A lesson learnt

I felt pretty smug as I shook of a strange woman in my alley last night only to feel like a right tool a few short hours later. When I realised what she had actually wanted, I felt somewhat ashamed that I had been so judge mental.

So the story goes….  I was walking back home from a short walk along the canal near my house. With my beloved Nikon slung over my shoulder, I felt a bit more nervous than I do without it. I’ve just heard a few too many horrible stories of bag snatching to be completely comfortable.

It was dusk and I had just turned into my alley off Hoang Sa Street, when at about ten paces in, I saw that woman.  pushing a rather large garbage trolley and for some reason seemed a little over-excited to see me. She hushed me over to the shadows of the narrow alley so I curiously went over to see what was up. I’d never seen her before. She was poor, dark-skinned, wearing filthy rags, about 40 years of age and had what I could only describe as a crazy look in her eyes. I knew, well, I actually hoped she meant no harm to me or to my camera but was still a little cautious. She then firmly asked me for 60,000 VND (US$3) and it was then that I was a bit taken back.

I wasn’t sure what so sure she was doing. Was she begging? Was I correct in suspecting she might be a bit crazy (as I always assume a lady pushing a garbage trolley is!)? Was someone else going to run from the dark in some kind of tag-team alley bag-snatch-scam!?

She then made a short run towards a seemingly random house, pointed to it from afar, then ran back towards where I was and the safety of her cart. All the while maintaining her wide open, crazed eye look and seemed to be almost panting with excitement – I get it all the time from women, so it wasn’t a big deal 🙂 I tried tempting her to walk out again and show me the house in question and maybe describe what she was talking about but she shook her head, refused and mentioned the money once again.

By now, I was convinced she was just doing her best at trying to swindle me out of cash or perhaps she had thought I had lived in that house she pointed furiously too, and wanted my rubbish?? I pointed down the alley and told her to talk to Co Chinh, my landlady. She then turned back to her cart, looking somewhat defeated and disappointed and it was then that I made a quick shuffle for it back to my house.

A few hours later I was relaxing and pondering yet another days adventures, as one does, when suddenly – like a pie in the face – it struck me. I checked the date on my watch. Hang on… the 19th…… 60,000VND….. The pointing. Ah! She was pointing to electricity meter! My bills were overdue! Also, my water meter reading needed to be noted down and displayed outside for recording! Agh!! Needless to say, that I sorted it all out post haste!

I felt a little guilt afterwards. Guilt, that I had given no trust and little respect to that woman who actually hadn’t done anything wrong by me. Even with the little Vietnamese I know, I hadn’t even tried to listen to her properly. You know though, I can now clearly remember her pointing towards points on the house and saying “nước“ (water) and “điện “ (electricity). I also later found out that the workers who clean the streets of the Ward I live in, also collect the meter readings! In hindsight, those ‘crazy’ eyes were actually not quite that crazed. At the time, I also thought she was purposely staying in the dark shadows for some reason and that was also a complete fabrication of my imagination.

Yes, I had an expensive piece of equipment with me but still, I feel I’d jumped too quickly to conclusions; dismissing the woman, when all I had to do was take control of my senses and stop allowing them to control me. Now I know there were no wrong intentions of this woman; she just wanted to actually help and inform me of my lateness – which was purely my own fault.

For whatever reason, valid or not, we often find ourselves on guard and backed into a corner. Your animal instincts and pride take control then and are trying to re-confirm that uneasiness and fear inside, so it can protect you from danger. It’s experiences like this that help me try to control my thought, rather than let them control me. Sure, you must be wary at times, but more often than not, the fears we have are actually figments of our imagination, distort reality and cloud our judgments. We must try to control our monkey minds and the power it can have over our actions – in everything we do.

What’s funny is that she actually lives within shouting distance from my house and I often see her now walking around the street, gathering more trash and meter readings. When I see her, I remember the day we first met and I always make sure I give her big wave and a warm smile.

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3 thoughts on “A lesson learnt

  1. Great story Mark. It is hard to tell when you are being scammed and when not. You have to protect yourself from danger, but sometimes you realize that you had someone ask you for a little that meant a lot to them. It is a really good lesson. And thanks for bringing me back to those alleys by the house, even if just for a few minutes.

  2. Thanks for your nice story about Vietnam. Hopefully, with your great experience in traveling around my country, your can illustrate Vietnamese image objectively.

  3. Excellent story Mark. Just goes to show how attached we can get to our material things. If you didn’t have your expensive camera with you, your interaction with the women may have been different. I think you did well after your last experience with a camera being stolen.

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