By Harry Hodge
So a couple of days ago I posted about an argument I had with a fellow motorist in Saigon. I got mixed reactions from people; most Vietnamese said this was unwise, he might be mafia, etc. Most foreigners seemed to agree people in Saigon don’t do this often enough, no one in this city knows how to drive etc. My wife didn’t like me mixing it up with people in traffic, I have two kids at home to think about, that sort of thing.
So that was Thursday. Long story short, rush hour outside my building is a nightmare, and a guy clipped another dude who had two kids on his bike, heading to the school down the block. As I shared on my Facebook, the guy had a nicer bike and looked dressed banker-ish to me. He was weaving between bikes like some sort of championship pro racer, which irritates me whenever I see guys pulling that in rush hour. At any rate, we found ourselves at the same red light, and I pulled up next to him, slapped him on the helmet and told him he was a menace on the road, punctuated with a bevy of profanities.
Other Vietnamese at the light looked bewildered by the whole thing, although rage seems pretty universal and I think everyone knows the F and S words now, thanks to Hollywood and hip hop. I could tell he was considering whether to escalate our argument into a physical confrontation, but this being rush hour, we both had things to do. He carried on up the main road and I took a right, preferring a quieter drive among the affluent houses near the Canadian School to traffic on Nguyen Luong Bang. My daily commute and choice of route is another topic.
So Friday (yesterday) rolls around, and being a creature of habit, I decided to take my usual quiet route, which skirts by some apartment buildings. My friend from the previous day overtakes me on this suburban road and hops off his bike, clearly wanting to continue the chat from yesterday. Out of the corner of my eye I see his friend, wearing a face mask more akin to robbing a bank than the surgical masks I see in normal driving. Are they gangsters? I thought he worked at Sacombank! He then asked “Why you hit me? I don’t hit you!” He cuts the engine and advances towards me.
“You again! You caused three accidents! You hit a guy and his kids!” PUNCH TO THE FACE.
I drop the bike on the ground and step backwards. Old ladies and lame-ass apartment security have taken notice, I hear the odd shrieks of help. He was wearing motorbike gloves so his punch didn’t really hurt very much, but I was kinda confused. Did he have a knife? Would it be worth a homicide over being told you’re a shitty driver?
PUNCH TO THE FACE. His buddy has now punched me! Where’d he come from? Okay, time to run around a bush! They grab at me, but rip my backpack. It’s OK, I’ve had it for a couple years, but my wallet is in there as are my IELTS books from some tutoring I do Thursday nights. Now they’re both coming at me, although the friend’s language seems more limited. Do I start throwing punches? I’m not particularly good at hand-to-hand combat. When I play football I’m widely considered a good hitter, especially in Asia where I have a 20-kilogram weight advantage over most others. But I did the math: I’m 88 kg, but these two guys each weigh 62 kg. 62×2 equals 124. Plus the extra feet and fists.
More punches come, but I swing my motorbike helmet and dance around a bush as old ladies scatter and shriek. The rent-a-cop from the building block is blowing a little whistle. A 40-year-old ESL book editor fighting a couple of bankers in a park full of old ladies doing tai chi. How is this not on Youtube yet?
I say bankers because by this point, I’d be stabbed if he was mafia. Shot is unlikely, since guns are hard to come by. If he was a government official, he’d be in a car anyway. If he’d been a cop, his bike would have had blue plates, because cops here love letting everyone know they’re cops.
Finally apartment security gets between us, he mutters something about “nguoi nuoc ngoai” and he barks at me “I had an emergency! Why you hit me?” I then said “I didn’t know about any of that. I saw you hit a guy and I lost it.”
His buddy had already jumped on his bike and driven off. I then extended an olive branch, because I also knew I’d be late for work and people in my office always give me a hard time when I’m 2 seconds (!) early. I said, “OK, forget it. What’s your name?”
He grunted. “Hmph. Ryan.”
Me: “Nice to meet you.”
He got on his bike and rode off. Apartment security ran after him, but they’re about as useful as a newspaper in a hurricane. Then I picked my bike up off the ground. They then signalled me to stop, but I was in a hurry too. The “fight” took less than 2 minutes.
I made it to work on time, with a ripped shirt pocket and one strap torn off my backpack. No one noticed or seemed to, anyway. Around 11, one of my coworkers said “hey, a little red there…” and pointed under my eye. I said “no biggie. My vacation starts tomorrow.” This seemed sufficient.
Sooooooo fast forward to Saturday morning. I am, indeed, on vacation. I was out walking with my wife and our two kids, having told her the night before about all that occurred. She always says I take too many risks telling people off in traffic in Saigon, since locals always seem to worry about the ramifications. I said “hey, we shook on it. I know his name. We’re good.” This didn’t seem to satisfy her; she saw my face after I crashed earlier this year, where I needed 20 stitches in my forehead and lip and a new tooth.
Don’t worry, I’m almost done.
So, there’s a new coffee shop in our block. Who do I see? You guessed it: Ryan. We’re neighbors. Three days in a row I see this guy, and this time we both have our kids with us at a local coffee shop.
“Let me buy you a coffee,” Ryan said. My wife looked suspicious, when she figured out who this was.
Turns out, he’s a banker! (told you) We both agreed there were things we could have done better Thursday morning. And he said Friday he shouldn’t have started the fistfight, and that he had suffered accordingly because the security guys had called the cops and he spent the rest of the morning bribing his way out of a local police station. We chatted about our kids, who aren’t too far off in age, and about daycares in the area. It was extremely bizarre.
To cap it all, I think I came out ahead, having gotten a free coffee out of the whole thing. This has been a hectic year, and a few days with drunkles in my wife’s village up north may help quell some of my road rage. I’d like to put into writing that I won’t have any future traffic confrontations, just for my wife’s peace-of-mind. But that’s like trying to predict a meteor shower. I just wanted to put something into writing before it all faded from memory, and chalk it up to three of the weirdest days during the (almost) six years I’ve spent in Vietnam.