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Postcard from Viet Nam: An Unlikely Community on the Local Bus in Vietnam

Soon after my friend Alex and I were told that our one-hour bus ride from the Hanoi, Vietnam airport to Ha Long Bay was actually a five-hour journey, we were praying that we hadn‚Äôt stepped onto the wrong bus. It was about the size of a fifteen-passenger van, and it looked nothing like the tourist buses other foreigners were entering. If it wasn‚Äôt for the confused Malaysian couple that got on behind us, I would have been slightly more worried than I already was. But off we went, leaving the station with the driver, the fare collector or “Money Man,” the Malaysian couple, a few locals, and us, the two blonde Americans.

Lynzi Andre (left) and Alex Manson (right), both from Chapman University, rode the bus to Ha Long Bay and witnessed the surprising kindness of Vietnamese strangers.

Along with its special horn, this bus had a magical ability to make seats appear out of mid air. Within only a couple of hours, there were 32 people on our little bus, all of them Vietnamese, and most of them by themselves.

Among the passengers were elderly couples, women in their 30s and 40s (including a mom with a four-year-old daughter), and a teenage mom with a crying three month-old baby. After a couple minutes of the young mother’s failed attempts to calm her baby girl, the entire bus full of people started baby talking, singing, and clapping to help the young mother cheer up her child. When that failed to work, the baby was lifted into the air and passed to an elderly woman so she could take-over. She continued to crowd-surf throughout the bus, giving the exhausted young mom a chance to rest.

The whole crowd was trying to hush the little one, all while the bus sped through the streets, weaving though the traffic and pedestrians. At one point, even the Money Man became convinced he could calm the baby down, bouncing her around as he stood in the bus. While he was able to calm her for a moment, she soon returned to her unhappy state.

At this point, all the passengers decided that the baby needed to be with the mother of the four-year old. In a quick child-switch, the sleeping four year-old took her turn at crowd surfing in the speeding bus. As the crying baby reached the other mother’s arms, the little girl landed with an elderly man who happily took her, holding her carefully as she slept. Finally, the baby calmed down, the young mother was relieved, and the commotion settled ‚Ķ for the moment.

Suddenly, the van slowed and the Money Man took the four year-old, jumped out of the bus and quickly moved away from us. My heart started racing and I began to panic. I looked around the bus, but the only reaction I saw was the confusion that still masked the Malaysian couple’s faces. I searched outside and in an instant my anxiety turned to relief when I saw the Money Man, crouching over a ditch, holding the four-year-old as she relieved herself.

I sunk into my seat, feeling overwhelmed, baffled, and full of joy by the continual occurrence of events that contrasted my cultural norms. I realized that a community had risen up from within that bus. The Vietnamese people were there to support each other, not once showing a look of annoyance or frustration. They all felt a responsibility to help whenever a need arose, and did so with big smiles and tender hearts. When the bus pulled into Ha Long Bay a few hours later, I realized that I’d never before witnessed such a beautiful example of a collectivistic culture in action. If I weren’t in that bus from the beginning, I would have never believed these people were once strangers.

  • Culture
  • Life at Sea

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