Monday, 12 August 2013

Scootin’ ‘Nam

I recently spent a week in Vietnam holidaying with my family. After a few days of guided sight-seeing and poolside sunning; my wife succumbed to my relentless nagging and gave me permission to leave the safe, manicured pathways of the beach resort to venture onto the sticky streets of Hoi An. On a scooter. 

It was nothing short of spectacular and I would highly recommend it to anyone that loves to ride, especially if you can get off the beaten track and meander through the picturesque countryside. It’s a beautiful place with incredibly friendly and humble people. 

If you weren’t aware, scooters are the primary form of transportation in Vietnam. They are everywhere, ridden by young and old alike, carrying every type of cargo you could imagine.  

The ‘rules’ of the road might not be quite what you’re accustomed to, so before you thumb the electric starter, there a few things you’ll need to get your head around.

 First things first. 

I’ve spent my entire life driving on the left-hand side of the road. In Vietnam they drive on the right. This unnerved me a little at first, but it was surprisingly easy to make the mental flip. That is, while I was cruising along straight, wide roads like the one in the pic alongside. It got somewhat trickier at intersections. Allow me to explain.

Every intersection in Vietnam is a lot like a hornets’ nest moments after being pounded with a big stick. A maddening cacophony of high-pitched buzzing made by hundreds of little things zipping around in seemingly random directions.

It’s like a moving tableau of chaos, and in the middle of all that randomness, it can be a little difficult to remember which side of the madness you’re meant to be on. Especially when it looks like everyone else isn’t quite sure either.

But the truly remarkable thing about the intersections is that the hornets never seem to fly into each other. They flow without bother. It’s amazing and it brings me to my second observation: navigation via echolocation.

Where I’m from, you only use your hooter (horn) in one of two instances:

When it’s a life and death situation and you’re trying to avoid an accident; or when you’d like to make known without any doubt your intense dissatisfaction with another road user’s errant behaviour.  

Not so in Vietnam. The hooter is a navigation device that politely alerts all other road users of your current location and your future intent.

It’s a courteous declaration to the guy in front of you. “Hey pal, I’m coming up behind ya to overtake, so don’t do anything sudden. Hold your course.”

Or it’s a considerate warning to whatever is around the blind corner. “Hey folks, I’m sweeping around this corner as fast as physics will allow me to, so please don’t be where I am going to be in a few seconds’ time.”

The only problem with using the hooter as a substitute for indicators or hand signals, is that on any given 50m stretch of road, there are 245 scooters honking away. It’s kinda like wearing that hornets’ nest on your head. Just hold your course. And no sudden movements.

This leads neatly into my third observation: random actions are reassuringly predictable.

To everyone in Vietnam, a scooter hugging the right hand curb travelling under 30km/h is an obvious declaration to all other road users that the rider is, without any prior indication or warning whatsoever, about to perform one of three actions:
Proceed straight as normal, or come to an immediate and sudden full stop, or vanish in an instant by peeling off through the chickens and dust onto a side road.

Your best bet is to put as much space and time between you and them and NEVER attempt to pass another scoot on the right. That way lies pain.

This is a lesson you will learn very, very quickly and it’s as important to know as another (more alarming) road habit in Vietnam I like to call “What the fuck!?”

Riders tend to pull out into traffic without really worrying about sneaking a peak at what’s coming first. Like they have full and complete faith that you will see them in time, apply as much force to the brake levers as your shaking hands can muster and in so doing avoid an inconvenient collision. 

 So while you’re trying to soak up all the sights and sounds, remember to keep one eye out for the casual joiner and when they do swerve into the road just ahead of you, I wouldn’t bother hooting; they’ll just think you’re going to overtake.

I’ve shot quite a lot of footage that I’ll eventually get around to editing and when I do, I’ll upload it right here. Till then, here's a more tranquil scene from beautiful Hoi An.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

GoPro goodness

This will be a very short post. Crazy busy at work right now.
I borrowed some GoPro gear from some mates to be able to bring you...da da daily commute.


Fiery Temptress says hi.

Friday, 6 July 2012


So I've just completed my first full workweek as a two-wheeled commuter. Ooooo-rah! I've had moments where I've aged years in an instant and others when I've been somewhat overcome by an unbridled, warm joy. All things considered, I am way happier on the Vespa than in a cage. Freedom at last.

First, allow me to introduce you to Lucia. She's a black S125i.e. 2010 model. No embellishments just yet. I chose the S model over the LX because it seems like every man and his dog has an LX in Singapore. Call it my deep-rooted anti-establishment habit, but I'd rather have a scoot that sets me slightly apart, than a scoot just like everyone else's. Also, Fiery Temptress prefers the seventies retro styling. She's got me this far, I'm not going to stop listening to her now am I?

Naturally, I've come into quite a lot of abuse from my beloved co-workers. You know the type of stuff: friendly banter, good-natured jest, myopic and dangerously-close-to-highly-insulting bullshit, that kind of thing. I'm a target primarily because I'm rocking a full-face Caberg helmet and an AlpineStars mesh jacket with armour. Plus some serious gloves.
"Why so protective stuffah, you juss ride a Vespa lah!", they taunt in Singlish.
Why? Because coming off your Vespa at 90km/h is astonishingly similar to coming off your Aprilia at 90km/h. Despite pointing this obvious truth out to them, they still seem to struggle with the notion of self-preservation. It might be because most of the folks on motorcycles here ride in slip-slops and shorts, with open-face helmets completing this ubiquitous devil-may-care ensemble.

No bother, let me rather paint a picture of my commute for you. My office is in the South Western part of Singapore and my home in the East. The commute is 90% motorway, with speed limits that range from 50km/h to 90km/h. It's about 21km each way.
By and large, it's a really nice ride. That is, until the heavens open up and rain falls like God's practising for the next Great Flood. This has happened to me twice in one week. Once would have been enough.

Having taken a break from motorcycles for around ten years, I had completely forgotten about the godawfullly-frightening experience of an 18-wheeler hurtling passed you at full tilt in the wet. It's like driving through a carwash, blindfolded, at night; doing 120 kilometres an hour. I've endured this particular phenomenon a few times this week and might account for my sudden and dramatic weight loss.

But other than discovering that my wet weather gear is perfectly designed to leak into my crotch area, and only my crotch area; this week's commute has been a really great experience and blissfully uneventful. 

This weekend, I'm looking forward to adding a few k's to the 250km's I've already put on. And Lucia is due her first planned shower, suds and all. Fiery Temptress might join in.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Fiery Temptress is always right

Getting a motorcycle license in Singapore is a little akin to sawing one’s penis off with a blunt butter knife. Awfully painful and somewhat time-consuming.

Rewind eight months to September 2011; and you’ll find me eagerly enrolling for my Class 2B motorcycle course at Comfort Delgro Driving Centre in Ubi, Singapore. 
On a Saturday at 8am.

Calm before the storm
‘Atta boy’, whispers Fiery Temptress 
into my ear.

I had a notion that the course would be a little bit of a nuisance, but I had absolutely no idea just what a protracted and arduous process it would be.
You see, the problem isn’t only the number of classes you have to complete; it’s the amount of time that elapses between each class. 

 You would finish Lesson 5 (Circuit Training complete) and would then have to wait two weeks for a slot in Lesson 6.  Fuck.

And so on and so forth through 8 practical lessons, 4 defensive riding lessons and 8 revision lessons for both the Circuit and the Road courses.

After all that, there was a two and a half month wait for my Traffic Police Test after I’d completed the last lesson. I finished in March and could only take the test in June. 
Double fuck.

‘Give up now and I’ll be gone forever’, Fiery Temptress warns. As always, I listen to her.

Fast forward nine months to 20 June 2012 and you’ll find me exasperated, straddling a Honda 150cc in 36 degrees Celsius at 09h30 in the morning at Comfort Delgro Driving Centre in Ubi, Singapore.

Lucky number?

  ‘You are a good rider’, Fiery Temptress breathes into my ear. ‘Just keep your eye on the prize. Eye. On. The. Prize…’

But here’s the thing.

I had to pass the Traffic Police Test first time. If not, I would have one more go at the Test before my 6-month Provisional Drivers’ License would expire.

Meaning that I would have to start the whole process again from scratch.

Meaning that it would start with a small twitch, an almost imperceptible facial tic; and end with me throwing myself off the Marina Bay Sands Skypark. Laughing hysterically for all 220 metres down to the cobbled walkway.

Add to that the knowledge that there was only a 50% pass rate for first-time test-takers, and you can well imagine just how much pressure I was feeling.

And all that pressure had to go somewhere didn’t it? In my case, straight to my legs. They were jelly. Useless to man or beast.

“Eye. On. The. Prize.”

Somehow, I managed to complete the Circuit and Road test with only 12 points against me, out of a total allowance of 18. The lowest in the class.

‘Told you so’, whispers Fiery Temptress into my ear.

‘Now go buy that Vespa…’

And so I did.

Fiery Temptress is always right.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Getting my head around it

I’ve covered the subject of PSB-approved helmets for Singapore in a previous post. You can read that one here
But the gist of it is: you have to wear a helmet with the PSB sticker or you’ll be fined some $$$’s and receive demerit points.

At face value, that all seems perfectly reasonable. But when you consider that the PSB-approved helmets don’t actually provide the best protection for your head, the issue gets a little trickier.

Exhibition 1

I’d rather wear…

Exhibition 2.

This has been playing on my mind for a while. Should I just follow the rules and wear a PSB helmet, or take my chances wearing a helmet that may get me fined?

After trawling the local blogs and forums for a few weeks, I stumbled upon a post that helped me see things clearly. One fella quoted his Riding Instructor, who said something like: 
“If you think your head is worth $55, buy a cheap PSB-approved helmet. But if you think it’s worth more, spend the money and buy the safest helmet you can. Don't worry about the Traffic Police, worry about your head.”

In an instant I realized that I had been lying to myself. The truth was that I was primarily concerned with the aesthetics of my helmet. I wanted to wear a cool Vespa helmet to match my steed. I wasn’t really raging against the safety- factor of PSB helmets, but more the fugly-factor. 

That was a little embarrassing. I don’t consider myself to be so shallow. But there it was.

Since then I resolved to find the right helmet based on these criteria:
Safety (within my budget)
Comfort (for the tropics)
Styling (for my wounded ego)

After a few weeks of looking around, I settle on a Caberg Konda.

Strong enough to protect my head. 
Cool enough to wear in Singapore. 
And cool enough to wear on a Vespa.

I just hope the Traffic Police agree.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Worst. Idea. Ever.

They say that there are only two circumstances under which it is acceptable to offer advice to anyone.
When it is a matter of life or death; 
or when it is requested.

The following advice may form the basis of a hitherto completely unexplored circumstance:
When it is an epically stupid thing to do.

Here’s the story:

Fiery Temptress was getting her way because my Two-Horned Approach to acquiring a Vespa was well under way. And the cart was truly before the…erm…Vespa. Way before even test-riding the Italian icon, I had already researched, found and purchased much of the gear I would need. I had the helmet, the gloves, the riding jacket, rain gear I had my eye on as well as an iPhone mount for the Vespa. (So I could use it as a GPS)

All I still needed was the actual Vespa and, of course, a license to ride it.

Owing to various work and family pressures, I had postponed the date of my theory test three times. The new date was set for January 7. I would be returning from our overseas family vacation to Singapore on the 5th.

Everything was set. My family was still in South Africa. I was only returning to work the following Monday. And I had a day and a bit to brush up on my theory before sitting the exam.
This time, there would be no problems. I was determined to follow through and write the test. No postponements. No excuses.

And then it hit me.

Jet lag.

Epic jet lag.

You know the drill. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t watch tv. I couldn’t eat much. And I most certainly couldn’t retain any amount of information for more than a minute. Operating the kettle became a tricky thing. Essentially, for a day and a bit, I was a big, sweaty goldfish.

By the time I got into a cab to head off to the driving centre, things weren’t looking much better. I’d only got around three hours’ sleep the night before, owing to the jet lag and two family cats that insisted on draping themselves over my face all night.
By now, just the act of walking had become a task that required my full, undivided attention.

I paid the taximan. I could have given him a hundred dollars for a fifteen dollar trip for all I know - even the most basic math had become completely incomprehensible to me. 

I zombied my way up the stairs and into the testing room. The testing officer had to ask me three times to produce my I.D. because by that time, even two-letter words were edging beyond my grasp. 

I slumped into my chair, wiped up some drool and waited for the test to start.

Screen flickers on.

Question 1 of 50.

Mandatory Traffic signs are:

A)      Triangular, red and white
B)       Circular, blue and white
C)      Circular, red, black and white
D)     Rectangular, blue and white

I stared at the computer screen with all the comprehension of a drugged monkey having a go at neurosurgery. The signs danced in my mind, forming a beautiful kaleidoscope of ever-changing colours and shapes. Which one was 'man-da-tor-ee again?’ my addled brain begged.

After a short while I started to freak out. Sweating. Shaking. Mumbling.
There was so much on the line. If I failed this test, it would set me back another month. And that would not please Fiery Temptress at all.
(She can be like that sometimes.)

How the hell I got through forty nine more questions with only four wrong answers will, like the fate of the Myans, remain a mystery forever.

This is why I feel I have earned the right to create a new circumstance under which one can freely dispense advice to another.

Don’t write any test with jet lag. It’s an epically stupid thing to do.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

How to lose weight riding a motorcycle

Ride it in Singapore.

This is a pretty hot place. Even for Fiery Temptress.

Singapore sits a couple degrees below the equator, nestled between Malaysia and Indonesia. The temperature averages between 25 – 31 Degrees Celsius all year round, with a relative humidity that never dips much below 80%.

This is why we call it Sweatypore.

Note that the above was captured just after 7 at night.

A lot of the bikers you see on the roads have a peculiar habit of wearing thin polyester jackets, backwards. Yup. That’s right. Arms through the sleeves with the back in the front, unzipped.
I used to think it was nuts. Not so much anymore. Wearing a decent armored bike jacket here for one minute is a little akin to wearing a three-piece wool suit in a sauna. Fucking stupid.

So when it came to fulfilling my ATGATT desires, finding a good breathable jacket was a tall order.
I’ll spare you the insanity and instead happily report that I am gloriously happy with my Alpinestars T-Breeze Air-Flo Mesh jacket. Here’s the video review from Revzilla.

I also got myself some cool Alpinestars gloves to match.

I’m not usually this fashion or brand conscious. I’m just trying to deflect some attention from my ridiculous helmet.

And Fiery Temptress told me to do it.