Seeing Wisdom in a Break #1

The critical mass was pushing its vanguard into the intersection as I glanced at the light’s countdown one more time. Fifteen. Fifteen entire seconds of rightful right of way. I usually grinned at the slow motion trespass that edges up and creeps around the waiting with five or three remaining red, stubborn and planted, immune to the weary horns. I knew to prime the brakes when nearing its equivalent in green, alert to the inevitable leaks of liberated students, or leather-sandalled retirees in slacks and business whites, or shrouded, hooded women, high heels splayed, all polka dots and insectoid designer knockoffs minimising the face poking through. This time, though, I refused to slow down.

The weather was guiltless. Early enough in the autumn day for the sun to warm without bite, heading home after two pleasant laps of Hồ Tây—nothing to hint at an oncoming pigheaded fugue. The blood blister building on the lizard brain was thought beaten and thereafter ignored. But fifteen seconds is my limit I guess. As if cosmic decree had suddenly declared it the Great Wall between eccentricity and total transport chaos.

Inviting principled catastrophe over an arbitrary maximum on common practice, especially when outnumbered, is stupid enough. Worse though: remembering the rushed assessments of space and speed. It had something calculated about it; not just indignant haze, but a moment of clear decision, “they will stop goddamnit, or we’ll see what happens”.

I clipped the front rim of an oncoming cyclist and jackknifed into one of those T-ed wheel skids. There was an audible tumble off to the periphery. More of an imposed overbalancing than a serious sideswipe. The older man was righting his bike when I pivoted round. He wasn’t ancient, and his military surplus khaki hinted at manual labour of some type, but his mouth had the striking gumminess of dental disaster. His curse was lost to scooter engines. The dismissive backhand he waved in my direction slapped away any pretensions I’d had about acculturation and the humility of the permanent visitor. A year of Vietnamese lessons evaporated. Like a halfwit crow, I could only carp “đèn xanh, đèn xanh”, “green light, green light”, until a younger onlooker’s “ok, ok” implored me to turn back and continue on. Later I realised their smile had shouldered the embarrassment that should’ve been mine. Now I just feel like an arsehole.

Hanoi’s recommending a holiday.


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