Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Crossing a busy street in Hanoi

The traffic in Hanoi, or in any other big city in Vietnam for that matter, resembles what you’d see in most Indian cities. Endless streams of vehicles -largely two-wheelers- that ignore lane markings and occupy every little inch of road available. If they are not at a zebra crossing, pedestrians don’t have an easy rule book to follow to cross such streets. In India you typically use one of two approaches. If you are brazen enough, you take on the traffic, start walking towards the other end brushing off the raucous honking or the gentle abuses that come your way. In the second approach, you rely on your fitness, finding the windows of opportunity and bolting across.

In Vietnam they have settled on a third approach that works beautifully even on 6-lane streets where the Indian strategies would fall apart. Here’s how it works. Your common sense might beg you against it but you walk straight into the flow of traffic towards your destination on the other side of the road. Provided you keep a slow constant pace, traffic - without slowing or stopping - will go around you at a reasonably safe distance like you see in those wind tunnel flow visualizations. This boggles the mind because the approach requires a tacit contract between the drivers (who need to judge whether to go in front of you or behind you depending on your speed) and the pedestrians (who need to stick to predictable speed and direction). Best of all, you'll not hear a single beep of the horn. If you take the leap of faith the first couple of times you’ll eventually feel like a modern day, freshwater version of Moses as the river of traffic splits and rejoins around you while you travel to the bank in an invisible bubble.
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