I don’t recall why I left the house, but I needed to get out and go for a walk. Maybe being cooped up was getting to me- I just needed some fresh air.
I hit the streets with the intent to explore. After getting off the main road, there are a few alleys and side streets that end up leading to the foreign district, Bieu Vien, a spot that’s always a veritable blast to the senses. Filled with fast-talking entrepreneurs that are hell bent on selling you sunglasses in the evening, to the barrage of do-it-yourself masseuses, to the extensive foot & motorbike traffic whizzing past fiery facades. The street can become a real nightmare to those with vices- though with one month under my belt, I slid through stealthy avoiding all lured attempts and traps.
No fun for the reader, but I live for myself, and not for arts sake.
I discovered a few new alleys and was further propositioned by a barrage of motorcyclist-cum-taxi drivers who are straight flabbergasted at the thought of someone walking for pleasure. It is obvious it is not a Vietnamese pastime. It seems as though everyone in this country is an entrepreneur, which I respect greatly. It is rather intimate putting yourself on display day in day out- facing reject, ridicule and worst-of-all the lack of acknowledgement. I have to give it to the Vietnamese for being scrupulous about making a buck, although their approach is in dire need of education. (This concept can & will be discussed in a whole other blog)
Each motorcycle taxi would approach me, either by waving, flagging me down, following me for blocks, or their most effective approach at winning clientele, grabbing my arm. After I assure them that I am just out for a stroll and not interested, they change tones, and then ask if I’m looking for marijuana. Indeed I am, but not from some grabby dude, and especially not in a country where a little weed gets you locked up. Then in a last attempt to make a buck off of me, they ask if I am interested in sexy ladies.
So they went from transport enthusiasts to drug dealers to pimps. Not a bad area of expertise, but it lacks originality after the 20th person approaches you- then it becomes somewhat of an annoyance. And after skirting the city for more than two hours, it definitely was that.
Looking to remove myself from the spotlight, I slid down a back street to find some kids playing a made up game, a midnight produce market, a wrinkled lady taking a piss against a lamppost, a resting spot for tired cyclists, and a man getting a full on massage face down on a blanket on the sidewalk. I left the street with two bags of groceries filled with peppers, onions, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, lettuce and the ever-popular dozen eggs.
Now in pursuit of home, I stayed true to the back roads and avoided all walks of life, that is until I reached Tran Hung Dao. Being the street my house is on…it’s kind of unavoidable. Out of the corner of my eye, I passed two girls on a motorbike- who out of my suspicion I immediately labeled as prostitutes, trick-turners if-you-will. Now I don’t usually go around stamping people whore or saint, but everyone has instincts and its normal to generalize- goddamnit it’s healthy. Having walked past the girls, the two slipped from my mind- twas just another normal sight of the chaos that is Ho Chi Minh.
With my house nay two blocks away, and my dogs foaming at the mouth, I was indeed already imagining my key in the slot. A little too soon perhaps, because the two women on the bike had followed me, looped around and we were now gazing in each other’s direction. “Massage” one said, trying to act all sweet and innocent, while the other went for the bullocks “sexy time… $20… room right over there” she said pointing. Then the other chimed back “massage… no sex… nice girl”. It was some sort of good whore/bad whore routine- thinking back now I can picture them practicing in front of the mirror, to each other and their friends.
Being a nice guy, perhaps naïve… ok definitely naïve, I apologized and just stuck to my no thank you’s and have a good night’s. I pushed on for home. The girls on the other hand looped around and hit back with the same barrage of sales techniques, everyone’s an entrepreneur like I said before, but this time one girl jumped off and starting grabbing me while spouting the same routine. I pushed off with the same response and pushed on.
This happened two more times before they finally understood that I wasn’t interested and sped off shouting, “Ok, bye-bye.” Watching them drive away I sighed relief, and, not even out of concern, I believe my hand grazed my pocket-an empty pocket. I checked my other. Keys. Then my back pockets. Both empty. Are you fucking kidding me? Then it sunk in. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. Katie just took out three million dong ($150- $30 of which I spent throughout the day) for me because my bankcard had not been working. Then it really sunk in. Fuck my credit card. I burst into a full on sprint, rounded the corner, sped down the alley and even stirred the neighbour, as he popped his head from his shell.
It was the typical key fumbling entrance. I burst into the room out of breathe and explained the ordeal to Katie as I was simultaneously logging onto Skype and MasterCard’s website to get the number. Fortunately, it had not been tampered and they cancelled it on the spot (and received a replacement within 3 days).
Aside from the $130 dollars, I had removed my health card and drivers license from my wallet. Unfortunately my motorcycle registration papers were in there, which would be a hassle to sell my bike without. So I figured another loss of $200 on the back end. Trying to be positive, I told myself that it was only money, and although a pain in the ass, at least it wasn’t my passport, my laptop or backpack, and my wallet could have easily been carrying the $300 Katie owed me, but due to problems at the machine she only gave me half. Whatever makes me feel better, right?
The end. Lesson learned. It took 16 countries to finally get robbed, and I guess in some way I always knew it would happen. I am a traveller and it’s all part of the game. Hell, even taking everything into consideration and carrying my wallet differently and not letting someone invade my space- I’m sure it is going to happen again. As much as it’s easy to assume everyone is a thief- I can’t let this experience tarnish the values I place on the majority of mankind. I won’t let it. People are good. These two whores I’m sure are good people too. Something I would soon question.
Anyways, a week had passed and just yesterday I went to my gym to work out. I had taken a week off because I had gotten a tattoo and the maintenance required me to avoid sweating or getting wet, yah I know what you’re thinking, a week off the gym nice excuse. Anyways, I walk in, run on the treadmill, and then sit down in front of a fan because it’s just deadly hot. The owner behind the counter says something unknown to me, and I get up to humour our language barrier. On the counter in front of her is a wallet that looks strikingly like mine. She picks it up and hands it to me. It’s my wallet. The look on my face must have been priceless for she doesn’t know the story behind it. I open the wallet and the golden Sai Baba is staring me in the face… all I can do is smile. Lost for words I’m trying to piece everything together.
The owner points to my wallet and takes out my gym membership, which had the address on it, and through motions she explained she found it on the street in front of her gym. Baffled, I tried to weigh the situation. Did my thieves actually have the heart to return my wallet (cashless, but of course!) or was it completely a coincidence? You tell me! With the stunned look stamped on my face and my head in the clouds… I come back down to earth… and standing in front of me was the owner with her hand out, reward style. Was she in on it too? Who fucking knows! I’ll just have to chalk it all up as a $130 story.