Year festivities.