Thursday, March 01, 2007

Returning To The Village

"Ve que, nhe?" was the offer and, with a nod towards learning more about our in-laws and the culture, we obviously accepted.

Two days before Tet, the first day most businesses let their employees off and closed down, is our planned departure. We head out mid-morning to "ve que," or return to one's village. This idea is shared by millions of other Hanoians, who consider home somewhere other than this metropolis that's about to take a slumber.

We are conspicuously cramped in a little European sedan, driving through the city to reach the main artery heading south. Buzzing around us are mainly the chariots of choice, Honda motos. You look at other travelers and imagine their stage in life: the entire family going to visit the grandparents; the college kid with a backpack strapped to their person, filled with gifts of alcohol, cigarettes and perhaps dirty laundry for their parents; the grizzled divorcee, with a suitcase bungee corded to the rear rack, or more impressively, clutched by the handle. I envision a lapse in physical stamina 30km into the trip, a loose grip and Johnny Walker Gold being inadvertently dispensed for his deceased homies. Offerings are part of this holiday, he would think, in consolation.
Upon reaching a divided four lane highway, I settle into my discomfort and begin counting down the two hour trip. It's a beautiful day and the constant airing of one's grievances via push button horns begin to meld together and fall into the background. I can handle this for two hours, I think. The respite is short lived, as the road narrows and becomes undivided.

We are outside the city now. The easily traversed highway disappears along with the brick and glass towers that led to their creation. Rice fields and smaller hamlets along the way only support this slim corridor we're on. How soon will the burgeoning middle class, traveling en masse alongside in this hallway, demand that their travels be expedited by the promise of wider roads? Or will the bureaucrats of those same localities obviate these complaints by laying down a ribbon of asphalt-cum-yellow bricks?

The incessant traffic leaves little time to ponder. A motorbike passes on the right. A motorbike passes on the left. They are both oncoming traffic. Don’t worry, this is Vietnam, you’re going the right way. To make better time, we start to play chicken with incoming vehicles on the other lane. Staring down a truck, horns and lights ablaze, bearing down on you is quite an effective remedy for clock watching. I can’t take my eyes off the scenes constantly unfolding through the windshield. If there is doom to be had in such driving techniques, I want to see it happen.

After a long ride filled with latent fear, we make it to the village. It takes about five minutes on packed dirt roads which frame family rice paddy plots to get to the house. Along the way, we nearly squeeze every bicyclist or moto we pass into the flooded crop beds. I wonder if they resent all the village folks who’ve left for the city. I wonder why they don’t know the hand signal for flipping the bird.

1 comment:

Thong said...

One time, this kid ambushed me on my bike at 2am. He tried to whack me with some stick. I was so flabbergasted by his gulliness, so I started flicking him off, to which he stared at me blankly. I always thought the middle finger was universal.