Why I hate most tourists with a passion

I went out for a beer this afternoon. I’d been at home all day talking to friends, uploading photos, posting blog stories, responding to days worth of Facebook alerts and also looking for a new job to pay the bills.

I sat down by myself at first, listening to the nearby conversation of a large group of travelers who had met on the road in another country and ended up together. A group of South Africans, Dutch, Canadians and a New Zealander. They were having some funny conversations about life and culture and women and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself over some of the things they said. At one point one guy made a comment about his philosophy on women and I said “Can I offer my philosophy ?”

The guy said “Come sit with us.. Tell us”. I said “Let me tell you first and see what you think”. He said “OK”.

I said “Women are like internet domain names. All the good ones are taken, but if you look hard you can find a good one in a foreign country. That’s why I am marrying a Vietnamese girl”.

They all laughed and we talked for a while. But something went wrong. Everyone was friendly and telling their craziest travel stories and getting along very well. Until some vendors came along. Twe came along and I very quietly bought a nice canvas bracelet off her for $1.50 which I didn’t need, but she’s my friend so I always buy from her. She left happy and didn’t bother with the group I was with. But another woman, who was new did. She approached a guy up the back who had several bracelets on his arm.

He haggled with her for at least 15 minutes until one of his friends asked “What’s she asking ?” and he goes “Oh she wants 55,000 dong for two bracelets. She can get fucked. I paid 15 for this one and 10 for this one”.

I just sat there in shock staring. I had a brief conversation with the guy beside me and said “You know, that’s not very much money. These people work 11 hours a day, 365 days of the year to make a living and feed their kids. Some of them, including that girl, come from the other end of the country and leave their family behind to work here and earn a few dollars a day”.

The guy says “Yeah but it’s a buyer’s market. If she doesn’t want to sell it, she doesn’t have to. We know the deal, we’ve been around Asia for a few weeks. We just got here from Laos yesterday”. I said “But this isn’t Laos and it isn’t Cambodia. Not everywhere’s the same, and these girls aren’t trying to rip you off. They’re just trying to earn a living. You think any of these girls would be doing this job if they had a choice ?” He goes “Nah but that’s not my problem. If 10,000’s not enough for them then they can go sell their shit to someone else. If they do sell it for 10,000 it means they can afford to”. “No,” I said. “It means they cannot afford not to, because even making 10 cents is better than making nothing, but it doesn’t mean you have to take advantage of their situation so that you can save one fucking dollar”.

A few minutes later a vendor of BEAUTIFUL hand-made pop-up christmas cards came by. I bought a card off her last night but it was a Year of the Dragon one. I wanted a Christmas one. She said “25,000” and I said “Hai muoi ok ? I bought last night also” and she just nodded. I got a 5,000 dong discount because I’ve bought at least six of those cards off her so she doesn’t mind taking a tiny bit off the price. But the two Canadian girls said “We want playing cards. A pack of playing cards”. The woman said “20,000”. The first girl held out two 5,000 dong notes and said “This is all I have. I only have 10,000”.

The woman didn’t even understand they were trying to haggle. She said “No. 20,000 dong one box, ok ?”. The girl said “No, 10,000 only. I only have 10,000. No more”. The women stood frustrated for a while saying “20,000 only one dollar American” but the girl shook her head and said “No, 10,000”. Since she already had the cards in her hand and the woman was already holding the 10,000 dong she didn’t have much choice except to say “OK”. Upon seeing this, the other Canadian girl beside her said “1 more for me” and thrust 10,000 dong into the woman’s face and reached for a pack of playing cards.

Ok so the woman sold two packs of cards, but she probably made 6-8,000 dong out of it. She spent 10 minutes arguing with some asshole foreigners only to make around 30 cents.

The girls tore open their playing cards while I passed 200,000 dong to the volunteer waiter who I’d been drinking with and chatting to earlier and while I waited for my change the girls said “Ok let’s play a game. We need as many people as possible. Are you in ?” she said, talking to me. I just said “No. I have to go”. I didn’t want to explain why but I had a very annoyed look on my face.

Eventually when I got my change and got up, one of the South African guys said “Why are you going. What’s up ?” I said “I really don’t want to say what I feel like saying”.

He said “No go on, please. Say it”.

I said “Ok. Look I think it’s disgusting when people who are privileged enough to have the money to come to a country like this and take advantage of the low prices of accommodation and food and beer, as your friend was just marvelling about how he bought 13 beers for less than four euros.. and then when some vendor comes along, you want to bargain her down from $2 to 50 cents. And when the beggar came along with his blind brother not one of you gave him so much as 5 cents. You just ignored him. You should be more grateful for coming from a wealthier country and being able to come here and appreciate such incredible hospitality and kindness from the local people and giving no more than a few cents profit to a vendor or refusing to give even 5 or 10 cents to a blind guy is really shitty. Some of these people sleep outside their shops because they don’t have a choice, and you are making jokes about it. This is one of the nicest countries in the world and you are being horribly selfish and I don’t want to play cards with you or drink with you. Sorry”.

The guy goes “Oh man. You really make me feel bad now”. I just said “I know. Whatever” and walked off.

I got to the banh mi place around the corner and stopped outside and closed my eyes and breathed deep. I hated having to say that but the guy asked why I was leaving so I chose to tell him. Most times I just shake my head in disgust and leave but he insisted on knowing why I was leaving with a pissed off expression so I chose to tell him.

Waiting outside the banh mi stall was a young kid no more than about 22, also from Canada, sitting on a plastic chair with a Saigon red in his hand. I just felt a certain confidence and relaxed attitude about him and I said “Man, you look pretty comfortable there, sucking on a Saigon do waiting for banh mi. You live here ?”

He goes “Nah man. Been in Asia one week and tonight is my first night in Vietnam”. I said “You serious man ? I know people who’ve been here for years and wouldn’t eat at a banh mi stall if they were starving. Most people hit Pizza Hut or KFC on their first night”.

The dude just looked at me and shook his head with a bemused grin and said “Why ? This is what I came here for. This is awesome. Cold beer and a local chicken salad roll. This is heaven”. I asked how long he was here for and he said him and his friend (who had just come back and sat down to eat his bread roll) had a couple of weeks there. He asked what it was like here and if it was more practical to buy a motorbike or rent one.

I said “Well man. Friendliest place on the planet. Especially if you get off the beaten track”. He asks “Where have you been ? What’s been your experience ?” I said “Man.. I flew to Hanoi and bought a nice motorbike for about $450, rode it over the whole country, and on the way I stopped in many small towns in the countryside. I would stop in a cafe for a beer and the next thing I know the family would be out with cameras and insisting I stay for dinner with the whole family and eat and drink with them and then come out to the park to meet all their relatives. I’m still friends on Facebook to this day with a girl I met in a small town like that and she doesn’t even speak English”.

He said “Awesome. That’s what I wanted to hear. And the bike ? You get much money back for it ?” I said “I rode it for over 3500 km in total over two months. Sold it to a foreigner for the same price I bought it for”. “Holy shit” he said. “Where do I get a bike ?” I said “Well you get a GOOD bike from a cam do, a pawn shop, but you will need a Vietnamese person to negotiate for you because they won’t speak English and the price will double since you have white skin. But if you look around the main street here, at the start of each alleyway is a noticeboard. Around those noticeboards on the alleyway corners there are ALWAYS bikes for sale by foreigners. They are mostly old, but if you are willing to pay $250 you can get a bike that will take you all over the country without too many problems, and when you are done, just offer it for $50 less than you bought it for and you will sell it in an instant because so many foreigners come here and want to buy a bike but don’t speak Vietnamese, so they always respond to these posters because the sellers are foreigners too”.

“Wow thanks man. Cam on. I appreciate all the advice” he said. I chuckled at the fact that he thanked me in Vietnamese on his first night in Vietnam. “Khong co chi” I said. “It means ‘no problem’ or ‘you’re welcome'”. “Cool. I’ll remember that” he said, shaking my hand.

By that time my banh mi was ready and I waved goodbye to them and said “Enjoy Saigon, keep an eye on your valuables and don’t be an asshole to the locals. You’ll have a great time if you have some respect for the culture”. He said “No worries there. I’m not here for girls and cheap beer. I’m here for the culture”.

And with that… my faith in tourists was restored. Yes… four out of five tourists are ignorant assholes who think it’s cool to barter some old lady down to 20 cents for a pack of cards and then laugh about it afterwards. And one in five is a great person who comes here and eats local food and learns some local language on their first day and gets a whole lot more out of Vietnam than cheap beer and an imitation Prada bag to take home.

Don’t come to Vietnam because it’s cheap. If you’re one of those people, fuck off. Don’t drink with me and don’t talk to me. Come to Vietnam if you want to experience Vietnam. Then we’ll hang out and chat.

Come to Bui Vien. Play rock, paper scissors with an 8 year old girl over a packet of chewing gum on the street. But the chewing gum costs 10,000 a pack. If you only offer her 5,000 you’re a piece of shit because these kids have a tough enough job working all night as it is. Don’t rip them off. Bạn hiểu ? :)

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One Response to Why I hate most tourists with a passion

  1. OzKen says:

    awesome blog ! … agree with exactly 50% of ur opinions !

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