Crossing the Street in Saigon

The first step takes courage. Mopeds and motorcycles stream by in a blur of petroleum fumes, honking and beeping. Trucks and cars surge past. The light turns red, but no one stops. The streets pour together in a snarl. Ahead, my husband holds onto our son and older daughter—motorcyclists gush around them like they’re rocks in the river. There’s a short gap near me. I step off the curb holding my younger daughter’s hand.

Saigon traffic

Instinct says, “Run.” But I’ve been told to walk slowly, let the vehicles flow around me. My husband and other children disappear behind a truck. If you move slowly, drivers will avoid you. If you run they won’t be able predict your path. We take another slow step. The traffic parts around us.

Sometimes drivers miscalculate. On our trip, we’ve seen accidents. A streak of red on the pavement. A body under a truck, head crushed, brains spilling out. Another wrapped in a straw mat on the side of the road, incense and candles besides it.

We’re halfway across now—it’s just as much work to go back. My husband and other children are already on the other side. I plod slowly, numbly with my daughter’s hand in mine. Motorists rumble by. One quick step onto the curb. I look back at the moving mass. I can’t believe that later we’ll go back.

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