It was about 11 o’clock in the morning and Brandon and I needed to hurry back to our hotel, check out by noon, and catch our 3 pm flight out of Hanoi. As we left Ho Chi Minh’s House, a taxi parked on the street flagged us over. “Perfect timing,” I thought as I handed the driver a card from our hotel. “Do you know where this is?”
“Yeah, hop in,” he replied. The driver was a short man (average by Asian standards) with a decent command of basic English which he learned on the streets. “Do you want to visit any tourist places today?” He flashed a brochure displaying various sites around Hanoi. Had we not been pressed for time, I may have taken him up on his offer.
“That’s strange,” I thought to myself. “That meter seems to be rising very….”
“Oh! Guess my age.” he dared us in an attempt to break the silence.
“20?” I replied.
He giggled at the thought. “Higher.”
“30,” followed Brandon.
“60!” I threw out, growing tired of guessing.
“No, 38,” he finally answered. “I have two children–a son and a daughter.”
As he and Brandon continued to chat, I thought it was admirable that he had a family. I imagined what his children looked like. Perhaps not so different from some of the Vietnamese students I work with back in the U.S. At the same time, I felt uneasy that the meter seemed to jump forward randomly. I reasoned it displayed the distance we traveled but then found it odd his taxi permit wasn’t displayed on his dashboard.
“Hey! Do you like stritikiniki rice?” he bellowed.
“What rice?” I asked.
I struggled to decipher what he was saying. Is this a kind of Vietnamese rice I hadn’t heard of before? “Sorry, I don’t understand.”
“Umm….I mean sticky rice! There’s a delicious restaurant near your hotel that serves it. You want me to drop you off there for lunch?”
I have to admit, sticky rice sounded really good and the thought of it conjured memories of my vacation in Laos two years ago. I agreed and gathered my belongings as the driver began to pull over.
“500,000 dong,” he quoted.
I paused–shellshocked. That was approximately $25 US dollars. Was he being serious? Getting to the museum only cost $2 a few hours earlier. It was a 1250% markup–the same price to go round trip from the airport and Hanoi, a two hour ride. I questioned the driver and pointed out all of these inconsistencies.
“In Hanoi we have many taxi companies,” he replied. “Mine is the expensive one. We help orphans.”
Call me heartless but unless his orphans made fairy dust from ground up unicorn horns, I simply wasn’t impressed. Perhaps if the orphans were sitting in the taxi with us I would be more inclined to believe him. But that’s a BIG “if” and the orphans would need to be emaciated with giant Hello Kitty eyes.
Distraction. Sleight of hand. Bait and switch. These were his tricks.
Brandon and I were in a tough spot and I had to think fast. What would Sherlock Holmes (as portrayed by Robert Downey Jr.) do?
Quick jab to driver’s face. Continue administering force, alternating between left and right fists. Driver draws up his arms for protection. Adjust strategy. Find new weakness to exploit……searching…….located. Abdominal region exposed. Attack vigorously. He screams in pain. Driver now incapacitated. Exit taxi and run.
I reluctantly handed the driver 500,000 dong. Damn! Maybe I can sell off Brandon’s new wooden mask to make up the loss.
$25, you buy?
Ed. note: Brandon would like to declare that he considers himself a jolly good travel companion, if only for being able to cheer the author up after this encounter.