Two accidents in one morning, rediscover my birthplace, and a life lesson in enduring

It was 5 A.M on a Sunday morning. I wore jeans and sneakers, put my camera in my backpack, got on the bicycle, and rode to the center of Hanoi – the Old Quarter. I was on my way for a biking-photo-shooting trip at the Red river bank.

I had not ridden bicycle or very long time. And its sporty style and Hanoi traffic made me slightly nervous. After the first 10 minutes, I finally began to enjoy the wind in my hair, the moist fog, the cycling motions and the repeating sounds of the turning wheels. All of a sudden, the sky and street spun upside down and the next thing I knew: I was lying on the ground.

It took me some seconds to realize that the kickstand had been accidently deployed, and made contact with the ground on the last turn. I stood up, dusted off the back of my jeans, and signaled that I was fine to a guy who offered help. I got on my bicycle, winced at the pain just below my right buttock. Nevertheless, I patted myself in the back “Not that bad. First fall! You’re a better rider now.” I didn’t know that another crash was waiting for me.

Ten minutes after, the handlebars snapped as I squeezed the break to avoid a motorbike springing out from an alley. My body flew forward, and my all fours slammed on the wet muddy ground. Bewilderment. Pain. Traffic accident. Blood. Past panic attack. I had never gotten over that fatal bus accident two years ago. The panic had been lurking around all along. I curled up, held my stained knees and I broke out crying like a child. People started to gather around and I felt a bit embarrassed with the tears. But I kept on sobbing. I watched The Fault In Our Stars the night before and still remembered “Pain demands to be felt.”

So much tears, people must have thought that I was in excruciating physical pain. In fact it was fear that crippled me. I heard a consoling voice of a woman. Someone patted on my back, another touched my shoulder. They helped to stand up, asked me to make some moments with my legs to make sure they were not broken, I guess. A man asked:

- Are you okay?

I sniffed and nodded. He continued:

- Poor girl, next time use the back break instead of the front, especially on wet ground.

I nodded again and said thank. They were so kind. After making sure that I could handle on my own, the crowd slowly dispersed.

Though there was no blood, I was in pain at many random places: left foot, both knees, right thigh, right elbow, both palms. A surge of fear came over me. The bike and the street became frightening. Traffic accidents. Blood. Pain. My breaths quickened and I thought of calling a taxi.

Luckily I snapped myself out of that panic. I learnt the technique: breathe. Breathing helps deal with fear. I took out the water bottle and pour some on my hand. I also learnt that washing hands helps me calm down. I whispered to myself: “Don’t be silly Milena. That was some fall. You’re even better rider now! Double better!” So I got on the bike again, only to find out that the bike chain has come loose.  

Luckily, I found a Vietnam-style bike-fixing business right off the pavement. The old man’s outdoor “workshop” was made of one hand tire inflator, some screwdriver, some pliers, some other rusty tools, stored in an old wooden box at the back of his antique bicycle. He was almost deaf and his hand examined the bicycle in an awfully slow manner, like a snail sliding on a two-wheeler by mistake. However, to my surprise, my bike worked just fine after some tinkers. And I thought of going home.

The first few meters was painful after I rode away. However, I realized that the more I continue, the less pain I felt. I thought of what Anne Lamott wrote in “Bird by Bird”, that when we have a wound in our body, the nearby muscles cramp around it to protect it from any more violation and from infection. That using these muscles to a certain level help them relax again, and it is necessary for the healing process. She claims that the same think happens with our psychic muscles, they cramp around our emotional wounds to keep us from getting hurt in the same place again. But these wounds will never have the chance to heal. They keep us living in caution, standing back or backing away from life.

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They keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way.

This made me decide to continue the  trip  despite the recent drama. I wandered, ever so slowly and gently, through the antique center of Hanoi. For the first time, I wanted to get lost in my own city. 


I pushed the pedals and travel through the winding maze of narrow streets, through pagodas and temples; through tangled black wires clinging on grey electric poles crumbled by the assault of time; through remains of ancient brick walls that guarded the city in the Emperor’s era; through decorative live roosters standing on canes facing the street, crowing with the dawn; through yawning residents opening their doors to a new day; through women in conical hats pushing along the street their bicycles full of various fruits and flowers; through elders practicing Tai Chi around Sword Lake; through outdoor barbershops and bicycle workshops right off the pavements.


I soaked in the continual flurry of honking motorbikes, vehicles passing crossroads from all directions, loud callers, kids’ laughter, dogs barking, smells of fresh Banh Mi baguettes and Pho and flavored sticky rice  from street vendors, baby strollers pushed across the asphalt roads by elders, bright colors of fruits, flowers, flags, t-shirts under the sun, and faces of many travellers bewildered by the incomprehensible chaos thrusting through all their senses.    


Each time the wheel turned, it fed a spoonful of love to my heart. I fell in love all at once, with the perfectly harmonious mayhem of my city Hanoi, with the kind hearts of its residents. There I was, an aching body, a muddy jeans, a bicycle, rediscovering my birthplace.

I felt queerly grateful to the accidents. Within one morning, they taught me a lesson for life. That paradise comes after the darkest moment, if one endures. That overcoming fears and moving despite cramped wounds to experience the big juicy life in a naked and immediate way is a choice.

With a smile on my face, I rode my wrecked bicycle in the golden autumn of Hanoi, humming a beautiful local song:

“Hanoi in autumn, I walk among people, wondering who  I am missing. One day, may the autumn sky answers me. One day, may the narrow streets answer me…”

More on the power of enduring, read There is Beauty in the Breakdown or Limits Can be the Fertile Ground for Creativity, Here is Why

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