It’s Thursday today, so I start at 7, similar to yesterday and a day before yesterday. I go through the morning session (5 classes for 40 minutes) constantly wiping my runny nose and fighting my cough, while waiting for the afternoon lunch break. The final go with grade five and there it is: GONG! Finally.
I jump on my bike and drive to the nearby supermarket. I’m waiting for Ross and Pieter in well over 30 degrees. The lunch time goes fast while we dive into our 35.000 dongs (1.2 €) deals burgers sets. We go down to the parking, I try to start my bike, nothing. Try again, no response.’ Great’, I think. We push it out from the underground parking to the street. I say ‘bye’ to the guys and from now on I have to deal with it on my own. So I keep pushing it along the street hoping that someone will rescue me. A few people pass by, I hear a Vietnamese incomprehensible babble, they try to start it, then shake their hands in a typical Vietnamese ‘NO’ gesture and leave me. So I keep walking, another guy comes by, the same story so I sceptically go away. He doesn’t give up, running after me and explaining things in words and gestures. So, I’m trying to ‘listen’ and understand. He wants me to jump on my bike, while he drives side by side on his, holding his foot against my bike and pushing me forward. A 10 seconds risk analysis, and I hop on my bike, driven away by a Vietnamese stranger to the nearest ( a few intersections) mechanic. I pay the guy 20.000 dongs, thank politely and that’s where my next obstacle begins. The mechanic does not speak a word of English (not that I’m surprised). He looks at it, dirties his hands with the bike oil, takes his phone and makes a call. A few seconds later the phone is passed over to me and I hear: ‘Hi. It’s very nice speaking to you. I’m the mechanic’s younger sister. You bike’s battery is flat and it needs to be replaced. It’s 400.000 dongs. You want it or not?”. I’m stuck in a far away district, with no money to pay. I embarrassingly inform the guy about having no money, so he gives the battery a few electric shocks, magically starts my machine and I’m on the way back to school. At school things are easier. I arrange my bike to be fixed at my company, so I only need to get it there, hoping it will not die on the way. After my afternoon classes, with ‘a little’ help from the school parking guy, I am on my way again.
I hand the bike to someone at the company to be fixed and now ‘bikeless’ wait for Pieter to pick me up. I look at the watch ‘ He will be here in 50 min’. So I go to one of the bike ‘taxi’ guys asking:
-How much to Le van Sy?
-What?! 40, no way! 20.
-Twenty- I say stubbornly and walk away seeing that the guy is not going to agree on my ‘deal’.
So, I sit back on the chair outside. 50 minutes to go, because I didn’t want to pay 0.34 € extra. ‘How bad it is’ I think. Then I start watching the bike guy that I refused to pay and the parking guy in front of me. The bike guy sits there for half an hour before he gets his first ride. Not an easy job. The parking guy in front of me, does his job perfectly, all dressed up in a neat uniform and a white shirt. He stands up every time someone drives in or leaves the parking lot. Very professional. Both of them probably don’t make more than an average salary in Vietnam which is around 3.2 mln dong (110 €)/ month.
I’m thinking about those 30 cents that I wasn’t willing to pay. On one hand it is so stupid to not to pay it, right? On the other hand, I know that a Vietnamese person would pay 20.000, that I’m being overcharged because I’m white, I’m western, so I’ve got money and this ‘entitles me’ to being ripped off nearly every time I try to buy something which doesn’t have a fixed price (services, food on markets, etc.). I’m tired of it and and get really frustrated when it happens and it happens a lot, believe me.
Recently, I found myself following a discussion on facebook Ho Chi Minh Expats Group , which was started by a guy who was charged 10.000 dong instead of 3.000 for parking. He was of course not happy with it and he had his followers saying, ‘yes, it’s stealing’ , ‘it’s not about the amount of money, it’s about principles’, etc. On the other side were people (also expats) claiming, ‘ I see your point, but 7000 is nothing’ or ‘As an expat here, you have got not much to complain’.
The discussion is not easy. Shall we ignore the fact that we are charged more than Vietnamese people, because we earn more than them? Or shall we disagree with it and fight it whenever we can, knowing that some of them earn the ridiculously low salaries and those few thousands extra go for their families’ primary supplies?
My opinion is that I don’t mind paying those few thousands extra. But it has to be voluntarily. I don’t want to have this constant feeling on me that I am scammed nearly every time I go to the market. I truly hate it.
Lastly, of course not all Vietnamese are like that. A few times, I was offered things for free. Like Pieter’s shorts fixed on the market. I happily paid though. Or to the guy who pushed me on his bike last Thursday.
Kindness begets kindness.
Crap begets crap.