“One dollar only to Pham ngo Lao,” the taxi driver said, holding open the taxi door. The blazing lights of Ho Chi Minh City ricocheted off the insane 9pm traffic next to the bus station, and I felt dizzy. “Perfect,” I moaned, staggering into the seat and pulling my backpack behind me.
“I am so glad to be off that bus!” I cried, leaning against the taxi’s soft interior. “16 hours is a long journey!” The taxi driver smiled and veered through a motorcycle-choked intersection with relaxed skill. “It a looong way from Cambodia!” he said. “Where you from?”
“I’m American,” I said, brushing the crackers off my shirt that the baby next to me on the bus had thrown. “In Boston I have taught many wonderful Vietnamese students, and so I am so happy to be finally seeing this country in person.”
“Ahh, teacher. Important job!” he said. “I have three kids.”
“Oh you do! What ages?”
“Fifteen, twelve, and little baby one month.”
I squealed with delight. “One month! So cute! Do you love holding her?”
“No, I no hold her. My wife say my hands too dirty. Too rough from taxi wheel. My wife hold her.”
Soon, the neon lights grew brighter and a three-story orange-lit bull loomed up. “Pham ngo Lao!” the driver said triumphantly. “Here your hotel.”
Sure enough, there it was, so I grinned, gathered my stuff, and handed the driver a dollar.
“What?!” he yelled, aghast.
“One dollar, right?” I responded, shaken, “That’s what you said!” What was going on?
“HA!” the driver laughed, “I never say one dollar. Twenty dollars, of course! Vietnam very expensive. Gas very expensive. We go long way. Twenty dollars of course. One dollar– HA! I never say that!”
The tears welled up in my eyes. I had heard of this trap from an Australian couple I met in Cambodia. They had agreed with a taxista on a fare of ten dollars to a far-off Vietnam destination, and when they arrived, the taxi driver insisted he had said one hundred dollars. The Australians ended up paying the blatantly criminal fare because the driver was so intimidating.
“Sir, you said one dollar,” I repeated, hands shaking. “I have only one dollar.”
“One dollar, HA!” he scoffed, “I have a wife, I have kids. You try to cheat me. Twenty dollars. Twenty dollars!”
I felt sick thinking how happy and relaxed I had been moments earlier. The sixteen hours on the bus began to warp my vision, and my breath raced.
“Sir,” I choked out, “You said to me one dollar and now you are changing the price. I have heard of this before. I will give you a few more dollars as payment for reminding me that I need to be alert, always, but there’s no way you’ll get twenty dollars.” I hurled the money at him and stomped into the hotel. I could hear the driver’s screams behind me.
When I finally got to my hotel room, I cried, letting the tension of the past few days pour out. It takes energy to remember never to trust anyone, and in my fatigue I had let it lapse.
Looking for solace, I clicked on my computer and received the following message:
“Ms. Marshall. I just wanted to let you know that we learned about the Oedipus Complex in Psychology class this week. If you hadn’t forced us to read that weird “Oedipus” book, I would have been completely lost. You told us to trust you that what you did would pay off in college. I didn’t believe you then, but you were right. Thank you! – Sade.”
I put my hand to my heart and cried with happiness.