The time difference between South Bend and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is 12 hours; and in almost every other sense, the difference between South Bend and HCMC is night and day. Whereas South Bend exists in a static state of permanent inertia, HCMC is a constant flow of organized chaos, a never-ending labyrinthic ouroboros of ebb and flow.
The life of a city is often best reflected by and demonstrated through how its people get around. People in HCMC get around via the xe máy (motorbike, Vespa-sized).According to my taxi driver, Cuong, the xe máy captures the essence not just of HCMC, but of Vietnam in general. It is difficult to articulate the feeling of finding yourself sitting in a taxi on one of HCMC’s busiest streets surrounded by a sea of xe máy (imagine, further, having just flown for 20 hours from O’hare to Tân Sơn Nhất int’l airport).
A place is not just the sum of its buildings and roads but the myriad relationships that people have with those material conditions. To me, the xe máy is special because it makes these relationships visible and brings them to the fore. And since it is always rush hour in HCMC, the xe máy is a constant reminder to always look both ways before crossing.