Oct 142009

Well. I hope you all have been reading parts one through seven of this Central Highlands motorcycle saga, because that context is important to understand the full dimensions of what happened next.

It was the evening of day three of Lulu and my four days on a motorcycle across Vietnam. I had just cried from exhaustion after traipsing through four jungle waterfalls by the border with Cambodia, and Lulu was driving the motorcycle through the dust-thick dirty highway to Buon Ma Thuot (called B.M.T. for short), the capital city of the Central Highlands.

“Real Vietnam!” Lulu hollered, handing me my camera, and I snapped a photo of one of the many FULL-BEYOND-BELIEF motorcycle riders in the road. I think the one pictured here, top right, had about thirty different packages strapped behind her as she zoomed along. How many can you count? What the heck is in them all? How any of these drivers survive is beyond me.

We put the camera away and I settled in to watch the road as we bumped along.

Suddenly… I felt Lulu’s hand on my back.

“Hm,” I thought… “That’s a bit strange and rather dangerous. But maybe he’s trying to give me a nice little massage since we’ve been driving for three days and my back IS getting a little sore. Hmm.”

Suddenly, Lulu’s hand dipped lower and slid down to fully grasp my rear. I was in total and utter shock. Was I REALLY being groped on a moving motorcycle by a middle-aged Vietnamese man who I’d hired because he had proven himself a wonderful guide? What the heck was the best course of action to fight a highway fondling? UGH!

My arms were clasped around Lulu’s chest, as most riders do on the back of a motorcycle, and as Lulu tried to slide his hand further around, I lifted my elbow to begin to pry his arm upwards and away from me. His groping hand froze as he realized he had been caught. And yet he left it there on my butt. I made a face of utter disgust and began again to lever up his arm with my elbow without causing us to crash on the highway.

We came to a bridge and Lulu let me out to walk my usual kilometer, then sped off, hollering that he’d meet me on the other side of the bridge. I stomped along the dirt and concrete absolutely exploding with fury. What an unbelievable abuse of power and what an awful lapse of judgment on his part! Oh, he was not going to get away with this.

As I waved to the sweet schoolboys crossing the bridge in the other direction, I realized I was truly in the middle of nowhere, and had to act very wisely if I was to get out of this predicament, AND get justice. We were just an hour away from B.M.T., where I knew there would be buses to civilization, and so I decided to play it as cool as possible until then.

We revved up back down the highway and Lulu tried another grope. I pried with my elbow and hatched my plan.

Our motorcycle pulled up at a small highway cafe for fresh Vietnamese coffee and condensed milk. “I see you tired,” said Lulu, sympathetically. “You need coffee.” I forced a smile and collapsed onto the cafe’s hammock, avoiding the two cats chasing each other along the dirt floor.

It was silent for a while, and I began to have conflicting thoughts. Maybe that pawing on the road really was just a kind back massage. Lulu had been such a helpful and kind guide. Would he really be so creepy as to be willfully groping? I understand how to deal with blatant Latin American machismo and come-ons from my travels down south, but this was a strange new situation. Maybe it was all in my head.

Then Lulu pulled up a chair and spoke low. “Usually when I touch the girls, they laugh. They think it fun. If you don’t like, I stop, just don’t tell.” I sat bolt upright in the hammock. Oh that little rat. He knew EXACTLY what he was doing, and he was using Molester 101 lines on me! I said nothing, but finished my coffee and got back on the motorcycle. Eleven more kilometers to B.M.T.

At last we arrived in the Eden Hotel in the capital of Vietnam’s Central Highlands: good old Buon Ma Thuot (pictured, right). B.M.T. grows and trades some of the best coffee in the world, and has seen incredible positive growth from the resulting money. The town is also known for being the first city “liberated” by the North Vietnamese Communists at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. I grabbed my valuables, threw them into a private locking room in the hotel, showered and changed, then strode downstairs to liberate my own self.

“Sit down here, please,” I said to Lulu, pointing to a table in the middle of the crowded hotel lobby. He sat, confused. I pulled out a piece of paper.

“Before we left, we wrote a contract for the itinerary and the money for these four days,” I said, picking up a pen. “We are now going to change that contract. Tomorrow, instead of riding on your motorcycle to Nha Trang, I will get onto a public bus and take the seven hour journey alone. We will also change the amount of money I pay you to half.”

Lulu blanched and choked out, “No! We go to Nha Trang together! I want take you to Nha Trang! Why you change contract? Why?”

I looked him straight in the eye and said very loudly: “BECAUSE,” glaring, “YOU TOUCHED” I held up my open palm, “MY ASS.” I slapped my hand onto my butt. The clerks at the Eden hotel looked up in shock, and I continued. “You do NOT touch someone without their permission. You do NOT. You disrespected me and it is NOT all right.”

Lulu let out a yelp like a dog that had been hit by a motorcycle and threw himself forward over the desk. “OKAY, OKAY!” he hissed, “Yes, yes, change contract! But not so loud, not so loud! They look at me!” Thank you, Vietnamese Shame Culture, for getting my back.

With a sigh of relief I turned back towards the contract. I lowered the price three times, and each time Lulu nodded rabidly and hissed, “Yes, yes, just not so loud!” By nine pm we awkwardly shook hands and Lulu said he’d help me to the bus station at eight thirty in the morning.

At one am I awoke with a start and remembered: In Vietnam, buses leave in the early, early morning, not the afternoon. I padded downstairs and woke the poor, sleeping hotel clerk and had her check the bus times. Sure enough, the bus I wanted to take to Nha Trang was scheduled to leave at eight FIFTEEN in the morning. I shook my head in disgust and re-set my alarm.

At seven am, I went downstairs with my bags, planning to take another form of transport to the bus station, but Lulu was there with the motorcycle ready. He handed me a foul-smelling curl of gray and said, “Dry squid. You eat.” I declined. (A friend later joked, “Squid jerky is my go-to food to apologize for groping.)

I figured I would give this trust thing one more shot, and so we chugged down the brown highway and soon pulled in at the station. Lulu hopped off and ran inside. A moment later he ran back out. “Bus you want is full,” he said. “Yeah right,” I replied, striding in and buying a ticket for $2.50 four feet from us.” “No, no! He hollered, “That bus take eleven hours! Bad bus!”

At this point the rusted old minibus to Nha Trang pulled out of the station towards the road and I grabbed my bag off the motorcycle. “It’s all good, as long as I’m not on a motorcycle with you,” I said, bounding up the dirty minibus stairs. As we pulled away I could see Lulu awkwardly standing in front of his shiny motorcycle, staring in shock out at space. I leaned out the window and shot him a searing glare. He hung his head.

The minibus was packed with Vietnamese country folk, six massive sacks of rice, a busted motorbike, and two babies (pictured, left). All the people smiled at me warmly, and when we stopped at a mountainside gas station, they offered me tea and lotus fruit, showing me how to eat it when I got confused. They were truly kind.

Five hours later (not eleven, Lulu!), we pulled into Nha Trang and I moved into a penthouse room with a sea-view balcony for ten dollars a night. I thanked my lucky stars that I have the privilidge and ability to get out of that situation.

Though my trusty computer was broken from the motorcycle journey, I, myself, am not.

Several people have said that I should report Lulu, which is one reason (besides personal therapy) that I am writing this story in such detail. I have very mixed feelings about this, because in Vietnam the penalties would be extremely, extremely harsh. Moreover, the ninety-nine percent of our journey that did not involve groping was truly fantastic, and I appreciate the insight into Vietnam that my guide helped me absorb.

For now I will content myself with the knowledge that the women in the Eden Hotel may have reported the scene I made screaming at him and miming the grope, and, more likely, tourists who Google “Easy Riders” will find this article and Lulu’s picture.

Overall, however, this experience has given me massive new compassion towards all those people who have been, or are being, physically assaulted. What happened to me is extremely small compared to the horrific stories I’ve heard as a high school teacher. Abuses of power make the victim feel terrified, helpless, and nauseous with confusion, and I am now sending a huge wave of love to those organizations and individuals who are fighting each day to keep a person’s own body sacred.


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  23 Responses to “Being Groped on a Moving Motorcycle: Central Highlands, Part 8”

  1. And you did the right thing by yelling at him and shaming him. Calling the police would have done nothing. They only talk to him and make Lulu pay money to them to forget it. This is what they do with some rape cases.

  2. Hey, sorry to hear about that. But it’s really really common here. And by the way… the penalties are NOT severe. In most cases, the police will do nothing. 20 years ago, molesting children was not even a crime. My wife got molested several times at her school by the old security guard. She was 12. And nobody did anything to help. This guy did it to other girls too. But he was never arrested or prosecuted. Things in Asian countries are not like USA. For example, if a woman gets sexually harrassed at work, nobody really cares. It is illegal, but nobody ever gets arrested or fired. In fact, they will more likely move her to another department to work and just talk to the guy about not doing it. No discipline whatsoever.

  3. Great posting! Thanks for sharing your not-so-pleasant but not-so-simple experience. I had to laugh so hard in between the lines. What Lulu did was not a glamorous act but it could have been worse. I love Viet Nam and thinking about traveling the highland in May. This posting was certainly helpful.

    • Certainly could have been much worse, but highly creepy all the same. Have a great time traveling in the highlands! It’s a beautiful part of the country!

  4. Wow, I think you handled the situation well. I’m not sure how you manged to stay so calm, but good for you! And thanks for writing this and sharing your story.

  5. Unbelievable! You did the right thing.
    I would advise any single womon who is going to travel with an Easy Rider to make it explicitly clear in advance that they won’t tolerate any inappropriately sexual behaviour. It’s an awkward issue to bring up, but I think many of them will test you and try their luck with you given the opportunity.
    I took a three day trip with a driver I hired in Hue. He was a likeable fellow, well informed and polite and we had great fun on our trip, but on the first night he claimed the hotel in Khe Sanh only had one twin room available so we had to share. I didn’t mind that at all but during the night he woke me and asked could he get in the bed with me and started whimpering, “i like you so much..” while lying in his underwear in the dark. I said, “Er, no. I’m going asleep now.” I didn’t sleep well after that, felt really vulnerable being alone in such a tiny town in a foreign environment too. It made me very angry and kind of spoiled the rest of the trip because it seemed sinister. He didn’t do it again.
    Another time I hired an Easy Rider from Danang and at several stops he introduced me to his Xe Om buddies and they passed comments about my looks, jokingly asking me to be their girlfriend etc. It’s not a big deal but it gets tiresome when you just want to have a normal chat.
    Let your drivers know you won’t take any crap.

  6. you did the right thing by leaving this guy and take the bus.
    personally i would report the jerk to the authority.
    people are mostly good. it’s a people like this guy that can ruin your trip.

  7. I think you handled it appropriately and well, and have hopefully taught him a lesson.

    I personally wouldn’t report this, because I don’t think he’s a risk to the general public, and I don’t know what penalties exist for inappropriate touching (it may be taken not that seriously), and also the VN legal system will be stacked against you as he will know how to work it and you won’t, he speaks the language, and you don’t.

    I think he’s suffered his punishment and hopefully won’t do it again: if there’d been violence, if he’d refused to stop, if he’d tried it again after you’d said no, in all these instances I’d think differently.

    BUT maybe talk to a Vietnamese woman, perhaps one of them women at your guesthouse, and ask what she thinks you should do about it? Her response, if nothing else, will give you guidelines as to how police will react. Or talk to the tourist police, or, if he’s a licensed guide, talk to the body that issues his license.

    Horrible thing to happen, though…

    In Indonesia, I endeavoured to report a kid who had masturbated at me on the beach to the tourist police, saying that they should talk to the parents — he was a teenager. The police response? “Where is your husband?”

  8. I don’t know how you stayed calm on that motorcycle, I would have like instantly turned around, and like slapped him. I feel bad for you. But good job. Guys need to respect girls.

  9. “I looked him straight in the eye and said very loudly: “BECAUSE,” glaring, “YOU TOUCHED” I held up my open palm, “MY ASS.” I slapped my hand onto my butt.” Oh my goodness! These type of people are disgusting perverts. If I were you, I would’ve done so much worse. I would’ve done what you have done, but added a little extra to it, just to make him suffer.

  10. That is so creepy, but you were too kind to not report him after he violated you like that!

  11. That is so scary! I never would have gone back on the motorcycle with him! What if he took you to a place other than you wanted to go?! Thats so dangeorous you should definately report him! No pig like that should ever get away with something like that!

  12. Ms. Marshall! I never thought that you would ever use that kind of language… I am in shock. I feel so bad for you. You should have shown him whose boss! You should not have let him get away with it! You should be more careful next time. There are many perverted people out there. I thought it was somewhat funny how this turned out but it was disturbing too. I hope you never use that motorcycle driver ever again.

  13. I was laughing at the computer while my mom was trying to teach me how to get to Copley Library. You do not know how hard I was laughing. I would have slapped Lulu silly. That’s so disgusting. What girl likes to be touched like that?!

  14. Hey Lillie,

    I just found your post while googling motorbiking in the central highlands and DAMN. You handled that much better than I probably would have. Way to go!


    • Thanks, Steph 🙂 Keep on rockin’ it out around the world, and enjoy a good grope-free motorbike tour of the highlands! It’s a beautiful part of the country.

  15. That is some crazy stuff. I really feel bad when I read this. I’m glad everything is well now.

  16. i was sorry to read this horrific tale of what should have been a wonderfull time for you to enjoy and relax ,My vietnamese girl friend and I live in Nha Trang , the only advise I could offer to other people is to insist on seeing his I D Card and make a note of the number preferably get it witnesed , we know a lot of ‘ easy riders’ here and they would be disgusted to learn of this if you can send me any more details about this creep then please trust me the Karma cops here will deal with it .
    Phil and Mai

    • Phil, thank you for your kind comment! I’m thankful that things turned out all right in the end and I think Lulu has already got his karmic punishment from, 1) The shock of being screamed at in public, and, 2) the fact that a number of women have written to me saying they found this article while Googling the Easy Riders and ergo are not giving this fellow any of their business. But thanks for your offer! Ahh… and now I’m getting jealous thinking of beautiful Nha Trang and its beaches… Enjoy the sun and sand and do be in touch!

  17. Franny said…
    I’m so sorry Lillie – I know how hard it gets when you start second-guessing yourself that you’d blown it out of proportion/imagined it. You did the right thing and I’m glad you’re okay!

    October 14, 2009 4:41 PM

    Melody said…
    Right on Lillie! You did the right thing in a very difficult/scary situation. Thanks for sharing it. Happy 2 months on the road – you’re seasoned and strong!

    October 14, 2009 5:03 PM

    David said…
    wow. what a story. i was glued to every paragraph. i’m glad you’re okay and i’m glad lulu is not, thanks to our good friend, shame culture.

    October 14, 2009 6:06 PM

    Dave said…
    Powerful stuff. You handled the situation amazingly, and the 8 part-series on the whole is EPIC.

    October 18, 2009 7:30 AM

    Shannon said…
    Lillie, I’m so proud of you! You handled it really well and I’m sure it made an impression on him. It’s terrible that you–or any person had to deal with that kind of bullsh** though.

    November 8, 2009 6:58 PM

    Luddy Sr. said…
    You could not have handled things one bit better. This blog should be required reading for would be world travelers.

    December 13, 2009 5:31 PM

    Thapelo said…
    What a sad story, the bastard became to comfortable with the trust you place on him, i am glad you told him where to get off and revised the contract you had with him. Glad you are ok and Happy travels

    December 29, 2009 3:06 PM

    anna said…
    well done, lillie. more evidence that you are particularly capable of a trip like this. i’d’ve gotten myself out of the situation, but i’d never have had the chutzpah to sit him down like that. probably would have paid in full and fled like a child. ignoring the fact that i wouldn’t have the nerve to go alone on that motorcycle trip in the first place.

    January 2, 2010 7:29 AM

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