by Stan Sinberg
Unless you’re someone like a Bono who gets to traipse around the world and speak before the United Nations on issues of global importance, you don’t often get the opportunity to dramatically affect the quality-of-life of a country you visit. Recently I had that chance, and I…I…
Well, I should start at the beginning.
One of the most mind-blowing things about Vietnam is the traffic. There are no discernible rules. Traffic lanes are "suggestions," traffic lights and stop signs are non-existent for miles at a time, vehicles from every conceivable direction plunge head-on into intersections or roundabouts without slowing down or acknowledging a right of way, motorbikes, bicycles, cars and trucks all share the road equally, and in that mix pedestrians fearlessly bolt from the curb to cross the street.
Considering that, it’s amazing how little drivers honk their horns, especially when you’re out in this madhouse traffic, you swear you’re going to die every thirty seconds. Somehow, drivers know they’ll find a way through the maze.
Which brings me to Cho, my taxi driver from Da Nang airport to the town of Hoi An, some 30 kilometers distant. During that 40 minute trip, without exaggeration, Cho honked his horn 1,000 times.
Cho virtually never took one of his hands off the horn. The horn was as much a part of driving as the brakes. He honked anytime we: approached within 25 feet of a bicyclist or motorbike; passed anyone in either direction; saw an oncoming vehicle, no matter how far off the road it was; spotted a pedestrian on the sidewalk, whether or not he had any intention of crossing; noticed someone merging from an intersection; or if more than 20 seconds elapsed, because he was having withdrawal symptoms. There were times he honked when I could only conclude he was honking at stationary roadside food stands, for fear they’d leap into oncoming traffic.
Cho was not particularly high-strung. When he spoke in his halting English, he smiled broadly. Nor did he seem particularly concerned about his safety. His seat belt sat unbuckled.
But it was as if Cho thought he was driving in the Village of the Blind. Or manning an invisible taxi. Unconvinced anyone could see him (oddly, when darkness set in, Cho never turned on his headlights), Cho felt compelled to announce his presence to absolutely everyone via horn. The entire trip sounded not unlike a locomotive, roaring down the tracks.
Then I had my "Bono" moment. If I could convince Cho his incessant honking was unnecessary, not only would I save him from carpal tunnel syndrome and hearing loss, but moto drivers and bicyclists, routinely startled by one of Cho’s sudden shrill outbursts, would be safer, too. Not to mention this would single-handedly reduce Danang’s noise pollution by roughly 50%.
And then – who knows? Maybe Cho would go forth with the zealousness of a religious convert and talk to his fellow drivers: "You know, we don’t have to honk every five seconds. It sounds crazy, Comrades, but it’s true!" Chapters of Honkers Anonymous would spread nationwide.
But I wimped out. I doubted my question would hurl him into an existential review of his noisy habit. "WHY do I honk so much? Because I Am!" I imagined Cho saying. I suppose part of me thought Cho’s honking in some way contributed to local "color," and if the residents didn’t like it, they could confront Cho themselves.
So when we arrived, I just got out, wordlessly, my opportunity to improve the quality of life in Danang, gone. When I exited the cab, Cho tooted twice, to say goodbye.
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