When I arrived at the airport the other day, and took the taxi to my hotel, the fare was, if I’m not being senile here, approximately 400 000 DONG (18.5 USD). That’s relatively expensive, especially since I used to pay around 200-250K from the airport to the hotel I used to stay at on other visits here. Also, after thoroughly and intensely studying the layout of Saigon on Google Maps, I noticed that the differences in distance from the airport to the respective hotels didn’t justify the difference what the taxi driver wanted for the ride. I suspect that I got ripped off by the friendly, but also cunning, driver.
I now know that I got ripped off, since I just arrived at the airport from the same hotel, and now, the fare was 130 000 (+10 000) DONG. The 10K in the parenthesis is due to some kind of airport fee – which is totally legit. I think.
Following this very sentence, you’ll find a story about the single weirdest cab ride I have ever experienced, and probably ever will:
On my first trip Saigon, when I was checking out from the hotel, I noticed there was another westerner there, playing tetris with the contents in his bags in the lobby, also ready to check out. He was an American, from the south somewhere. His accent gave him away. And he was old, surely at least 70, and his skin was rough, as he had been smoking fanatically since he was 4. It’s possible he might’ve been younger than what I thought he was, since he seemed very young in his mind and quite energetic for a guy his age, joking around with the staff and reshuffling his bags with no signs of old age.
Anyway, we casually started to engage in a conversation, asking each other small-talky questions about our dealings in Vietnam. We discovered that we were both heading to the airport, so we happily decided to split a taxi.
Once in the cab, he told me that his deal was that he was meeting his girlfriend here in Saigon. He told me that he had been here for a few days, “looking for her”, but got sick of it since he “couldn’t find her”, and was now bitterly ready to leave heartbreak city for some paradise beach somewhere in southern Vietnam.
I had to ask – how was it possible that he couldn’t find her? Where was she? It sounded very strange.
He told me that he had been chatting with this girl for almost a year, every night, many hours per chatting session. He was in love, and according to him, the feelings were mutual.
He continued to say that they had agreed for him to come here to visit her, but once he showed up, there was no sign of her at the airport, she didn’t answer her phone, and she wasn’t waiting for him at his hotel. She was unreachable.
Ah. The plot thickens.
Immediately, I started to see red and bright warning lights, assuming that this poor old man had been fooled, like many other older white men had been with young women from Asia. He refused to believe that he was fooled, again pointing to the fact that it seemed unlikely after they had been chatting with each other for whatever amount of hours that a year’s worth of chatting mounts up to. He absolutely couldn’t believe it, and was sure there was a mistake somewhere.
Again, I had to ask – did he ever send her any money? Perhaps she had been fooling him all this time, making him think she likes/loves him too, but once he sent her enough money, and announced his arrival to her city (if she even lives there), she might’ve just moved on to the next old white westerner?
This was a huge possibility in my mind.
But not in this man’s. Again, he wouldn’t have it. It was all just a big misunderstanding and bad timing.
After we both concluded that shit happens, we continued to talk even more about him. He had been all over the place – a financial advisor in the United Arab Emirates, a banker in Russia, an oil guy in Texas, and some other fancy, high-paying job somewhere else. Once more, warning lights started to surround me – suspecting this guy was a little crazy and delusional. But I was stuck with him in the back seat for at least 30 minutes, I just had to suck it up and listen to his random stories until we got to the airport.
As if things weren’t already strange enough in that back seat of a Saigon taxi, he also told me that he was a singer in a cover band, and asked me if I have ever heard about them or listened to some of their songs. I had not.
(A weird note here: I got the feeling that he seemed both a bit surprised and disappointed that I hadn’t.)
He explained that he mostly, as a member of a cover band, not only did remakes of old songs, but also changed them in a way that represented his interpretation of the song. For instance, he asked me if I had ever heard Beyonce’s “If I Were A Boy”, which I admitted that I had, although it’s not my type of music. For some reason, he chose that song but changed it into the opposite perspective, and named it “If I Was A Girl”.
He asked me if I wanted a sample of this incredibly emotional song.
I, realising it would be unbelievably awkward for me to say no, said yes. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Now, he turned towards me in the back seat, looked me dead in the eyes, and started to sing his little song. After the first verse, I thought he was done – he had proved his point.
But no. He was not done at all. Not by a long shot.
After the first verse + first chorus, I assumed he was done. Again, I was mistaken. He sang the whole fucking song, not breaking eye contact whatsoever during the complete three or four-minute free and private concert he felt I should have. Since he didn’t want to break eye contact, I took on the responsibility of doing so.
His singing wasn’t awful – a lot better than mine (even though everyone’s singing voices are better than mine) – but the awkwardness of me not knowing where to look while he was passionately singing If I Was a Girl to me, looking directly towards me, desperately trying to make eye contact, was just too overwhelming. It almost felt romantic, which made me even more uncomfortable and nervous. I tried to escape the romantic tension by looking outside the window, while also looking at the cab driver to see how he reacted to this freak show (imagine a brick listening to music, and now imagine that the driver showed even less emotion than said brick). I occasionally looked at the source of the awkwardness, always trying not to laugh. Once he was finished, I had no other choice but to say “great stuff” and give him a small round of applause. I couldn’t believe no one else but me and the brick driver witnessed this.
Thankfully, we had now arrived at the airport and I quickly unbuckled my non-existent seat belt, and took off. But not before he asked me for my email adress, suggested that we’d keep in touch. I shrugged my shoulders and sighed defeatedly, and I reluctantly gave him my card, instead of just giving him a fake email adress.
Ugh. I’m weak.