For a young Canadian expat, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is a completely different world. There is the organized chaos of driving, the constant horn honking, the bicycles selling dried eel, dumplings, and duck eggs, the motorbikes carrying 10 lbs of supplies, and the muggy heat under the Vietnamese sun.
The other night, after working a 12-hour day at a government school (which was only my fifth night in Saigon), my Vietnamese-Australian friend Sean invited me to go out with him and his friends. I accepted, and we proceeded to a bar in district one. After hours of talking, laughing and scotch drinking, Sean’s Australian friend Fred (who lived a five-minute drive from me) told me he could drive me home. So he did...sort of. He drove past my house and told me that he was going to take me to his home. I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea, however, I didn’t have the energy to argue.
Fred had two dogs. One of the dogs was taken care of by his secretary, and the other stayed in his apartment in Q2. We entered his apartment and he opened the sliding doors to the kitchen to reveal the gleaming tile floors, and no puppy.
“What the hell?” Fred was livid, and immediately raced to his flatmate’s room and pounded on the door, yelling her name until she opened it. “Where the hell is that dog?”
She crossed her arms and told him that she had done the rightful thing and returned him to his original owner. I was quite bewildered and had no idea what was going on. After about 30 minutes of listening to them argue, I told Fred that I was going to leave because I felt very uncomfortable with the entire situation; why couldn’t they leave it until the morning?
“You think that you understand this?” Fred yelled at me, “You’re 20 years old and you think that you know the world and that everything can be fixed if only we sat down and talked about it in an 'adult way.' You’re a college drop-out who became an English teacher solely because this country is in desperate need of teachers.”
I grabbed my bag, got into the elevator, walked out into the open night air and lit a cigarette. Fred came running after me, telling me how stupid I was for thinking I was going to walk home alone. As a new arrival, I had no idea why this wouldn’t be safe. After all, I had no other option; a taxi would be overpriced, I didn’t have my motorbike and it was too late to take a xe om (motorbike taxi).
“If you’re not going to take a taxi, I’m going to walk home with you," Fred insisted. "We don’t have to speak, but it’s 3:30 in the morning.”
So that’s what we did. We walked in silence, the occasional motorbike passing us on the street, until someone stopped their motorbike quite close behind us, muttering, “Excuse me, sorry.” We kept walking, and I looked back at the motorbike driver. He was texting on his phone and didn’t even look up at us.
I turned back around, about to apologize to Fred for interfering in the argument, but I was pulled off my feet before I could.
I turned back around, about to apologize to Fred for interfering in the argument, but I was pulled off my feet before I could. The motorbike driver had grabbed the strap of my bag, which I had slung across my body, and was dragging me along the street. The whole time, I screamed. He dragged me for about 30 metres before letting go of my bag, Fred chasing after us the whole way. The driver turned right onto the next street, and disappeared into the darkness.
Fred helped me up and examined my wounds, asking a thousand questions. Half of the skin on my forearm had been ripped away and my knuckles were bleeding. My feet, legs and knees were also scratched, but it was easy to tell that the wound on my arm was the worst.
After convincing Fred that yes, I was alright, no, I didn’t want to go back, and yes, I still wanted to go to my house, we continued walking. This time, he held onto my elbow. We were passing a grocery store when someone started yelling Fred’s name. It was his friend Ella, who was buying some water before going home. She saw my arm and ran inside without a word, and less than a minute later, came out with a package of cigarettes and an antiseptic. I held onto Fred’s arm and gritted my teeth while they applied the antiseptic. I thanked Ella profusely before we continued walking, with Fred’s hand back on my elbow.
“This is the worst part,” Fred said, as we turned left to go under Saigon Bridge.
There was only one older Vietnamese man standing on the sand fly fishing. He heard us talking and slowly turned toward us. He pointed his fishing rod at us like a gun and pretended to shoot us. He lowered the rod, smiled and started laughing as he waved at us.
“Jesus Christ,” Fred muttered.
We walked at a slightly faster pace, constantly checking behind us. The man had moved to resume fishing, but every time we looked back, he was waving.
We arrived at my house after only two more minutes of walking. Fred made a quick phone call for a motorcycle taxi to come pick him up, and I waited outside with him. He hugged me goodbye, and apologized for how the evening turned out. I shrugged as he hopped onto the back of the motorcycle. He drove off into the night.
I went inside the gate, greeted by the two dogs. I collapsed on the couch, and dreamt of flights leaving Vietnam flying back to Canada.Add this article to your reading list