I Behave Badly. Yes, Really. By Dolores Banerd
In Vietnam about eight years ago, I did a terrible thing. I think I have a good excuse for my disgraceful behavior but I’m not sure.
It began at my hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. As I was checking out, the desk clerk tried to con me into paying a hefty surcharge for using the air-conditioning in my room. I resisted fiercely, and after some robust squabbling, she backed down.
To her, I was probably easy prey—a gullible American, a woman, and a senior, too —but traveling solo in Asia for many weeks had taught me a thing or two about scams. I escaped some, fell for others, and was flagrantly overcharged on many occasions.
This was the umpteenth time someone had tried to con, swindle, or bamboozle me. I was way beyond fed up. I was propelled into a fierce rage and I resolved never to be ripped off again. I was no longer an ordinary traveler, but a tourist with a chip as big as a boulder on her shoulder.
Thirty minutes later, still fuming after the confrontation, I boarded an ancient bus that slowly crept north to the picturesque town of Da Lat. Hours later, the driver pulled into a rest area where hawkers were touting drinks, food, and touristy gewgaws at jacked-up prices. All I wanted was a loo. This was easy. A large rough-hewn TOILET sign with an arrow pointed the way down a steep incline to a primitive wood outhouse.
Even after I exited the rickety structure, my mood hadn’t improved. Indeed, it instantly got nastier when a scrawny Vietnamese boy about eight years old began pestering me to pay for the use of the toilet.
His demand startled me. I was 100 percent certain I had not seen a sign anywhere saying there was a charge for using it. Here we go again, I thought. I’m a tourist; I’m being flimflammed—ripped-off. Sure, it was a very modest sum, but that was not the point.
“Toilet. Twenty cents. Pay me. Pay me.”
Still clutching my bag of resentments, I refused to give in and shouted “No!” several times, but now the pesky kid was stalking me like a blood-starved mosquito. The closer I got to the bus, the louder he yelled.
“Pay me. Toilet. Pay me.”
Again, I shouted, “No!” To my surprise and relief, he did stop hollering, but only because – oh my god – he was starting to cry. Oh my god.
Thankfully, I paused for a moment. During the pause, I took a closer look at my behavior and a longer look at my tormentor.
He did seem poor, so down-and-out. I told myself he must be the real thing—an honest-to-goodness street urchin. Or, I wondered, was he just playing the part? And were those real tears? Or crocodiles? Was this a hustle? Or not?
Finally, I came to my senses. What was I thinking? What was I doing? Sure, I still carried a festering grudge against rip-off artists—in Vietnam or elsewhere—but it was callous of me to take it out on an eight-year-old.
He quieted when I dropped the precious coins into his grimy palm, clutching them tightly. Then, when his sobbing ended, mine almost started as I realized how shabbily I had been treating him.
What a shameful addition to my daily travel log: Today I left Ho Chi Minh City, traveled by bus to Da Lat, tormented a young boy.
Eventually, once on board, as the bus wheezed and chugged its way north, I calmed down, but soon a thought wormed its way into my conscience, and I felt gutted. Why didn’t I give him more? An extra big tip would have made his day and mine. Instead, I returned to Los Angeles with a vivid memory of a howling Vietnamese kid with a tear-stained face and skin the color of café au lait that haunted me for months.
He refused to leave my head, showing up only once in a while, but once in a while was still too often a reminder I had behaved shamelessly and must never do so again. And I haven’t, but I’m sorry to say I never got a chance to correct my bad behavior in Asia. I’ve not been back which has more to do with COVID19 than anything else, and in my hometown, Los Angeles, even though the homeless abound, the underage are a rare sighting. Of course, I’m still wary of scams, but my potential foes are big fish. I’m sure Target, Costco and Amazon quake with fear when I show up online or in their stores. They know I’ll cry foul if I suspect I am being bamboozled in any way. But a boy? Never again am I going to get involved in a pissing contest with an eight-year-old. Instead, I’ll empty my wallet—be his best customer ever. One pissed-off kid in my headspace is quite enough, thank you.