"It's Vietnam, be reckless," she says. We are weaving through the after-work traffic on the streets of Hanoi and I am quickly learning the rules of the road. Rule #1: focus on what's going on in front of you. Rule #2: don't pay so much attention to what's going on behind you or next to you, let the other people follow Rule #1.
All around us there are countless zooming motorbikes, honking cars, seemingly massive diesel-powered buses, pedestrians blithely strolling through traffic, and bicyclists carrying loads of vegetables and other unidentifiable goods. I would like to say that we are speeding between all of these different vehicles, James Bond chase scene-style, but that would just be a lie.
Linh is on the back of the bike and every time we go over a bump or a pothole we both feel the metal of the wheel hit the asphalt through the somewhat flat tires. I should say that this is a bicycle, not a motorcycle and we are both wondering whether walking would get us back to her house faster. My hands are clenched tightly on the handle bars and my shirt is drenched in sweat -- partly from the craziness of this lawless driving style and partly from the 100°F (humid) heat. Just a few more blocks. Just a couple more times stopping at traffic lights with a pack of motor bikes that makes the whole thing feel more like a drag race than going home from work or running errands. This was what I meant when I said I was looking for some adventure.
Linh Dao is a fellow Brown student who got the same fellowship as I to come to Vietnam to study the education system. Unlike me, however, she is actually from Vietnam and so I have been staying at her house and taking advantage of her knowledge of the city and Vietnamese for the past couple of days. We are also collaborating on a little side project related to education -- but more on that later.
My first two and a half days have been a blur of settling in, getting over jetlag from my almost 30 hour trip, marveling at the possibility of flying all the way across the world to be here, and starting to think once again about my research project. And trying meal after meal of delicious food. Such as...
More on the projects, the questions, and the food later. Stay tuned.