Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Bicycle Diaries

Last Thursday, I bought a bicycle. I know! Even I asked "What took you so long?". I had been here for nearly four months and I was still moseying around the city on foot, by bus, by xe ôm and by taxi. I had to get with the way of the future! No longer do I live in darkness. I once was lost, but now am found on Đường Láng four days a week, pedalling the hell out of my two-wheeler.

My new vehicle (the word "vehicle" gives my bicycle the dignity it merits) was made by Asama, a Taiwanese company. It's a single-speed bike, a fact which takes the stress of indecision out of riding a bicycle. I pedal, and the bike moves. No worrying about what the optimal front gear-back gear combination would be. The bike asks no questions, and I give it no answers. That's the way I like it. It's silver, has a built-in lock (yahoo!) and a basket on the front. The basket might give the impression that I look like a joyful little schoolgirl when riding the bicycle. Nothing could be further from the truth. My manly work clothes, my helmet with a flames decal, my legs like tree trunks (see below), my mind-boggling speed, the steel in my eyes, they all say "Step back. This is a real man on the bicycle.".

I had been apprehensive about riding a bicycle in Hanoi because, to an outsider, the traffic looks like hell. What would poor I do without the shell of a car to protect me from the big, bad, unscrupulous motorcycle drivers? But then I started working at Hanoi Community College, requiring me to commute on one of the most-godawful bus routes in the city. The bus never comes, the driver plays the worst Vietnamese music [which is really something, because Vietnamese music as a rule is bad (THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS DON'T KILL ME)] and I have sometimes felt so squished that I feared the atoms comprising my body would implode. Oh, and it would take me over an hour to get to work. On my bicycle, it takes me thirty minutes to get to work, and that includes a pit stop to eat xôi by the river. By bus, it would take me an hour, cost me 6,000 VND (3,000 VND each trip) and force me to walk for ten minutes on a stinky, dusty street. So every workday I save one hour, giving me one more hour to listen to Hard to be Cool (In a Minivan) on repeat.

What is the bike-riding experience like? It is a blast. Riding a bicycle in Hanoi is much safer than riding a bicycle in Toronto. Most of the vehicles around me are motorcycles, which are narrow and can easily go around obstacles. Cars are very wide and the drivers cannot see exactly where the edge of the car is, making the risk of colliding with a bicyclist on the side of the road relatively high. In Hanoi, I have access to virtually one-and-a-half car widths of road space, giving me lots of room to avoid the many potholes, crushed rats and unsightly bumps on the road. It also gives me room to whiz by the other cyclists, who like to take their sweet time on the road as they languish without helmets. I go nearly as fast as the motorcycles, allowing me to go to the left side of the road whenever I need to make a left turn. Sure, the cars honk at me, but, as I said in a previous post, I don't give a shit, because I'm on YouTube, baby! I ain't going to get off the road just because you decide to take one of the modes of transportation least conducive to safety, air quality and just allocation of road space. Of course, when I'm in the left lane, I pedal like hell and promise to buy my legs a beer one day to make up for the trouble I cause them.

On a related note, my use of a bicycle has been wonderful for my legs. They have been transformed from stores of flab into pistons of power. Three months ago, my calves were 8.5 out of 10. Now, they're 15,000 out of 10. I have to get ready to have thighs like those of the Greek gods, because that's where I'm headed. Cream-white thighs, unblemished by the sun and more suited to oxen than to human beings. They lead very nicely into my effulgent, finely-toned, deep-beige calves, which are the marvel of the world over. The colours are so divergent it is as though the thighs and calves belong to two entirely different beings - or, more accurately, deities.


  1. You're so fucking wonderful! I miss you!

  2. hey josh, this is related:

    hope you're doing well! :)