One Of The More Ridiculous Stories From My Travels...
One evening a friend and I were driving down a crowded street together. We were returning home from dinner with friends in the Old Quarter (a neighborhood in Hanoi). The traffic was very heavy and moving increasingly slowly. I was sweaty and impatient as I sat in traffic breathing exhaust fumes.
Eventually the traffic slowed to a complete stop. I put my feet on the ground and stood up to look out over the sea of helmets and car roofs ahead of me. I was trying to see what the blockage was.
As I peered down the crowded narrow street I saw a ladder fly across the crowd. That’s right – a big, metal ladder. I could see some commotion in the crowd ahead but I couldn’t tell what was happening exactly. Whatever it was, it looked violent. The traffic was still at a stand-still, so my friend and I did our best to play motorcycle Tetris and make our way forward through the congestion. We were curious!
As we got closer to the stoppage, we got a clearer picture of what was going on. Here's what we saw...
There was a huge, black SUV stopped in the middle of the street. There was a mysterious white powder all over the shattered windshield. The rest of the vehicle was already very badly dented, as if a crowd of people had attacked it. There was an angry mob gathered around around the drivers seat door. Something was happening there.
We inched a little closer...
This angry mob was furiously trying to pull the driver out of the car. It was really violent. People were yelling angrily at him. People from outside the car had a hold on him by his feet and clothes. Over the heads of this mob I could see this poor man's hands desperately clawing and grasping at the steering wheel, trying not to let go. He was wriggling and writhing for all he was worth, furiously trying to kick his legs and shake the death grip this angry crowd had on them. His clothes were already torn and his face was badly hurt. He was bleeding from his lip and above his swollen left eye.
Just then, his strength gave out. When his tired hands relinquished their death grip on the steering wheel, the man shot out of the vehicle onto the ground. At this point we could no longer see him, but we could see the crowd around him. Some heads from the mob ducked down to this man's level, presumably to punch him. The rest of the people were kicking him and spitting on him. There must have been at least 30 men around him. It was brutal.
But then a Vietnamese SWAT team arrived, but it was a pretty lackluster show of force. To start with, there were only 2 of them, and they were sharing 1 motorbike. They were, however, heavily armed. They rode their small bike into the thick of this crowd and grabbed the man from the ground. Nobody was deterred by the appearance of these officers though. They threw their punches around the officers to try to get to the man. The officers quickly but calmly put him on their bike and drove out of the crowd. And that was it.
The conflict now over, the angry crowd calmed down, and went back to their business, as if this entire thing had been routine. The ransacked vehicle in the middle of the street then became an object of curiosity. The windows had all been shattered. The inside of the car was covered in dirt and broken glass. The windshield was broken and still covered in the mysterious white powder. Children climbed into the car to explore. People were getting off of their bikes to check things out for themselves.
My friend and I however just kept moving. As curious as we were, we don’t speak great Vietnamese so our chances of uncovered the truth were pretty slim. But I know you are wondering what happened. I wondered too. Unfortunately I really don’t know. Whatever it was though, it prompted 30 men to drop what they were doing and viciously attack this man’s car.
My best guess is that he was driving like an asshole and hit somebody, probably an elderly person, a woman, or a child. In situations like this in the developing world, your best bet is to run. It is not uncommon for people to be dragged from their vehicles to be beaten or even killed. I have heard similar stories from friends traveling in other places in the developing world like India. That might sound primitive, but the police certainly won’t do anything about it. This is the closest thing to real justice that many countries like this have. I'm not 100% against it either. After living here, and driving on these roads, I’m honestly relieved that it’s not a total free-for-all.
I have no idea what the white powder on the windshield was or what role it played but I’m was but I’m guessing it wasn’t cocaine (I know that crossed your mind). Maybe it was flower or dust from the nearby construction site that had provided the ladder.
I do my best not to be very political, but this happened in pretty close proximity to the whole mess with Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Obviously these occurrences highlighted some huge issues in America, but the grass is always greener on the other side. Even if you disagree with what the they are doing, at least people respect the police in America. If a SWAT team arrives, you run. End of story. In this story a SWAT team arrived and nobody batted an eyelash. In my previous post we tried to call 911 and they didn’t even answer the phone. So yeah, maybe America has issues with the police abusing their power, but at least they have power. At least you know that there is somebody you can call to protect you. That doesn’t exist everywhere, so don’t take it for granted. If something happens to me here, I am pretty much on my own.
Don't believe me? Here's a link to a video of a Vietnamese woman straight-up fighting a traffic cop that popped up in my Facebook newsfeed the other day. Is that who you want on the scene when you call 911?
So to all the cops in America that I used to complain about, that I used to jump over fences and into bushes to avoid, that used to pull me over and give me tickets and break up the parties I was at, it's weird but I kind of miss you sometimes. 💔
But not that much.