Hallucinogenic Streets

By: Nat Paolone

Someone once said if you are irritated by every rub, how will you ever be polished?

When you hear a Vietnamese colleague say, once again, “I’ve been unlucky…had an accident yesterday”, as they hobble displaying a bit of agony, almost gone is the sympathy, instead you’re bursting to say: IT’S NOT THAT YOU’RE UNLUCKY! PEOPLE DRIVE LIKE THEY ARE COMPLETELY INSANE AND NO ONE CARES ABOUT ANYONE ON THE ROAD! Uhm… I can assure you that luck has absolutely nothing to do with your misfortunes my dear friend.

We must admit that many expats, including myself, have assimilated and do drive like idiots from time to time as well.

I’ve been pondering how to convey the insanity of driving in Saigon to people who have never driven here. Driving in Saigon for eight years has truly inspired me to write on such a merging topic exploring social values, economic development and the Vietnamese psyche.

The glorious hallucinogenic episodes of daily driving in our lovely city. Why hallucinogenic you may ask? Well because many driving scenarios on these roads are simply unbelievable!

As you cruise along one of the many fine intertwining networks of roads in this chaotic urban maze, you see yet another couple with their baby in front heading straight towards you at full speed (opposite direction of course)… eyes locked in unconditional disbelief. Both you and they speculate… what a moron! Unfortunately this is the norm.

Anyone who drives in Saigon will be more than familiar with the signal light conundrum… signal left (in any other place people will pass you on the right) and get an onslaught of bikers passing you on the left missing you by millimeters. Don’t try and figure out why, it leads to nowhere.

According to Tuoi Tre News (January 2016), on average, road accidents kill around 9,000 people in Vietnam every year – and leave tens of thousands of others with injuries. Vietnam is one of the countries with the highest death rate from road accidents in the world following closely behind India and China. The local driving style claims about 30 lives per day usually from severe head trauma. Hmmm, you may want to consider spending a bit more than VND50,000 on a helmet guys.

Jonathan Passmore of the World Health Organization in Hanoi has worked for years on traffic safety issues in Vietnam. He estimates that 80 percent of helmets fail to meet national quality standards.

Shockingly, the months leading to Tet (the proverbial joyous time of year) sees the death rate climb steeply. Some may attribute this to the term “Tet-ness”, the time when people become possessed with images of the new year that carries a free pass to drive invincibly.

Many locals lament that Tet just isn’t what it used to be, lacking the emotional happiness with family and loved ones. Often it’s said that within the past 5-10 years the lead up to Tet includes numerous thefts and negative experiences and increased reckless driving.

So why do people drive so insane? Upon asking some random Vietnamese of a ranging demographic why, here are some opinions:

“Everyone follows everyone, so when we see people drive wrong we follow”

“Destiny, some believe if they are meant to get in an accident today then they will, regardless of how we drive”

“Traffic rules are not enforced enough. Education should also focus on rules of the road. In school we don’t learn enough about traffic laws”

“We can pay for a driving license without taking a proper test”

“Vietnamese want to do everything quickly and always arriving late so drive fast to get there on time, not caring about safety.”

Some say it’s the education that is the problem… sorry but I don’t understand that one guys, I mean in other Asian countries where driving is safer, they don’t teach in schools to not drive the opposite direction into oncoming traffic at full speed, or that it’s not a good idea to wave your baby in the air while driving your scooter, right? It is just common sense.

There are a few refreshing examples of people helping to make things better. Some university students have grouped together with long ropes coercing drivers to go only the right direction on the roads, holding signs saying don’t drive the opposite direction on one-way streets (cam di nguoc chieu).

A few years back there was an expat in Hanoi, holding the rear of motorbikes when drivers went the opposite direction. Many locals agreed with his actions in hopes of creating a safer place to drive. Obviously lack of proper law enforcement to shape a society that fosters safe driving skills is paramount.

Ok guys, solutions… ? How about whispering in your neighbor's ear: ban oi, slow down, relax, you only get one life, cherish it, pass it on.


Saigon’s Upcoming New Old Airport

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat Airport has been the bugbear of many travellers over the years—from frequent flooding due to its trash laden drainage system to announcements by foreign airlines that the number of flights to and from the airport would be cut, as in the case of Etihad Airways that now only operates four flights a week instead of the previous seven.

So Near, Yet So Far

Although it’s one of the only cities in the world where its international airport is barely a half-hour ride away from the city centre, the situation at Saigon’s airport has been much talked about mainly due to its overcrowding and frequent flight delays.

Originally built for a capacity of 25 million passengers a year, the airport is currently serving 36 million passengers and although announcements were made regarding the brand-new Long Thanh international airport in Dong Nai Province almost two years ago, there haven’t been any feasibility studies conducted and no guarantees that the airport will actually be ready by 2025.

Airport VNImage source: saigonnews.vn

A Necessary Expansion

In the meantime, Vietnam’s government has tasked the Transport Ministry to execute a proposal set forth by French consulting firm ADPi, a subsidiary of Aeroports de Paris Group. The firm, responsible for the airports in Beijing, Seoul and Dubai, has proposed a plan to expand the present airport by building a new 20-hectare terminal that will be able to serve an additional 20 million passengers a year by the year 2025.

This new terminal will be built to the south of the current airport facilities, and the expansion will also include new structures to support a cargo terminal and maintenance facilities to the north of the airport where the much-talked about golf course is currently located.

This expansion is expected to cost VND30 trillion (USD1.3 billion), excluding costs that will be required for site clearances.

Saigon is expected to receive 60-70 million passengers a year by the year 2025. However, as things currently stand, a little patience will be required from travellers flying in or out of the city.

Banner Image source: daihocsi


HCMC Metro: Is the End in Sight?

By: City Pass Guide

What is happening with the Metro? Is it as far behind schedule as people are saying? How long will it be before trains are running? Citypassguide.com tracked down one of the men in the know. Project Manager Stephane Faure.

There are three companies working together on the project:

Freyssinet One of the Vinci group which is one of the biggest construction company in France.

VSL Originally from Switzerland but belongs to the French company Bouygues

Rizzani De Eccher A major Italian general contractor in the international construction market

Stephane Faure has 20 years experience on these kind of projects, having worked in South and Central America, North Africa, the Middle East and now Ho Chi Minh City.

This friendly Frenchman is married and has two children. We sat down to find out what’s what with Ho Chi Minh City’s new Light Rail Transit system.

So how do the rumours compare with truth, is the project really so far behind schedule? Just when will trains be running to District 9?

No, our part of the work is completely on time. We are responsible for all the precast bridgework. Which to be honest is a large part of the whole project. There are so many other factors in play though. The companies building the big bridges over the rivers, the station builders, then the track laying and signalling before the project finally gets round to testing. Our part of the work will be finished on schedule in the second half of 2017. The stations and concourses should be done by the end of 2017 then the track, signalling and testing by 2019. So it’s on course.

People have asked me why it was decided to go for an elevated section all the way out, surely a ground level system would have been cheaper and faster to build?

It is true that a ground level system is quicker and cheaper but in the long term, it creates many more problems. Every time a road crosses the track you need a bridge. Level crossings are not practical with a metro where trains are running every few minutes. Effectively a track at ground level cuts a community in two. Additionally the ground conditions here are problematic and that would create more issues. Then of course there is the problem of Ho Chi Minh City’s perennial floods, that would be very disruptive.

Anyone who lives in District 2 has seen the impressive machine that you use to put the sections in place. Tell us a little bit about this.

Well it is impressive, the technology is far advanced from other systems around the world. We manufacture the concrete sections at our factory in Thu Duc. Each section measures eight metres by three metres. For the 12km of line that we are constructing, we will have to manufacture 4,000 sections. The machine that you mention can lay a 30 metre section between two uprights in three days. So that’s 10 metres per day, and we have three machines. The machines can lay the segments faster than we can manufacture them. So we had to start manufacturing ahead of time.

Is this the only difference between the Ho Chi Minh City metro and others around the world

No. Other systems have a flat bed of concrete upon which the train runs. Here we build each segment in a “U” shape. The train will run inside the “U”. This means when finished the track will look more slim and streamlined.

Are there plans to build footbridges over the roads? I’m thinking in particular about the Hanoi Highway, and people getting from the An Phu side to Thao Dien.

Yes, you may have noticed the track is running at different heights in different areas. This is partly to do with that. In some places in order to put footbridges in the stations need to be higher. This is not my area of expertise but I am sure the footbridges will be built wherever they are needed.

--

The whole project is under SCC a Vietnamese-Japanese consortium. All other companies are working as subcontractors to them. The bridges over the rivers are being built by a Vietnamese construction company. The country has, after all, huge experience in this field. The three companies working on the segmented support sections worked together in Dubai and again have enormous experience and expertise. however, the ground conditions here have thrown up unique problem that have had to be surmounted.


‘Biker Gang’ Saving Stranded Saigon Motorcyclists at Night

By: Naomi Sutorius-Lavoie

Discover the “Night Warriors” of SOS Saigon - rescuing stranded motorcyclists in need of help and repair in Ho Chi Minh City

These volunteers are connecting Saigon’s residents whose motorcycles break down at night

Contact the group if you require assistance with your motorbike after dark in Saigon

Picture the scene. It’s 2am in Vietnam’s largest city of Saigon. You are a young woman who is a 40-minute drive away from home and your motorcycle won’t start. There are no taxis around. Leaving the bike overnight seems like a risky option. Would it even be there the next day? What would you do and who would you call if your motorbike broke down in Ho Chi Minh City late at night? It would be a rather scary prospect.

In fact, this is precisely the situation that Australian Georgia Samuels found herself in recently. Fortunately for Georgia, a well-informed Vietnamese friend knew exactly who to call to get help at that hour. And so, within ten minutes of the late-night heroes’ arrival, Georgia’s bike was repaired and she was off safely back to her home. The most unbelievable part of the story? No cash ever exchanged hands.

SOS SaigonImage source: saigontv.news

Catch-Free Motorbike Rescuers - Who Are the SOS Saigon “Night Warriors”?

Affectionately known as the “Night Warriors” by some, SOS Saigon is a self-funded, volunteer brigade of nighttime motorcycle repair people. They are the biker equivalent of good Samaritans, and you can call them when you’re in a pinch like Georgia or even if you are more seriously affected by a motor vehicle accident.

SOS SaigonImage source: saigontv.news

The catch? None. This Saigon ‘gang’ of 10-20 volunteer Night Warriors (though that nickname makes them a little shy, preferring to be “those folks who patch tires for free”) just want to help you out. But it seems almost too good to be true. Who are these people? In a big bustling city like Saigon where everyone is out to make a buck, why the free kindness towards strangers?

SOS Saigon was launched in March 2017 by Saigonese buddies Ho Tang Sang (31) and Phan Van Sac (23). Previously, Sang had been badly hurt in a motorcycle accident. He was helped by strangers and the interaction sparked in him a sincere desire to “pay it forward”. Sang worries that with the rapid growth of a city like Saigon, people quickly adopt an “every man for himself” attitude and become more insensitive to the needs of others. As a result, he feels we are less connected to one another as fellow city-dwellers and as human beings in general.

Connecting Saigon’s Residents One Motorcycle Rescue at a Time

He’s not wrong. Studies by the University of Miami have proven that big city living does, in fact, switch off the basic human instinct to ‘be nice’ when interacting with strangers. Historically, humans have more often lived in much smaller groups in which there were virtually no strangers. This meant that you couldn’t easily get away with being unkind to another person because everyone would find out about it.

However, the feeling of anonymity plays a role in a city like Saigon of around nine million inhabitants. It’s easy to justify not caring about the misfortune of another when there is a high chance that you will never see that person again.

According to Sang, the entire ethos behind SOS Saigon, apart from the action of carrying out nighttime emergency motorcycle repairs around Ho Chi Minh City, is to enhance connections between people. They have certainly reached out to connect with a good number of Saigonese - to date, their members have performed an impressive number of emergency rescues - upwards of 1,500, in fact.

SOS SaigonImage source: facebook.com/sossaigon

Contact SOS Saigon If Your Motorbike Breaks Down At Night

SOS Saigon’s crew patrols the streets in various areas of Ho Chi Minh City from roughly 10pm to 1am every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. They have an emergency hotline number (0931 883 119) and also a Facebook page with an administrator who responds to messages.

The brigade is mostly made up of young men but has members up to the age of 50 and also includes several women. Adopting Sang’s forward-thinking and optimistic life view, some Saigonese who were initially helped by SOS Saigon have gone on to join the volunteer patrols as well. They are actively looking to recruit more members so that they can expand their patrols to include daytime hours in the future.

SOS SaigonImage source: facebook.com/sossaigon

The group is self-funded by its volunteer members in Saigon. They all donate approximately VND1,000,000 per month to purchase tire patching supplies, basic medical kits and other necessary emergency repair equipment. They also pay for their own gas when out on patrol. All group members have full-time jobs and lead their own busy lives but still somehow find the time and motivation to continue providing volunteer roadside assistance to people in need across Ho Chi Minh City.

Sang recalls one of his most rewarding experiences when the group’s persistence really paid off. They were contacted on their emergency hotline by a motorcyclist who had driven off a bridge and fallen into the water below. The call quickly broke off before they could get the driver’s exact location. Sang and his team kept patrolling all possible locations until they located the man in the water. In this case, their Saigon volunteer emergency service made all the difference. A man’s life was saved.

Suspicions Provide a Challenge When Saving Saigon’s Motorcyclists

Being a good Samaritan, however, can have its downsides. Since the crew patrols at night, they are automatically subjected to the general danger of those hours in a big city. In addition, victims can also be suspicious of their motivations. Some fear that they have stopped to rob them or somehow take advantage of their motorcycle breaking down. Team members have even faced physical assaults themselves when attempting to help victims.

In order to mitigate any possible confusion about their intentions and help to identify themselves quickly, SOS Saigon team members have designed their own vests with logos, along with their emergency hotline phone number clearly indicated on the back.

SOS SaigonImage source: facebook.com/sossaigon

For some, it might just be too much to ask to trust someone you have never met to help you out of a bind at night. But if you think about it, it’s comparable to manoeuvering your way through Saigon’s wild streets in general, where the traffic rules can be ‘negotiable’ at best. There is a sense of simply having to trust one another and go with the flow.

While it may be easy to be suspicious of a stranger who gives without question or expectation of anything in return, an SOS Saigon stranger is one who becomes a friend, at least during your hour of need.

If you break down on your motorbike at night in Ho Chi Minh City - who you gonna call? Clue: it’s not Ghostbusters!

To join SOS Saigon’s motorcycle rescue crew, donate towards their efforts or learn more about them, please visit their Facebook page.

Banner Image source: kenh14.com


Getting the right taxis in Saigon by avoiding scams

By: City Pass Guide

Video source: Back of the Bike Tours


Vietnamese Road Signs

By: City Pass Guide

Getting Lost in Saigon

Finding your way around HCMC is challenging for anyone who drives. Unfortunately, I have not yet installed a GPS in my car. Coming from France, which probably has the best signage system in the world, I never needed it there, or elsewhere for that matter.

Photo by: Anthony Tong Lee

Too often in HCMC, I found myself looking around for any signs to point me to a direction. Often left without solutions, I end up asking a local. Now, would he be able to understand my broken Vietnamese? Most likely not. Can I trust his directions? Probably not. Finding your way while driving in an unknown territory is and remains a dilemma

I often found myself dreaming about the business potentials that exist for directional signage in HCMC. They must be huge, as so much has to be done. In the mix of crazy traffic and insane number of intersections, streets and hems, it is not possible for unfamiliar individuals to know where to go. And if you do not believe me, try going from Conic 5B in Binh Chanh to Duong so 9, Phuong 9 in Go Vap and see for yourself!

Vietnamese Road Signs

In most countries I know, road signage is there to indicate where we can and cannot go. In Vietnam, it may serve this purpose, from time to time, but it also serves to confuse us or to justify the fines we pay.

Photo by: garycycles8

Too often I get pulled over while driving in HCMC. Not because I did not wear my seatbelt, or because I did not turn my lights on, but simply for the reason that I could not read the “signs”. And this has come at a hefty price. In France, in most cases I would hire a lawyer and challenge the police because the road signage is non-existent, inefficient, misleading or misplaced. Here in Vietnam, I pay the fine.

I spotted signage that said you could not go left, right or straight. Where then? I saw green traffic lights that tell you to turn left, when you cannot turn left. I discovered speed signage hidden behind trees and leaves. To be objective, let's recognise my own responsibility too, as I did not pass the Vietnamese driving license test, which may have given me a clearer view of how such signage systems work!


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