The Taxi Way
The taxi pulls away from the crowd of cars and pedestrians at Noi Bai International Airport, wiggles and worms its way through the congestion, and zips toward the road that leads to Ha Noi. I roll down the window and the humid July air, tempered by a light rain, shoves its way inside.
On the main road, we are joined by a fleet of mopeds, or ‘motos,’ as they are called in Viet Nam. They appear suddenly on all sides of us, unrestricted, it seems, by the concept of lanes. Five minutes into the trip, I learn that it is the horn that dictates the rules of the road: drivers toot them incessantly to let others know their whereabouts, to warn each other, and to establish dominance in a straightforward manner that has nothing to do with road rage.
Merchants who are transporting a variety of goods ride motos carrying live and dead animals, construction materials, or piles of astonishingly large fruit and leafy greens. Other motos transport entire families: fathers and mothers sandwich small children, including toddlers who stand on the seats, fingers curled around parents’ shoulders. Faces are obscured by smog masks and rain poncho hoods.
Rice paddies flank the road, tended to by water buffalo and farmers too intent on plucking green shoots from the water to care about the hectic flow of traffic. The cabbie careens nonchalantly through the mass of vehicles, tooting and accelerating.
I wait for the accident, know it is imminent. I appear to be the only one who is stunned. But then I spot a crate of rabbits strapped to the back of a moto; they huddle spooked and shivering in the cramped quarters, blinking rapidly each time the wheels hit a bump or their moped swerves quickly to dodge a car. I want to rescue them from the moto, plunk them down on the car seat beside me, and comfort them.
I have read that motos are dangerous and that one should always, always, wear a helmet. No one here is wearing a helmet.
It is my first day in Viet Nam, and I vow to stick to taxis.