Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Anybody that has been travelling knows that some of the most memorable moments are not always the best. Anyone that regales you with a constant stream of stories involving smiles and rainbows; fairies and unicorns are either liars or just boring as shit. That’s not real life.
This actually happened before my first two posts. I’d only been in Vietnam a just week – but I thought it would probably be a bit of downer to start with this. A word of warning before I begin – directed at my mother in particular. This was a particularly unpleasant incident that happened. It certainly doesn’t reflect Hanoi, or my experience in general, in fact 99% of the time the city is incredibly safe. Things like this happen all over the world. If you already don’t like the tone of this, maybe do some gardening instead.
This all occurred, quite appropriately, two days before Halloween. I went along to a party held by some people from work. A lot of beer, followed by Sake, then whiskey. I’m sure you get some idea of the direction the party was headed. I believe body shots were involved at some point. The night ended with me going back to my hotel with a girl from the party.
Apparently my Vietnamese pronunciation still hovered around the complete unintelligible, so in the taxi I rather drunkenly tried to point out the hotel on a map, that was not only completely wet for some reason, but also in pieces. The taxi driver eyed me like a leaper, shook his head slightly – obviously thrilled to have me in the car – and began to drive.
He stopped shortly after – now bear in mind I had been in Hanoi a week – I don’t really know where anything is. Surprisingly the alcohol was not helping. We stepped out and made our way down the street, hoping to see something familiar. It was now past 3am.
Suddenly we became all too aware that there was two men in close proximity. This was strange because the streets where eerily deserted. It became quite clear, quite fast the situation was turning nasty. They walked straight in front us, their voices raised. We had no idea what they were saying but I’m guessing they weren’t asking for directions – we attempted to walk around them but that was probably a little optimistic. It all happened in split seconds. One of them grabbed the girl and pinned her up against the wall. It took a second to comprehend before I stormed over. Now people that know me will know I’m not a fighter. I can’t remember the last time I got into a fight or even threw a punch. But I grabbed the guy and hit him as hard as I could in the face. He crashed to the floor. Not bad – I thought probably a little too smugly considering the situation. The girl grabbed my arm and we sprinted down the road, flagging down the nearest taxi.
As the taxi sped away, we sat back and sighed with relief. That was insane. We began to try and dissect what had just happened. Did we say something? Do something? No, of course not. I happened to glance out of the window; blinked a few times and looked again – my stomach sank. Outside was a man on a motorbike brandishing a baseball bat; he was screaming at the car. Is there any way this is unrelated? I wondered in quite pitiful optimism. The fact that his torrent of abuse seemed directed at me, as was his outstretched finger, I guessed probably not. He wasn’t one of the guys we had seen. No idea who he was.
“Keep driving” I whispered hopefully to the taxi driver. The biker was now slightly in front of the car. He began to scream at the driver. Maybe he’s chasing him? The driver braked hard – and stopped.
“What the fuck” I shouted at him. I received a torrent of Vietnamese in reply
“Fuck you” I screamed back, probably a little unfairly looking back.
The man dismounted his bike and a walked briskly to the car. Well this situation just got a whole lot worse didn’t it. We slammed down the locks on both sides. His snarling face was inches from the glass. He walked to the other side and tried wrenching open the door. The taxi driver wouldn’t stop shouting at us, I have no idea what he was saying; but it really wasn’t helping.
“Just shut the fuck up” I shouted at him. We had come to a stalemate but the baseball fan certainly wasn’t giving up. It became clear he wasn’t going away. I was also worried more people might be coming. Whether it was bravery or just plain stupidity – I decided to get out and talk to him. Believe me this action has circulated my mind many times since.
“Lock the door after I get out” I said as I opened the door and stepped out.
“Look I am sor…” the bat slammed into my shoulder almost immediately. Fuck – pain shot down my arm. Nice to meet you to. He wasn’t trying to kill me. Or even seriously hurt me. He wasn’t trying to go for my head or anything. Thank god. It was clear it was more intimidation. Plus quite a few bruises for good measure, obviously.
“Stop” I shouted repeatedly. This obviously wasn’t the magic word – because he didn’t. I took a few more hits to the upper body, and one curiously to the shin. Who hits in the shin? Pussy. To make it more frustrating; he was smaller than me. I was sure if I’d ran at him I could of given him the beating of a lifetime. I restrained, that probably would’ve been a bad idea. He began to slow down, before I knew it the girl was out of the taxi and dragging me away. He didn’t follow us. We ran down a small alleyway and paused. Miraculously a taxi drove by at that second – we ran into the road and jumped inside. I slumped down in the seat and began prodding my body; checking everything was in once piece. It appeared so.
For the second time in the space of five minutes I wave relief not often experienced washed over me. Once again, it was premature. Is this fucking Groundhog Day? He was back; it was as if time had simply rewound a few minutes. Exactly the same process unfolded. His bike weaved next to the taxi which again came to a halt with the driver willing us to get out. I wasn’t moving this time. Every quickly emerging bruise on my body urged me to stay in the car.
I don’t know how long we stayed like that. Him outside screaming, us inside trying not to look at him. A thought suddenly came into my mind. I took out my wallet, extracted everything in there, about $20 worth of Vietnamese Dong, wound down the window about seven inches and thrust it out towards him. He snatched at it, paused and began to count it like a bank teller. Once satisfied he glared at me again and managed to throw his fist through the tiny gap and caught me straight in the face. The bastard then walked calmly over to his bike, mounted it and sped off. His job done.
‘Can you take me home now please’ I mumbled to the driver, my lip already bleeding and beginning to swell. He stared at me open mouthed in absolute astonishment. All I could do was shrug.
A spectacular case of being in the wrong place and the wrong time. Vietnamese people I have told have been absolutely horrified and quick to apologies. The next morning I woke with cuts and bruises across the top half of my body. My right hand was swollen and a nice blend of purple and black. In reality though, things could have been much, much worse.
I won’t lie – I also woke with more than a little FUCK VIETNAM. I was furious; I’ve been here a week – and this happens! Fuck Hanoi, Fuck Vietnam. This feeling stalked me all day. I just couldn’t shake it. I stayed in the hotel for the majority of the time.
The following day it was still there. You’ve got to stop this I told myself. It was just bad luck. . Don’t paint an entire country like this. That day I threw myself out into the chaos of the city and the negatives began to float. It sounds cheesy but I was quickly reminded about all the things I love here. Any doubts were finally extinguished in the afternoon when I walked past a government building. A soldier was standing outside. He was young, clean cut, with an AK-47 draped across his stomach. The moment he saw me an enormous smile broke across his face and he waved. It was such a surreal image it took me a second to register. I laughed and waved back. Well at least I’ve got this guy on my side I thought. Fuck your baseball bat.
Not a pleasant experience but one I will certainly always remember. I’m already at the stage of laughing about it. Not that I would wish it on anyone, and it sounds stupid to say but it’s almost the kind of thing that adds to a travel experience. Not necessarily in a good way – but something added none-the-less. That rush of excitement and fear. It’s rare we get to experience such a range of raw emotions so quickly. It’s just how you deal with these things once they happen. A friend of mine probably put it best. Bottom-line – it’s just a pretty fucking cool story. And that’s exactly how I’ll think about it.