A Bribe in Vietnam; I got hit by a motorbike and paid $90
Our group was excited to begin a day of driving around the countryside exploring various caves. After a quick breakfast and a sorting out of how we were to make it to Hanoi the next day, we set off to find an ATM to withdraw the money to pay for the cave tours.
My bike, which I had ironically named “Old Faithful”, was having issues again. The bike would not start at the press of a button and the kick-starter didn’t work either. Luckily, a manual transmission can start from a roll if you drop the clutch and give it gas. So that is what I was just about to do when the accident occurred.
While waiting on the side of the road a man and his two small children came around a corner. My bike was off and couldn’t move forward so I motioned to him to go around me. In SE Asia the driver in front is responsible for getting out of the way of the person behind you (I learned this bit of information later after a discussion with the police later). At the time I figured since my bike hadn’t even started I was not in the wrong.
Either way, this man collided into my gas tank a few inches from my knee. I jumped off the bike in time to not suffer any injuries but the man flew over his handlebars. His face collided with the concrete, he was not wearing a helmet, and he was unconscious.
Terrified, I screamed “Help!”. This man needed help, I needed help. The man’s daughter was beginning to cry, I was beginning to panic. My friends rushed over to my aid and locals also rushed into the inspection. The man was breathing but was placed on the back of a motorbike and driven off from the scene in order to seek medical attention. The last I saw of him was a view of his face, blood dripping down his forehead. In bad shape, but breathing, I sighed a breath of relief.
This man needed help, I needed help.
What ensued next was absolutely mental. The locals were yelling at me in Vietnamese while pointing at me and my bike. I grabbed my motorbike which was spilling gas onto the road. They grabbed me and the bike to ensure that I could not leave the area. From previous experiences in travel, I took a step back and waited, I knew I had no other choice.
The hostel sent a woman to help me translate so that I had some form of communication.They sent an Irish man who had lived in the area for years to explain the situation to me so that I could understand it. And that is how I learned a valuable lesson about Vietnam and it’s government. The culture of saving face.
From the translator I learned that the local people were telling the police it was my fault, and they wanted punishment. The police felt the need to do a complete investigation. What I learned is that none of this actually mattered. The bottom line was that the people wanted my money, and they knew I had it to spare. But now being at ease with the situation now, I played my role in this play.
I went along with the investigation, had all my friends from the hostel come act as my witnesses. Then they had me give my statement and even check the measurements they had made of the aftermath of the accident. This included all kinds of ridiculous things such as the distance of my tailpipe to the curb and the length of the blood spot on the ground. I went along with this investigation until they crossed a line. They wanted to compound my motorbike while the investigation was completed while I was to remain at the police station. I told my translator to tell the investigators I was now becoming angry and would like to speak to the US Embassy because I was feeling mistreated.
They immediately gave me my bike and asked that we discuss the issue in their office. So I complied and we got to the bottom line. No more smoke and mirrors, no more lies. They explained that yes, I was not in the wrong, and if I was to call the embassy I would be let go. They also told me the man that was involved in the accident did not mean any harm.He had suffered a concussion but would make a full recovery. They told me the man was poor and would have a difficulty paying the medical expenses. They asked that I accept equal fault and help pay the medical bills with the family. The police would not be involved and it would be settled between the wife of the man and myself.
I agreed. I wanted to help. I was a tourist in their country and could afford to help the family. I met the mans wife, she asked that I paid the full 8,000,000 Dong for medical expenses. I explained that I felt bad for her, but I only had 2,000,000 Dong on me. I told my translator I would not go to an ATM because then they would ask for more money. And so it was settled on the 2,000,000 ($90). I didn’t need the money as much as they did, and I wanted the rest of the day to explore caves with my friends.
I made it to the Dark Cave later that afternoon, and with serendipity, ran into my friends. We cheered with relief and understanding. I have rarely felt more alive and more loved than in that moment.