Select a specific, charged event related to your practice experience and reflect on this event. Do your best to reflect deeply into what happened, how you were feeling at the time, how other mights have been feeling, and potentially different ways of viewing the event.
It was my first day in Vietnam, and my roommate, Angela, a Vietnamese-American, agreed to run errands with me. It was the first time we were seeing Vietnam in the daylight. Angela and I walked to a large street, but we were unsure of how to cross it. Motorbikes, bikes, and larger vehicles were passing. Honks could be heard everywhere. There were stoplights, but it did not seem that people followed any kind of institutional traffic rules.
Angela and I stood at the cross walk, looking both ways, but we were both hesitant to cross. We were not sure it was going to be safe. Every time we tried to cross the street, there was always uncertainty because we were not used to the environment.
“If it looks like we’re about the cross the street, would they stop for us?” I asked. I realize that by asking such a question, I was expecting for the traffic to be like how it is in America. Needless to say, I quickly learned Vietnam’s traffic is not the same.
At one point, Angela and I stood poised to cross the street at a crossing lane, but no one was stopping for us. We stood at that street for a while, watching the motorbikes and other vehicles pass. Eventually, an old man just passes us and crosses the street.
What? How could he just cross the street like? Why isn’t anyone stopping for him? … Should I follow him too? Oh! Now, he’s too far away, I’ve lost my chance!
Angela and I ended up running across the street at the smallest little opening.
From my observations, it seems that it takes so much energy just to travel to places, on any method of transportation. Typically, citizens of Hanoi will drive a motorbike, and they have to pay attention to what is in front of them, the stop lights, the people crossing the street, if there is traffic police around, larger vehicles like buses and cars, vehicles that are behind them but are trying to pass, and the list goes on. There are all these moving parts that are variable and volatile, so one must be very attentive and careful. However, to pay attention to all these variables is mentally challenging, and it got me into trouble.
I was attempting to walk across the street. I was frantically looking in all directions, taking slow and cautious steps. Angela is doing the same. Angela was more afraid of crossing the street than I was. One second I was walking across the street and in the next second, I was on the floor in the middle of the street. A motorbike had collided with me.
Oh my gosh! What just happened?!
I could not process what was happening fast enough because in the next moment, Angela was quickly pulling me to my feet and we crossed the street.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe that just happened!” she exclaimed. “That jackass! He was talking on the phone and he didn’t even bother to stop! He fucking just ran over a person!”
I eventually learned how to properly cross the street: stop for buses and cars, walk at steady pace so motorbikes will swerve around you, and never run across the street. Unlike in America, pedestrians do not have the right-of-way. Before arriving in Vietnam, I was slightly briefed on crossing-the-street culture, but I could not imagine that it would be like this, where pedestrians cross whenever and wherever they have to and people adapt to the traffic as it comes. Cars and bus will not stop for pedestrians, and if a car is coming, it is expected of the pedestrian to stop for the car.
Everyone in Hanoi knows this; they understand the informal traffic culture. This moment is important to me because it was shocking, and I realized that I cannot assume that things operate as they do in America. Grusky mentions, “Americans … have a reputation of being ethnocentric…” (43), and service-learning experiences are more for the students to understand a new society and their social problems (37). On a related note, Kiely references Mezirow, pointing out that our perspective are biased and that our “ ‘frames of reference often represent [our own] cultural paradigms …” (46). It’s true, I have looked at this moment from my American perspective, and yes, I am a foreigner.
I call Hanoi traffic “organized chaos”. To the eyes of a Westerner, navigating around Hanoi can seem and look very unorganized, but people know what they’re doing. At the time, I thought his actions were rude because he did not stop, but as I write this, I could see that he could have been too preoccupied with all the surrounding factors to have noticed me; furthermore, the street was busy and crowded, so if he suddenly stopped, people behind could have collided with him, creating a more dangerous situation.
In relation to the Grusky text, I ask, “‘Why are so many people in this situation?’” (39). Why is it that people get around this way, in a way that seems so unsafe in the eyes of a foreigner? Angela and I were both very scared of crossing the street because we felt that we were putting our lives on the line.
Why do cars drive in the middle of two lanes? Would it be too inefficient if everyone had to remain in his/her lane? Wouldn’t it be safer if people obeyed road rules? Is it even dangerous in the first place? Car accidents occur all the time in America, and in the limited time I was in Vietnam, I never saw another collision. Does that say something about the systems about Vietnam and the United States?
Though, it seems like a system like traffic and transportation would have to be specific to the location. I can see that their informal way of travel works there. The motorbike culture is another story in itself. Although people have been driving those for decades, there are not dedicated lanes for motorbikes, but some city infrastructure caters to them. For example, sidewalks are sloped and homes are built to have a ramp in order to bring the motorbike inside. People choose to drive motorbikes because it is more efficient to weave in between traffic than be stuck in it. Motorbikes are cheaper to buy, easy to repair, easy to park, use less fuel, take up less space, and other beneficial factors that lead to a persistent motorbike culture throughout Vietnam. Yet, in this developing city, the roads are more catered to cars as they look like streets from a typical American city. I wonder if and when Vietnam develops more, if people will abandon the motorbike culture overall. Is there is even one path to development and all countries would eventually look like America?
This was my very first day in Vietnam, and I was still trying to immerse myself into the population. Later on, Angela and I talked about the experience with some locals. We said that a lot of people must of thought we were so stupid because as Vietnamese people and looking that we could belong, doing irregular street-crossing behavior. The locals agreed and told me that if I had blonde hair, the guy might have stopped to see if I was okay. Special treatment by Vietnamese people is yet another topic, but when I went to Vietnam, I was a foreigner on the inside, but not on the outside.
Over and out.
PS. I used quotes and pages numbers in my reflections because they are academic assignments and I was asked to incorporate assigned readings. If you would like to know the source I took the quotes from, please let me know!