On such a day as this, when Nature so unequivocally expresses her solidarity with our cause, we find it necessary to address recent rumours of a spike in the incidence of a particularly obstinate blight on public order in Hà Nội.
You are already well aware of our subtle conditioning programs’ successes. Results from the field continue to support the hypothesis that narrow, cracked, riotous pavement—in tandem with dangling wires and neck-high shade support ropes—is an effective low-level deterrent against transgressions like flânerie and sauntering. Determined miscreants may ignore the inconvenience. Most of these are snared by hubs of streetside activity, the next level of defence. Who would choose striding on over a cup of iced tea and a bowl of phở? Especially when the path ahead has already been allocated to parking space, or is filled with tiny, occupied stools, or has become a temporary marketplace, or a bar, or a repair shop?
Because trekking’s a chore: ôm chật xe máy, không đi bộ!
We are not stupid. We understand the potential for blowback in total bans. Nor are we heartless. After all, “let he who is without scuff marks cast the first stone” (we haven’t had our coffee shop shoe shine yet). No, charitably, perhaps against our better judgement, we preserve select locations where momentary deviance is tacitly tolerated. Release valves. The city’s larger bodies of water serve as natural quarantines for this errant behaviour. Places to sit and a variety of distractions are still liberally spread around. On sunny days, the lakes’ wannabe circumnavigators must duck and weave to avoid photobombing wedding parties. For the majority, their time as a delinquent eventually ends, and they drive or ride away like responsible members of society.
Walking’s not special. It’s pedestrian!
It is easy to scoff at the hapless bipeds tottering about, rolling ankles and falling over themselves, apologising every few steps for their clumsiness. Even the humble xe đạp is equipped with a suitable mounted medium of vehicular communication. Pity stirs at the sight of someone attempting to use their puny mortal voice to match the superior range and semantic complexity transmittable via air horn.
Do not be fooled. Think of the will a trucker requires to keep on truckin’ in spite of the aforementioned countermeasures. Think of how many times they must have rudely xin lỗied the offers of the noble xe ôm manning the frontlines. Think of the ideological fervour that must fuel their rejection of Hà Nội’s abundant, cheap and convenient transport options. These people are not on harmless constitutionals. These are fanatics, untouched by reason and common sense.
Vigilance is a duty! Watch those who peregrinate like a hawk!
Be especially alert for nonplussed, suspiciously sweaty foreigners. Most expatriates will learn to know better; it is the short timers, the recently arrived, that require extra attention. Their laziness and confusion can be exploited. Usher them towards one of the Du Lịch Xanh mobile spectator platforms. We know, we know, but desperate times etc. At least they’re conveniently easy to find in the Old Quarter, a potential perambulation flashpoint. Just follow the honks of the scootered legions jammed in behind them.
Loath as we are to admit it, our fair city has yet to attain the same levels of stroll sequestering infrastructure as that developed in Los Angeles or Bangkok. The multi-level highways, tangled noodles of concrete, bigger, scarier cars…perhaps we can only dream.
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