Cops and Robbers – Vietnamese Style

23 Oct

I haven’t really felt like blogging cause to be honest I feel like I am traipsing a pretty well trod tourist trail here in Vietnam and don’t have anything new to add. Until yesterday, which was such a surreal delight of day I thought I was living some sort of Monty Python skit, or maybe just playing cops and robbers, Vietnamese style.

I was feeling pretty low with a cold so thought I’d just have breakfast and nick into town to pick up my laundry on my motorbike and spend the entire day in bed. By the time I got home I noticed my iPhone was missing – lost or stolen along the way somewhere. Feeling too sick to bother I set an alert on Find My iPhone via my son’s iPad and fell asleep.

I was woken an hour later with the beeping of an email to say it was in the town Phan Thiet, about 10km from me. I sent messages to it in English and Vietnamese offering a reward if it was returned to me at my hotel. An hour later and I was pissed as it still hadn’t moved. I thought I would get security here at my deluxe five star resort to help me at least file a report so I could claim it on insurance.

I showed him the iPad with the location of my phone on it. He was all like, “Let’s go get it. I will come with you.” Not what I had expected but I was game. I told him I had a bike and before I knew it we were roaring into town. A block from the signal location he yells at me while still riding that he wants to get police help. I can’t really argue so we ride into the nearest police station and we go in to a decaying building that seemed pretty deserted, except for the rats running up and down the stairs and some sweaty bloke sitting on a bench with bare feet and a grey shirt pulled up over his belly as he scratched.

Rapid fire Vietnamese is exchanged and Belly Scratcher yells and a bunch of green uniformed young men come running. They look like teenagers with fresh faces and big teeth.

We are motioned into a room and head of security dude from my hotel tells me to show them the iPad. They all gather round and one of the young guys goes to touch the iPad and is slapped away by Belly Scratcher, who it turns out is boss. He turns the iPad around to try and read the map better but of course that makes the orientation change and everyone is confused. After much discussion he yells out with excitement. The security guy tells me they know where it is and we can all go get it. I could feel a real “round up the posse” vibe happening as everyone scrambled for bikes. We were told to ride with them. I was hoping there were going to be no guns involved by this point! Security guy and I jump on the bikes, speeding down the road and up onto the pavement outside a cell phone shop.

All of the police race in screaming. I meekly try to point out that I think they misread the map and the shop is diagonally opposite us about fifty metres away when the initial furore dies down. Again they demand my iPad but I try to explain we need wifi to see the map in real time. This gets translated and the cell phone shop are interrogated about their wifi. They don’t have any. No problem. Belly Scratcher stomps out of the little shop and into a tiny hardware store next to it. Makes all the staff clear their office area and shoves me in front of a computer. I am intensely embarrassed for myself and these poor shopkeepers kicked out of their own business while about four police stare at them and I try to work their ancient computer under pressure.

I went to log onto the MobileMe web site but their browser was too old. I had to download Firefox! Vietnamese shouts from behind me. Hotel security turned translator tells me they want to know what I am doing. I tell them and it gets translated. “She is updating the computer to make it work!” Belly Scratcher thrusts his iPhone at me and I also use his Internet but his rinkydink telcom data speed is too slow. Finally I get onto MobileMe on the shop computer only to find it insists I upgrade to iCloud before I can see the map. Sweet Jesus, really Mr Jobs, at this exact moment? I am sweating when we get the map up. Much jumping around by everyone and running out onto the street and back before they decide I was right.

We must go. Subtle as a herd of elephants we all rush back onto the bikes leaving the shopkeepers with no explanation for what has just happened and one bemused cell phone shop owner. They all watch as we take off for a few seconds and then pull up right across the entrance of the cell shop I pointed out. I was told to stay behind them all and say nothing as they all run in screeching again. Lots of shaking heads from staff and innocent looks. Everyone crowds around the iPad after getting it hooked to the shop wifi.

Using satellite view they are counting trees from the corner to prove to the shop keeper they know they are in the right spot. I tell them the phone has now stopped updating but as of one hour before it was here. An assistant reluctantly admits someone dropped in an iPhone to be “fixed” at that time. Police grab the phone and shove it in my face. The cover is gone, sim card changed, it’s reformatted and all in Vietnamese. Could be mine but how to tell?

Lots more carry on and it is decided I need to get an IMEI number for them. Everyone looks at me as I start googling how to do that from a computer. I need the computer at home or my paperwork details from my files. So ring Australia I am urged. I point out the obvious. No phone! Straight faced the shop owner offers to sell me a sim card so I can use the hotel security guy’s phone to call. Either that or we all have to go to the post office to call internationally. I had over the money and we set up the sim. Try to call flatmates and get only voicemail. Everyone around me is a little more stressed.

I decide to try and call my phone company. Of course I get voice recognition and over the motorbikes on the street and the constant arguments in the shop about my phone I can’t get though. I start madly punching 0 to try and get a human so we can end this whole debacle. Wouldn’t you know it I get transferred to a call centre in India! I start trying to explain, ” I am in Vietnam, with police, I urgently need my IMEI number” and then I have to go through the whole ID process. Birthdate, phone number, address, the works. By now I am finding it hard not to giggle. This is slapstick at its best. I mime for pen and paper and as I start to write down the number a hush falls. Someone reads over my shoulder each digit and at the end there is a silence. Oh, I think, it’s not the right phone.

Head security dude quietly tells me it is my phone, the numbers match.

The mood changes in the shop slightly and I feel I am being questioned. Who am I traveling with? Why was I not more careful? Tea is bought out and the Belly Scratcher slips off his shoes and is having a good old laugh with the shop owner while a junior in uniform diligently writes down stuff. I am given a glass of tea and offered use of the toilet. Now I know nothing about Asian cultures but I am guessing this was all a bit of a save face demonstration. It is translated for me that I must understand that this shop keeper never,ever,ever deals with thieves or buys stolen phones. Do I understand? I snort. Never mind that he must have seen the messages about rewards pop up before he disabled it all. I am again asked, do I get that this shop keeper is honest. Okay I say, now what?

Well the work had already been done on the phone and the guy who dropped it off can’t come back to pick it up since it is your phone, so you must pay the bill. I almost lost it at that moment! 350000 dong. $17 bucks. Almost a weeks wage for some in Vietnam. Shop keeper says I must pay so they can release the phone to the police. I can see the translator dude is a bit ashamed by it all and I can’t think of any option so I hand over the money. Paying for the privilege of getting my phone back minus my sim card, all my contacts, apps and all my photos.

Not quite stripped of enough dignity I ask about my case. Nope, it is gone. To be more careful I must buy a big case to attach to a belt Belly Scratcher says. I pick an ugly white one and had over another 135 000 dong on top of the repair bill and the sim card purchase for my phone call home.

Tea is wrapped up and we all go back to the station. I am asked to write a report which the security guy translates to Vietnamese. We all get to watch the rats while we wait for juniors to type some more. Nearly an hour goes by sitting in the hot small room with no air con.

Security asks me what I think of the police when they are out of earshot. Silly, I say, can’t read maps, they are a bit funny to watch in action like cartoon crazy cops. He laughs and translates something to the police when they come back. I am mortified. Then he says to me, “I was just telling them how you pay a compliment and say police are very good in Vietnam. Fast and smart.” We both grin at each other and Belly Scratcher’s chest puffs out a little. He says he is very pleased I am happy.

After an eternity I get my phone back, sign yet another form that has no English translation. I am wary thinking I am probably signing something allow the lines of “Stupid Western girl lost her phone and very good police action saved the day” but I don’t care.

We jump on our bike one last time and head for home, just in time to pick up my son before Kids Club closes. Security guy gives me a huge grin and we shake hands and clap each other on the back, high on adrenaline and adventure. I tell him many thanks, he says “It was my mission to help you” and I tell him I am going to drink many beers and we part still laughing.

The End.

P.s Of course the new case I was sold was for the wrong model. Determined to at least get a bit of self respect back I marched in this morning and asked to swap it. They ask me to hand over my my phone to check if it fits the new case. I gesture that I didn’t bring it. ” Why you no bring phone here today?” Gee, I bloody wonder why!?

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2 Responses to “Cops and Robbers – Vietnamese Style”

  1. Barbara October 23, 2011 at 7:10 pm #

    Brilliant! (The writing, not the events of the day.)
    Nice work dealing with the police without actually having to bribe them. You’re almost a local!

  2. Rebeca October 24, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    This makes a great story, but I’m sure the hours it took to track it down weren’t as entertaining as they sound! I’m so glad you recovered the phone!

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