Motorbike drivers, especially in the northern part of the country, are an uneasy lot these days. Every few days or weeks, a bike seems to catch fire for no known reason. While the mystery rages, some peace of mind is on offer courtesy a motorcycle repair shop on Thai Ha Street in Ha Noi. Since last month, the shop has introduced what it claims is a fireproof solution. While the jury is out on the cause of the fire, there is a high likelihood that a leak in the electrical wires and petrol tubes that is to blame, the shop says. Now chew on this. The shop goes further and offers a reason for the leak: rats. With such a simple explanation, the solution becomes simple as well. Wrap the wires and tubes with sticky tape. Simple solution, but not so cheap. Each service costs between VND150,000-VND300,000 (US$7-14); but it has attracted quite a number of customers. The garage owner said that on average, 3-5 customers were opting for the sticky tape solution per day. However, this answer begs another question or series of questions: Why are the fires and explosions happening just now? Has there been a rodent population explosion? Have they taken a fancy to motorbike wiring for some reason? And so on.
To add further fuel to the fiery mystery, an authorised agency has recently said it has detected a local gas station selling petrol with a high content of oxygen, which is highly combustible.
Moral of the story: Fireproof is not necessarily foolproof.
It's all who you know
It is normal that one tries to get out of paying a stiff fine when caught doing something illegal, especially violating traffic rules. You say you did not notice the traffic sign because it was covered by trees, or that it was an emergency that prompted your action and so on. Then there are those who indulge in name-dropping. This is particularly true of those who are somewhat wealthy, because they generally believe their wealth entitles them to privileges not available to common folk. They reveal their connections to people in high places in the hope that the cops are impressed and let them off, maybe with a salute even.
One such worthy was driving a BMW X6 recently, and when caught by traffic police in Ha Noi, introduced himself as a family member of Nguyen Duc Nhanh, chief of the Ha Noi Police Department. In fact, the proximity to such a high official allowed him to work himself into such anger that he even spat at the officers and refused to show them his personal information or his driving licence. A Twist in the Tale is happy to report that the ploy failed. A week later, Nhanh said at a press meeting that this sort of behaviour deserved strict punishment.
Moral of the story: Tall stories generally stoop low.
Taking the long way around
An expatriate friend had been in Ha Noi long enough to know that a xe om (motorbike taxi) was the cheapest way to get around. She had also been around long enough to brave the ride through congested streets from time to time. It was always a somewhat tricky affair though, to tell the driver where she wanted to go, but she usually managed with a mixture of English, rudimentary Vietnamese and sign language. Recently, she had to resort to the use of a pen and piece of paper, but the xe om driver got it finally, and they were off.
The ride seemed unusually long, but the expatriate assumed the driver was taking detours warranted by the traffic congestion. All such assumptions were jettisoned about half an hour later when they reached the destination and the driver asked for VND300,000 (US$14). Clearly, he had assumed that the foreigner did not know her way around and would be a soft touch. It was his turn now to get rid of some assumptions. The customer kept her wits about her and took the fight to him, accusing him of trying to rip her off. Cowed by her indignation, the shamefaced driver settled for a more down-to-earth fee of VND50,000.
Moral of the story: Stand your ground when you get around. — VNS