The first time I rode the bus from my house to the city center, I noticed a guy running toward us, trying to catch a ride. The bus roared past before the driver noticed him in the rear-view mirror. He laughed. (And so did I, as he kept on driving.)
But wait. It gets better.
Alternative driving methods
The one time I rode from my neighborhood to the city center at 8 AM on a Monday morning was the one time I witnessed how buses utilize sidewalks during rush hour. Now, I’m used to motorbike drivers doing this. It makes sense, to get around traffic or past street flooding. And after all, you’re on a vehicle that’s one step away from a dirt bike! BUT A BUS IS NOT A BIKE.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with getting change. As anyone who has been to Vietnam knows, getting change from large bills is like pulling teeth. But, all the ATMs dispense 200,000 or 500,000 bills, what’s a tourist to do?
Well, as it turns out, even locals may face this problem sometimes. The Vietnamese woman sitting across from me suddenly realized that all she had was a 500,000, while the bus fare is only 5,000. She apologized to the bus assistant profusely, clearly embarrassed. I knew someone would get her the change somehow, but I didn’t expect what happened next.
Right before turning a corner, the assistant guy jumped off the bus and ran to a street food cart to grab change. The bus turned the corner and hit traffic at just the right moment, slowing down until the assistant could catch up with us and hop right back on.
The lady was very grateful for his effort, and he shrugged it off saying she was pretty, so it was okay. This made me smile.
The traffic, while a blessing at first, was apparently too much for the bus schedule. Cars and motorbikes and everything were in the way. So what did the assistant do? He jumped off the bus again.
This time, he guided the driver over every bump, crater, and crack that the sidewalk had to offer, as our bus slowly passed the traffic. At long last, he jumped back on, we turned the corner onto a less busy street, and the guy took off his flip-flops as he sat down.
Just a typical bus ride in Vietnam.
The very next day, I took a 3-hour ride to Ben Tre, during which the driver drove a painfully long time on the opposite side of the freeway. He narrowly missed the truck barreling down on us, slipping back into the right lane like nothing had happened.
Bus conversation topics
Have you ever had an entire bus full of people discuss your relationship status? Well, this is nearly impossible to avoid if you speak Vietnamese. One time, I started talking with the driver and assistant, both of which were familiar with me by then. Our conversation, of course, led to the inevitable question: “Are you married?” Which led to, “Do you have a boyfriend?” Which led to, “Do you have anyone you like (love)?” Which pretty much led to the entire bus discussing my love life, or rather, lack thereof. (I’m so glad I’m already used to this aspect of Vietnamese culture.)
Speaking of Vietnamese culture, there’s many misconceptions about it. For example, if you’ve ever heard an especially loud Vietnamese interchange and wondered if it was an argument, well, it may not have been. Here’s one possible scenario. There’s one bus assistant guy who is super friendly. Unfortunately, he speaks as fast as he is friendly. On one occasion, he kept asking me questions which seemed even more slurred and quick than usual. I was about 99% lost. The co (lady) across the way understood my situation, though, and loudly scolded him for speaking too fast. She even appealed to the driver as a witness. “Doesn’t he speak too fast?” she practically yelled. As usual, though, the assistant guy couldn’t slow down. (I’ve tried to tell him. Really I have.) Honestly, though, I’m glad for the practice. If I can learn to understand him, I can comprehend any native Vietnamese speaker.