The most amazing thing about their use of motor bikes is what they carry on them. Whole families cram on one bike with Dad driving, and in front of him one of the kids. Then, sometimes standing on the seat with their hands on Dad’s shoulders is a second child, often no more than three years old. Then comes Mom on the back, who may be holding an infant, who is most likely sound asleep! In the countryside the other loads carried on the bikes can be any type of produce, usually heaped on in big bundles. We saw cages of live ducks, chickens, pigs, and puppies (in the North they eat dogs) all on the back of motor bikes on the way to market. We even saw a young water buffalo hog-tied to the back of a bike, and a few miles later a cow strapped on the same way. On a closer look it was clear both were still alive, even though their heads were tied less than a foot off the ground. I would think their meat would be tainted by the fear (and consequential adrenaline) those animals endure during their ride. The Humane Society would be horrified! We frequently were driving in the country side, sometimes for three hours at a time, so I have many photos of the motor bikes loads.
I found the people more willing to have their photos taken than in most other places I’ve been. I rarely had someone tell me not to take their photo. They often wanted no other compensation than to see the digital preview on the back of my camera, and even sometimes said, "Thank you." when I took their picture. I have a lot of red, beetlenut smiles from old ladies, and kids especially clowned and crowded around us, their little faces staring in my lens. A large percentage of the population speaks at least a modicum of English, as it is taught in the schools and is viewed as an international opportunity. The Vietnamese language has several tonalities and has a quality to it like singing, although this can also become a high pitched screech with women in the markets. I found the Vietnamese more willing to engage with foreigners, and "Where are you from?" wasn’t necessarily a come-on to buy something. I had a group of eleven year old school girls practice their English on me, and request I sing them a song. I sang them "Happy Birthday" (it happened to be Cooper’s birthday that day), and they sang along with me, followed by their rendition of "Farmer in the Dell". Just as they were going to sing me a Vietnamese song they were called away by their teacher. I think the fact that this old man was lurking around the school yard raised less suspicion in their country than it would in ours. As a foreigner I could get away with odd behavior.