“Oh NO! NO NO NO NO NOOOOOO!”
This was my greeting to the front desk agent when I arrived at my hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I opened my wallet, only to discover my bank cards had vanished. Every. Single. One.
Let’s rewind this story a little bit: I’d landed about an hour before this. Getting through immigration and customs was a breeze and without incident. When I got outside, I remembered I hadn’t booked an airport transfer through my hotel like I usually do (it’s always slightly more expensive, but ensures you get a flat rate and someone to get you to where you need to be without much hassle), and decided I’d just take a taxi. While I was searching for the taxi line, I was approached by a guy who asked where I was going and if I wanted a ride. We haggled for a minute and settled on a price. He took me to the parking lot where a driver was waiting. I got in the car and the driver immediately showed me a sign on the sun visor that said I had to pay for the airport parking fee. “How much?” I asked. “150,000 dong,” he replied (which is about $6). I thought he said 15,000 so I pulled out a 20k bill and he said, “No, not enough! I show you, give me your wallet!” He grabbed my wallet, and I yanked it back and yelled, “Absolutely NOT! Are you INSANE?! Let me out, NOW.” I got out and grabbed my stuff, while he apologized profusely and drove away.
Bullet: dodged. Or so I thought…
I walked back into the airport and saw the sign for the taxi line and went straight to it. An airport employee got me a cab and told the driver where I was going. I got in and asked how much it would be and he said, “Meter!” as he started to drive away. We pulled up to the booth to pay for parking and right after we pulled away from the guard he turned around and barked, “200,000! You pay me now!” I grabbed the money from my wallet, realizing I should’ve stuck with the first guy but thought I should just stay put and get to my hotel. I paid him and looked at the meter and realized it had jumped up by about 100,000 in the last 30 seconds. I knew I was getting ripped off but was too flustered and intimidated by his aggressiveness to get out and just wanted to be done with this part of my journey.
I got more and more angry and anxious as the meter sky-rocketed during our 25 minute drive. I’d stuck it out this long, though, and decided to just stick to my plan of getting to my hotel with this guy. When he finally stopped, I was so pissed off at how he’d so obviously taken advantage of me and how I’d completely allowed it to happen. What should’ve cost me about $6, would’ve cost me $10 with the first driver, actually ended up costing me about $60 with this jerk. When he tried to short me on my change for an expected “tip”, I absolutely LOST IT.
“You’re a fucking thief. You’re not a good person. You should be ashamed of yourself. You bring shame to your family. Give me my money. YOU PAY ME NOW!”
I felt better for about 10 seconds, then felt I ashamed of myself. Because I had put myself in that situation and decided to stick with it. That had nothing to do with him – that was me wanting to create an easier, albeit more expensive, path for myself. That was me allowing my anger and frustration to build and letting the lid blow with his final act of dishonesty, as though he had shown me he would be anything but that.
So fast forward to the hotel and all my bank cards are gone. I realized then that this was going to be a situation. I didn’t know where my bank cards were, I just knew they weren’t with me anymore. Then I remembered the first taxi driver grabbing my wallet, and I knew what had happened. Then I realized that I had stopped breathing about 30 seconds ago.
“Breathe, Emily. BREATHE,” I said out loud.
I took a deep inhale through my nose, and exhaled loudly. I looked up at the desk agent, finally smiled, and moved on…
The thing is, I’d pulled out about $100 American Dollars worth of Vietnamese Dong at the airport before my bank cards moved onto their forever home, so not only did I have enough to pay the driver that ripped me off for about half of it, but I had enough to cover my hotel and food for the next several days. Thanks for being so cheap, Vietnam! The affordability of this country has really saved me. You can get just about any full meal on the street for around $1. I also happened to know someone here who immediately gave me some cash “just in case” because he knew I’d pay him back and wanted to make sure I was okay.
When I began to share what had happened to me with other people, I realized that my story was a gentle massage in comparison to what some had gone through. Like the bag with your wallet, passport, phone and computer disappearing on your way to the airport. Or your luggage being lost by the airlines with no clue where it is for two weeks, only to find out it somehow ended up in Russia instead of Vietnam. Or getting invited into a local family’s home for tea only to be drugged and taken to an ATM to pull out a ton of money. The stories are as vast and varied as the people who have gone through them, but also all stories that people have lived to tell about; an experience to share and to learn from, but not to define an entire country and its population by.
I’m lucky that I was able to cancel all my cards without a problem and have replacements all rushed to my home address. I’m lucky that I have a friend who was coming out here to meet me only a few days later and was able to bring all my new cards to me. Even if this wasn’t the case, I could have had them sent to me here. In any case, it was all solvable. Not convenient, but totally manageable.
In the end, I realized it wasn’t the end. The sky wasn’t falling. All was not lost. But I definitely learned a lesson.
What an opportunity to see myself in this world and how I react and interact with it, and to appreciate the generosity and support of others…what a gift those taxi drivers have actually given me.
Thanks, guys. Seriously.
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