Apologies for those that have read this before a few years ago, but I am in Vietnam currently and my thoughts expressed below have been further reinforced.
It struck me in a taxi on the way to the airport this morning, how does this country keep moving with such chaos occurring on the streets all around me. I have just spent a few days dashing around Saigon (or Ho Chi Min City to give its more modern name) and Hanoi. The purpose of my visit was to speak with some of the schools, 3 of them have just completed short trips with us over the past 6 months and 3 of the schools had expressed an interest in starting up service orientated experiences. It is always a bit stressful dashing from meeting to meeting, in the intense heat, always in a taxi with a driver who assures you in very broken English he knows exactly where the next appointment is, and blatantly doesn’t.
Anyway, during this dashing around, and mainly on the dash to the airport this morning, it hit me square between the eyes, how does these cities continue to keep moving amongst the chaos. 2 wheels are the preferred method of transport amongst the populace, well perhaps that is inaccurate, a nice air conditioned car might be the preferred option but is unachievable on the average Vietnamese income. And so its onto 2 wheels and perhaps they really do prefer it because 2 wheels seem to have priority over 4 (2 wheels good, 4 wheels bad to twist a quote from a group of 1980’s pigs!). Nowadays most 2 wheels are powered by an engine and not legs, although there are still plenty of bicycles amongst the throng.
But back to the chaos theory, everyone is moving on their own set route, dodging and weaving, thousands upon thousands of random journeys (not random to the person doing it, hopefully thatÛªs planned or in some way thought out loosely), criss cross the city and the other plethora of journeys. And when I say criss cross, I mean criss cross – inches away from each other in varying directions, at varying speeds, filtering across each other, horns blaring continuously and yet no-one seems to collide, the city keeps moving, and you don’t see any of the rage and anger you might expect in other parts of the world. And when I checked with my taxi driver about what time to leave for the airport and would we hit any rush hour traffic he said no, which surprised me since we were heading into the maelstrom at 8 in the morning. But now I get it.the randomness, the chaos actually makes the city work. In other big Asian cities (Bangkok and every visiting businessman’s nightmare, Jakarta) there is a semblance of order and hideous, hideous jams. But actually this order is superficial, it looks ordered with its lanes, signs, tolls and rules. But scratch below the surface and people are actually ignoring the regimentation, they are pushing in, (constantly), and abusing each other, horns are less frequent but they are usually accompanied by some kind of gesture and look. There is a serious lack of respect for others – they are simply an impediment for you to get on with your busy day. And actually this is extremely common in the west where I grew up, no matter how big or small the town or city. We get angry very quickly if anyone does not comply with the rules and order of the queue.
Now heading back into the apparent carnage of Saigon’s rammed streets. So yes it does appear completely chaotic, random, messy and liable for disaster at any second. However scratch below this chaos and you will find something order! There are unwritten rules and courtesies, people understand you have no choice but to drive your moped across 3 lanes of oncoming traffic to turn down a side street, and it works. Cars stay in the centre of the road with the bikes on the right near the curb, cars slow to let bikes pass, the horns are gentle reminders to move a little to the left or right. There is no anger or rage. I suppose it’s a look of resignation or gentle acceptance that you need to push across in front of oncoming traffic, its just the way it is and there is no need to get all worked up about it. Although you need to have nerves of steel or be a born and bred Vietnamese to venture on the city streets.
And so based on this crazy randomness, Saigon and Hanoi work. Chaos is actually working very nicely thank you very much. And so where does this leave us. what can we learn? Well even though I see chaos working there is a time and a place. My job is to plan, execute and manage safe and challenging expeditions and trips for young people. And in doing this I don’t like chaos, I want everything planned, thought through and and what if I’d! So that is our challenge at Camps International, providing such a trip amongst the chaos, but the trip wouldn’t be such an experience if the teams did not see and experience the chaos first hand, so its all about providing the chaos but in a controlled environment. Having said I like everything to be planned, I also recognise that randomness is an essential element of all trips and it usually occurs in strange places, strange events when you least expect it, which sometimes are a nuisance but looking back that was what made the trip more interesting, away from the norm and the mundane.
We have a lot to learn from the streets of Saigon and Hanoi patience, respect, acceptance are just some of them. And so next time you’re stuck in a jam or perhaps wishing people would get out of your way or quit pushing in and breaking the rules, wherever you may be, just consider the chaos theory for life.