This is something I wrote several months ago while travelling through Vietnam. I had it in the draft box until I was prompted by an event to finish it off. I hope this doesn’t confuse the more chronologically minded…..
I have done my share of frightening Asian bus trips. I have never particularly enjoyed them at times but they have also not really bothered me. As they hurtle around blind corners with their horn blaring I console myself with the thought that the drivers have grown up driving like this – as has the guy coming the other way – so they should be able to extract themselves from any ugly situation. They drive this road all day every day so they should have the skills to evade disaster.
We have had some bad ones on this trip – where my palms begin to sweat and I look at Mel and she shakes her head and looks down again. But in all reality you have no control at all so there is nothing you can actually do. Besides the time in Indonesia when it was a small mini bus and I felt I had the right to yell at the driver to slow down. But when you are only one of 25 other local passengers who don’t seem perturbed – what do you do?
I don’t remember worrying too much when I was younger. I can only recall one moment when I actually feared for my life. But that was when I was sitting next to my dear friend Aidan – the only two people on a 12 seat plane – trying to land on a remote Indonesian island and all we could see as the plane wobbled into land was the runway swaying from one side of the windscreen to the other as the ground rapidly approached. I recall gripping the armrests in panic as Aidan laughed like a maniac and sang Buddy Holly songs. Both fuelling and feeding off my acute fear.
But when I am sitting with Mel and three little souls that I have responsibility for and I have chosen to put them in that situation – the stakes are higher and the consequences are painfully acute or simply unthinkable. The thought of my own suffering pales into insignificance when I ponder my daughters suffering. Parenting has tipped the scales away from myself. I would rather I suffer a million fold than see them suffer even slightly.
But yesterday for the first time ever – on a nightmare bus coming back from a beautiful 3 day trip to a small rural village outside of Hanoi – I swore involuntarily and loudly….three times. Us overtaking an accelerating semi trailer with another accelerating semi trailer heading towards us on a narrow road that was under repair. The gap was narrowing and all our driver did was sound his horn and keep accelerating. As did the oncoming truck. Everything in my soul wanted to scream and all that came out was a loud involuntary almost primal response of “F$@# F@$#! F$@#!!!!”
The girls had ear phones in watching movies. I was safe.
What angers me is the sheer stupidity and mind numbing lack of logic. A speeding trip to a hospital with a sick patient is a logical thing. But they risk their and our lives to make up 2-3 minutes – which they then lose as soon as they stop to pick someone up or drop someone off. A quick road side toilet break and the last 7 times they risked our lives are completely pointless. I start to think that they see it as sport and they do it to make the trip exciting because they drive it day after day after day. There is a bus company in Cambodia which has set itself up to appeal to tourists. They have nailed it completely due to their sales pitch……”We go slowly”. Their buses are speed limited and if they go over a certain speed they get a radio call from head office asking “What’s going on?”. When we travelled with them the bus was packed with tourists who want some control over their fate and would rather get to their destination 15 minutes late than never.
The real rub is the lack of control. You have no say. You are completely powerless to change anything about your fate. The list of possible interrelated events that all go together to keep you safe – or not – is infinite and mind numbing. Are the wheel nuts on, what if he takes his eyes off the road, what if a dog comes, what if a stone flies up, what if the OTHER driver blinks or his phone rings. There is so much luck, fate and chance involved that if you try to comprehend it your head swims and it is like trying to describe what happens when you get to the edge of our universe. Our minds aren’t build to comprehend it. So trying to just brings a blankness. And if you actuality try to mitigate all this infinite possibilities you are paralysed.
So you have to sit back and just hope. And I don’t like it. And I begin to get nervous or doubt myself. I begin to think that I should not be here with my children – in Vietnam, on a bus, in the hills.
I should be at home where it is safe.
But it is not safer at home. Nothing is completely safe. Not in a depressing “the world is a terrible place” kind of way (more on that later) – but in a way that luck, chance and fate swim around us constantly but we just hide them behind varying layers of illusion and self deception. The layer between us and the reality that we are a step away from some finite fate becomes thin and permeable at these peak moments when you realise what COULD happen. But there is nothing to do but play this world as safe as you can and let the rest take its course.
I can’t possibly stop and consider it all or I would be paralysed. Out here on the road I consider it all more because there appears to be more inherent risk – but I have to wonder if there really is more risk. No one in their right mind would feel endangered in a Martin Place cafe, or choosing between breakfast cereals in a supermarket in Paris or crossing a road or walking to catch a train (a young healthy friend of ours recently had an inexplicable brain aneurism doing just that).
No – as long as you are not ignorant, naive or arrogant to unnecessarily travel to war torn countries in strife then the world is not more dangerous in one place than another.
You just keep moving toward your destination. Soaking up all you can hoping the cards are stacked your way.
Matt, what an amazing post. After 3 months in Cambodia and one in Nepal with our 2 boys, aged 4 and 6, I cannot tell you how much this resonates with me. Hope like hell and don’t look. We fly to Europe tomorrow where we plan to cycle tour for the next 4 months. I love your blog! Our experiences are very similar – though I find you articulate it often before my thoughts are finalised on a subject! Anyway, onward, stay safe and keep it up. Cheers Tanja
From this end we pray regularly that you are all cared for every minute. As we always have for you all. Mum
Hi Mat and Mel. And girls. I could not love your blog any more than I do! Thanks so much for sharing. I am hoping it becomes a beautiful story and picture book at the end! I look forward to every post and read each a number of times. A wonderful journey and literally inspirational. Sam (Robbo) x
Thanks so much Sam. I love that you’re along with us for the ride – you who inspires others daily! Much love xxx
Such a familiar story for me! Hold tight and don’t think about it too much…probably good advice for life generally 😉