Scams worth noting in the Vietnam capital
WEare standing outside the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, checking our change from the ticket office. We are jetlagged, it is our second day in Vietnam and we are not yet used to the proliferation of zeroes in the local currency.
Ever since I’ve known of this temple, I have wanted to pay homage. I am not interested in Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum or shopping in the old quarter. Literature has been my religion ever since I could read.
My partner tries to add up the notes, but he hasn’t had his coffee yet, which, he says, always impairs his mathematical ability. Not five minutes before, the taxi driver bamboozled him with an exchange of notes that resulted in not only paying an exorbitant fare but in giving back his change as well. It seems 10,000, without coffee, can look very like 100,000.
We both gaze at the change from the ticket office. I am suspicious. The previous day my airport taxi driver drove down a side road, saying I needed a visa. I insisted, in what I hoped was an authoritative voice, that he drive me to my hotel, where my husband was waiting. He did as I asked, luckily, as I had no idea what to do if he didn’t.
That scam didn’t succeed, but by now my delighted faith in a country with a Temple of Literature is a bit tattered.
We count together and work out the ticket seller has kept 50,000 dong. The amount is minimal in Australian currency but it doesn’t feel right to be scammed at a temple devoted to literature. We walk towards the ticket seller and before we even speak she holds out a 50,000 note without comment or eye contact.
The temple is superb — courtyards and stone turtles, tranquil pools and altars, bonsai figs and carved gods and even a red Gate of the Grand Synthesis with golden dragons and clouds. It’s not so much the fabulous look of the place but that Vietnam feels it’s worth celebrating thinking itself. For that I can handle a scam or two.
But it’s not quite over. The next evening my wallet is stolen from my backpack. More than one million dong (about $50) and my credit cards are gone. I spend an hour in a police station watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with a bored policeman while a translator writes a report. The television is the only piece of equipment in the room. We all know there is more chance of the policeman becoming a wizard than of him finding my wallet.
While I am being scammed in Hanoi, my niece in Chicago and a friend in Sydney are both robbed — and the truth is that wherever you are, there will always be someone who wants to relieve you of your wealth, especially when you clearly have enough to traipse around another country looking at cultural marvels.
Of course you must be careful and not carry your wallet in your backpack, but too much attending to your possessions means you end up mistrusting everyone. The point is not to allow a little redistribution of (your) wealth to mess with your delight in the richness of a different culture. Especially one that has a Temple of Literature. Patti Miller says her latest book, The Mind of a Thief (UQP, $29.95), has nothing to do with travel scams.