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Momentum

I spent 3 weeks in Vietnam earlier this year. Most of the time I spent in either Ho

Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the south of the country or Ha Noi in the north.

Like Thailand, there is a north south divide that is fairly stark. The dialects are so

different that people from the north have a hard time understanding people from

the south. The southern people, perhaps because of the warmer sunnier climate

wear more colorful clothes while the northerners wear blacks and greys. Pho, the

national dish that is eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner, is simple in the north and

more complicated in the south. The people from the south were heavily influenced

by the Americans during the war while people from the north were not and have

retained much of their traditional way of life. Both cities are energetic and alive.

People seem to be hard working, driven, and excited to make an impact on the

world. Young people creating opportunities for themselves and others is in the air.

You can almost feel the excitement and creative juices flowing. But this is not what I

wanted to talk about.

 

I want to talk about something that seems to be deeply rooted in the psyche of

Vietnamese people and I believe it is instructive. It certainly has been for me. The

idea is momentum. Let’s start on the street. They drive here like nowhere else I

have ever been in the world. It is very disconcerting at first and crossing the street

can be a harrowing ordeal, again, at first. When they pull out into the road and go

right (they drive on the same side of the street as we do in the states), they don’t

look left. They just turn right onto the street from an alley or another street. They

totally trust that no matter who is coming the other way, that that person will see

them and they will avoid them without stress or conflict. When they are driving

their motorbike (more of a scooter as there are almost no motorcycles as we know

them in the west there), they don’t look in back to see what is behind them and they

only use their peripheral vision to see what is next to them. This way, everyone is

looking straight ahead and avoiding what is in front of them. They don’t hesitate

and they don’t have this little communication with other drivers – should I go,

should I let you go? – that little dance that we are always playing here in the states

trying to see what the other person is going to do. In Vietnam, you know what the

other person is going to do because you are totally aware of their momentum. And

by observing their momentum, you can work around them quite easily and scoot

around them within inches. Because you know they aren’t going to suddenly stop or

be afraid. They will just calmly continue moving forward. The only problems come

if someone hesitates, is uncertain or afraid. And when you see westerners who are

not used to this way of being and moving cross the street, it’s a scary situation

because instead of just walking across the street into the middle of traffic and

knowing that the motorbikes will see you and account for your momentum, they

hesitate. And when you are clearing someone by an inch or two, even the slightest

hesitation can cause an accident.

This connects to my previous blog post where I identify my teachers Pichests dislike

of hesitation and uncertainty and how that is so deeply a part of western mind. It

really shows itself in Vietnam where that sort of lack of clarity doesn’t seem to exist

very much. Everyone is just moving forward and taking care of that which is right in

front of them, ducking and dodging and working together in this beautiful dance.

Everyone is paying attention too. Of all the taxi’s that I was in while in Vietnam not

one of them had the radio on. Not one of them talked on the phone. Not one of them

texted on their smartphone, though many had them. Very few of the motorscooter

riders had earbuds in. Basically, in order to do what they do, everyone had to be

present. Everyone had to pay attention because the moment you are distracted you

will hit someone. There is amazing mindfulness on the roads in Vietnam.

Finally, there was really no anger, no road rage at all, at least not from what I saw. I

see much more in Thailand. Here, despite the fact that they are not a “polite” culture

like Thailand (the word please isn’t really used and when you say thank you it’s

often not acknowledged), they work in such proximity to each other they are

constantly having to make allowances for the other, at least in the cities that I was

in. So the culture allows for stop lights to be truly optional, and if you decide to go

through a red light and you cross the oncoming traffic, you just go slow and steady

and like water around a rock, the oncoming traffic will duck around you at the last

second and you will get to the otherside unscathed and without anyone batting an

eye. If the traffic is too bad, you jump on the sidewalk and ride down the sidewalk.

There might be lines of motorcycles riding up and down the sidewalks, popping

back on the road wherever they need to. And because everyone is working so

closely together, if you got angry every time a person jumped in front of you or

caused you to brake, you would spend your life angry. They seem to be very

tolerant and very forgiving. They seem to just take care of their own thing and

figure that everyone else will do that a well. The idea of momentum, of looking

forward and not getting hung up on the obstacles in our path, is a good reminder for

me to when I get stuck and become too concerned with what other people are

thinking, expecting and doing. Just to move forward and assume that everyone else

is doing the same.

 

 

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