Road Hog

As I was sitting one evening at a cafe in downtown Saigon, a man and his female copilot pulled up on what had to have been the largest motorcycle in Vietnam — if not in the whole of Asia. And I wasn’t the only one who stared. The cafe’s customers broke from their conversations and looked up as the man killed the engine and he and his companion dismounted, left their helmets on their seats and took chairs at one of the nearby tables; passing drivers slowed to marvel at the outrageous machine, pointing with bemused smirks. On the cramped streets of Saigon — and in a pinched economy such as Vietnam’s — driving this beast would be equivalent to rolling through Smallville in a stretch Hummer, or showing up to a soap box derby on a suped-up ATV. It was a sweet ride — cushy leather upholstery, shiny chrome detailing, choice speakers under the back-seat arm rests — and was probably the pimpest two-wheeled vehicle most Vietnamese will ever see, but the display was unsettlingly ostentatious, and though I gave the guy a thumbs up as I walked to my own more modest motorbike, I didn’t mean it the way he probably thought I did.

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Con Dao, Here We Come