Friday, October 23, 2009

Confessions on a motobike: Part 6

Celine and I had our first real experience of being conned while in Haiphong. We rented a motorbike through what I originally thought was the hotel. With my very limited Vietnamese and the locals limited English, it is sometimes hard to completely understand what is happening. We rented the bike for half a day for 75,000 Dong and said we would have it back by 6.30pm. They told us to pay for the bike when we returned which I originally thought was a bit unusual but thought nothing of it. I didn’t inspect the bike at all, just thanked him and riding off.

When we returned at 6.30pm I gave him 200,000 Dong and asked for the change. He took the money and then started looking at the bike. He quickly found a crack on one of the panels and then soon after another cracked panel. These were not obvious but were there nonetheless. I quickly saw where this was going and denied causing the damage. He could not speak any English and kept pointing to the cracks and suggesting that I had fallen off the bike. I said no I hadn’t.

Soon after, the guy from the hotel who organised the bike for me appeared. His English was much better. He explained the obvious; that the owner thought I caused the cracks and that I must have fallen over. I said no I haven’t, look at my knees and elbows, there are no scratches. He suggests that when I parked someone might have knocked it over. I said no. I was sure I hadn't caused the damage but admit his little show did cast some doubt.

The owner asked me to pay for the damage and wanted 500,000 Dong. I said I didn’t cause the damage starting to get annoyed. The owner started to get angry repeatedly pointing at the cracks. The guy from the hotel continued to translate. I told them I was not going to pay as they were trying to con us because we were foreigners. The owner offers to drive me to the Honda repair centre to confirm the prices. I said no. He gets angry and threatens to call the police.

At this point I decided to call Celine who was up in the hotel. I explained briefly and she wanted to come down. The owner wanted to drive me to the police station. I wasn't falling for that and started to get angry myself. The owner continued to rant on that he gave us a good bike and that we should pay. Celine arrived and took control of the situation well. She summed up quickly what was going on and didn’t take any shit. She stressed that we were not paying and if he wanted to involve the police, to bring them to our hotel. We argued for a minute more before walking off to our hotel. He followed us and came into our foyer shouting at us and calling us no good. Celine shouted back calling him no good for he already had our 200,000 Dong. He was taken a little by surprise and started to walk back to his bike. We shouted a few things back and forth, none of us understanding the other, before he drove off.

In hindsight I realised a number of things. Firstly as the bikes are not insured it is imperative to check the bike thoroughly for any physical problems. I took this for granted as the company in Hanoi is very good and trustworthy. I found the one in Hanoi through an expat website with great reviews. I found this one through some random. I should have seen the difference.

Secondly, I realised that not everyone in Vietnam is trustworthy. I had taken this for granted as well because the people we have met so far have been extremely friendly and helpful. In this case I think the owner and missing tooth guy were both in on this little con and they put on a pretty good show. I am angry they ended up with our 200,000 but we learnt a valuable lesson.

Thirdly, I realised that you shouldn’t mess with Celine. Actually I did already know that but I didn’t realise that con artists shouldn’t mess with Celine. I now realise that. If any of you out there are thinking of coning us I would think again.

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