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Tales from the Taxi

So another evening and another taxi ride home.  Traffic was horrible this evening.  And my taxi driver was certifiably crazy.  While I appreciated his interest in practicing English (the teacher in me is ever-present), I wasn’t really in the mood to speak in broken sentences, smile politely and uncomfortably and make nice.  It was a long day.  Yup – not really in the mood to talk to a crazy cab driver after my really “fun” 12+ hour day.

I am closer and closer to renting a motorbike because for ONCE I would just like to step into a taxi and…

  • not have it smell like super stinky sweaty something or rather (I am constantly reminded of the Seinfeld episode with the valet driver/car smell).  I also don’t love it when whatever the smell is in the car gets on my clothes and I can faintly smell that stench all day (I have a strong sense of smell).
  • have the driver actually, truly, really know where we are going
  • upon giving directions to a clueless driver, have them actually listen instead of argue with or ignore me
  • when pointing which direction to go, the driver doesn’t follow the line down my arm and finger to see the direction I’m pointing in
  • on excursions different from the home/work route, the driver doesn’t insist on taking the long way around, making that extra buck
  • the driver actually knows how to operate the vehicle – for example, understands that you cannot shift into 5th gear at 20MPH.  AND that you cannot take off from a red light in 3rd gear OR that the rumbling of the car means you are in too high a gear for 7MPH
  • the driver doesn’t answer his cell phone while driving, slowing down and nearly causing numerous accidents – driving in Hanoi requires your full attention.
  • the driver doesn’t madly beep his horn, flick his lights and tail the cars in front of him.  When this happens, all I can think is that he would be a casualty of road rage in Los Angeles. I have not yet gone numb to the horn honking.  Hope not to.
  • not wanting to use the passenger floor board as my imaginary brake pedal, and sometimes gas pedal too!
  • not quickly shut my eyes in fear that we are going to cream the lady and her kids on the motorbike
  • the driver doesn’t hit a motorbike and then get out, scream and yell at the woman, escaping blame for the incident simply because he’s yelling and she’s not because she probably slightly in shock and a bit banged up.
  • the driver “actually” has money in his wallet to make change.  I’m not that friggin’ generous to leave you double the fare.
  • step out of the taxi without getting dust, dirt or some sort of muck on my pants

And while we are on the topic of transportation, I just have to say here that the motorbike drivers here totally freak me out.  I feel like I’m being stalked when walking around.  It’s so creepy to be strolling down your street and hear from the shadows of darkness, “Moto?”  And this is all said in low voices with a boogey man in the voice.  Seriously – freaks me out.  I especially hate it when I am walking roadside and a motorbike driver approaches from behind and nearly whispers in my ear as he’s slowed his bike next to me, “Moto?”  We’re lucky I haven’t punched someone yet and instead have acquired the ability to give them the look of death which requires no words and they drive on.  Seriously.  Me no likey!!!

My buddy Pete has put me in touch with his friend who rents motorbikes.  So be prepared, my friends.  I may just take to the streets over the weekend.  The freedom of driving around whenever and wherever I want has become irresistible!

Whoah! Chill Out!

On my way home this evening, I had to stop at the ATM, the market and walk home in this sticky humidity for about 10 minutes – in my work clothes and heels.  Yuck.  Running these errands after work allowed me to get home by about 7pm.  Not so bad. I was pretty happy.

As I headed down the ramp, turning the corner toward the main part of Lane 31, some motorbikes came up the ramp and I could hear a few behind me.  I learned super quickly to stay to the outside of this 90 degree turn – I nearly got run over 3 times the first time I walked home on the inside of the turn.

As all the motorbikes met in the middle, a young kid without a helmet thought it a good idea to pass other bikers going up the ramp.  The foreigner on the big motorcycle going down the ramp did me a favor by staying on his path and not swerving to miss the kid, nor to run over me.  The kid’s biked smacked the side of the foreigner’s bike and then bounced off the side of another bike he was trying to pass.  His bike hit the pavement, he sort of popped off the seat and managed not to get run over.

Everyone paused.  The foreign guy looked at the kid and in a thick British accent yelled, “It serves you fucking right. (pause) It serves you fucking right.”  And then he zoomed off.  Smart of him to do before he really drew too much attention to himself.  But there was no, “Are you OK?”  or even an ‘”I’m sorry” on either side of the collision.

All I could think was – WOW.  I really hope that I never get in an accident once I do actually get a motorbike.  And on top of that, I really hope I never get that bitter and angry about life in Vietnam.  The foreign dude had a super red face and was really, really pissed.

This week has been a tough week for me professionally.  No doubt, life here requires a bit of grit.  I am a bit overwhelmed at the moment with all that is on my plate.  And I feel I don’t have a good balance between personal and professional life.  I really don’t want to feel guilty during all the moments in my free time when I am not chained to my computer working.  What has become the norm is that my time during the day is not my own.  I spend FAR too much of it helping my staff figure out how to do their job, editing and proofing English, approving artwork and putting out fires.  By the time the end of the day comes, I often feel I have accomplished nothing, and long to go home to peace and quiet, simply so I can actually cross of one item on my TO DO list!!!  But we all know how that goes.  You arrive home exhausted and spent, and very little of what you turn out in the evening is actually quality stuff.  I long for a “do not disturb” sticker for my forehead.  Even then, I think my staff would ignore it.

I am still traveling on a windy path trying to find my way here in Vietnam.  I wrote to my friend Holly today:

I am also struggling with the fact that our local staff here are just not up to speed – to put it politely.  I spend so much of my day being teacher, mentor and coach, that sometimes I feel like a kindergarten teacher instead of a Director, Sales & Marketing.  The role of teacher is not foreign to me (obviously), but when they don’t know how to do something or a poor decision costs us business, it’s hard for me to accept this and not get upset. And “upset” is not an emotion which is OK to display in this culture.  So I’m finding my way of how to get things done and how to steer the horse to water AND make it drink!!!

The Vietnamese, while they have many good qualities about them, lack some very basic skills which would help them better succeed in today’s modern business world.  Their English is actually pretty good, but decision making, organization, professionalism, work ethic and others are lacking.  Work ethic is a biggie.  I think what gets me is that I end up spending numerous additional hours in the office or at home doing my own projects/work because in the regular working hours I am all too busy helping them do their job.  And so when I get a “Where are we on the ABC project?” from my higher-ups, I get so frustrated, feel stressed out and allow myself to feel so inadequate.  And that’s not a pleasant feeling!  I have yet to feel like I am reaching my professional theme this year – Knock it Outta Da Park!

I am going to Bangkok this weekend for a health check and a shopping excursion.  And a break.  I need to get out of Hanoi on non-business related matters.  Never mind that most of my shopping will be for work clothes, a business card holder and shoes suitable for the office.  I’m spending time just for me, and it is important to replenish my enthusiasm from time to time.

There is no question that life in Hanoi, life is this complex and fascinating culture of Vietnam is much more of a challenge than I anticipated.  There is simply no comparison between Japan and Vietnam.  Two totally different animals.  After nearly 8 months here, I would say it is about time that reality smacks me in the face and I allow myself to feel a bit of culture shock.  I think I’ve avoided it quite nicely by hiding behind the “I’m new” motto.  Now that I am in my good and sturdy home, now that the work has piled upon my desk, that I have made some friends and figured some things out about life here in this 999 year old city….I realize I have to buckle up and prepare myself for a very bumpy ride.  Bumpy but rewarding.

The important thing to note is that I am sitting in the driver’s seat and I am ready for a super long road trip.  I still don’t know what is in store, but I am ready.  A bit shaken and in need of a good night’s sleep, but ready for more.  I really want to find out where this journey will take me.

On the Bright Side,


Motorbike Wars

Morning Commute – This is what my commute looks like in the morning.  And this is actually a good day.  This is not congested at all.


The day I get my own motorbike is growing near.  I need the freedom to come and go as I please and I am growing quite tired of relying on motorbike and taxi drivers.

I’m particularly surprised with how little English the cab drivers speak, and by how often I am instructing them which turns to make and where to go.  Because of their lack of English, when you show them and address and try to confirm if they know it or not, all you get is an “OK OK OK”.  And numerous times, the guy who says “OK” and seems to understand, makes a wrong turn or takes the long way around or has to pull over to consult a map – never mind that I am trying to tell him that I know where we are going!  But I could go on for hours about taxis in Hanoi.  Let’s stay on the topic of motorbikes…

I’ve talked about the Tang man before.  He’s my driver in the morning.  I send a text message at night for the time to pick me up in the morning like

3.20.09  8:00am ok?

And he replies with a simple “ok”.  Rudimentary, but it works. I don’t speak Vietnamese, he doesn’t speak English.  It’s a classic case of k.i.s.s.

But recently I found a motorbike driver who stays around my work area.  Mr. Ha speaks a little English, is a safe driver and can be at my work in five minutes.  So I developed a good system.  The Tang man takes me to work.  Mr. Ha takes me home.  Win-Win-Win.

Just before Berlin, Mr. Ha went out to the countryside to visit family.  He called to tell me he wouldn’t be available.  I told him I’d call him after Berlin.  Cool.

When I came back from Berlin, the Tang man picked me up the next morning.  I had the receptionist explain that I forgot to tell him I went out of town and that I apologize for not contacting him before my trip.  He said it was no problem, but asked why I never call him to pick me up at work. I had to remind him that he told me he’s busy at night taking my friends Anna or MJ to their gig at night.  He said to call him anyway and that if he’s busy, so be it, but if he’s free, he’d like to take me home.  Fair enough.

So, feeling a bit of jet lag in the first days back, I asked him to be at the office at 6pm.  And I did this for the past three nights because, frankly, I’m exhausted.  I can barely keep my eyes open at work and just need to ease back into the Vietnamese clock.  And I always thought I did pretty good with jet lag.  Whatever – anyway…

Well yesterday, I get a call during the day from Mr. Ha.  I missed the call and figured he was telling me that he was back from the countryside or on his way there and simply wanted to check in with me.  He’s a good salesman in that way.

After I got home and got cozy on the couch with my laptop, about 8:30pm.  I saw that Mr. Ha was calling again.  I didn’t want to deal, frankly.  An hour later, I was about to hit the sack and Mr. Ha called again.  Surely that would be the last time.  He can’t be that desperate for my business, nor that curious about my whereabouts.  Could he?

I drifted off into dreamland only to to be jolted awake, thinking my alarm was going off.  10:30pm.  I rolled over, I just want to get some sleep, people!!!

The last call came at 11:50pm.  Then I was angry.  And I didn’t pick up the phone because I didn’t want to yell profanity at the man.  But I was extremely bothered by this.  Was he drunk?  Why would a motorbike driver ever need to call me at 11:50pm. EVER???

The next day, I had one of my staff members, Mr. Nam help me.  I told him the situation.  He thought it also strange and unacceptable.  So he called Mr. Ha for me.  Mr. Ha apologized profusely but said that he was very concerned because he had asked around and heard from others that I had found a new motorbike driver.  He wanted to talk with me about this because he asked and who-knows-who told him they’d seen me with another driver.  Mr. Nam explained that if I needed his services, I would call him, but asked Mr. Ha not to call me again.


Like I need this.  Now I’m supposed to feel like I’m cheating every time I hop on the back of someone else’s motorbike?  He asked other people about my motorbike habits? WTF???

Mr. Ha needs to chill out and realize that the Tang man, who I met when I traveled here last year, is my main biker dude.  And Mr. Ha needs to figure out that the moment he called me more than once in a day, and at 11:50 at night – he lost my business for good.  What a ding dong.

Not only am I tired of relying on others to get around town, but I do not enjoy being made a pawn in some weirdo motorbike driver war.  I’ve got my heart set on a Honda Airblade, red, slick and automatic, and at this point I don’t think I can buy it quick enough.

On the Bright Side,



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