I have put off writing this blog for many weeks now. You’ve had a taste of my Western adventures, but very little of my Eastern experiences, of which there have been many.
Why haven’t I put pen to paper on the Eastern experiences? Frankly, I’ve never felt I could do it justice. I’m no writer, and I desperately want to avoid sounding like another 18 year old who took a gap year and managed to find themselves in some Cambodian tribe. The experiences I had in Asia were so much more than that; so I apologise in advance if my writing skill set does not do my adventures justice.
I have started with Saigon because this was my first ‘real’ Asian experience. I say ‘real’ because I did go to Asia when I was younger but I’m not sure that trip really counts. I was fifteen when I went to Kazakhstan. Of course, I realise that’s Asia, but I went with a Kazakh friend and stayed with her family. As crazy as that experience was, I was comfortable; with my best friend and her family and more importantly, I was safe.
Saigon on the other hand; I had no idea what I was walking into. As excited as I was to go, when it came to it I really didn't want to get on the plane, a running theme with my solo excursions you will see. Especially on this trip, I go so overwhelmed, I had a job lined up working at a kids’ summer camp, which I had done in America the year before. So, it wasn't the job that scared me; I knew I would make friends and have a place to live, it was the country. Looking back I almost laugh at my naivety, but at the time it was a very real fear. I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know, that the tearful girl in the queue to board the plane would be opened up to a whole new world of adventure.
I will never forget my first time in Asia. My plane landed in Guang’zhou and I had a few hours to kill before my connecting flight to Saigon. I remember looking at the sky. It sounds crazy but I remember thinking it looked so different to any other sky I had seen before. It wasn't even a particularly special day. In fact, it looked like it was about to rain, but somehow there was a different light, a new shade of sky; well, to me at least.
A few hours later I got on my plane bound for Vietnam. I landed at the airport and the first thing that shocked me was that Vietnamese writing was not composed of characters. Again, I can’t help but chuckle now, but I do remember feeling relieved. I still couldn't understand what was going on around me as I had been plunged into an unfamiliar world. Yet, the signs and lettering was something familiar in a world I knew nothing about.
The next step was to find my way to my hotel, where I would meet my camp friends the following day, who up until now were merely names on Facebook. It was dark, around 11pm in Saigon and I walked out of the airport into a sea of unfamiliar faces, sounds and smells. It was overwhelming. I had been warned that I would be a target: taxis would rip me off, steal my stuff, take me to the wrong place, the list goes on. As exhausted as I was my guard came up. I found a quiet corner to search for the name of the taxi company the camp had recommended; one that runs by the meter and is safe. Great, I found it! Traipsing though the airport I suddenly found myself scanning for Vinasun, my ears and eyes in fully engaged.
Suddenly I stopped; a man shouted Vinasun and showed me his card. This caught my attention so I followed him to his car. He opened the door to a large white van. He had already showed me his Vinasun ID so naturally I thought I was in a Vinasun taxi and I willingly got inside. It was only when the journey began that I realised I was not in a Vinasun taxi at all. I looked out the window and saw the roads swarming with Vinasun taxi signage printed on the side of almost every car. My mouth was dry and my heart was pounding. This didn’t feel right and I started to ask myself the obvious question “Where the hell am I?”
I had a big lump in my throat. This was my first trip alone to Asia and my first job was to get myself to my hotel safely and I couldn't even manage that. I was fumbling thinking of things to do, so I picked up my phone and made a call telling my ‘friend’ I was almost there. Sheepishly, I attempted to convey to the driver that I was meeting a friend and that he would be there soon. He nodded and I was 100% certain he had understood nothing I said.
I sat next to him clinging so hard onto my money and phone that my knuckles were white. I had never been so scared in all my life. Suddenly, I saw my whole life flash before me and I thought to myself, there is no way this is how it’s going to end. I remembered my mother saying to me before I left to set my intentions and ask my guardian angels for help if ever I was in trouble. I would ordinarily just shake my head a roll my eyes, but at that moment I found myself praying…I mean really praying. I muttered over and over again positive mantras such as “I will get to my hotel safely”, “The taxi driver will drop me off safely”, “Every thing will be just fine”. I imagined what my hotel would look like, a quick search on Google Maps helped, but I imagined myself there, safe and sound.
What felt like hours later, but in reality was probably only around 10 minutes and I started to recognise the street I had so frantically searched before arriving. My hotel! I sighed with relief and wiped a thick layer of sweat from my brow. I had made it!
It was only once I had checked in and relaxed that I realised what a terrible person I had been to think that this man was out to get me. He was probably just trying his luck with a few tourists and wanted to earn some extra cash. Maybe he had a family to feed or to pay a hospital bill for a sick parent. I will never know but at the end of the day, I had got what I had paid for; a taxi ride to the hotel. Nevertheless, I had learned a valuable lesson and I will never, ever, make that mistake again.
Written by: Sasha Rae