Learning how to find harmony out of chaos
We arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam a week ago and I was not sure we could even leave the front steps of our hotel. In front of us was a river of motorbikes and scooters all travelling in a chaotic and relentless flow that stunned us.
We were on a wide, one-way street with no crosswalks or traffic lights and everyone was hurtling by wherever it seemed they could fit.
There appeared to be absolutely no rhyme or reason to the traffic; there were thousands of cyclists with the odd automobile and rickshaw thrown in, everyone changing lanes and passing each other in heart-stopping near collisions.
A motorcycle with welded-on brackets that held hundreds of fresh eggs in perfect rows was weaving between a relentless bus and a wagon of vegetables pulled by an old farmer with a conical straw hat. I saw a family of four on one scooter: a husband and wife with two children in between followed by a cyclist totally hidden by huge bunches of flowers for sale.
A female passenger was holding a giant oval mirror; I cringed as her driver zoomed across three lanes of traffic!
It was a storm of colourful confusion, the noise rolling over us in a wave that made me dizzy.
“How can we get to the other side?” I shouted at Bill. He shook his head in what I took to be wonderment, but could have been, “We don't!”
Then to my left, I noticed an older Vietnamese woman step off the curb. Without thinking, I grabbed Bill's hand and reached out and clasped her wrist with my other arm. Startled, she looked at me and I stared imploringly into her eyes. She nodded, strode out into the traffic and we were pulled along like children. She kept her head pointed into the oncoming traffic and gestured at the approaching cycles with her other hand, a strange fluttering movement as if she were riding her fingers of something sticky.
She never stopped for a moment. Slowly, and with utmost purpose and confidence, she threaded her way with us in tow. With equal measures of fear and astonishment, I saw the traffic flow seamlessly around us, everyone changing direction slightly to accommodate our brave little expedition.
No one stopped, no one even slowed down, they just accepted our intrusion and passed us without a thought; no horns, no anger. I felt like a deer fording the rapids.
Before I knew it, we were on the other side. She nodded again, I let go, and she disappeared into the crowd on the sidewalk. We decided to get a coffee and went upstairs to a second-storey café with a balcony that overlooked the street.
From this high perch, we had an incredible view of the wide avenue we had just so boldly crossed. As I drank my coffee and stared, I began to see something remarkable: co-operation.
It dawned on me that I was witnessing a beautiful lesson in human relations. The longer I studied this crazy quilt of people all intent on going in the same direction, the more I marvelled at the incredible tolerance, trust and consideration that went into making this all work.
What at first appeared to be chaos was actually harmony. Everyone was going slower than we do in Bermuda, and each driver seemed to be aware and considerate of the ever-changing nature of their relationship to each other. There was no jockeying for position, no attempt to get there faster than anyone else, no need to show off with quick moves or rapid passes.
In the last few days, we learnt some rules for crossing the busiest streets in the world. They came from a guide book on Hanoi: Be relaxed and self-confident; walk slowly with purpose; never step back.
• Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at ninalondon.com