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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Never Saw That Coming

Life in Saigon is fast. It is busy. It is hectic. It is intoxicating. It is also a little dangerous. On Sunday night, Me and Candice hopped on my motor bike, and Greg and Joanna were on another motorbike. We were on our way out near Korea town in Ho Chi Minh City to go for a stroll around a lake and take some photos. I discovered the location a couple of weeks ago and knew they would love it.

As we are driving along Nguyen Van Linh street, suddenly I hear a crash and see a flash of light out of the corner of my left eye. The motorbike is losing control and everything is turning sideways. Shit, I think, we have been hit and we are going down in the middle of the road! I do my best to maintain control of the motorbike as we are now almost horizontal. It was all strangely happening in slow motion. My knee scrapes the pavement. Then my elbow. There is a sudden impact as my left shoulder hits the ground. It bounces so hard that I bounce up and roll over. My ankle twists.

I look back and Candice is getting up. "Are you ok," I ask. She is a bit in shock but nods her head. She is alert and mostly ok. We are a long way from the happiness we had the night before: being reunited with my sister-like friend from Busan.

I look up and the guy who hit us is laying prone in the street. His friends turn him over and start shaking him. Greg has parked the other motorbike and run back to the scene. He stops the guys from shaking their friend. (he is in bad shape and I think that he may be dead.) At first Greg is ready to go into CPR mode, but the guy comes to and starts vomiting blood and his dinner.

 His friend manage to drag his limp body up and on to a motorbike. He is wedged between them and they drive off. I am still dazed and confused, but trying to remain calm in the face of this chaotic scene.

A lot of nothing happens over the next 1.5 hours as we wait for the police to arrive on the scene. People translate. People congregate to look at the foreigners. People speed by, drunk, on their motorbikes. We are sitting on the patio of a nearby hotel that rents rooms by the hour for about $2.50 an hour. It is a sketchy scene.

Two days later we are at the district police office filling out reports and what not. After a while, the guy who hit us comes in with his brother. He is wearing a hat and sunglasses, and a mask over his mouth. He does not say a word, but his brother looks contrite. It is translated to us that the driver is really sorry for what he as done.

I have never been in a more uncomfortable setting: in pain from the accident, talking to the police, and next to the guy who caused the pain.  He takes off his sunglasses and his mask. Much like the Elephant Man, he reveals his battle wounds. One of his eyes is flanked by scars and red scratches. His chin and mouth are bruised and seem to mirror the pattern that asphalt makes when exposed skin is dragged on it.

One of his ears is swollen and I can see the black and blue bruises forming. His hands and arms are more damaged than my own wounds. He is in bad shape. He is lucky to be alive. We are lucky to be alive.

I am still uncomfortable.

I will skip most of the details, but the end result is that the police don't want to deal with the situation because Candice and I are foreign and my driver's license is from the USA and not Vietnam. There is a lot of paperwork involving the size and position of the motorbikes, the injuries to all involved parties, and other details that were never translated.

The look on my face probably told what I was feeling: it seemed like I was suddenly partially to blame because I am not Vietnamese and this complicates the whole process. It is made clear to us that this guy is totally to blame, but the police are trying to get some sort of bribe out of me or of the motorbike owner for dropping this mess in his lap.

Not sure what fees I will eventually have to pay, but there will be some cost.  Meh, I am alive (that is what I keep thinking).

"Everything is finished. You can leave," the head police guy says. The owner of the motorbike I am renting has agreed to cover the repair cost. We are not taking the guy's life savings and future income from him. I am not being terrible hosed for being of the wrong nationality in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

My mood is somber as we drive away. I am alive. I will heal. At least we are not as physically damaged as the guy who hit us.  I never saw that coming.

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