Sorry, it’s been a while, been real busy adapting to the new school/country/life. French paperwork and bureaucracy are legendary, not to mention, work. Anyway, I left off as I was getting into the back of a chauffeured Land Rover with the brother of one of my students, who was connected to the government/mafia in some way. Connections are how you make things happen in Asia. Law is completely subjective upon who you know and what type of power you wield. We were going to hook up with his high ranking cop friend who was going to put the squeeze on the taxi driver who ran me over, in order to get a little cash to cover my losses and pain.
As we were heading to the meetup, the brother explained to me that since we weren’t going to squeeze the taxi company itself , which was my original intention as they would have deeper pockets, we would be going after the driver himself. The reason I decided not to go after the company was because if they made it a legal issue, there was a good chance they would contact my insurance company which had paid for my hospital stay. If they did that, the insurance would find out I had been on a motorbike, a no-no, since I didn’t have my license. If that happened, there was a good chance I would be left out in the cold, if my insurance rescinded their payments, I would be stuck with a $20,000 hospital bill and a lengthy legal battle in the Vietnamese courts. Instead, if I put the squeeze on the driver, we could leave the company, and therefore the insurance company, out of it.
Sounded like a pretty good idea until I thought about it. I would be squeezing a Viet taxi driver. Someone whose yearly income was about $2,000. That just didn’t sit right with me. I’ve always felt a closer connection to the working sod, the underclass, because I had been there myself, more than I have any other social group. For all of my adult life, until I moved to Vietnam, I lived below the poverty line. And I would be taking money from a guy whose yearly income was equal to less than my monthly income…But still, the guy almost killed me, left me for dead, and left me $1000 in the hole…
I had a quick think about it and went with my gut. The last thing I want to do in life is drive another poor person deeper into poverty. If I did that, I’d be just like all the other scumbags who make their millions by exploiting others. The corporate CEO’s who instead of paying their American workers a living wage, send their production overseas to places like Vietnam where they can pay their workers literally pennies, the Communist party members who live in luxury while the average Viet can barely afford food. Fuck that. And fuck those guys.
I told the brother to stop the car. I explained to him my feelings, and where I was coming from (minus the strong language), He looked surprised, and asked if I was sure. I told him, yes, I wouldn’t feel right about myself, I didn’t want to send another poor person even lower. I’m not going hungry, I live in a nice enough place, and still save a little. What more do you really need out of life? I would rather chock up the $1000 I lost due to the various repairs, medical bills, etc, then to send someone else, and most likely his entire family, into grinding poverty. I thanked the older brother for his help, and his kindness. The brother nodded, still surprised and said he really respected my choice. But there was one thing…I told the brother all I really wanted would be for his police friend to warn the taxi driver that he needs to be a better driver, because the next time he runs someone over, he, or the victim, might not be so lucky. If I can make just one Vietnamese driver less dangerous, I feel like my time in Nam was a success. We drove back to my school and I got out, feeling pretty good.
A few days later, my “guardian angel” as I’d taken to calling Steve, the Westerner who picked me off the side of the road, bloody and semi-conscious, drove me to the hospital, and contacted my coworker to help me out, called and asked how I was doing. I told him I was healing but doing ok. He told me he had a friend who was an accountant, and as I was a foreigner who had paid taxes, and was leaving the country soon, would be able to get a chunk of the income tax I paid back. Sounded interesting. He gave me her email address. I emailed her the next day, explaining my situation. She said that I could indeed get around $14,000 back (about as much as I had paid), if I met certain requirements about the taxation system. It turns out I did indeed meet these requirements. She emailed me back that it was certain I would be able to get it back, and since I was a friend of Steve, she wouldn’t charge her usual consultation fee. Great!
The next step would be for me to send her a copy of my paychecks, passport, work visa, tax ID number, etc. I did. After sending all this, she then said everything was a go, I just had to pay her the fee of $2,000 upfront to process the paperwork…What?! Of course, at this point my scam radar went off. But still, I knew accountants did have to get paid, and if I could make $12k in profit…So, I did a little research, contacting several legit Vietnamese accountants to see if such a law existed for foreigners getting back their income tax. They all responded, no, not that they knew of. Son of a bitch. I was being set up. Apparently for the second time.
I replied to her offer with an offer of my own. How about I give you $5,000 but you do the work first? She replied, no she couldn’t do that, it’s not how the system worked, and if it was too expensive, she could lower the price for me, to only $900. Right. I asked her if she had an office, and was a registered accountant with the government. She didn’t reply. But by this point, she had all my identifying documents, so most likely, she is currently stealing my identity. Well, guess what asshole, the jokes on you, I have abysmal credit, no company in the world will give me a credit card, you stole the identity of literally the worst person in America to steal an identity from.
This made me start to wonder about Steve. So far, he had twice set me up with someone who wanted $2,000 off me, in order to get a huge sum back. Typical con man scheme. If there even was a second person, both situations were over email, so it could have been him all along. In fact, it made me reconsider the “accident” itself. What a coincidence that Steve, who also happened to be a con man, just happened to be there ready in the middle of nowhere, suburban Hanoi, where white people don’t go. Ready to pick me up as a guardian angel. Further, the photos that I took of the taxi were perfect. Nothing cut off, license plate, make and model. Apparently I did this after picking myself up, semi-conscious, bleeding out the face like a stuck pig with broken teeth and nose, yet still on the ball enough to photo the vehicle perfectly, and somehow, not photo the actual driver?…
It seemed more likely that in fact, Steve had set the accident up. Most likely he was working in tandem with a Viet partner, the driver. The driver nails me, then stops, just long enough for Steve who happens to be right there, ready to help me photo the vehicle (but not the driver), then takes off, leaving Steve to gain my confidence by bringing me to the hospital and looking after me. It made sense. One thing I’ve learned living life on the edge is that just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. I have some stories about that which you’ll only get out of me over a beer or four.
At this point, I had only about 3 weeks left in ‘Nam. I thought about reporting Steve, or trying to. Using some police contacts to make a stink, or maybe smearing his name in the local expat website. But, Steve knew where I lived. He knew where I worked, he had my passport info. If he was connected with the local mafia, which was pretty likely, as he didn’t seem clever enough to figure out this hustle himself, and he was always inviting me to dodgy little bars that “his friends” owned, I could be stirring a hornets nest. If this was the West, I would go after him like a pitbull, because I understand how things work. In Nam, I would be playing by their rules, and I barely understood those rules. This is the type of situation that could get bad real quick if Steve was more connected than I was. I only had 3 more weeks, then no more Nam, and off to the French Riviera and a new life.
In the end, I decided not to stir the hornet’s nest. The only thing I would gain from that is revenge, and while it is sweet, I’ve also learned that revenge without a hefty economic compensation attached to it is just empty calories. It’s a fine thing, learning how to assess battles that you have little chance of coming out on top of.
I was so close to finally making it through what had without a doubt, been the absolutely worst two years of my colorful life. I had been homeless and penniless in strange towns several times in my life, and faced down some real scary bad situations that I’ll tell you about over a beer, and this had been hands down, the worst. I had gotten dysentery twice, had two month-long sinus infections, got fired from my job, then rehired at the last moment, gotten divorced, without friends or family, then fallen in love, only to have my heart broken to pieces for the first time in my 36 years, gotten irritable bowel syndrome, and topped it all off with a crushed sinus passage, a concussion, a broken wrist, large patches of missing flesh, three broken teeth, and $1,000 lost. I figured, fuck it, at this point, I’m just happy to be alive, in relatively good health, and have a new life waiting for me. Sometimes, you just gotta cut your losses.
The next three weeks passed blessedly uneventfully, mostly because I spent them hiding out, trying to present as small of a target as possible to Hanoi. And finally the last day came. I honestly didn’t think I would make it. Not until the plane left the runway, did I let out the biggest, happiest smile I had had in two years, as I watched the quickly disappearing swampland below. Relief flooded me. For the first time in two years, I felt relaxed. I let out a whooping laugh as I waved my middle finger at the city from 500 feet in the air, never to set foot on that cursed swamp again. Like my father before me, and so many other young men of his generation, just happy to be leaving ‘Nam alive. Fuck you Hanoi, I won. Just barely.