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Royally Duped

VIETNAM | Thursday, 19 January 2006 | Views [783]

I sure know how to pick transportation.  I wanted to go for a cyclo ride yesterday (the 18th) because I'd never been on one yet (and my feet hurt).  A cyclo is like a bicycle with a big seat in front, and a guy will pedal you around the city for a few thousand dong.  So I wandered down to the roundabout where all they cyclo drivers hung out, hassling every tourist who walked by.  I had got it into my head earlier in the day to find an old man who speaks decent English (and many of them do if they were in the war) thinking he'd probably know of some of the more interesting sites, places not many tourists seek out, and of course, I was hoping he'd have so good stories for me.

I got to the roundabout at 2:30 pm, much later than I'd planned as I'd been helping a student with her American culture project on racial discrimination (it was very interesting, and I was happy to help).  It turns out all of
Viet Nam
takes a nap in the afternoon (a wonderful tradition I fully and wholeheartedly support) and all the old men had decided to take their siestas at the same time, so I hopped in with a promising looking young-ish fellow.  Well, apparently, this guy hadn't been driving a cyclo for very long.  We started out at about sloth speed, and after just a few blocks, I heard him huffing and puffing to pedal me up a hill I never would have notcied while on foot.  After a few more blocks, a train of cyclos, a hotel tour group, passed us by, and from then on our speed deteriorated to that of a snail with a too-big house on its back.

We exhanged the necessary pleasantries:
     "How (gasp!) are you?"
     "I'm fine."
     "Where are (gasp!) you from?"
     "American! (gasp!) great!  How long you (gasp!) in
Viet Nam
? (gasp! gasp!)"
And so it went. 

Turns out that was the extent of this guy's English.  When I became bored with the classic tourist traps every Vietnamese seems to think we want to see - the Opera House (walked by it about a million times), the
Sofitel Metropole Plaza
(just another facy tourist hotel - boring), the Old Quarter (been lost in its rediculous streets for three days!) - I turned to ask if he could take me anyplace really interesting that not many foreigners know about.  Someplace that is meaningful and would cause him to tear up a little as he related the heart-rending events leading up to the crashing of the American bomber planes, or the separation from his loving wife and three young children (one on the way) as he strode off to valiantly serve his country.  Something that would make a really good store to write here and tell everybody at home.  A story that would directly reflect Vietnamese culture and valuse in a way no mere observation could show.  Instead, he gave me a blank look that clearly said, "You silly idealistic American," and he continued puffing along the back streets of the Old Quarter, old women, limping by with 50 pounds of vegetables hanging from their shoulders, passing us frequently.

Finally he huffed and puffed me back to my hotel where I discovered, after handing him his money, that he hadn't said 15,000 dong as I'd thought; he'd said 50,000 dong (50 sure sound like 15 in that accent!).  (Here's the thing about pricing in
Viet Nam: you always bargain for the price you want BEFORE you do ANYTHING, otherwise they're going to majorly rip you off afterwards.  I heard 15,000 and thought, '1 dollar - I'm game!' but he was probably elated that I'd agreed to 50,000.  Duh Wendy.)  Of course I protested that we didn't even see anything important since we never technically made it out of the Old Quarter.  He came back saying he gave me an extra half hour AND took me "all the way" back to my hotel.  I didn't even bother reminding him that the extra time was because he was going so slow and merely shoved another 35,000 dong at him and went inside, fuming that I'd been royally duped for the first time on my last day in Viet Nam.

Tags: (mis)adventures in local transit, i should have known better!, vietnam


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