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.