Sometimes you hear people talk about “listen to your instincts, all the answers are there – your passion, your purpose bla bla bla”.
My instincts, or ‘my gut’, never tells me these things. It sits there silently, sometimes mumbling about pizza or sushi. Except last night when it screamed it’s pea-pickin’ heart out.
I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam late in the evening. Getting off the plane, I smoothly get my visa, pick up my bag and send a quick email to my host family letting them know I’m headed for a taxi. Stopping at the ATM, a well dressed gentlemen asks me if I need a taxi – and yes, yes I do.
Note: This isn’t uncommon in Asia. Whether you’re getting off a boat, the plane, or a simply walking around, locals come and poach people for their businesses all the time.
“Come stay at my hostel!” “Tuk Tuk! Where you go?” “Taxi!”
I told him yes and we went outside. He started smoking a cigarette and asked me here I was from – all the basic small talk. I showed him the address of where I wanted to go, and we haggled a price. He was holding my phone when he said he had to run to the rest room – this maybe should have been a flag for me, but as a sometimes absent minded person myself I didn’t think about it too much. I asked for it back when he returned and checked to make sure no other apps had been opened – they hadn’t.
We head to his car which is not labeled as a Taxi, but again, not uncommon. I’ve ridden with other drivers in Asia who are just trying to make some money and they’ve all been very nice, albeit awkward with their poor English. It’s like when your dentist asks how you are with all their tools in your mouth.
I decline to put my gear in the trunk and keep it in the seat with me. He asks me how old I am – I lie and tell him 30. Why is he asking? I’ve never been asked that before – not even by other travelers.
Getting in the car, I notice there is a second man in the car – this is where my gut starts grumbling. It’s unusual for there to be two people, but I’ve ridden in an Uber back in Chicago where the guy’s girlfriend was zipping around with him in the mini van for the day. It happens fast – the car starts and we drive off.
The second man starts talking to me – he asks how old I am. Not typical small talk conversation. I roll my window down at that point under the pretense that I need some fresh air because my stomach is sick from the plane. He asks me where I’m from and if I have a boyfriend.
After trying to get me to roll the window up, and my adamant refusal, they chat between themselves for a moment, giving me a chance to pull out my hair pin and hold it in my hand. My mom once mentioned that she would hold her hair pins in her hands when walking home from work at night (see mom, I listened more than I let on).
The passenger guy turns around and starts telling me I’m ‘very beautiful’ and offers me a cigarette. While I could have used one at that moment I decline telling him that my stomach hurts. He then offers me a candy saying it will help my stomach – I decline again. He continues to try to get me to smoke a cigarette a few minutes later.
That’s like anti-kidnapping 101: don’t take candy from strangers.
We continue to roll down the highway, which I’ve now begun to scan for traffic cameras, convenience stores, and wide shoulders. I see some taxis around that don’t have passengers, which is encouraging that in the need of a tuck n roll, I could flag one down.
They continue to talk between themselves in what I assume is Vietnamese, tell me I’m beautiful, and question my age. Their English is too good, its suspicious, and I notice that the driver is wearing a very nice watch – this didn’t seem to be someone looking to make some extra money. At this point, I really am feeling sick to my stomach with panic – my alarms are all going off.
I tell them to pull the car over, that I’m not feeling well. They keep saying “no, we take you – very close” even though I know that we have at least 30 km left to travel. Determined to get out of the car, I start dry heaving and am about to vomit on their backseat – this causes them to pull over.
We’re on the side of the highway, which is seated on a large hill. Traffic zooming by, I quickly get out of the car with my bug out bag, and my pack, and head for the guardrail. I continue to heave and tell them I can’t continue on and to just go. I hand them money I had in my pocket for the ride.
They seem very disappointed at this and try to convince me to get back in the car, the driver grabbing my arm. Passenger guy even picks up my pack. I snatch it from him and heave it over the guardrail, where it goes rolling. My mac is in there, but I don’t care. I rip my arm away from diver and then jump the guardrail myself and shuffle down the hill. They yell after me “be safe!”. Duh, that’s what I’m doing. I notice that a taxi (with a sign) has begun to slow as he drives the road below so that he can watch the crazy white chick who just threw her shit down the hill.
He stops and my pack rolls right up near where he has pulled over. I wave at him, grab my pack, and get in the car. “Where you go?” he says, and I don’t answer. I’ve turned around and am watching the two guys stand against the rail and observe me.
The taxi and I sit there a minute, me trying not to puke, and him asking me where I’m headed. I hand him my phone with the address and while he looks at it, then men walk back to their car and begin to drive off. I ask the driver to sit for a few more minutes and then we head for the highway.
Feeling much better that I’m in a metered taxi, my heart is still pounding and I still hold my hairpin close. We head into the city while I keep looking behind us for a silver car. To my relief, I don’t see any – just a sea of scooters and motorcycles. Despite it being past 11pm now, the traffic is still insane.
The driver takes me to an abandoned looking neighborhood and the anxiety starts to heighten again – we come across the address I was given, I hop out and ring the doorbell – probably more times than I needed to. The driver waits with me since I’m taking my sweet time paying him.
The garage door at the address starts to roll up and a friendly smiling face greets me. It was Trang, my host! I swell with relief and stutter out something stupid like “can you tell him thanks for waiting with me?” when it should have been all huggy dovey and ‘so nice to meet you’ but my hands were still a little shaky and my social skills still in survival mode.
I fetched my things, paid the driver, and entered through the garage in to my host family’s house. They kindly offered to make me some dinner, despite it being almost midnight, but I really am about to puke now and the adrenaline says “no food!”. I do take them up on the offer for some milk.
We sit in the living room and Trang introduces me to her husband, Long. They are both about my age. I’m here to help Long with his conversational English so that he can speak with confidence and list ‘English speaking’ on his resume for a business related job. After a brief visit Trang guides me to the 4th floor where my room is.
I’m happy to be alone now, and I can’t wait to get to bed. Despite thinking I might not be able to sleep on something so firm, I do eventually get comfortable, fan on my face, Star Trek in the background, and fall right asleep – thrills take a lot out of you.
Now, I may not have been in any danger at all, but it doesn’t matter. When you’re getting the heeby jeebies, you need to say fuck politeness, fuck impressions and social curtesy, and do whatever you need to do to get the hell out of there. I was totally emotionally prepared to shank one of those guys with my hairpin if needed. Never has my gut twisted so much in alarm.
I’m still a little shaken by last night’s incident, but I wake up for a breakfast date with Long at 7:15. He takes me to a nearby shop where we get an amazing looking noodle bowl. I try to eat it, but just can’t. My stomach is still flipping around inside me – and not because there were snails in the soup. The french eat snails, it’s classy!
I eat some noodles and broth knowing that I need something in my body, but tell him shortly after starting that I think I’m done. Even now, this afternoon, I still don’t feel hungry – the anxiety hasn’t worked it’s way out of my system yet.
We return to the house and begin our English lessons: 8-9:30. It goes quickly and is very enjoyable. We learn new vocabulary words and proper sentence structure for writing a resume. “I control my employees” might technically be correct, but there are better ways to phrase it..”I managed a team of 6″.
When our lesson finishes, I return to my room to take a nap – my head is throbbing a little. Either from my body being overheated, or last night’s events, I don’t know.
I’m now writing this post and plan to tackle the outside world here in a just a bit. I admit, last night was the closest I’ve come to considering going home – I was really scared you guys, it was incredibly unnerving. However, I’m getting back on the horse.
Despite my independence, and hard-outer-shell-of-being-a-cancer, I’m a total softy inside. I wanted my mother when all that was over. I wanted to be at home, in the A/C, watching Star Trek with my dad. I wanted to be getting my back rubbed from my best friend. I wanted to be playing The Sims with my sister. I wanted to be smoking weed and playing video games with my brother. Even right now GOD COULD I USE A BOWL.
Emotionally, I’m not sure I could handle a rape / kidnapping / ‘being taken’ life experience. I consider myself strong, but I don’t think I’m that strong. I have no regrets about throwing my pack over the highway, shoving way too much money at them, ridiculously running down a hill, or ignoring taxi driver for the initial minutes.
I also have no regrets about coming on the trip. Saddle up, boys!