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The Daily Commute

After posting “Slaughter on the Streets,” I decided that I would keep a running commentary on my commutes into Vientiane from The Farm. So, I’ll post here each day when I make a trip and I’ll describe how that trip went, good or bad. Normally, I travel to Vientiane around 10 a.m. and return around 8:30 p.m. Each way takes about 50-60 minutes, depending on the traffic and road conditions. Saturdays, I leave The Farm around 6:15 a.m. and return anywhere between 2 and 3 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 17 – Tuesday, Nov. 3

There hasn’t been much to report over the period. It’s been mostly calm on the roads that I ride, though this past Tuesday two ambulances going in opposite directions blasted past me just as I was turning onto the road leading to my village. I didn’t see any accident scenes, so if there were any, they were past my turn off.

This doesn’t mean that traffic accidents have lessened. I’ve seen quite a few new spray paint outlines on the main road, outlines of cars and motorbikes that have been involved in accidents. One of the main hospitals in Vientiane reports, also, that treatment of road accident victims has increased from 50-60 daily last year to 100-120 daily this year and that it’s almost impossible to keep up with the influx. And on it goes.

Thursday, Oct. 15

Not much happening tonight, except for a big shindig at the Presidential Palace, which required a very large police presence. One officer was in the intersection in front of the residence, directing traffic through the traffic light in preparation for an imminent motorcade. At another light a little further along, police were also directing traffic. It seemed that the motorcade might be following my route, which leads toward the bridge straddling the border with Thailand across the Mekong, but they never caught up with me. The traffic at these two lights was milder than usual, since nobody was going to run through the red lights.

Also, an ambulance came racing toward Vientiane just a little way out of town, but I never came upon an accident scene. It was a pretty easy commute today.

Tuesday, Oct. 6 – Tuesday, Oct. 13

Everyone (debatable) has been driving nicely recently, so I’ve seen no accident scenes nor any near misses. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been any accidents, because I have seen a few newly painted outlines on the road where accidents occurred at one time or another. Often, the police will spray paint an outline of the vehicle(s) on the highway where an accident has happened.

I’ve seen a few ambulances racing toward hospitals, but, again, there have been no accidents along my route. One of the ambulances was carrying, I believe, a Thai man who had been participating in a boat race last Saturday when he collapsed in his team’s boat. I read later that he died, though the article didn’t state the cause of death. I had finished work on the 10th and was heading toward the boat race along the Mekong near my village when I saw the ambulance.

Hopefully, this string of days without any dire situations will continue.

Thursday, Oct. 1 and Saturday, Oct. 3

Not much to write about; fairly routine trips in and out of the city. I had an ambulance pass me heading toward Vientiane on Thursday, but I never did see an accident scene, so perhaps it was for another emergency.

Wednesday, Sept. 30 – A Horrible Crash

I went into Vientiane today to pick up my pay check, and on the way there I came across a very bad-looking accident. The heavy traffic had come to a standstill in front of me, but motorbike riders were still able to weave our way in and out of the stopped cars. Then I saw a large SUV-type vehicle with a smashed front grill and next I came upon a motorbike that was down. An ambulance was there and a young man, the motorbike driver, I assume, was on his back in the middle of the right lane and was being attended to by a few EMT guys. He was covered in blood and it appeared that his left leg was being worked on. He seemed to be resting comfortably, without moaning or crying, so, hopefully, this wasn’t a fatal collision. Still, by the condition of the car’s front grill, this was no love tap.

The trip back in the afternoon presented no problems.

Tuesday, Sept. 29

Good rides both ways today.

Wednesday, Sept. 24 and Saturday, Sept. 26

Normal rides in and back. On Saturday I saw a small fender bender on a busy intersection that has no traffic lights. A main one-way road goes past a smaller arterial road that has traffic coming from both directions. It’s usually quite a busy intersection and people get easily impatient trying to get from one side to the other, across the one way. This particular incident appeared to involve a couple of older foreigners, but it was nothing more than a broken headlight and a slightly damaged bumper.

Tuesday, Sept. 22 – A Downpour

In my previous post, I mentioned that perhaps rainy season was finished. I spoke too soon. It rained all the way in this morning, which wouldn’t ordinarily be bad, but my friend loaned out my large poncho last night and “graciously” let me use his. Unfortunately, it was several sizes too small, so I got fairly wet. I had to repack my bags because they wouldn’t fit under the rain gear, only outside of it. I used my camera bag, which has a built-in rain sack, and my smaller computer bag, which is more waterproof than the larger one. I made it in to Vientiane OK and didn’t see any accidents, thankfully, and by night, the rain had finished, so it was a normal ride back to the house.

Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, Sept. 15th – Sept. 19th

Nothing unusual about the rides in and out. This was a pretty long stretch without seeing any stupidity or accidents. We haven’t had much rain lately, either, so the wet season appears to be over. Great! No more driving at night in downpours.

Saturday, Sept. 12th–A Horrible Accident Scene

So much for accident-free roads. On the way in this morning, I passed slowly through a horrific-looking accident very near the Lao Brewery. A car had it’s entire front end squashed up against the driver’s compartment. It had obviously hit something at a high speed, but there was no other vehicle in sight. About 8 cops were investigating the scene and directing traffic through all the debris scattered across the road. The vehicle looked very similar to another one that was involved in an accident in the Dominican Republic. Here’s a photo of that tragedy.

Boca_Chica_Wreck

I thought that no one could have survived the Vientiane accident, so I was astonished to see a photo of the car in the Vientiane Times a few days later, and the story stated that the car had smashed head on into a small truck. It further stated that, unbelievably, both drivers were injured. Wow! Of course, injuries could permanently affect their lives, but the fact that they lived is incredible, to me.

The rest of the ride in and was normal, except for a couple of incidences. First, I had stopped at a red light on the main avenue in the city. A foreigner on a motorbike pulled up next to me and stopped, also. After about five seconds of waiting, he decided that he was in too much of a hurry to wait for the light to change, so he ran the red. However, he ran it right in front of two police standing near their motorbikes next to a police box on the corner. One of them pulled out his whistle and blew it to let the guy know that they’d caught him. He either didn’t hear the whistle or he just ignored it, thinking, possibly, that the cops would never stop a foreigner. One of them hopped on his ‘bike and chased the guy down and caught him. By that time, the light had changed and I rode on by them. I hope he got a hefty fine. Lao people run the red light ALL THE TIME, but I don’t think foreigners should be emulating them. Most of us know what safe driving should be and we know that a red light means STOP. This guy found out that the cops know that, too, and that they don’t care if you’re a (privileged) foreigner. Ironically, the Vientiane Times ran an editorial a few days later with the headline “Everyone Must Stop For Red Lights.”

In the second incident, I saw an ambulance going into Vientiane, and I thought I had come onto another accident scene when I saw lots of very slow traffic ahead of me. But, no, it wasn’t an accident. The city was in the process of cutting down a huge tree, and the trunk was lying on the left side of the road, blocking traffic in those two lanes. Perhaps the ambulance was out looking for a tree surgeon. (Sorry about that.)

Thursday, Sept. 10th

Again, an easy ride today and tonight, but, again, an ambulance was speeding toward the city on the night ride. I never did see any accident, though.

Wednesday, Sept. 9th–Back to Work

Our long break is over, so it’s time to start the daily commute again. I had to go to the school today for a teachers’ workshop, and regular classes begin tomorrow. The rides were easy today, though I did see one ambulance racing toward Vientiane on my way back. Fortunately, I didn’t come upon any accidents scenes. Let’s see how long the road stays safe.

Saturday, August 1-The Last Ride

The rides in and back were almost enjoyable. No major problems except one spot where the traffic got very congested. The Transportation Department was taking down a huge tree on the other side of the road, and it was mostly in large pieces in the incoming lane, so our lane was reduced to one. An ambulance had come screaming past earlier, but I never did see an accident scene. Maybe it was taking the tree surgeon to another area.

Anyway, this was the last ride into Vientiane for a while because we have a break between our trimesters. It’s a fairly long one, but, alas, we don’t get paid during these down times. I gotta really be miserly, but at least I don’t have to pay as much for gas. See you down the road.

Friday, July 31-A Nightmare Ride Home

The ride in was normal, but I had to wear my poncho in a light rain most of the way. Too bad the night ride wasn’t that pleasant.

Classes finished at 8:15 p.m., and I walked down the stairs to the covered parking lot. As soon as I reached the bottom of the stairs, the rain started–a very heavy rain. So, I got my poncho out, but I decided to wait to see if the rain would stop or at least slack off a bit. After about twenty minutes, it let up a little, so I left the school.

A few blocks down, the rain started up again, a very heavy downpour. I thought about getting a room at a cheap guesthouse for the night, but decided to ride a bit further. Many times these downpours are very localized. Again the rain let up, and, indeed, almost quit. I thought the ride might be OK, even though I’d had to take my glasses off. Just as I left the city, the rain came crashing down in one of the heaviest down pours I’ve been in since I’ve been here, and it stayed that way almost all the way back to the house, about twenty kilometers. It eventually took me more than an hour and a half to get home.

The Vientiane drainage system sucks, at best. The government is desperately trying to prove that they are running a modern country, but many things here are still third world quality. The drainage system is one. In half a dozen places on the highway leading to the airport, the water had flooded either my lane or, in a few places, both lanes. The water in these small lakes was at least several inches deep. I was afraid I might flood the motor. A few of them I was able to avoid, but I couldn’t see the others until I was in them. To say the least, my feet and the bottom of my jeans were drenched. It was raining hard enough that my poncho couldn’t keep all the water out, so I got fairly wet underneath also.

Naturally, the ride on the back road to the village was a slow and torturous affair as I wound my way slowly around the deep potholes and the slippery muddy spots. When I got to the small lane that leads to my house, I decided the best choice was to push the ‘bike through the slimy clay path. I was never so relieved to get home after that ride. I should have stayed at a guesthouse.

Thursday, July 30-Three Motorbikes Down

The day ride was normal enough, but the night ride was punctuated by a couple of accident scenes.
At the first one, just outside the city, two motorbikes were down in the other lane, about twenty feet apart on the road. I didn’t see any victims, but the police were there. Perhaps any ambulance had already come and gone. Hopefully, though, no one was hurt.

The second one was a few kilometers down the road in my lane. A motorbike was on its side just in front of a pick up truck. There were no police and there were only a few people about. Perhaps it wasn’t serious.

Wednesday, July 29-Pre-Buddhist Lent Fools

Tomorrow the three-month Buddhist Lent period begins, wherein the monks must stay at their home temple, and many people will refrain from drinking for the period, so they say. There were several jerks out tonight, though. Teen boys popping wheelies in their souped up motorbikes in heavy traffic were one of the dangerous nuisances. A few other fools were at one red light that I stopped for. A car pulled up next to me and honked at the motorbikes in front of him, urging them to run the light so that he or she could do the same. They did and so did the car.. Then, still waiting for the light to change, a tuk-tuk driver drove past on my right, running the light. Unfortunately, another tuk-tuk came to the intersection from the left. He had the green and started across, but he stopped when he saw the other driver and yelled something at him and pointed to the light. The tuk-tuk fool yelled back and kept going through the continued shouts from the legal operator.

Just another night drive in Vientiane.

Tuesday, July 28-Goats and Dogs and Things

Both rides were fairly easy, but the morning trip in provided a few moments of potential danger. Within about a five-block distance just outside of the city, I came upon four situations.

First, I had to avoid a herd of goats that were crossing the road. I didn’t see them at first because of the cars in front of me, which drove past the goats before they got into my lane. I finally saw them in plenty of time to slow down and let them go. I suppose there were about ten of them.

Next, a lady stepped out of the driver’s side of a car that was half-way parked in my lane. Whenever I see someone sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, I automatically veer way off to the left or I slow down to a crawl. In this case, I had already slowed, so I easily avoided her and the door that she opened wide. She never bothered looking to see if anyone was coming.

Then, a motorbike ran a red light quite a long time after it had already changed. Our lane had the green light, but this idiot decided he wasn’t going to wait for anything, so he weaved his way through a bunch of cars that were driving through the light, narrowly missing a couple of them and dashed past another that was almost upon him. The idiot made it through without getting hit.

Finally, a dog ran out in front of me and I had to slam on the brakes to avoid him. Animals and idiots–those highlighted the morning ride. Thankfully, none of them were out at night.

Monday, July 27

Easy rides today. No problems, but, unbelievably, after all the rain this weekend, some parts of the back road were dry already and dusty. Following behind a couple of the big sand and gravel trucks wasn’t much fun, with grit blowing into my eyes, nose and mouth. I gotta keep my mouth shut. (ha! I’ve heard that before.)

Saturday, July 25

No issues today. Easy come, easy go.

Friday, July 24–Jeep Down and Rainy Night Ride

On the way in today, I came upon an accident scene that, barring any injuries, was more humorous than anything else. This was on the main thoroughfare in Vientiane, Lane Xang Avenue, a six-lane road divided by a median planted with grass, flowers and waist high hedges.

At one of the main intersections there was an olive-drab army Jeep that looked quite old but nicely kept up, a modern SUV type vehicle and a tuk-tuk, all stopped at various places on the avenue. The jeep was half way up on the median, its front wheels on top of a hedge; the SUV was stopped nearby, and the tuk-tuk was stopped in the process of making a right turn onto the avenue. Two people were talking near the Jeep and the SUV, but there was no ambulance nor any police. Hard to tell what the heck happened, but it was a funny scene, as long as no one was injured.

The ride back at night was miserable, with rain all the way to the house. The back road to my village is in horrendous shape right now and the rain made it even worse. I crept my way back to the house, arriving fairly dry, except for my shoes and socks. Glad I bought that rain poncho.

I’m filling in for another teacher today, and I’ll be doing the same next week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In addition to my regular classes, then, I’ll be riding into Vientiane every day next week. That could mean that I’ll have some close calls or that I’ll ride through some accident scenes. I sure hope that neither is the case.

Thursday, July 23

Pretty serene, for Laos, rides today. No rain, no accidents, no close calls.

Tuesday, July 21–A Rainy Ride Back

The most dreaded condition, for me, is a ride at night in the rain. Tonight was such a case. When I went outside after classes were finished, it was raining fairly hard. I waited a while, hoping that it would stop or at least slacken a bit. It didn’t. So, I put on the new poncho and took off.

It continued to rain hard in the city, but as I turned onto the main road to the airport, it finally let up somewhat and got lighter the farther I rode. But, that was no consolation. The worst thing about riding in the rain at night is that I have to take off my glasses. There’s a visor on my helmet, but it has a dark tint, which is not conducive to night riding, obviously, so I don’t use it. I can see OK with my glasses off, but my depth perception is thrown way off.

Naturally, I made my way to the house very slowly. It took about 15-20 minutes longer than usual, but I did make it, safe and sound. The one problem I had at the house was actually getting to the house. There’s a dirt lane that I have to take to get there, and with all the rain the path was quite wet and muddy, with large areas of standing water on top of the dirt. I had to inch my way along in order not to send the motorbike into a tailspin. A few times I had to put one foot down into the water, so my already wet feet got even wetter. Then, there’s a slight incline I have to ride up and it’s usually very muddy. Luckily, though, the neighbors laid down a bunch of gravel, which made things much easier.

The next day I asked Nai about the lane to the house. As it turns out, there is a much better path coming in from a different direction, which I’ll start using.

Tuesday, July 14 – Saturday, July 18

These three days were all normal rides, nothing unusual. There was a bit of rain coming in on Thursday, so I got to try out my new rain poncho that I bought on Tuesday. It works well. I know that, sooner or later, I’m gonna have to use it under much more adverse conditions.

Saturday, July 11

A good ride both ways today. Nice. Might not be much of a weekend as the forecast is calling for a lot of rain, though the forecast is usually dead wrong.

Friday, July 10–Two Motorbikes Down

Arggghhh, I hate riding on Friday nights. People are impatient to cross the border for a weekend in Thailand and many more drinkers than usual are out on the roads. Traffic was really heavy on the way back home, so extra caution was demanded. I actually had a normal ride, but at least two people didn’t.

Just outside of Vientiane, I came across two motorbikes on their sides in the opposite lane. It had just happened before I got there, I assume. The police hadn’t yet come nor an ambulance. People were, as usual, standing around gawking, but I didn’t see any victims being tended to. Neither ‘bike looked badly damaged, so, hopefully, it was a minor incident.

I don’t normally come into town on Friday, but I was filling in for another teacher. I like the extra money, but I sure don’t like the ride back at night. I’m scheduled for two more Friday fill-ins, the 24th and 31st, before the term ends on August 1st. I’m not looking forward to those night time rides.

Thursday, July 9–A Potential Collision

It was mostly a normal ride, coming and going, except for one moment at night. I was riding through one of the small villages along the main road on my way back to the house. There are two of these villages along the way, with plenty of traffic during the day because there are many markets fronting the main road, so lots of cars and motorbikes are leaving and entering.

I always slow down through these places, though the night traffic is quite a bit less than in the day. I was creeping through one area when all of a sudden a girl comes out from a dirt lane on the right and almost collides with me. We both barely had enough time to stop before smacking into each other. Where was she going? It’s the same old story. She didn’t want to wait for traffic to clear, so she was going to ride against traffic until she could make her way into the proper lane. I think that a large number of motorbike accidents are caused by these impatient fools. My heart started beating normally about half a minute later. It was darn close. Got home safely, though.

Tuesday, July 7

Nothing to say about today, except easy rides both ways. There was a lot of rain supposedly on the way at night, and I could see lightning flashes to the north, so I made my way back to the house faster than I’d normally drive. Thankfully, no problems, and I beat the rain.

Saturday, July 4–No Fireworks

Easy rides both ways, no accidents along the way. Back to the New Place (New Farm?) to enjoy the 4th.

Thursday, July 2–Motorbike Collision

For me, coming and going were pretty routine. On the way back at night, though, I was passed by an ambulance going like a bat out of hell, so I figured there might be a crash scene ahead. A couple of kilometers down the road, I came to it. There were two motorbikes down, about 50 feet apart, in the other lane, heading toward Vientiane. I didn’t see any victims, but the ambulance was blocking the view of where they might have been. The motorbikes didn’t seem to be in terribly bad condition, so, hopefully, the riders weren’t seriously injured. Just another night on the roads of Laos.

Tuesday, June 30

Had pretty easy rides both ways today, though the traffic in the morning was inexplicably heavier than normal. The other drivers were mostly on their best driving behavior, which here translates to 4 on a scale of 10.

Thursday, June 25–Normality Returns

Normality while riding a motorbike here is, of course, relative. There are usually other motorbike riders and four-wheeled vehicles doing the usually crazy things, but today was OK. Had a little rain on the ride home, but it wasn’t much of a problem.

Now we have a short mid-term break, so I’m off until next Tuesday. See you then.

Tuesday, June 23–Jerk Night in Vientiane

The traffic seemed quite a bit heavier than normal going in this morning, but there’s really not much to say. At night, however, the jerks were out in force.

First, I stopped at a major intersection to wait for the light to change to green. The drivers coming from the right side had the right of way at the time. Somebody in a large black pickup truck or SUV (couldn’t quite tell) pulled up behind me and after about 10 seconds or so, began honking his horn at me. Right then, there was no traffic from the right, but our light was still red. He kept insistently honking, so I kind of threw my hands up in a “what the heck do you want me to do?” gesture. I knew he wanted me to run the light or to pull over so that he or she could run through it. He kept honking until I swiveled my head around to get a glance of whoever it was and I pointed to the light. “It’s red, stupid.” I turned my head back around just in time to see a car speed through the green light. If I had tried to cross the road illegally, I’d have been wiped out. When the light changed, I purposefully took off very slowly. The black vehicle (it was a shiny new pickup) passed me on the right and turned right at the next light. Jerk Number One.

Jerk Number Two was waiting for me a few blocks down. This time I was on another major one way road and there are stop signs on the left and right at the intersection I was approaching. The traffic on both sides had stopped to wait for the line of cars and motorbikes to pass. I was near the end of that line when suddenly some fool came speeding from the left. He kind of slowed down when he came to the stop sign, but he didn’t stop. He was desperately impatient to cross the road, traffic be damned. He nosed his way into the first two lanes of the road, forcing a car to stop and causing a few motorbikes ahead of me to veer sharply out of his way, and kept on coming toward my lane. I had slowed down quite a bit by this time, but I was curious to see how far he would push the situation. (Don’t worry, I was quite prepared to stop if he didn’t.) I came right up to his van as he finally stopped half way across my lane, and as I passed him by with several feet to spare, I gestured at him in a vague way (I really wanted to flip him off) and gave him (or her) a “drop dead” look.

There was only a single motorbike not too far behind me, so Jerk No. Two decided to wait. This guy would have had to wait about five seconds to cross the road legally, but that was too long for his convenience, I suppose. That’s one of the biggest problems with truck, car and motorbike operators here. They are extremely impatient. Another problem is that they seem to only think about themselves. “I’m going nowhere, but I have to get there NOW!”

Jerk Number Three didn’t involve me, but I had a front row seat to a nearly calamitous collision. I was waiting at another red light, an intersection that is notorious for vehicles disobeying the light. From the left came a motorbike full blast through his red light while a car with the green light (it’s a four-way stop) came speeding toward Vientiane. I thought for sure this was gonna be horrendous. The bike passed right in front of the car with only a few feet to spare. This jerk was lucky tonight, but how long will his luck hold out?

I made it back safely to The Farm. Another successful ride. Any ride that I survive is a success.

Monday, June 22nd–Another Good Ride

Again today, both rides were uneventful. A stiff breeze led to some dusty conditions on the ride in, and a steady drizzle most of the way at night led me to be extra careful. I got a little wet, but not too bad. I hate driving in the rain at night because I usually have to take off my glasses, which seems to hurt my depth perception more than anything. Again, though, no incidents today.

Saturday, June 20th, 2015–Unbelievably Normal

It was an unusual ride because I didn’t experience any serious potential incidents, nor did I see any accidents along the way. I and the Lao people need more days like this.

Thursday, June 18th, 2015–A Heavy Collision

It was a normal ride for me today, both coming and going. Heading back at night after work, I remembered that I had to pick up something to eat (noodle soup), since we didn’t really have anything at the house. So I made a detour from my usual route and went back along the Mekong to a minimart that I frequent. On the way there, I came upon an accident scene that had involved two motorbikes. One of the bikes was completely mangled, totaled out. The other bike lay under it, so I couldn’t see how badly it was damaged. I didn’t see any victims, so I didn’t know, at the time, if anyone had been seriously hurt. However, when I left the minimart, I glanced back the three blocks or so toward the accident scene and an ambulance, lights flashing, had shown up. Just another night in Vientiane.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015–Easy Does It

This was a very incident-free day, except for the four teenaged nighttime bicycle riders without lights who turned abruptly into the traffic lane, going the wrong way of course. There was never any danger of hitting them, and my only concern was with the motorbike rider to my right that I was passing at the time. I was worried that he would swerve toward me to avoid the bicyclists, but he turned right at the same lane they came out of. Other than that, it was an unusually calm ride.

Another observation, though, is in order. I rode a bit further down the road, about a kilometer or so, when I came upon an older boy and a very young girl riding bicycles, no lights. I passed them slowly, and the girl looked right at me as I passed. She couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old and she was swerving left and right, as young children will do when riding bicycles, not totally in control. Why the hell do parents let kids ride bicycles at night on this busy and dangerous road? Do they know that they’re out here?

I swap tales with Sam, an American colleague who also rides a motorbike, and he told me that the night before he had come upon an accident scene with four bikes down on the road. The ambulance had already come and gone, so he didn’t know how many or how badly people had been hurt. My route home covers a small portion of Vientiane, so there is so much more going on that I don’t know about. My stories concern just a small fraction of everything else that is happening elsewhere in the city and beyond. The insanity is far more than what I see.

Saturday June 13th — A Near Miss

If any day could be said to be an easy ride, it’s Saturdays. I leave the village around 6:30 a.m. and traffic is usually light all the way, though coming back in the afternoon can be a bit hectic. This morning everything was going great, an easy ride. I then came to one of the main intersections, not too far from the school. Now, I always stop at red lights, even if few other drivers don’t, especially if there’s no other traffic around. I stopped at the light here, but some other bike riders went on through. There wasn’t any traffic. A car pulled up beside me and he stopped also. The light changed and we went on through the intersection. All of a sudden, the car braked and veered to the left. From the other side of the car came a motorbike heading right at me at a pretty good clip. It was ridden by an old guy, older than yours truly, and his wife, I suppose, was sitting behind him. He saw me and put on his brakes about the same time I put on mine and veered to the right. He was close enough to me that I could hear him mutter “oh . . . oh . . . oh.” We just missed each other. I could have reached out and touched him. His face was frozen in fear, but I shouted at him “You f*?king idiot!” I’m not sure he heard me, and if he did, I’m sure he didn’t understand. I usually take a quick look both ways before going through an intersection, but the car on my left was blocking the view. If I had waited a few more seconds, the old guy would have probably been gone by the time I got to that point on the avenue.

He obviously had run the red light, either on purpose or because he hadn’t noticed that the light had changed. My heart was in my throat the rest of the way to the school. Damn, just like that, your number could be up. At least the ride back in the afternoon was without incident.

Thankfully, I don’t have to ride in again until Tuesday, since I’ll be back to my normal schedule of only working on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Friday June 12th

It was a “routine” drive both ways today, although there’s really nothing routine about riding a motorbike here. I’ll make one observation that shows why there is no “routine.” I was riding through one of the small villages on the main road on the way back tonight when I noticed a large gathering in an open-air building to my right. The way ahead was clear, so I chanced a quick glance over to see what was going on (just a banquet) and when I returned my eyes to the road, a motorbike, going the wrong way, of course, was bearing down on me. It wasn’t a close call by any means, as we both had plenty of time to avoid any catastrophe, but it shows how quickly things can happen. It was just a split second of taking my eyes off the road that this other rider appeared out of nowhere, it seemed. So, never take your eyes off the road.

Another kilometer down the road, almost the same thing happened, in a way. My attention was set firmly on the road when again, out of nowhere, another motorbiker came up from a side road and headed the wrong way towards me. Again, I had plenty of warning, but it illustrates how fast things can happen. I didn’t even see this guy approaching the main road because my view was blocked by a building, so I didn’t see his headlight until he swung onto the main road. Caution and awareness at 100 % at all times is necessary.

Thursday, June 11th, 2015–Another Death in the Night

I thought it was going to be a routine ride today. Going into Vientiane was pretty smooth, no problems. Coming back at night was also fairly routine. I got stuck behind a car which signalled that it was going to make a right turn, so I slowed down behind him as he angled slowly toward the right side of the road. Then, he changed his mind and picked up speed a bit, then slowed down again and once more angled toward the right. Again, though, he changed his mind and sped up. He then finally made up his mind and . . . put on his left turn signal, went into the left lane and turned left at a nearby traffic light. This is pretty routine–I never take turn signals for granted. You never know when, where or if the driver is actually going to turn. Motor bikers do this, too. I swear (literally), some of these folks are among the very worst drivers in the world.

I continued on my way, heading out of the city toward my village. I was cruising along the main road to the airport, thinking that at least there weren’t any accidents. About the same time that thought popped into my head, an ambulance came racing toward me, lights flashing and siren wailing, speeding toward a hospital in Vientiane. I rode closer to my turnoff without coming upon an accident scene, so I thought that perhaps someone had another kind of problem, a heart attack, for example, or that if there had been an accident, it was down the road a ways, toward the Friendship Bridge or beyond.

I made the right-hand turn onto the small two-lane road that leads to the village, and after about half a kilometer I spotted a bunch of lights and people just ahead. Sure enough, this was the accident scene. I’d heard of people having accidents on this road, but I’d never seen evidence of one. However, two overturned motorbikes, about 50 meters apart, got my attention. It appeared like a fairly bad accident, and I made my way slowly through the crowd of onlookers as I continued on my way along the other five kilometers to the village.

Only the next morning did I find out from Nai that the mayor of the village had been killed in that accident. A car had hit his bike and another, apparently. What insanity! That’s four wrecks and at least three deaths in the four days and nights that I’ve ridden that route this week. I’ve never seen that many in such a short time, but then again, I usually only drive that road at night on Tuesday and Thursday. (I’ve worked every day this week filling in for another teacher.) One more night to go. Let’s hope it’s without incident.

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

The commute today was fairly routine, at least, as much as any trip into Vientiane can be called routine. However, I did pass by another accident scene at night. Again near the Brewery, there was a motorbike on its side, almost under a car that was next to it on a side lane. It was a fairly new accident as no police were there yet, though there were a large number of onlookers. I didn’t see any victims, either, so, hopefully it wasn’t a major calamity. The bike was lying in a large pothole, so that might have had something to do with the accident, nor did the bike look like it was badly damaged. Hope everyone involved came out of it OK.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

The trip in was pretty normal, with just the usual idiots running stop lights and riding on the wrong side of the road. This is very normal, so I won’t really mention these types of drivers again unless they create a huge problem, which a couple of them did on my trip back at night. But, the only near-incident I had during the day was coming up behind an older foreign man riding a bicycle out into the street between parked cars. My heart stopped for an instant as I thought I might hit him if he rode much further into traffic, but he made a sharp turn and a scary accident was averted.

On the ride back, however, near the Beer Lao Brewery, a couple of motorbikes, one without a headlight, approached the main road from a small side lane. I saw them coming, so I slowed down, not knowing what their intentions were. The guy without the headlight did the usual thing of riding on the wrong side of the road, so I was able to give him plenty of room. The other man started to head across the road to the other lane, and he had plenty of time to do just that. Abruptly, he did a sharp 90 degree turn and headed straight for me. I barely had time to hit the brakes and he moved a little from his original line. We went past each other with several inches to spare. It would have been a nasty collision, one which probably wouldn’t have injured either of us, but would have damaged the ‘bikes. I yelled at him as he went past me and called him a stupid a**hole, though I’m sure he either didn’t hear me or didn’t care. I very cautiously made my way to the house with no further incidents. Geez.