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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

hassles of the hustler!

My girl kiki mentioned a travel blog with a post describing how the traveler will NEVER return to Vietnam, this is my response to her question, "What is your experience?"

. . . well, as I've mentioned in my blog, if you're American, and for most part any other nationality you do not just wake up one day and say "hey I love Vietnam lets go!" Usually it's a common stop on the "Southeast Asian" tour. Most people, including myself would be more apt to say "I like Thailand", or Malaysia, Indonesia, or Singapore. In my opinion these countries/cultures were the first on my mind when I considered living in Southeast Asia.

I wonder if the author of the blog is American. Most Americans have a sour taste in their mouth when you speak of Vietnam. We all think of a war that was over 30 years ago. The reaction I received from some family and friends: "Why would you move to war-stricken Vietnam??" We forget that real thriving, money motivated people do live in Asia too, and it is possible for other countries to bounce back after being "war- stricken" by their neighbors. The only nationalities that come to Vietnam (because they want to) that I have noticed are:
Young French students or young adult workers
Filipinos, a lot of them are English teachers, and I was surprised to know they make more money here than in the Philippines.

YES, You will get hassled to the core if you are a foreigner here, but wouldn't any country with a large poor population do that? One thing that really gets on my nerves is how much they stare. Native Vietnamese STARE like it's going out of style. They are so "hill-billy country" in that regard. They do not "get out much" leave their country, travel a bit, (but most can not afford to do this, not even travel to the neighboring countries) so anything that looks remotely different from them is a total outcast. It is general curiosity though, especially from the younger generation. However, I have heard from several dark skin people of African decent from France and some from Africa that they were treated so poorly they had to leave, they couldn't stand it. They couldn't take the stares, the touching of the skin and hair, people pointing and laughing. Native Vietnamese are a bit uncouth in this regard, just ill-mannered, they have no concept of what is "rude". In the States we are taught it is rude to point and stair, here they do not care. They do not give warm friendly smiles like their neighbors in Cambodia. Even my Viet Kieu friends (viet kieu: term for Vietnamese who were raised outside of Vietnam) say that Vietnamese are very blunt and too the point, especially when describing how their mothers talk to them.

In terms of the blog author's philosophy on how Western backpackers are treated. . . I'm not a backpacker, so I really don't know. I don't hang out on Bui Vien St and Pham Ngu Lau St., the "back-packers district". Well. . . I take that back, when I first got here I did get into it with a Xe om driver (motorbike taxi) he proceeded to cuss me out because I did not give him what he wanted. I forget to make clear how much money I wanted to give him for the ride.  A Xe om ride should not be more than 20 or 30 thousand dong, he wanted 50, yeah right. What do I look like, Ms money bags? Since the Xe om was making such a scene, this Vietnamese lady came up and I thought she would help, me, instead she proceeds to argue and yell at me. "Where are you from??" umm America why? "Ohhhh America!" And gave me an ugly stare. I stated, "And your point is. . . " And I walked away, after I gave the man 20 thousand dong, lol. Even when I returned to Saigon from Malaysia, the cab driver from the airport thought I said 200,000 dong for my ride, no, I said less than 200,000 dong, and since he was sneaky, with no working meter in his car, he got whatever I decided to give him! not what he wanted! . . . . and I walked away.

A similar situation happened with some traveling friends of friends. They wanted to get into a shady looking cab, which I could sense was trouble. When the driver stopped at De Tham Street, after driving around the corner from Ben Thanh Market, we realized his meter wasn't working, the man wanted 90 000 dong! I said "Get out of the car now!" So we got out and walked away. Of course he chased us, I said, here take it or leave it, and threw 30,000 dong on the street for him to pick up. ----- So as you can see, I don't take no mess from the Vietnamese :-)

The blog author does have a point. Cash rules everything in Vietnam. For this to be a "communist" country they sure love capitalism! I've said many times when I get frustrated with this place, they are "greedy sons of Buddha." But if you learn a little Vietnamese and ask "Bao nhieu tien?" Instead of "How much is this?", then repeat the numbers they said, and maybe ask for a lower price in Vietnamese, you will get a lower price.

I personally think my skin tone and look has helped to prevent being robbed, or motorbike-jacked. I'm not obviously white with blonde hair and pale skin, like the European and American travelers. Most people think I am from South Africa or Filipino (i.e. I am not wealthy, or as wealthy as a "White" foreigner), and I got New Zealand the other day, lol. When I ride my bike I have a helmet and face mask, so I "look" Vietnamese.

But, will my experiences in Vietnam keep me from coming back to the country? Not exactly. There are many beautiful aspects of the culture, great food, beautiful textiles, and a tropical flair that can only be experienced while basking under the Saigon sun.


  1. Oh. South Africans and Filipinos = no money. Should I feel insulted if I go there and people think I'm a South African or Filipino?

  2. Well, it depends on what type of person you are. I was irritated with Vietnamese women touching my hair, and if I was 5 shades darker I would be annoyed with them touching my skin. However, if they want to judge my financial status by how I look, it is fine with me. I did not come over here to impress anyone, or to get mugged. And this is simply an observation I have made. My apologies if my straight forward language has offended anyone. From my experience, and from what I have been told it seems that Asian cultures are more outward with their racist/predjudice ideals. So if you can't handle harsh stares, mockery, or pure curious questions and gestures, then you may not like visiting this part of the world.