September is traffic safety month in Vietnam. What this means is that a large number of banners are placed around town with wording describing the amount of fines motorists can expect to receive if running red lights. It also means that more traffic police than average are seen on the streets.
This morning, which is a Saturday, Ngân and I woke up early and went to have breakfast at one of our favorite spots, the Trung Nguyên Cafe on the corner of the busy intersection of Trần Hưng Đạo and Nguyễn Văn Cừ. A pair of traffic police were posted at the intersection, and we sat on the second floor of the coffee shop, pretty much directly above them.
At one point, one of the pair blew his whistle and pointed at a car that was coming from District 4 and turning right onto Trần Hưng Đạo. I didn’t see any obvious infraction of traffic laws. Since we were sitting right above the traffic cops, we were wondering if there was going to be any exchange of money.
Initially, we didn’t see any. The man who had been driving went for his wallet at one point but then put it back. He then gave the police his passport. They gave him back his passport and then pointed at his car. As he was walking back to his car, his hand went for his wallet again. After sitting in his car for a couple seconds, he came back to the police and handed over his passport again. One of the police took his passport and held the passport inside one of the boxes mounted on the side of his motorbike. While he had his hand with the passport inside the box, there were about three motorbikes nearby waiting for the traffic light to change before they started moving. The cop with his hand in the box waved them on while keeping his other hand in the box. After the motorbikes had moved on, he then gave the passport back to the man.
One of the officers then took a pen and pretended to write a traffic citation, but wrote nothing and didn’t give the man any receipt or record of citation. After the man was on his way, the two policemen started packing up and preparing to move on. One thing that one of them did was look around carefully before reaching into the same box on the side of the motorbike and take something out, all the while carefully concealing it.
So, was money exchanged? Did the man who was pulled over pay off the cops? I didn’t see any money, but it’s not hard to guess what happened. Enjoy traffic safety month everyone. Remember, the traffic police are there to protect us and keep order.