Shit like this can only happen in VN. As we slept and woke and got ready for the day and prepared to depart from Phan Thiet, there were behind-the-scenes machinations underway causing things to happen that we never would have imagined. Phone calls were being made, connections were being unearthed, strings were being pulled. Over the decades several generations of Tom’s family have lived in Phan Thiet, which was proving to be a provincial village consisting of an intricate network of family and friends. The concept of small towns where everyone knows everyone seems like a relic of bygone times, to be found only in books or romantic comedies, but in VN they really exist. Turns out that the granddaughter or grandniece of Tom’s aunt is a travel booking agent for shuttle vans and buses, and not one to be trifled with. She called the scam artists directly and threatened to cut off all of their business if they didn’t return our camera bag. Another granddaughter or grandniece of Tom’s aunt happened to be dating the younger brother of the skinny sidekick and vowed that she would never marry into a such a disgraceful family. The husband of some distant cousin had friends and connections in the police force who were willing to intimidate the scam artists into submission. Over the course of a day and a half, a dozen or so of Tom’s relatives and their connections plotted and conspired and contrived to get our stuff back, and in the end they were successful. The scam artists were eventually shamed and harassed into returning the camera bag to the Viet Kieu. It’s so unbelievable how the events unfolded that it’s comical. I was beyond frustrated with our situation yesterday and overly harsh in my judgment. I continue to get frustrated when VN isn’t like America even though I myself have said they are too different to be compared. Maybe an American travel company would have returned our camera bag without any fuss, but it’s not usually the case that an American community would have banded together to force a wrongdoer to right his wrong. When the camera bag was returned to Tom, he caught a glimpse of the abject poverty in which the skinny sidekick was living with his wife and baby, who was sleeping on the floor of a tiny, squalid room. Maybe the reason he’s a scam artist is because it’s the best living he can eke out for his family. Desperate people are driven to do desperate things, and unfortunately a poor country such as this one is filled with desperate people. It is also filled with fiercely loyal people, people who cherish the bonds of family more than many Americans can imagine, and people who adhere to a different, but perhaps equally compelling, code of ethics. Vietnam is still such a mystifying and bewildering place, but today it endeared itself to me a little bit more.
One thought on “Faith Restored”
This is such an awesome story. You should pitch it to the Lives section in the New York Times Magazine! Scroll down tot bottom here. Seriously. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/magazine/confessions-of-an-art-conservators-sidekick.html?ref=magazine