Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Art of Racing

Crossing the street is an art form and all around the world it is done differently. I was in Washington DC once with some friends as we jaywalked across the street, the middle aged woman behind us who was standing on the curb, stated to her friend, “Hmph. They must be from California”. Well she could have been guessing, as we were two blondes and an Asian, but I think what she was referring to was that we had crossed the street in a non-crosswalk area. The nerve of us! What were we thinking? I wasn’t aware that this was a typically Californian trait.

In fact, she may have been better off saying, “They must be from Nepal”. They cross the street wherever and whenever they want. In San Francisco, the pedestrian judges the speed of the cars and walks accordingly behind or in front of the traffic (and rarely in the crosswalk). However, try the same thing in Sacramento and just as you are about to cross the street behind the Honda that is heading your way, the Honda will slow down or even stop and wave you on. Then everyone is confused. You are not sure why they are waving at you (do they know you?) and they keep waiting for you to cross. If there are multiple lanes, other cars may come and who knows if they too decide to stop or if they are going to keep going. The rules are different everywhere.

However, the most exciting and difficult street crossing I have ever encountered has been in Vietnam. In Vietnam it is a race. A race against time. A race for your life.

The traffic in Vietnam is not only horrible and busy but there are no rules that I can see. Many people drive motorcycles and they sometimes drive on the wrong side, run red lights and pass cars on the left and or right as they see fit. They drive to fast and swerve around cars. They drive on the sidewalk. They seem to think that a honk or twenty is the only thing you need before doing whatever you want. Throw into the mix dozens each of cars, trucks, buses and bicycles and you have a melting pot of chaos.

Now, imagine crossing this jungle on foot. There are no crosswalks, and as I said before, nobody obeys the lights anyway. You have to cross in the middle. There is always traffic. It took me a while to learn how to do this. I was standing on a curb, waiting for the traffic to thin, which it wasn’t. I was wondering in my mind, “How in the H am I going to cross this mess?”

And then I saw her, my guardian angel, an old woman, about to cross the street. So I got right behind her and decided to do what she did. What she did was this. She stepped off the curb. The traffic was still whizzing by with frightening speed. She started walking across, as if she was Moses and the traffic was going to just part and let her by. The funny thing is, it did. As she walked (and I scampered behind her), the traffic went around her. They judged her speed and avoided her (and me, since I was basically clinging to her Vietnamese pajamas).

I was amazed. So this is how they do it! Now I know. The key is to remain calm and to keep the same pace. If you jump out of the way or speed up, you may get run over. You have to just set your pace and stick with it and they will go around you. And this is how you win the race.

Imagine trying to cross this!
This was taken from my Travel Spot blog and was one of the popular posts so I thought I would share it again.


  1. Sounds scary!
    Glad I found your neat blog via FTLOB!
    I love to travel but unfortunately haven't been able to do it much because of my jobs and school. BUT, I will be leaving for Argentina in 2 months. I'm hoping I can travel all around South America! Maybe I'll have some stories for your blog.

    Following you now! :)


  2. Stopping by from Comment, scary! In Seattle they hand out tickets for jay walking, but go to New York and you better just cross when there's a break in traffic. Sounds like you found just the right person to follow!

  3. As we were waiting at a light to cross the street on Saturday morning while out on our group run, we talked about different culture's approach to crossing the street. It was funny becuase one girl told us how she got a ticket for jay walking in college here in Minnesota. And then one girl told a story similar to yours about a time when an old woman helped her cross the street somewhere in India. :)