In my highly acclaimed Motorbiking I – written last year, also from Vietnam – I told of fishing boats and traffic chaos, towering Buddhas and downing beers, curving alleyways and writhing sea snakes. I’ll return to snakes another time; this opens up new terrain.
It’s understood by one and all here, on pain of an early exit from this Vale of Tears, that in lieu of any recognisable highway code, Might is Right. As I put it in Motorbiking I, “four wheels (rare) trump two, while sixteen (rarer still) do the same in quadruplicate”. But though the “right of way” message has yet to reach Vietnam, there is a rudimentary understanding that if it’s not too inconvenient and if there’s no reason (such as lopping a few seconds off a journey) for doing otherwise, it’s quite polite to drive on the right. Naturally, nobody wants to get too boringly teutonic about this; I speak less of rules than guidelines.
So when hiring a chopper for the first time, the farang dutifully following said guideline should expect on a frequent basis to encounter a fellow road user doing the opposite. As indicated, there may be many reasons for this and we can’t rule out anglophilia to the point of expressing love of All Things Blighty by Keeping Left. But if that were all, where would be the fun? To this entry level scenario, and in case you haven’t grasped this yet he’s coming straight at you on an inside bend, we can add a few touches. He’ll be conducting an animated cell phone argument; that goes without saying. More unusual, however, is the fact this hypothetical dude is not on two wheels but at the bridge of a substantial 4WD. There’s neither malice nor arrogance at play here; simply custom and practice. Left or right of the road, it would no more occur to him to adjust speed or vector for you, a biker, than you’d think to choose a route to the pub on the basis of minimising body count of crushed insects.
There’s more of course. It’s pitch black but, as his personal contribution to combating climate change and light pollution, the fucker has his headlights switched off. Welcome to Vietnam!
As a kid my top read was Victor but once in a while I’d catch Valiant. Along with Eagle, these were to Beano and Dandy as Grauniad etc to Sun and Mirror. Where Beano made you laugh (assuming your working class aspirational folks allowed you anywhere near it) Victor thrilled, inspired and prepared you for virile and worthy manhood. Valiant went one better, imparting top tactics for top tacticians of survival. Circa 1962 its front page header wanted to know, What Would You Do? Below, in text and image, it set out such likely scenarios as being trapped by a forest blaze, attacked by a rabid dog or chased by Chinese triads on a building site. Your task was to figure a winning strategy before turning to the expert view on page 8. (Of course, you had to hold page 8 to a mirror to decode its wisdom: couldn’t have every Tom, Dick and Harry knowing such things.)
In the spirit of Valiant, then, what would you do in this situation? Returning from culturally uplifting visit to 7 th Century Cham ruins, you’re tootling along at a steady 35 kph on hired yammerhammer. Either side the road is a two metre deep dry ditch.This is a major highway, as indicated by the fact it’s metalled and by its width. You could, at a push, have two trucks pass one another so long as nothing else was on the same stretch at the same time. Which as luck would have it, is about to happen now; except there is something else on the same stretch at the same time. You . Using information supplied, send us your answer. Five shilling postal order for best solution. The judges’ verdict is final.