Thursday, August 26, 2010
Dong for Dong
So far, I have had many positive experiences here in Hanoi. People have been super friendly, wanting to talk and practice their English and learn about where I am from. Others just stare, but it is not rude to do that here, so I guess I will take it as a compliment. Hanoi also seems like a very safe city. Tons of people, lots of trash, but not a lot of crime. I have not felt unsafe since I have been here, (that may have something to do with the fact that I am bigger than everyone haha).
But, here is a story of one experience that was not pleasant. I did not feel scared as much as annoyed, irritated, pissed, and shocked. I also have no way of knowing whether this was the exception or if this happens often...
Xe oms are motorbike taxis. They are all over the city and usually have a sign up saying 'xe om' and have a driver with two helmets. Because motorbikes are everywhere in Hanoi, I decided that if I was going to experience Hanoi, I would at some point have to ride a motorbike. I decided to start early - might as well have the experience before the students arrive. Plus, xe oms are supposed to be cheaper than taxis...
So one evening at dusk, I decided to take a xe om to my colleagues' apartment. It was not far and usually cost 30,000VND in a taxi. As usual, tons of xe om drivers tapped their seats as I walked by asking me if I want a ride. Finally, after talking myself up and getting up the courage to do it, I say yes to one. I put the helmet over my blond bun and took my seat behind the driver. I gave him the address and showed him the location on the map. At no point was I worried that he would just drive me somewhere random and kill me or anything else. It was definitely cool - a rush even - to be zipping through traffic on the back of a xe om. I had a death grip on the back of the seat where there was a little bar I could grab. Soon, the xe om driver was talking to me, asking about the address. Then, while driving, he took my arms and put them around his waist. I had seen tons of people riding like this, so I assumed it was the way to go, but still just sort of slide my arms less around him and more just resting on his sides. I knew enough about my location that I could tell that we were close....
*three minutes or so pass*
I am livid and tell the xe om driver to stop (in English, but he doesn't need to understand the words - he can hear my tone). I am not sure where I am, but I know I am close enough to walk to the apartment. He tried to charge me 50,000VND! I refuse, but I am so pissed and disgusted that I did not want to see the driver anymore, so I just paid him 40,000VND and proceeded to get my bearings and find my way.
Now, what happened in those three minutes? Well, you can probably guess, being that the title of this blog is 'dong for dong'. Yes, that is how it went. He put my hands around his waist, and then, next thing I know, as I am enjoying feeling the polluted wind in my hair and seeing the sights of Hanoi whiz by, he lets me know that he is enjoying the ride too. He takes my hand, and puts it, yup, right on his Vietnamese dong - and I am not talking money here.
So there you have it. My first truly maddening and unpleasant experience in Vietnam. Needless to say, that is most likely the last xe om ride that I accept for a while! Unless, of course, I'd like to pay some dong for dong.