HCMC Dining Guide

Friday, May 3, 2013

H2H 2013 Day 22: Down the rabbit hole

NOW WITH VIDEO ADDED

This day probably ranks as the most insane in H2H's four-year history. The team was set to ride 110km from Lien Son to Lam Ha. They had set off, and I was sitting in the rear support van, waiting to leave our hotel, my injured quads leaving me unable to ride.

Around 8:15 I got a call saying that Andrea had been in an accident, and she would need the spare bike, which was in the van. We took off and soon arrived at the scene, since the team had only gone 6km. Andrea's bike and a motorbike were lying in the middle of the road. The moto looked alright, but Andrea's front wheel was snapped and the frame was obviously bent. A bunch of locals were crowded around, while our team was standing around farther down the road.

I learned that Andrea and Adam had been riding out front when they saw that their entire lane up ahead was covered in rice grains being dried in the sun. This is a common enough occurrence, and we always ride around the agricultural products. This being a narrow two-lane country road, Andrea had no choice but to cross the centerline into the oncoming lane (something that people do all the time here anyway). The only traffic coming was a woman on a motorbike, and they made eye contact while they were still a good 50 meters away. Andrea stayed as close as she could to her lane, while the woman kept coming directly at her. As the distance closed she made no effort to move, and the next thing Andrea knew the woman drove straight into her in a direct head-on collision. Somehow Andrea stayed upright, but the woman fell over. A crowd formed immediately and took the woman away to a hospital before the rest of us even arrived.

Adam called the police, and we all stood around wondering what on earth was wrong with the woman on the moto. Both Adam and Andrea had noticed something odd in her eyes, and they guessed she may have been going through some sort of seizure while driving. Whatever the case, she quite intentionally slammed right into Andrea, who suffered some bruises and scrapes but nothing worse.

The cops arrived and immediately began asking questions. Andrea and Adam explained that the rice (which had been quickly swept away immediately after the crash) was covering their lane, etc. The cops were doing a lot of random wandering around, and one guy was even inspecting the road surface for skid marks. There were none because the woman didn't brake. Through the translation skills of Vien, a Vietnamese-Australian rider, Adam and Andrea described everything.


Then, things started to get entertaining. In some bizarre CSI imitation, the cops created spray-paint outlines around both bikes, as if they were bodies at a murder scene.

Andrea had moved her bike to the side of the road after the crash, though someone moved it back onto the road later. The cops asked her to put her bike EXACTLY where she had placed it. Then they sprayed an outline there.

Adam, Vien and Andrea wondering what the hell the purpose of all this is
Then they busted out a tape measure and began measuring all sorts of distances - how far from the crash point to an electrical pole, how far from the crash point to a random spot in the grass, how far from the crash point to where Andrea moved her bike, etc.



One cop (who looked like he was 15) noted detailed calculations based on the measurements.
The cops then asked the farmers nearby to lay their rice grains back out on the road so they could re-create the accident conditions. By this point the rest of the team had taken off since they had a lot of distance to cover, leaving me, Andrea, Adam and Vien with the rear support van. Though it was blisteringly hot out we were still in good spirits, as seeing this sort of Keystone Cops shenaniganry had us laughing in bemusement. They then measured the rice.



We were informed that the state police were now on their way from Buon Me Thuot, since foreigners were involved. More local cops kept arriving, all in uniforms of various shades of green. Locals kept popping up as well, with the occasional random person chipping in their two cents. After about three hours of standing in the sun we were told that we would need to go to the police station back in Lien Son to finish whatever paperwork was needed. There was no word of the woman on the motorbike, and her family had done nothing. An uncle had showed up at some point, but he left after hearing what had happened.

We went for lunch and then arrived at the police station at 1:30. Andrea and Vien were immediately sat down in separate rooms to begin preparing accounts of what happened. Adam and I were left to bake outside, where a young cop who spoke broken English tried to converse with us. A little while later an older man in civilian clothes appeared and seemed very excited to see me. I figured he hadn't seen many Westerners, but then he explained that he had seen us at a restaurant in town the previous night. During dinner we had done rice wine shots with some Vietnamese men, and he had been one of them. Turns out he was the police commissioner of Lien Son.

He invited Adam and I into his office for tea, and we were happy to oblige because it was air-conditioned. People came and went and the afternoon slipped away, and we had no idea what was going on with Andrea and Vien because they wouldn't let us into their rooms. Our amusement was slipping into annoyance, and when the cop with bad English suddenly blurted out, apropos of nothing, that he thought the accident was Andrea's fault, the mood descended into anger. He said she should have stopped, or that she should have just ridden over the rice, and listened to none of our counter-arguments.

After this we walked into Andrea's room and found that the statements were done. Vien had had a problem with his because at one point it said Andrea 'caused' the accident. The Vietnamese word for cause has a couple of meanings, but he wanted it changed since it implied that she was at fault. They changed it in his statement, but Andrea's said the same thing and she had already signed it (it was all in Vietnamese). Vien then demanded that he be allowed to change the wording. The cops refused, and he threatened to rip the statement in half. The translator kept repeating why Vien couldn't do it, to which he replied with, "Shut. The. Fuck. Up. I hope that's clear enough for you," before striking out the word for 'caused' and adding something else. Adam and I were looking at each other nervously, fearing that Vien's outburst would lead us into an episode of 'Locked Up Abroad.' Luckily for us the cops didn't really seem to care.

By now it was around 4pm, and we had no idea where this was going. Andrea was demanding that they let us leave by 5pm, but they countered that we now needed to visit the woman from the accident in the hospital, which was two hours away in the wrong direction. We refused, saying we were on a schedule and that we had to be in Lam Ha by that night, not to mention that we had 16 other riders to worry about and nothing but the clothes on our back with us. They told us that the woman was bleeding from one of her ears, and that she was sleeping.

We were in the station courtyard bickering when a storm moved in, and we all sat down in another room in another building. We had moved beyond discussing the accident and the cops were completely focused on what we needed to do to help the woman. It was clear that they were placing all of the blame on Andrea. They asked her, "Why didn't you stop?", "Why didn't you ride on the rice?", "Why were you in the wrong lane?", and other incredibly stupid questions. Their incompetence was frightening. We argued that the road had a broken centerline, meaning you can cross into the wrong lane if need be. They countered that you can only do that when you are passing somebody. Well, we said, she was passing the rice. And by the way, have you seen how people drive here? Every day we were almost killed by retards in tour buses passing other tour buses. They get away scot-free. Not to mention, Andrea was on a BICYCLE. How is she in the wrong in an accident with a moto? We might as well have been talking to brick walls, for they ignored everything that came out of our mouths.

By now all four of us were close to the breaking point, and we had all blown up at different times. It was almost dark and I was getting phone calls from other riders - people had been stuck in a storm, there were flats, people were stranded on a mountain miles from town with the light fading and our main support van stuck in town 110km away with us. The rest of the team was now in danger because these moronic cops were taking so long. We told them that more people were about to need a hospital if they didn't hurry, but this was ignored as well.

Finally Vien got on the phone with the woman's husband to find out what they wanted. He wanted to meet face-to-face. The cops had been insisting that, according to Vietnamese law, parties involved in an accident meet in person to reach an agreement. This was laughable, as we have all seen accidents where someone just drives off after knocking another person over. And we all knew that if this accident had been inverted, with Andrea lying on the ground and the woman OK, she would have taken off without thinking twice and no one would have cared if Andrea was in the hospital. Sadly, leaving immediately after the accident happened is probably what we should've done. It wouldn't have felt right morally, but it would've made our lives much easier.

We told the husband we didn't have time to meet in person. I even offered to buy them bus tickets to Saigon so we could meet after the ride, but this was ignored. So, the uncle who had been at the scene countless hours earlier returned. The family wanted 3 million ($150) for medical bills. Though none of us wanted to pay since this was just straight-up extortion because we were the foreigners, we agreed because we wanted to get the fuck out of this stupid town. I went to an ATM and got the money. Then the husband called back and said that, all of a sudden, she was bleeding more from her ear! Make that 9 million, whitey! We nearly flipped a table over, and they lowered it to 5 million ($250). I went back to the ATM and almost punched the screen in in my fury.

We handed the money over and then laid into the translator. He thought we were mad about the money - "But she is from a poor family, and medical expenses will hurt them!" We said we understood, but what made us furious was the way we were treated. The cops basically treated us like dogs. Not once did anybody ask if Andrea was OK, even though she had visible wounds, or mention that her bike had been destroyed. Not one of our arguments was listened to or considered. All responsibility and blame was placed on our shoulders. The woman's family had to do nothing but come and take money from us like parasites, while we had to deal with unprofessional, incompetent, and downright racist cops for 12 hours. There was no understanding of why were angry, and they didn't seem to care anyway.

If we had been Vietnamese this would have been a completely different story. This day was my worst since moving to this country, and illustrated many of its most serious problems. The way so many people see foreigners as walking banks is horrible (and I realize that isn't something unique to Vietnam), and the way tragedy is monetized here is even worse. I've seen countless stories about a local government giving a family a few million dong when a baby dies in an accident. How will people ever move beyond naked greed in a system like that? We explained that we weren't just bumbling tourists, that we are here trying to do good things, that we were riding for charity, that we all live in Vietnam, and that we were trying to make things right with the woman. Our reward was to be treated like sub-humans.

Around 8:30pm we finally piled back into our van and left the station, escaping a 12-hour black hole of bureaucracy and insanity. We returned to the restaurant we had eaten lunch at and were, thankfully, reminded of why this country can also be so great. We had a few great plates of mi xao bo and pounded a few beers while joking with our drivers and fawning over a baby. The owner, an older woman, was happy to see us, and we thanked her for charging us real prices and being a genuinely good person. We told her we would recommend the place to future H2H rides, and she was beaming. That was exactly what we needed after such a confusing, infuriating, mind-bending day.

We finally arrived in Lam Ha at midnight and immediately crashed. Thankfully the rest of the team had arrived safely hours before. What an experience.

EDIT: I forgot to mention this at first. Two days later we called the woman's husband to check on her and he was very vague and contradictory. First he said she was unconscious, then he said she was eating breakfast. We asked if she could speak, and he said she was passed out. Then he said she was communicating. We asked what she said about the accident, and he said nobody had asked her about it. It is entirely possible that this an elaborate ruse to get money from foreigners, that the woman kamikaze'd herself into Andrea's bike knowing she could get money from us. Or she may have actually been hurt. We have no idea.

21 comments:

  1. Oh dear, that's really unfortunate.
    I had a similar happening when I was a student and came here for holidays to visit my family. That was about ten years ago. I think the accident was all a fake, this guy came out of nowhere behind the bushes, I was driving quite fast on my lane and nobody was around. He came out fast from my left and then slowed down as I was approaching, then stopping right in the middle of my lane waiting for me to come and crash into him. I hit the brakes but of course the 2 or 3 meters apart was not enough, so I hit him. But I flew about 5M ahead, hit my face on the ground and passed out for a few minutes. This guy had not a scracth, yet when the police arrived, nobody cared about how I was, since I was tended by two blonde guys (my friends) and the whole thing got pretty close to what you experienced. Only they kept our passports (what did my friends have to do with it anyway!) and they wanted money for returning them, then they wanted money for the guy in the hospital (who in fact we saw a couple of days later well and walking around), the translator who helped us turned out to be with the police (we saw the together and with new watches after we paid them!) and we had to treat them to dinner, where they also harrassed the waitresses touching their bums etc.
    It was exhausting. and painful. Fortunately I had bruises only, but it could really have been serious. Yet they expected me to stay in the police station after having passed out and all that for hours! Insane. And I am Viet Kieu too, so it's not only with 'foreigners', of course I am a foreigner substatially too.
    They are just corrupt dogs. Yesterday the traffic police ripped me off, for passing a red light (which was yellow... but go prove it!). I had been told to speak English to them, so I did... the cop turned out to speak pretty good English and he ripped me off, 1 million vnd for something that I didn't do!
    Corruption is a serious problem here and it also means education is lacking, take the English training for cops now... they teach them to speak English better so that they can rip off foreigners better.
    The guy was luaghing with his colleagues and I saw them, I wanted to shout and speak to them in Vietnamese, but if I had, I would have got into much more trouble.
    There is no hope, at least for another couple of generations, to fix this corruption issue. It goes well deep into every little corner and crack in society and its politics and bureaucracy. They teach the new generations to do it or they will 'die', they won't survive in their jobs. It's sad, but that's the way it is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Damn, that's a terrible story. Glad you were alright in the end.

      Delete
    2. Yes, I was lucky I guess.

      Like you, I don't wish anything like that to happen to anyone.

      Delete
  2. I'm sorry to hear that. Pls ride safety here. Stay away from stupid local riders.
    Law is shit. Police is shit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good advice but it's extremely hard to stay away from stupid local riders when almost everyone drives like an idiot.

      Delete
  3. Lesson learned..in a country with no morals you can't have morals ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For well over 2 years I've tried to avoid accepting that, but it's becoming harder and harder not to.

      Delete
  4. Welcome to Vietnam. The single most irritating country in the world. All anyone is interested in is taking money from others. Lying is ok, cheating is ok, theft is ok. After 10 years here i understand it no better. what a screwed up society. i hate this country. beautiful country ruined by the people.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have never yet had any problems with the police in Vietnam and I never will because I refuse to drive anything here. Anything! If I did I would document everything I possibly could on video or photos, and by taking notes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well I guess that would help you avoid any run-ins with police, but driving is too convenient to give up for me.

      Delete
  6. The point of all of yours interpolations and suppositions is to say it's never the fault of "whitey". Am I correct? Has it ever occurred to you that your writing style is extremely annoying and naggy???

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Has it ever occurred to you that no one is forcing you to read this?

      Delete
  7. @Anon with "Welcome to Vietnam": That's what you'd get for trolling the Tay Ba Lo district for cheap pussies and other vices. You sound like an angry "John" who's been trick rolled one time too many!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Welcome in Vietnam, I'm just recovering from a bag snatching/motorbike crash consequently with serious injuries (finish at at the hospital) and police report after refusing a first time to make the report, just report all my stuff as simply "lost" - Nothing serious.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's terrible, thanks for sharing. (Though I could do without people saying 'welcome to Vietnam', I'm not new here.)

      Delete
    2. As I was reading it, I kept thinking how it sounds like a typical unfortunate story of a tourist that gets in trouble on their vacation. I was very surprised to learn that you actually live in Vietnam. This is the most standard story ever for a foreigner getting in any sort of vehicle accident. It really should come as no surprise to you. I really mean this in the most sincere way: you should learn how to deal with these issues properly. Otherwise, you might find yourself in much deeper hole down the road. There are much worse outcomes to this scenario if you act like this in the future.

      Delete
  9. Wow, This was what I was afraid of. Im glad that you guys are alright and not seriously hurt.

    This doesnt happen to only just foreigners, The same thing happended almost EXACTLY the same way to my uncle. It has nothing to do with racism, If they see/think you have money...get ready to be screwed.

    Vietnam is a country with funny logic and corrupted as fuck.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's true about anyone with money, but the thinking is definitely that ALL foreigners have money. I know this happens to Vietnamese as well, especially the ones that flash their wealth around. Funny logic indeed.

      Delete
    2. If you have the money to travel half way around the world, pay for visas, pay for housing, have the luxury to take time off to ride bicycles around the country, etc - then compared to those rice farmers - you ARE made of money. You seem to be oblivious to the deep poverty a lot of the people in the countryside live in.

      And it's not like they asked you for a million bucks. They asked you for $150/250/500-ish. And unlike them, you just strolled on over to the ATM and got it, which sort of supports their impression of you that you have a lot more money then them.

      Delete
  10. I am a Singaporean who lived in Vietnam for several years. From my experience, white migrants in Vietnam tend to come from uneducated and poor families in the West and once they come to Vietnam they think they are the colonial masters. I made a lot of Vietnamese and Chinese-Vietnamese friends and had a great time in the country. My only bad experience was at a nightclub where a stupid ang moh white guy punched me for accidently bumping into him. What happened next I will never forget...a dozen Vietnamese guys that I did not even know came to my defence and knocked the tay balo out, even the security guys joined! This would never happen in Singapore, where locals still have an inferiority complex towards whites. Vietnamese people are the nicest people I have known. Any conflict between Vietnamese and white, it's probably white's fault!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, what an incredibly ignorant, generalizing comment. Did you even read the post? ...'white migrants in Vietnam tend to come from uneducated and poor families in the West...' Wtf? Where'd you pull that pile of crap from?

      Delete