People-Powered Tools In Vietnam And The Ozarks

| 9/10/2013 8:31:00 AM

If ever I hear the cartoonish beep-beep of a motorbike, even in the middle of Missouri, I will immediately think of Vietnam.

I had stated emphatically for years that my feet will never leave Ozarks soil again, but recently consented to traveling with a marketing group to Southeast Asia. In just 14 days, we visited three cities in the southern and central parts of Vietnam. Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

As soon as we left Saigon International Airport, the pesky bleeps came at us from every direction. It was nearly midnight, yet we were in the midst of a rambling symphony of mechanized tootles and honks that never ceases – and, from what I could comprehend, carries on for no particular reason.

I later learned there are 3 million motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City. Drivers must be at least 18 years old to obtain a license and must wear a helmet, but it seems that’s where the law ends. I watched as motorbikes whirred down sidewalks, where, incidentally, much other trade and socializing, including walkway-sweeping, people-sleeping, chicken-plucking, noodle-eating, game-playing and motorbike-fixing takes place.

Woven wicker and bamboo infant carriers hold the tiniest travelers atop the fuel tank, while toddlers generally sit or sometimes stand on the seat between their parents or siblings. The largest human load I personally saw was a family of four zipping through town, but I heard tales of a family of five (or was it six?) on a motorbike.

With small engines (50cc to 400cc), motorbikes are considered the most economical and versatile form of transportation for many Vietnamese. They even have “moto” taxis. We saw some mind-blowing things hauled on motorbikes – computers, six full water-cooler jugs, dressers and chairs, caged poultry, huge framed paintings and bundles of coconuts that nearly concealed the driver.

9/10/2013 11:13:44 AM

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