Take a Walk on the Wild Side
How to feel better, look better and get better when life throws you a curve ball and you need to learn fast.
I was alone in my hotel room and stood at the window looking at the narrow streets, colorful shop fronts and ebony haired locals.
I tried to quieten my racing thoughts. What on earth had I done…?
A week later I stepped out of the afternoon heat. I felt calm. Two men at the table next to mine were enjoying a beer. One of them was Australian. He’d lived here for a few years and this was one of his favorite places.
“I just love coming here. It’s the best place to watch the traffic” he said, grinning.
I completely understood.
We were high above this roundabout. The video shows the traffic, although on the day I first saw it things were far busier.
Sitting overlooking that junction of organized chaos, I was a week into my trip through Vietnam. During that week, I’d learned an important lesson.
How to cross the road.
That first day in my hotel room I’d stood watching the traffic. First I was mesmerized, then I was confused and finally I was panicked.
I knew what traffic and rush hour was but this was different. People walked into the road here without looking. Mopeds, cars, buses and trucks somehow missed them. There was Zen-like alchemy at work.
Adding to the jet lag and the culture shock was a growing alarm: I would not be able to cross the road in this country.
To me, their road crossing skills looked like an exquisite form of art, like The Bayeux Tapestry.
I, on the other hand, had mastered sewing on a button.
I was screwed.
This was my first time in Asia. It was my first time ‘travelling’ and it was the first time I’d been anywhere on my own for more than a weekend. And my unexpected problem?
Crossing the road.
How was I going to do this? And for a month? Could I somehow manage to travel down the length of the country from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City and stay on the one side of the road? Was I going to be that weird woman?
My solution to learning something new, and yet old, came in three steps.
Feel Better – Find a happy place
First, do something to look after myself and calm down. And to stop my head from racing in 17 directions, all arriving at the destination of You-Can’t-Cross-the-Road-Here. Doing something to make myself feel better turned down the volume on the voice inside my head.
What the hell did you think you were doing coming to Vietnam for a month?
So, I had a bath. And I made myself lie in there for a while. This physically removed me from the anxiety producing view of traffic from my hotel window. And as a water baby, I always feel better around water, whether it’s an ocean, a swimming pool or a bath.
Look Better – Appearances matter
Second, I got changed into fresh clothes and made myself look nice. When we feel good about how we look that seeps into how we feel about other stuff. So, I made a bit of an effort. Fresh cargo pants, a bold colored t-shirt, a bit of lipstick and a spray of perfume.
After that, I went out for dinner. To a restaurant on the same side of the street. Of course. I wasn’t about to do anything kamikaze on my first night in Asia.
Following a night’s sleep – and whilst I’d love to say it was a good night’s sleep, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t – came step three.
Get Better – Learning my lesson
So, now we’re down to brass tacks. Doing the stuff that would make the lasting difference.
My 32 year old self remembered what it was like when I was 5 and walked to school for the first time, crossing 6 roads alone (big day for a 5 year old).
I took my time, watched what other people were doing and spent the day, you’ve guessed it, practicing crossing the road. And I also decided that I wanted to buy every single piece of lacquer ware in Hanoi.
It turned out that there was a process to this crossing the road malarkey.
Like the tortoise in the story, slow and steady wins the day.
Yes, keep your wits about you and observe the traffic but walk in a calm and measured way across the road. The Vietnamese drivers then do some advanced Jedi like mind trick by gauging time, speed and distance and weave around you. Calmly.
The Golden Rule? Don’t be the hare. Avoid fast, sudden movements. They mess with the Vietnamese Traffic Jedi Mindset.
So, who would have guessed it but my time in Asia taught me how to cross the road.
And it was through these three simple steps that took me from panic to practice and from practice to fully fledged pedestrian.
Feel better. Look better. Get better.
How do you cope with learning something new when you’re thrown a curve ball?
What works for you?