This post has cost me a few hundred dollars but I did get to ride in a police car during Tet.
Saigon: alive with flowers during Tet and everyone seems to be either buying, selling or transporting flowers.
I’ve got a great subject for a blog post (not that I lack for things to post about here in Saigon) but I’ve had to pay a few hundred dollars for the privilege.
Last night (I wrote this post just prior to heading off on holidays but forgot to post it) I went out to District 1 with a friend to pay for our tickets to Siem Reap in Cambodia. In town celebrations for Tet (Lunar New Year) were in full swing. Thousands of people were on the street out having a good time looking at all the flowers and lights on display. Saigon is normally a good looking town but round Tet it goes all out …. Christmas and New Year all rolled into one.
So tickets paid for we went for a stroll through town and down to the flower markets. Stopped there briefly to feed on some street food … crocodile skewers, pleasant enough if a bit chewy …. and a thing that looked like papyrus but turned out to be sliced, dried banana pressed into a paper like form and then heated over a brazier … quite delicious.
After the markets we felt like a coffee so headed off to the Rex hotel (famous for the Vietnam War’s 5 o’clock follies). At the entrance a huge crowd had formed for some official Tet ceremony. In the crowd people started jostling quite aggressively, a bit worried I went to check my pockets and, slightly surprised, I found a hand in my left pocket obviously coveting my passport and phone. I grabbed the hand and then checked that my phone and passport were still there.
They were and in the meantime the pickpocket had wriggled free. I checked my other pocket for my wallet only to find it missing 😦 So I chased after the scrawny bastard and caught him. Police soon approached, attracted by the commotion and I explained what had happened. Just then some other bloke turns up with my wallet and tells me he saw the scrawny thief drop it. The new bloke looked Vietnamese and spoke Vietnamese and then introduced himself as Vinh a policeman from the USA. Perhaps I’m too suspicious but I smelled a rat as this bloke quickly appeared on the scene with my wallet sans money but with all my credit cards intact.
In any case I was happy to have the wallet. At this stage the police loaded the thief on the back of a ute and had my friend and I climb in the front. All this by the way occurred in front of a crowd of thousands who had gathered for the Tet ceremony. Not quite Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame but at least 5 minutes of less than prurient interest from the gathering crowd.
So we were rushed, actually more like a slow crawl through the crowd, to the local police station. The perp sat in the back of the ute unaccompanied but made no move to do a runner.
At the police station the police were efficient and friendly and with the help of a few police station bystanders I was able to get my statement translated into Vietnamese. Throughout this interesting event I managed to takes few snaps (which, as I am a guest in this country I have decided not to show here on this blog). The police station was quite bare bones and basic. A cabinet filled one wall and contained a bullhorn, umpteen dozen walkie talkies and….. an AK47…… as you do I guess.
I left the police station with smiles and shrugs and some advice to look after my pockets a bit better … yep … got that lesson. The annoying thing was that I lost more money than I normally would have. My school had underpaid me and then to make it up had given my the balance, several hundred dollars, in cash – which of course was in my wallet.
In all all though an interesting night. My first ever pick pocketing, an insight into Vietnamese policing, a ride in a police truck – and I still have my credit cards, passport and phone – I’d have to chalk that up as a good night. Not one I’d like to repeat but certainly an experience that I’m glad I had (would have been nice if it was a bit cheaper but hey … you can’t have everything).