1.19.2010

Day 2 -- Hanoi -- bad luck for the both of us


One of the favorite pictures taken in my free time from the streets of Hanoi


There have been two incidents when someone asked me "are you okay?" that I will always remember.

One happened a couple of years ago, in the hallway of my previous office on Sand Hill Road. It was one of those days when the financial market was acting crazy. At the end of the day, to get rid of the stress from work, I went to the vending machine for all the sugar I could take. All of a sudden, a very successful senior colleague appeared as he came out of the gym (note to self: successful people hit the gym, not the vending machine, to release stress) and he stopped and asked me "are you okay?" I said yes, but he knew nobody was really okay during those days, so he went on and gave me a much needed pep talk. This is my first time mentioning this to anybody, because a similar situation happened to me today in Hanoi!

Today was a real work day. 9 to 7 all in the office, including lunch time with our staff "tasting" the best Vietnamese instant vermicelli. (I will blog about my thoughts related to work later as they demand more time to sink in.) My tourist experience started at night with a nice seafood pizza in this area called "Old Quarter" -- a famous touristy night market. I love night markets, but being all alone in a foreign country where I could barely cross the streets was no fun. I gave up and took the cab back to the hotel, and then something scary happened.


From a very charming local toy store ...


To this very glittering French toy store at my hotel ...


My supposedly 5 minute cab ride turned into a 40 minute surreal experience of worries, fear, desperation, anger and more. Long story short, the driver was new. He had no clue how to get to the most famous hotel in the city from the most popular touristy area. I, on the other hand, knew exactly where everything was, but lacked the ability to say anything. I showed him the map, I showed him the address of the hotel, I even called the hotel with my cell phone to have the operator tell the drive how to get there. But the driver just didn't seem to respond to any of my efforts. The minute when he hung up the phone rudely with the hotel staff, I started to feel that I might be the victim of human trafficking in Vietnam. (too much discussion about human trafficking at work these days)

The car headed toward the opposite direction of my hotel for quite a long time. To give the driver some credit, he actually stopped for about 20 times and asked random people for directions. But every time he stopped, he appeared to be more confused and frustrated, while I contemplated jumping out of the car to escape.

When we finally got back to the hotel, I refused to pay him the amount on the meter, mostly due to my anger and suffering. I asked the hotel's people to talk to him and ended up paying him $2 USD, instead of $6USD. It was only 4 dollars I know, and it was probably a lot of money to him, but I was just too angry and childish to be forgiving and generous. Now that I am calm again, I knew he didn't mean it, and I knew he tried very hard. I should have yelled at him to give him a lesson but still pay him the full amount. Sorry...

On my way back to my room, a hotel manager came and asked me "are you okay?" I felt like giving him a hug to celebrate my survival.

The experience got me into some deep thoughts, especially after I just read about some of the work we do in Vietnam about unemployment due to urbanization. If I can have a heart to heart conversation with this driver, I'd tell him to look for a new career. The map I showed him was actually bilingual, so his learning curve of becoming a successful taxi drive is going to be very steep.

What can I say -- a stubborn and coward tourist getting into the car of a new and stupid driver -- this is just bad luck for the both of us!


PS: I sent some emails to my friends back in SF telling them about my day 1 adventure. David got back and said people missed me. Nirupam told me to be safe, but CZ wrote, "sounds like you are having a great time there, even turning simple street crossings into such an adventure!" Let me say this one more time -- crossing the street is NOT a simple thing here in Hanoi!

2 comments:

Alice said...

awww...this happens to me frequently too. It is really hard to tell whether 1) they are just racking up the meter by pretending to be lost or 2) the taxi regulation system is really that underdeveloped where anyone can become a taxi driver.

On my first day in Seoul, my friend and I could not find the hotel we booked. We asked the police for directions and they actually decided to give us a lift since they couldn't speak English. So we sat in the back of their police car (behind the bars like any regular criminal). The funniest thing is that they drove around forever and got horribly lost. In the end, they dropped us off at a metro station because they couldn't find the place, even with the map we have. *Sigh*...the police too! So after that experience (in a developed country), I expect just about anything to happen while traveling in developing countries! Those incidents are the funniest part of travel.

This is a very short and fun read when you have some free time:

http://shop.lonelyplanet.com/Primary/Product/General_Travel/Travel_Literature/PRD_PRD_3214/The+Kindness+of+Strangers.jsp

It is from Lonely Planet and it is very heartwarming! It is available at the library.

said...

Really a scary experience.
If I were you, I might yelled at him and refused to pay him the extra money of wrong journey, haha..
See you soon.