Scams worth not­ing in the Viet­nam cap­i­tal

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - PATTI MILLER

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.

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