December 2023
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What I Learned Crossing A Saigon Street

Shortly after arriving in Saigon my parents and I were invited to dinner at the home of a Chinese man who had befriended my father while he was on Special Forces Operations in Indochina during World War II. During dinner the conversation came around to my desire to learn about Vietnam and the Vietnamese people and their culture. As we were preparing to depart his home, he stopped me and offered me these words of wisdom.

If you wish to understand Vietnam and the Vietnamese people, there is no better way than to learn how to cross the streets of Saigon as a pedestrian. There are few traffic lights and the wide French colonial boulevards are filled all day long and deep into the night with a thick and seemingly impenetrable flow of motorcycles and motorbikes and bicycles and pedicabs. If you wait, as you would in most American cities, for a space to open up wide enough to make it all the way across, you will wait on the curb till the sun goes down and then you will wait some more until the Vietnamese have worn themselves out riding around for fun and have gone to bed. If you wait, as you would in, say, New York City, for an open space part way across and then dash there and stop and wait for the next partial opening and so forth, you will be run over in seconds.

To cross the streets of Saigon you look to the far side of the street and set your goal. Then you look to your left, and at the slightest opening you step into the flow of traffic. You must now trust the process. You walk at a very moderate pace and you never stop, never slow down. The traffic rushing at you will never stop, will never slow down. But the vehicle that is about to strike you at any given moment will, at the last second, veer to the right or left, without looking. This, of course, means another impending collision, but the newly involved vehicle, suddenly confronted, will, in turn, veer without looking, and so on, the traffic rippling over to the curbs. And so you move slowly to your goal and the traffic will endlessly rush and veer and ripple and rejoin.

The flexibility, the patience, the pragmatism of the Vietnamese people is entirely manifest in this process.

Food for thought …


3 comments to What I Learned Crossing A Saigon Street

  • Ken

    Here comes that damn Yeager with his 2 cents again.

    I hate to admit it but for the time I spent in Vietnam as a SK and as a GI, I actually know very little about the people. Think about it…how many of us actually had Vietnamese friends (I know Vickie G had an Oriental boyfriend but don’t know if he was Vietnamese or Chinese). About the closest I ever really got was to our housekeeper (I hate the words maid or servant) and then that wasn’t really a close, revealing relationship (and our housekeeper spoke good English). Anyone who ever has the opportunitity to get to know non-Americans should really take advantage of it. It really enhances one’s knowledge and experiences. You were lucky, Bob, to have had the chance to meet this Chinese gentleman. Ken

  • Admin


    One of the things I enjoyed most spending my youth growing up in many different places around the country and world … was learning about different places, cultures, people, customs, etc. To me that was a lot of the excitement of the ‘adventures’ to new (to me) and strange lands. Little did I realize, in the days of my youth, the vastness of the education and knowledge I was gaining through my travels and exposure to many different cultures. Nor, the effect it would have on expanding my horizons in adult life. Wherever my travels have taken me throughout my life, I’ve always made it a practice to absorb myself in the local culture and customs and people. And, I’ve always found it so very very rewarding in so many ways.

    While in Saigon as a kid I got to know several Vietnamese and Chinese families. In later years when Vietnam fell I was blessed to be able to assist many of them with entry to the United States (sponsoring many). It was very moving to watch them arrive with ‘nothing’ and re-build a life for themselves and their families. Then to watch as within a few years they bought homes, sent their children to the best colleges, etc. And, all accomplished without relying on Public Assistance Programs. This has often made me wonder how most Americans would fare if suddenly they lost everything except the shirt on their back, then where dumped in a strange land half way around there world … would they be able to survive and prosper? Interesting subject.


  • Mike Gutter


    Since I lived across the street from the American Ambassador, the guards taught me a that trick but several others as well. Girls with white skin and light brown or blond hair always got special attention. All we had to do is take one step into the street, walk facing the traffic for several step. The cars would start to slow down. Then take two steps into the traffic. Put an arm out like a halt sign. The cars would stop. Thjen we could cross into the traffic. I don’t quite remember how all the other cars understood that they were to stop as well but they did. My sisters and I always were able to safely cross the wide streets that way.

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