AS SOON as Bridget and I arrived in Chau Dok we were jinxed. Coming from Phnom Penh by boat we landed in the Mekong Delta with $24.
After catching two pedicabs and renting a room for the night we had only $15 left. The first order of business was to hit up an ATM.
In 2007 there were 3 ATM’s in Chau Dok. I know this because I went to all three. All day I swiped my card and pleaded with bank officers to no avail.
It was decided that the problem was likely isolated to Chau Dok and that I should try an ATM in Saigon, 6 hours away. We left that afternoon. If we stayed a night in Chau Dok, we might not have had enough money left to eat and buy two $5 tickets to Saigon.
The guesthouse refunded our room reluctantly.
We arrived to a rain flooded Saigon after midnight. The bus station is some ways off from the city center, of course, so we needed a taxi. The cabbies know they can charge us what they want so with no other options we threw our packs in the trunk and agreed to pay our last $10 for a ride into the city.
After we harassed a dozen ATM’s, we still didn’t realize that there was not a single cash machine in the country that would work for us. Our bank keeps a small list of countries that they will not allow transactions from, Vietnam is at the top of that list.
The taxi driver pulled up to Pha Ngu Lao, backpacker central. It was late and people were drunk and everything was loud and staggering.
Let’s get one thing straight: I wasn’t giving this cabbie our last ten bucks. No way. Not happening. The cabbie looked at me, me at him, and then both of us at the trunk, locked with our backpacks inside.
I sent Bridget to try more cash machines. While she scurried off I lay my face on the cool metal of the taxi roof and closed my eyes.
Welcome to Saigon kid; you’re fucked.
Across the street was Guns and Roses, a black fissure of a bar that blasts, you guessed it, Guns and Roses.
Two men, one tall, one taller, lanky and drunk, with large adams apples and twin smoldering cigarettes watched me from a table outside the bar. Their faces were angular and unshaven and bruised looking, like they had recently been punching each other. They both sported orange mohawks and soccer jerseys.
They were staring at me. Great.
They threw back their drinks, stood (steadying themselves on the table) and started my way.Great. Bridget made it back just as the drunk-punk welcoming committee reached the taxi.
“You guys need some money.”
Not really a question and the shorter one was already pulling bills from his jeans.
The cabbie pocketed the cash and unlocked the trunk. The two men walked us to their guest house and paid for our first night.
“Come back to the bar, let us buy a round. You look like you could use it.”
Later, much later, as the moon set and the sun was rising, as I watched with veiled fear and fascination as our benefactors smoked crack off a trembling piece of foil, I thought about old Sunday school axioms.
The Lord works in mysterious ways.
My savior’s eyelids flutter as a plume of rock-smoke escaped his smiling lips.
“Welcome to Saigon. Not everyone is as nice as us.”