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Common Application Essay


Huge concrete bumps litter the alley leading to my house. Sadly, even with those painful obstacles, the alley is the only escape route from the traumatic traffic jam out there. A loyal user of motor scooters, every day I face a personal dilemma: to bet on that bumpy alley, or continue bearing with the traffic jam to avoid potentially unfriendly contacts with those obstacles.

Traffic jams give “riding” a whole different meaning in Hanoi. Here, I ride a motor scooter powered by a puny 110cc engine, not the monstrous Ducati often seen parading Singapore’s Orchard Road. The existence of traffic jams stresses the need for the versatility of scooters, and discredits the sport bikes’ brawns and muscles. When stuck in traffic jams, no Ducati Monsters can vanish into tapered alleys, climb over concrete medians, or hop onto rough pedestrians’ pavements like Honda Cubs do. Though I do have a nose for such unconventional, quirky routes, only with a scooter can I exploit them.

Curiously enough, while the scooter provides a temporary solution to traffic jams, it alone is the chronic cause: with these small, lithe scooters, riders tend more to exploit any visible gap on narrow roads or to u-turn wherever they deem fit – most of the time into other people’s way, thereby forming the dreadful knots that are to become jams. Still, cheap and tractable, the scooter is the only affordable means of the majority in Hanoi, as well as in all other South East Asian cities I have had a chance to visit – Jakarta, Chiang Mai, and Penang… The scooter may be a thorn in the side, but people accept it so that their ends may meet.

Things are different in Singapore. The streets here are rolled on mostly by cars. Cars that are new, not a single one exceeding ten years old: the law forbids that. People ride sports bikes, not scooters; they ride to showcase their luxurious individuality, not to make ends meet. Earning approximately $50,000 annually, no Singaporean needs to make do with scooters. They can afford to be organized.

Yet Singapore is not free of traffic problems. It has no jam, but the hosts of four-wheeled vehicles riddled its streets with static congestion. Once, I was stranded in one such congestion. In front of my eyes were lines of cars extending to horizons. So well plotted on this highway, they resembled a matchbox packed to the rim that spelt no escape. How dearly I yearned for a scooter that would squeeze in, cut through, and sneak past every tiny gap, and fly with me towards freedom!  Yes, if only those cars could turn into motor scooters, I would again see the typical South East Asian jam of my childhood – disorderly packed, but never without a solution for those daring to take the unusual path…

...Back to me with my “dilemma”. A minute pause has given me the answer. I am here, in Vietnam, blessed with my very Vietnamese scooter. My people troubled themselves with traffic jams, but never have we failed to find an alternative path. Now it is my turn. The path I choose may be narrow, uneven, and hostile, but on the motor scooter I will get through.