It was good to get back home so that I could start making money instead of spending it. Spring has come to Hanoi. With summer just around the corner the streets are now littered with the flip-flops of small children and we are receiving more rain than I thought possible. One rainy Tuesday morning around 6am I woke up to my phone ringing. It was a new company that I was working for – they were asking me to cover a class that started in 45 minutes on the other side of the city. I knew that they were going to ask something like that, which is why I normally just don’t answer my phone that early. But at this particular juncture, I could use the extra money. So I told them okay.
I remember a common 'practice-conversation' that I would have with my students is ‘what is your favorite season?’ and it always struck me as a bit odd that nobody ever said springtime. I should have recognized this as an ominous sign. The spring here means a month and a half to two months of solid rain. I don’t mean that it rains often – no – I mean that it will rain for 2 weeks continuously before it stops even for a few hours. I was at a birthday party once in the beginning of the spring when the rain was just beginning and a girl was saying how she had woken up a couple days ago, looked at the forecast for the next couple weeks and booked a plane ticket out of here on the spot. She went into work that day and quit her job.
I don't want to come off as complaining about such a trivial thing as rain, but, at the moment, I live life on the back of a motorbike. And driving a motorbike becomes dramatically more dangerous (among other things) in the rain – nobody can see and the road becomes slippery. This would be one thing if I worked normal 9 to 5 office hours, but I freelance, which means that I drive around all day from place to place… always in the rain... usually in apocalyptic, rush-hour Vietnamese traffic. My shoes haven't been dry in weeks. Not even close to it. I smell like a wet dog.
But I needed the cash. So I got on my bike and drove out into the nightmare at 6:30am. I had been to this school just one time before and was pretty confident that I would be able to find it. But once I got out there – the rain – the noise – the tiny streets – the traffic – I was lost. It doesn’t happen often anymore but it still happens. And there are no words to describe the 3rd world chaos that is morning rush hour in the boonies of Hanoi – especially in the rain. It would make for some epic pictures but I can’t be bothered to go out and take them. It gets stressful out there...
I drove up and down this crowded street 3 times looking for the school until the traffic came to a complete halt. I was already late at this point. I put my feet down in the muddy puddle I had gotten myself trapped in and inched forward with the rest of the traffic. To my left were the cars, to my right was a line of buses and in front of me and behind me were vast numbers of motorbikes.
I inched forward again. And then everybody stopped again. Everybody except a black car that was creeping up behind me that is. If there's 1 thing a Vietnamese driver will never do, it's come to a complete stop before they absolutely have to. They always need to be moving, even if it defies all common sense. It is a cultural quirk that I am quickly losing patience for.
‘Whatever, he’ll stop’ I thought to myself. 'He's got nowhere to go.'
Still, it drew nearer and nearer – now it was millimeters away from my bike. Honestly though, that is pretty normal still. So this was no cause for alarm.
And then, in slow motion, the tire rolled over my foot. I could see the car go up and back down on the side that had my foot under it. This occurrence was something that I always had a weird fear of and now, here it was, happening.
‘OWCH!’ I yelled, surprised. I looked over at the car, which was practically on top of me.
A while ago I wrote an article explaining the 'rules of the road' in Vietnam (you can read it HERE). Rule #4: Hate the game, not the player. Well, in a moment of weakness, I disregarded that rule and yelled this instead: ‘ARE YOU F**KING KIDDING ME?? YOU JUST RAN OVER MY F**KING FOOT!!’
I screamed it through the car window. It takes a lot to push me over the edge, and yet, I was literally screaming in the middle of a crowd without a second thought to what anybody else around me thought. But just then, the rain and fog on the car window cleared and I saw a 6-year-old Vietnamese girl sitting in the passenger seat looking up at me, terrified. It was pretty disarming.
And that was the moment. I’d had it with Hanoi. I came, I saw, I conquered – and now it’s time to move on. To be clear, I actually love Hanoi but the weather mutates this beautiful, interesting city into a freaking monster. It was time for a new challenge – something different. I already knew that I would be leaving soon regardless, but this was my catalyst to actually start making moves. Obviously I wouldn't be going anywhere for a few months at least, but it was time to start putting the gears in motion.
My foot hurt, a lot, but I collected myself and continued my forward crawl until I reached an over-hang where I could safely get out my phone without it getting too wet. First, I gave a quick inspection to my tender, bruised foot. I determined that it was okay. Then I called my employer and apologized for the fact that I was about to go home. My foot throbbed beneath me as a river of traffic inched by me in driving rain like a big, irritable, dirty glacier. I gave a sigh and got back out onto the road to go home.
That was the week I pulled my resume together. My time in Vietnam is coming to a close. It’s time to find a new home. Not America yet… but not Vietnam anymore.