The first time I got on a motorbike in HCMC my arms were sore for days because I held on so tight. A reflection of both my feelings of being on a motorbike and my arm strength. The comfort level progression has been: hold on less tight so I didn’t use my arm muscles so much, hold on lightly in case we hit a bump and I go flying or the driver brakes suddenly and I slide into him, hold on with one hand (just in case), sit with my arms crossed because it gets chilly at night on the back of those things. I was starting to become comfortable.
The comfort zone is a dangerous place for me because I like it too much and I get stuck. That’s when I knew it was time to look into finding a bike. I’m a member 12 different FB groups relating to expats in Hanoi. That sounds excessive, and probably is but it led me to a shop nearby that I had walked past dozens of times. Here’s why I didn’t know it was a bike shop:
Not one sign indicating that you could buy or rent a bike.
I know next to nothing about anything with a motor and even less about the motorcycle variety but the process of renting a motorbike was almost painfully easy. Within 3 minutes of being at the shop the owner sent me out to try a small automatic bike. She called it a scooter, I’ll refer to it as a motorbike to feel more cool (it’s a scooter). This was brave on her part because I still wasn’t confident which direction to turn the throttle in order to get more or less gas. I sped (jerked awkwardly and nervously) around the block and came back to the shop. I tried a bigger bike but it was loud and not as smooth so when I told the woman I preferred the smaller one she thought it would be a good idea for me to go around the block a few more times to get some practice. I agreed.
I signed a few papers and was on my way but as I was leaving the woman suggested I get gas before I go anywhere because the bike didn’t have any. OK, great, sure. I arrived at the gas station and didn’t even know how to get to the gas tank. Like most things I do in Vietnam, I stumbled my way through it and said “cảm ơn” (thank you) with no confidence.
As I was practicing, I wondered if Vietnamese parents teach their kids to be careful of foreigners on motorbikes because they should definitely watch out for this foreigner. To paint a picture for how I was doing, I was passed by a gang of cyclists out for exercise. I wasn’t going very fast but I was learning how to go a consistent speed, which felt like an appropriate skill to learn.
The whole experience from walking into a shop with no knowledge of what to ask for to making a left hand turn by myself was an out-of-the-comfort-zone experience. I’m realizing if I don’t challenge my comfort zone, I might never what what I’m capable of doing. Now I know I’m capable of driving a 2 wheeled motorbike about 15 km/h. Here’s a pic of it in all its glory parked in my apartment building, safe and sound.