It was almost midnight and my airport pick-up was no where in sight. To delay my subtle panic, I approached the last open retailer in the airport and called my hotel. I was greeted by a half awoken voice that cast aside my probing, “Just take a taxi and come to my hotel”. Great. I remembered words from online forums like “danger” and “robberies” as I stood just inside the airport arrival exit. The taxi drivers could see me through the tall glass doors and were already making their way towards me. I shook my head at them and walked into the street. I was hopeful for more legitimate rides some ways away, but the road was barren. Alright. I resigned myself to the haggling circus behind me.
Outrageous prices were thrown my way by the leeching cabbies, but my determination was fierce. Just as negotiations were coming to a close, I spotted two European girls leave the airport and enter the ring of daunting taxi drivers. The sight of relief was apparent upon their faces as they saw me. I witnessed the White West’s influence upon me as I too felt the muscles in my neck relax. I felt my body betray me as my heart’s pulse softened. I hoped to be the kind of person that can feel as comfortable with thirty-five year old Vietnamese men who speak poor English as they do with twenty year old blonde girls wearing leggings and converse. For now, I would have to fake my ease.
We shared a taxi to the heart of Ha Noi. It was almost one in the morning when we stopped at a gas station. The deserted station’s dull orange lights felt abrasive in the street’s stillness. The lights reminded me of the hazy Baltimore night sky from my college days. The driver got out of the car and with him left a sense of safety. I felt isolated. The vehicle was no longer a taxi driven by a local Vietnamese, but an empty metal cradle. I feared our driver, or more accurately I didn’t trust him, but without him I felt like a sitting target. I wondered if this was the kind of place the stabbings I had heard about occur.
I won’t begin to tell you about how irritated the cab driver was when he got back in. It was late and even later when we pulled up to the girls’ hotel. Every minute the girls took to verify their hostel reservation was a minute too long. As they took their bags out of the trunk, the more talkative one handed me money. When I told her she had given me too much, she responded “seriously, don’t worry about”. Her expression was that of someone who was already over their “traveling around the world” college vacation. When I got to my hotel, it was pitch black and metal garage doors were padlocked across most of the shop windows. Ignoring the cranky cabby, I crept up to my supposed hotel door and peered into the vast dark depth of it’s hall. I found him, the half-asleep man from the phone, and with him I found my breath. Cabby bolting away, I eagerly awaited for my night’s rest.
My expectations of relaxation had come too soon. I was too tired to listen to the half-ass excuses about my room being unprepared but “You’ll stay at my friends hotel,” rang loud and clear. Was this the very phrase human traffickers used on in-suspicious prey? Was my mom right, that I had to be on the lookout for kidnappers? I nervously handed over my passport as my deposit and was handed a key. “The room’s upstairs.” I found it rude that the man didn’t show me up to my room. The best way to communicate my poor customer service complaints swirled in my head as I walked up a narrow winding staircase. The carved banister had probably been beautiful when it was first built. Now the original wood was covered in thick white coats of paint. After three flights of stairs, I found my room. My salvation. I slipped the key in, pushed the door open into the room and the stark reality of why the man hadn’t shown me up became clear.