Lovely to be back, yes. Wonderful to drink water straight out of the tap again and feel no apprehension about using a public toilet. Great to stroll sidewalks with no fear of being run over by a scooter or falling into a monstrous hole in the concrete. Terrific not to see garbage in our waterways.
And yet. I can’t get used to how empty the streets are here. Even the vehicle traffic seems skimpy for such wide streets. The tiny trickle of pedestrians down our generous sidewalks seems a waste of space.
In the Asian countries where we travelled — Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam most of all — virtually every street was teeming with all kinds of activity. In all directions, people were living their lives out in plain view. The result was an intense street vista that was by turns amazing, filthy, fascinating, heartwrenching, moving, repugnant and unbelievable.
Never dull, though.
The sidewalks were jammed with people doing things. Everywhere you looked, someone was selling vegetables, burning an offering in the street outside their store, loading some big heavy thing onto a scooter, riding herd on a mob of little kids. The street was where it was at.
Here, the streets are what we hurry through on our way to our next assignation. They are roomy and safe and litter-free, and I like all those things. But they’re boring as all get-out after where I’ve just been, and it’s proving harder than I thought to get used to a streetscape with so few people in it.
The street chaos of a place like Ho Chi Minh City comes with a price, of course. Just because I didn’t witness a traffic accident doesn’t mean they don’t happen all the time. The U.S. Department of State’s Web site says 30 people die every day in Vietnam due to traffic accidents, and I have no reason to doubt that.
(But just to put that statistic into perspective, roughly eight people die every day in Canada from traffic accidents, and we have less than a third of the population that Vietnam has. Compare Vietnam’s traffic-fatality rates on a per-capita basis with those in the U.S., and they’re strikingly similar.)
And yes, it’s true that a big part of why there’s so much going on at the street level in a place like Vietnam is because a whole lot of people simply don’t have the option of holing up at home. It’s a poor country.
People at the bottom of the income scale may have a place they call home, but it could be one room that they share with a spouse, two or three kids, a couple relatives from the country and Grandma. Any community is going to do a lot of spilling into the streets when that’s the situation.
So it’s nice that we’ve got these big, comfy indoor spaces to live in. It’s great to have the affluence to live in expansive fashion, and to have the kind of privacy that just isn’t available to a lot of the people we came across in our travels.
But man, I’m missing those crazy streets. Doesn’t anybody want to come outside to play?
All photos © by Jody Patterson