After my gloriously irresponsible one-way flight to China, I arrived in Beijing and checked into my first hostel.
I was immediately approached by a middle aged Asian man.
“I am Malaysia,” he said, “I come China to find wife.”
I was about to respond with “I come China to escape man,” but he interrupted.
“I need marry virgin.”
“I need marry virgin, do you know?”
“Do I know…?”
“Do you know virgins? No virgins in Malaysia.”
I shook my head and backed away slowly.
I should have known that unsolicited sexual inquiries would be a theme of the next 9 months. After the Accidental Threesome, I booked myself into a female-only dorm at a hostel in Hue, Vietnam.
But on this lovely morning I was determined to fulfill a lifelong dream: Find something on a map, and then use the map to get there.
I located the ruins of an old building that was bombed by those damn Americans in that war everyone kept talking about. It looked close enough to walk so I set out to make my dreams come true. I couldn’t pronounce it’s name, but Lonely Planet said it was a must-see.
I was determined to not hire a motorbike taxi, but was relentlessly tempted. Every man who owns a motorcycle in Vietnam is an entrepreneur when he sees a Westerner and I was attacked from every direction.
“Helllooooo, moto-bike taxi?”
“Lady, where you go?”
“You needs moto-bike, Lady?”
“No,” I told myself. “You are a capable grown-ass woman. You can read a map, you won’t get lost.”
“Lady, you don’t know where to go, I take you motobike taxi.”
I suddenly wondered why I had left the comfort of China, where no one spoke English.
Another motorcycle slowed down to match my pace. I kept my eyes on the sidewalk, shook my head, and pretended to be deaf.
“You need moto-bike?”
I didn’t look him as I continued to plod along with my head down.
He let out a wheezy cackle, delighting in my defiance– I made the mistake of glancing his way.
He immediately held his arm out and gestured to the seat behind him while smiling through black teeth and yellow eyes.
“No money, no problem, I give you special ride free!”
There were handwritten signs all over the hostel warning female guests not to accept free rides: “THEY WILL TAKE YOU TO PLACE AND HAVE ONLY BAD.”
I told myself he would go away, but he didn’t.
“I give you ride free! I give you ride free!”
My carefully planned route of left and right turns was abandoned as I tried to lose him down narrow lanes and crowded parks– I had forgotten this was Vietnam, where a motorcycle is free to go anywhere a cat can fit. No matter where I went, he followed me.
“You do the boom-boom?” he yelled between laughs.
He began fondling himself, grabbing his groin and shaking it toward me like steak to a dog.
I ducked into a small shanty with a café sign out front. As always, I was the only patron and a tired woman brought me a cup of tea. Boom Boom Man sped down the street, and I tried to calm myself by watching a cartoon playing on a TV from the 90s.
Then it hit me– I had no idea where I was.
“You’re in Vietnam,” I told myself.
This was a less than helpful insight.
I paid for my tea, then held my map out for help. The café woman stared blankly for a few seconds then gestured in a general and non-specific direction. Before Asia, I didn’t realize it was possible to point in no direction.
“Cam on,” I thanked her, though I didn’t really mean it.
I stood in the doorway, wondering which way to go… I couldn’t even remember which direction I had come from. Everything just looked like Vietnam. My mind began to spiral in examination of this situation and how it could be viewed as a metaphor for my life but I mentally slapped myself– “Snap out of it, Aussa! This is Life or Boom Boom!”
I took one step through the doorway and was greeted with rude whistling from a side street. Boom Boom Man was waving his arms above his head and leering at me. He continued to follow me until I somewhat miraculously stumbled upon the ruins I had seen on my map. I happily paid the admission fee just to get away from him.
“Fuck you!” he yelled from the sidewalk, still laughing and touching himself.
I looked around for someone to pity me or to listen to me cry, but I was surrounded by gawking Vietnamese teenagers who held their phones out to snap a photo of The World’s Sweatiest and Most Discouraged White Woman.
It took about three minutes to realize the ruins weren’t worth the trouble I had just gone through. I told myself that the crumbled stacks of concrete were an important part of history but mostly they just reminded me of my life. I had fled to a part of the world where no one was supposed to be able to bother me, much less solicit me for Boom Boom-– but like most of my plans, this one had failed gloriously. Luckily, it only cost $5 to book a 12-hour bus to get the hell out of there and south to Hoi Ann.
What is the most awkward question you’ve been asked by a stranger? Have you ever been harassed by someone who just wouldn’t go away? What was the worst time you found yourself hopelessly lost?
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