yet another disturbing event

About 30 minutes ago I was walking back from eating lunch at Now Zone on Nguyen Van Cu St and was on the pavement verging the Nga sau Cong hoa roundabout midway between Ng. Van Cu and Pham Viet Chanh outside the German beer restaurant. This roundabout is the confluence of Ng. Thi Minh Khai, Ly Thai To, Hung Vuong, Tran Phu, Pham Viet Chanh and Ng. Van Cu street’s and is a very busy intersection. It’s also the confluence point for Districts 1, 3 and 5.

I heard some shouting coming from within the traffic and looked up to see two men on a motorbike heading in the wrong direction against the traffic flow with two other men seemingly in pursuit about two bike lengths behind them. The passenger on the second bike was doing all the yelling and waving his arms about, either telling people to get out of the way or to stop the two men in front. It was very difficult to hear because of the heavy traffic noise. I quickly noticed that the passenger on the second bike was holding a black automatic pistol in his hand, and I should point out that all four men were dressed in civilian clothes.

Traffic in the centre of the intersection quickly became chaotic, but somehow the pursued were finding a way through with the two on their tail seeming to get closer. In amongst the chaos the guy on the back of the second bike fired the pistol in the air, and I have to tell you, the sharp report of the shot scared the hell out of me. The two bikes were lost to view in the traffic then and I (should I say “we” because by now the street was packed with onlookers), could not see them until they came out into Ng. Van Cu and headed off towards District 4.

I have a thing about unexpectedly hearing guns fired that no doubt is a legacy from my time in the army and I don’t mind admitting that the hairs were still standing up on the back of my neck when I reached my house. I’m sure that, by their actions, these were police chasing criminals, but it was unnerving nevertheless. I seem to have a knack lately for being on the scene as this previous article describes. Is it just my random fortune to witness these events, or is this city becoming more prone to this type of action? I hope it’s not the latter.

a disturbing event

I witnessed an event yesterday that left me feeling very disturbed. I was riding my motorbike along Nguyen Huu Can around 11.30 when suddenly, right in front of me I saw what at first appeared to be a traffic accident and a resulting scuffle. I assumed that one motorbike had somehow accidentally clipped another and brought it down in the heavy morning traffic and those involved had begun throwing punches. However, my initial observation was only partly correct. It quickly became apparent that not one, but at least two motorbikes had been in pursuit of this one bike and that they had deliberately brought it down in order to apprehend the people on it.

The bike being pursued was being driven by a thin looking young Vietnamese guy and he had an even thinner young Vietnamese woman behind him as a passenger. The initial bikes giving chase both had 2 young Vietnamese guys on them and all 4 very quickly stepped off their bikes to tackle the couple. Meanwhile, as most of the road was blocked I pulled over to the pavement and became a “gawker”. Usually I hate “gawkers”, people who see something interesting in the traffic whether that be an accident or anything at all of interest happening on the pavement and either stop dead in the middle of the road or go very slow and crane their necks to watch, paying no attention to the traffic around them or the fact they’re creating an obstacle. I hate gawkers cos they get in my way, but yesterday I succumbed, this looked too interesting, I became a gawker. However I did at least think to pull right off the road.

Anyway, back to the unfolding drama on Nguyen Huu Can. The initial 4 guys in pursuit were very quickly joined by at least another 6 or 8 young guys, all in civilian clothes, on 3 or 4 more motorbikes creating one hell of a blockage on the road with more gawkers stopping to watch. All of these guys were off their bikes in a flash and jumping over the motorbike on its side in the road to get at one or other of the couple. The young guy was very quickly punched to the ground and when he went down several guys jumped into him and gave him a fair old kicking. He was hauled back to his feet and received another beating as guys scrambled around trying to hold onto him and pick his bike up off the tarmac where it lay. By this stage his face and body were very red from the blows he’d taken. Meanwhile, the young woman hadn’t escaped unscathed as she was crying and clutching her stomach and looked to be in some pain, no doubt from both the initial motorbike crash and the strong treatment she was receiving. Both these guys were in complete shock, and who wouldn’t be under the circumstances.

It quickly became obvious to me that this wasn’t just a random event or some argument about bad driving I was witnessing. The speed and professionalism of the guys in pursuit was a sure indication they’d done this type of thing before and they were very intent on capturing, subduing and removing these 2 individuals with a minimum of fuss. The young guy had his shirt ripped open at the front and folded back in such a manner that he couldn’t easily move his arms and was bundled onto a motorbike in between two of the pursuers. The young woman meanwhile was similarly manhandled (without her shirt being ripped open) and wedged in between 2 guys with the guy at the rear keeping a firm grip on her arms. The couples motorbike was mounted by one of the pursuers and the whole lot drove out into the centre of the road to do a U turn and drive back in toward District 1. Apart from a helmet and a few pieces of motorbike plastic lying on the road you wouldn’t know that anything had taken place there, (once we gawkers dispersed that is).

I can only speculate about the story behind this event. First thought is that the young couple were thieves being officially apprehended, or perhaps they owed somebody money, who knows. One thing for sure is that whoever their pursuers were they knew exactly what they were doing. These guys were very professional, very tough and I’m certainly glad it wasn’t me they were chasing. They were quick to knock the stuffing out of the young couple taking any fight or thoughts of running they may have had right out of the equation.

An interesting bit of drama and as I said at the beginning, I drove on feeling quite disturbed. When you witness violence first hand at close quarters like this it is disturbing. On the one hand I felt some empathy for the young couple. Not knowing what their crime was allowed me to feel this way, but if for instance it was my house they’d just robbed I guess my feelings would be different towards them. The other reason I was disturbed was because actually I got a bit of a buzz out of the whole scene, it got my adrenalin pumping and left me on a bit of a high. Disturbing.

It’s disturbing when we have to acknowledge our own animal instincts isn’t it!

traffic mayhem

This morning I was stuck in a traffic gridlock so dense we didn’t move for just over one hour. To people living in Sai Gon this type of occurrence is only too familiar, particularly when you happen to be on a main arterial road leading to a bottleneck such as a bridge or major intersection. This gridlock occurred at the confluence of Cong Hoa and Truong Chinh roads practically at the end of the Tan Son Nhat airport runway in the major peak hour traffic at 8am.

I’ve been stuck in many traffic jams here but today I was able to witness first hand the pig-headed, stubborn stupidity that caused this to happen. I apologise in advance to any of my Vietnamese friends who may read this, but honestly, what I witnessed this morning was stupid and belligerent and I cannot believe what I saw. I’m just at a loss to understand the thinking (or lack of) of the multitude of Vietnamese people who, after causing the jam by riding the wrong way up a dual carriageway to try and force a shortcut, refused to move back to allow oncoming traffic to clear the intersection. Mind you, it was the on-coming traffic that caused the problem in the first place by failing to stop at the red light thereby blocking all traffic now on a green light.

Eventually so many bikes moved through a gasoline station and into the wrong lane that all traffic movement ceased. They had become like a solid concrete plug stopping everything from moving. There were no police present but after about 45 minutes some citizens began to urge the wrongdoers to turn around and go back to unplug the stoppage. But, and this is what I can’t understand, even though they were not moving one centimetre most could not be convinced to turn back and clear the road.

Finally the police arrived and cleared just enough bikes to allow the traffic to begin flowing but even so, those who had been backed up behind us for over an hour began swapping lanes again and re-blocking the traffic. What an unbelievable example of selfish stupidity. It really makes me wonder if there is any collective consciousness among people here or if in fact they are so impatiently intent on their own purposes that they just don’t give a shit about anybody else.

Well, that’s my rant for this week. I saw it all happen, my brain took it all in, but I’m sorry, to me it just doesn’t compute, I just don’t get the line of thought that causes this situation every day. This particular intersection is modern, multi laned and well designed. Gridlocks like this would never happen if drivers here would be more conscious of others and obey traffic laws.

I guess the images tell the story

IMAG0213 traffic mayhem

The traffic on the left (the lane I was in) has the green light and is going in the correct direction but can’t move because the intersection is blocked by on-coming traffic which, at the stage I took this picture, was gradually being blocked by the bikes on the right heading up the road in the wrong direction.

IMAG0214 traffic mayhem

Here are the bikes heading in the wrong lane which eventually shut down all traffic flow. These people could not be convinced that it was in their own interest to turn around and go back to unblock the road. They simply sat there unmoving.

IMAG0216 traffic mayhem

Here is the resulting gridlock behind us. Many people, like us, were prepared to accept that they couldn’t go anywhere and to sit patiently and wait, but many more became impatient and defected to the wrong lane exacerbating the problem.