Katherine and I have experienced a lot together here in Saigon over these past two years, but we had not yet experienced a motorbike wreck caused by motorbike "cowboy" thieves. Now - unfortunately - we can add that to our list.
Thursday night we were coming home from a party at about 11 pm - Katherine on the back of my bike, holding her bag around her shoulder but close to her chest with both hands (like we have been taught). We had already manouevered around a construction zone with a fifteen foot pit, a bulldozer and a crumbled sidewalk. "Classic Saigon," I said to Katherine.
So we were riding pretty slowly down a busy street when suddenly I heard Katherine gasp and felt her weight shift dramatically. I had no idea what was happening but was trying to keep the bike balanced when I felt a final huge shift which sent the bike out of control. We were heading toward a parked taxi on the side of the road and in that cliche "slow motion moment," I knew I had the choice of crashing into the taxi or dumping the bike. I chose to dump the bike.
My first thought when we went down was that we were going to get hit by a motorbike coming from behind us, so both of us scrambled to the curb. A crowd of people surrounded us and this was the first time I understood what had happened. A pair of motorbike purse thieves - called "cowboys" - had ridden up beside us and had gone for Katherine's bag - even though she had been securely holding it against her chest. She had put up quite a battle and when they finally gave up and let go (they didn't get it from my strong Canadian friend) - that was the force that sent us flying.
The three men who stopped to help us were angels. They pulled my bike to the side (at first I thought one of them was going to steal it since this is another popular crime here and the keys were still in the ignition), gave me a wet tissue for my bleeding elbow, and after sitting with us for fifteen minutes as we calmed down, one of them took us to a nearby hospital to get checked. K had only a scraped knee, but I had hit the ground much harder on my left side and my arm was hanging kind of funny and I thought that maybe my ribs were broken. Short story - nothing broken, but I was in a lot of pain.
My mom's purse was stolen by a cowboy thief at Christmas as she crossed the street during a busy Christmas cruising night, and Alice's purse was stolen a month ago while she was on the back of a bike. A friend of ours saw a man get his camera bag slashed off of him, and his ribs were also slashed in the process. These guys are very hard to catch because of the nature of their crime. Every once in a while you will hear of someone going after one of them in a vigilante way and they will be cornered and taken in. This is definitely the dark side of Saigon, and it sure is sobering to realize that these people have absolutely no concern about injuring or even killing someone just to get a hold of a bag.
Thuy and Thanh, of course, were very concerned and told Katherine that she should have kicked them off their bike. Thanh sent me a text message that said, "You are my human hero, man!" which made me laugh in a way that really hurt my sore ribs. They also told me that these "cowboys" "smell heroin" - which - I'm guessing - translates to "sniff coke." Drug addiction explains a lot.
The good in Saigon definitely outweighs the bad by far, and we were very, very lucky the other night. But, I'm telling you, my legs are getting more and more ugly the longer I stay here. Now I have scrapes all down the left side of my body and three more bleeding knee scrapes to add to my two motorbike burns.
My legs are begging me to get the heck out of Saigon!