As I’m waiting for an eleven-year-old girl to finish pouring my gas from an old 2L Coke bottle, a dump truck races down the street like a bowling ball of death. These crazy assholes are a constant threat around here these days — huge beasts driven by gaunt little men with pockets full of cigarettes and meth. They’re hauling in big changes for Thao Dien, building the future of Vietnam: a place where the traffic is miserable and the greatest commodity of all is a bit of privacy — where all the green space is photoshopped onto billboards and nobody can breathe without a pollution mask.
It’s been obvious to me for a while now: Thao Dien is dying. Investors and developers are clogging the area with too many new apartment buildings. They’re banking on people like me, people who’ll pay inflated rents to live where it’s still possible to take your dog for a walk without getting run over by a dump truck. They’re building on the allure of Thao Dien and destroying it at the same time. These streets weren’t built for extended-cab Chevy Suburbans, or Escalades, and yet here they are.
Hip little Thao Dien will go through a slow and agonizing death, and those of us who called it home before the developers finished it off will speak in condescending tones about how everything changed — about what a nice place it used to be — perfectly aware that we were the problem. Nobody will have fun when all these new tenants show up with their SUVs to race through waist-deep flood waters at highway speeds. The end of Thao Dien is upon us, and I ain’t gonna swim.
For now, all I can do is complain and fight my way through these clogged arteries, because…
It’s Rich Kid O’Clock in Thao Dien again, that miserable chunk of time when private schools clog the streets like affluent cholesterol and nobody can move because assholes shove their fucking Toyota Fortuners into every little bit of space, parking in the middle of the fucking street while traffic backs up behind them and every other idiot in an empty SUV gets pissed and tries to pass in the motorbike lane, and now nobody can move and we all watch as another fucking idiot tries to make a u-turn into our lane, blocking traffic in both fucking directions, so now there are hundreds of us all locked into a fucking Vietnamese Stand-Off, where nobody will budge and everyone just gets angrier and angrier in that non-confrontational way where nobody actually tries to solve the problem and everyone just pushes in as close as they can to the car ahead of them and fucking lays into their horn until a nearby security guard comes out and loses his fucking mintrying to get people to magically drive through each other, just like he did yesterday and the day before that and will do all over again tomorrow because it’s just going to keep getting worse.
Okay … breathe. Find your Zen.
Nope, fuck this.
I launch up onto the curb between two Korean ladies chatting away under their sun umbrellas. They shriek as I go crashing through some pylons behind them. One of the cones gets stuck under my bike, so I have to boot it out. The damn thing almost hits a couple of little Aryan kids in dumb-looking uniforms, protected by a woman flailing her arms around like she’s a fucking Secret Service agent. Security guards come at me with batons and whistles blaring. On my way past, I leave them with my usual advice for when traffic pisses me off: “Stop having kids!”
There are cars & buses & vans & taxis & shuttles & fucking pick-up trucks parked two deep on both sides of the street. The line to get out of Thao Dien starts all the way back here, where the An Phu Compound squeezes the street until it’s narrow enough to be blocked by a single parked car. There’s an empty, tree-lined street on the other side of the fence, but it’s not for us. It’s for the people who hire drivers to pick their kids up from the private schools.
When I finally make it to Burger King, I turn onto a side street to get away from the cluster fuck on the main drag. There’s actually a bit of space to move here, so I have fun and lean into the corners, weaving through a paved slalom of taxis and garbage carts — but just when I’m enjoying myself, I come to another crowd of SUVs out front of another private school and even more construction sites with more dump trucks blocking half the street….
At the end of Thao Dien, where cement skeletons rise up from the dust like graveyards of human coral, where we push into the sky to live on top of each other, I can see the future that’s been chosen for us.