Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Motorcycle Diaries

Vietnam time: 5:30 PM Tuesday
DC time: 6:30 AM Tuesday

I'm still struggling a bit on sleep patterns. I have returned to my Western ways and am finding myself waking at 5:00 AM. Truthfully, that's pretty much the time I normally wake up at home, however my classmates like to hit the bars in the evenings. Last night, after an interesting 'fusion' dinner, 6 of us went to bed while the others went to a cowboy bar. Seriously, if I'm in Vietnam, going to a cowboy bar seems bizarre.

It was hard to tell if last night's dinner was just 'off'' or I was still suffering the remainders of jet lag. I'm concluding that it was a combination of both, but I didn't care for the meal as much as lunch. We had a choice of two meals and I picked the one with the better dessert, lemon sherbet and fruit. I totally violated my "try everything" rule and you know what, it bit me in the ass. The sherbet was NASTY. Imagine lemon ice with sweet (REALLY SWEET) cream. This is one of my worst traveling traits; trying to find one thing that is a comfort of home. It never turns out to be what I hoped for and just pisses me off that I didn't stick with trying something new.

The camera is fully functioning again. You can tell this is a hotel that caters to Americans since the outlets actually accommodate US-based plugs. That actually took me a day to figure out since the outlets have a million holes and I never would have guessed they could take a laptop plug.

Today we visited three companies: State Bank of Vietnam, State Securities Commission and CMC Group. The State Bank again highlighted the relationship of the foreign banks moving into the markets and increasing competition for local banks. This influx of the foreign system has actually helped Vietnam improve their technology, training and service to the citizens of the country. The State Securities Commission (shown in the photo on the left) discussed how companies go public to sell stock on one of the two exchange markets in Vietnam. Private and state-funded companies have different methods and the SSC is also implementing country-wide training programs to teach people how to invest in these traded companies. Currently, there are only 293 companies being traded on the market and only 98 licensed security firms.

CMC group was a company that focused on outsourcing. Their primary market is Vietnam and they are expanding into Europe and Japan. One of their key customers is the higher education finance, IT and enrollment markets which was particularly interesting. I was able to contribute to the conversations since my company deals with the business offices of colleges & universities. In America, you see most of the outsourcing in service areas like food or even security. Rarely is it done in the business office to the extent it is done here. It was very interesting

One of the most interesting aspects of the culture here is the motorcycles. This is the vehicle of choice and most families will only have one with which to handle all of the family's duties. Cars are too expensive and are taxed quite heavily due to quantity restrictions. Most families will even bring their motorcycles inside the house in the evenings since parking spaces are limited.

It is not uncommon to see 2-4 people or giant bundles of groceries/goods balanced on the bikes as they swerve and in and out of traffic. Rules are generally not followed and no one yields for traffic. As an outsider, there seems to be no laws, but rather a general understanding of what the other drives expect you to do. Weird and yet awkwardly refined all at the same time.

It is like watching a school of fish. One person takes the lead into the intersection and then everyone fills in behind from all directions. The light turns green and it is a mass, chaotic dispersal and the bikes all go in different directions. Some follow in unison and others cut their own way only to be replaced a different 'school' of bikes. No one travels in single order or follows a protocol and yet it just works itself out. Motorcycles cut across intersections and swerve next to buses all the time like a graceful ballet.

Now this beauty comes at a price. It is said that 30 people per day die from traffic-related deaths due to motorcycle accidents. The helmets most people wear look like our bicycle helmets and you can see babies sleeping in passengers arms as the drivers speed through traffic. Commuters do their best to get where they are going and still find themselves being crowded to the curbs by buses or trucks. While it can be beautiful to watch, we will still cringe as we witness this daily commute.

All motorcycles are parked on the sidewalks and it is the pedestrians who must walk into the street if needed. You can find 30-50 bikes parked outside buildings and 400-500 under the ramps of the highway.

We have dinner on our own tonight so I'll let you know how that goes tomorrow. Here's a few more pictures for your enjoyment.

A typical street scene

My hotel room is the middle one on the lower level



Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

I heard something - in the context of China, I think - about how pedestrians are supposed to cross the street. I guess you step off the curb and walk in a straight line at a steady pace and the motorcycles will wave around you. I don't know if that's true, or if I'd be willing to test it out with my life, but it makes sense.

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that Mr. Sue ?

8:12 PM  

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