I figured out the secret of success in life while learning how to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Let me explain.
I’ve circumnavigated a Renault Super-Cinq through the confluence of twelve roads at the Étoile traffic circle in Paris. I’ve fought the crowds on foot through the streets of Manila, Hong Kong, Beijing and Guangzhou. One time, I even stepped in front of a throng of Lululemon-bedecked, West Van yummy-mummies ordering their morning grande, extra-hot, non-fat, low-foam, extra shot vanilla lattés at Starbucks. So I understand the threat to one’s person when crossing against the flow.
But nothing prepared me to wade into the vehicular insanity of Ho Chi Minh City. Home to 10 million people and an equal number of motorcycles. I estimate 10% of the vehicles are cars, taxis and Ubers, while the rest are motorcycles and (for the hardy) bicycles. No one walks. Motorcycles are used to transport what SUVs and trucks carry in North America…..bags of rice piled on the seat behind the motorcycle driver, taller than his head. A bouquet of wire lanterns ten feet in diameter. An ancient, hand-operated cement mixer on a wooden trailer, only connected to the motorcycle by the driver’s left hand. And a family of five: father driving, a toddler standing on a metal platform placed between dad’s feet, a 5-year-old sitting behind dad, followed by the mother, with a breastfeeding infant in the crook of her left arm, a cellphone at the end of her right. Only dad wore a helmet.
If there are driving laws, they are spectacularly ignored. Lanes are imaginative, traffic lights mere suggestions, safety a quaint fiction. More than once, I saw a motorcycle driving at the side of the road, against the traffic, on the highway.
There are few crosswalks, and their faded white lines mock the tourists as traffic speeds by, unabated. Remember watching the Tour de France on TV, and the peloton races by, maybe 200 riders in a pack, wheel to wheel, shoulder to shoulder? It’s like that, but motorcycles. Standing on the crumbling curb, you see no breaks in the traffic, no windows of opportunity, no Frogger-like path to weave back and forth, side to side.
If you wait for a convenient or safe time to cross, you will never cross. Here’s the key: forget there’s any traffic and walk straight across the road as if you’re the only one there. As Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” Also, don’t stop, hesitate, stutter-step, or look at the approaching traffic on your left (and it may come from the right!). Trust the cars and motorcycles and bicycles and tour buses and cement mixers will flow around you like water. They almost always do.
After two weeks in Vietnam’s asphalt minefields, I realized my newfound street-crossing philosophy could also be applied to achieving success in life: walk confidently, keep moving forward, and don’t break stride.