Solid Men

Travelling off the main roads in Vietnam can be an interesting experience. Roads are sometimes quite atrocious as they are used by so many for so many different purposes. Throw in vehicles like the odd water buffalo-drawn cart, horrendously overloaded large Chinese trucks, buses loaded to the gills and sashaying about on dodgy springs, scooter-drawn livestock trailers, small versions of a mobile concrete mixer and mix in a handful of scooter riders travelling about without benefit of licence or even basic tuition and you have a recipe for interesting times.

Moo mover

Honda powered Moo Mover

 

recycling system

Water buffalo-powered recycling unit

 

Mini mobile concrete batching plant

Mini mobile concrete batching plant

After a couple of weeks spent travelling about in Women’s Union vehicles over the last couple of years, a clear pattern emerged among their drivers: exclusively male, middle aged or older, unflappable and solid men who look as if they would perform well in difficult situations. They are usually quiet, but prove to be terrific entertainers when they chose to be or when they are required to be.
The job description for such drivers must be interesting. When a vehicle breaks down along a back road it is not as simple as dialling the RAC to come and rescue you: it may take a couple of days to sort things out. Improvised accommodation may be required for a while, with the driver performing duties as major domo, bodyguard, jester and general entertainer. Versatility is important.
The relationship between the drivers and the women they transport about intrigued me: the women tend to be well educated, the men a little gruff by comparison. The women are in charge, but are happy to be bossed about when it comes to things like loading up the vehicle or finding room for an unexpected parcel that needs to travel to Hanoi. The driver has the final say on all driving issues, but the mutual respect and trust is palpable and it is pleasant to behold.
I purchased a case of corn wine in Ha Giang for the drivers back in Hanoi, by way of thanks for safe driving over some fair distances. The drivers then invited me to lunch at their favourite restaurant in Hanoi, an invitation I happily accepted as drivers always know where good food is served.

Mr Huan, our Ha Giang driver, is seated on my left, with Nguyen Bich of the VWU on his left alongside a young volunteer.

Mr Huan, our Ha Giang driver, is seated on my left, with Nguyen Bich of the VWU on his left alongside a young volunteer.

About a dozen of us enjoyed a fine meal and small toasts – it was a working day and safe driving was a priority, as always. There was the sort of banter one would expect among truckies back home in Australia. I was curious about that feeling of solidity these men exuded, but all was revealed when I learnt that many of them were ex-military men, some of them war veterans and truck drivers down dangerous tracks.

We did not discuss the war as many veterans prefer to leave that in the past, but perhaps over time I might be able to learn a little about their experiences. That may take a few more journeys, a few more glasses of corn wine and a few more stories shared. A good story is worth waiting for and perhaps with time a few may appear on our website.

There was a final toast with an interesting reddish wine: blood wine, I was told. What the hell, the mountains bring out the caveman in the most docile city dweller. Thus was I inducted into the brotherhood of the diesel drivers.

The drivers’ skills are widely recognised and they can earn much better money elsewhere, but driver turnover as they choose to remain with the Union.

To my new friends the drivers: thanks for safe journeys and great humour and may your god look after you, yours and all who travel with you.

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