Vietnamese Police Station
Mai Chau Police Station: emotional resolution.
*** Record Scratch ***
Yep that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I got here. Well let me take you back in time a bit, and I’ll explain the whole thing…
So here I am, on the shores of Hoa Binh Lake, leading a pack of motorcyclists along the curvy mountainous roads. I’m taking each turn as it comes, and most of all, I’m relieved that I’m finally going to be done with this day.
Not just any day. A godforsaken day full of the most intense off-road trails I’ve seen in my life. Not to mention I was tackling these trails my third day on a motorbike (ever, in my life). After countless hours of wrecking my bike and pouring sweat in the mountain jungle trails of Vietnam, I’m finally back on pavement (for the first time in my life, I consider kissing the asphalt).
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah: so I’m cruising around this hairpin turn. Turns out it’s a bit sharper than I expected. No biggie, I’ll just swing it a little wide and then correct after the road straightens back out. Right at the moment I lock eyes with a local woman coming the opposite way around the turn. “No biggie” becomes “Oh F#%k”.
If you know anything about riding bikes, you know that where your eyes look is where your bike will go. Want to miss the tree? Don’t look at the tree.
In my case, the tree is a lady with three children on the scooter with her. A bump in the road politely assists my front wheel off the ground just enough to lose contact with the road, and with it, any hope of traction. In my best efforts to not murder a family of four, I instinctively slam on both the front and rear brake.
If you know anything else about riding bikes, you that know quickly grabbing the front brake is never a good idea (especially in a turn).
Now my bike and I are on the ground sliding directly toward this family (guess the asphalt gets that kiss from me after-all). I never thought I’d say this, but I wish I was back in the jungle right about now.
My unintentional target sees me skidding on my path of destruction toward her, and instinctually does exactly what she shouldn’t do: she stops in that path. What happens next is a noisy blur, but based on how her bike is on top of mine, I guess it’s safe to say I wrecked right into her. My stomach drops, but my instant reaction is to check and make sure the kids are okay. Luckily the kids (baby included) are all un-scathed. Phew.
Now to the matter at hand: the woman screaming and bleeding in the street. We pull the bikes apart and help her to the side of the road. She’s been riding barefoot and has a deep cut on her heel. My tour-guide (and savior), Hoa, rolls up like a god damn professional. Hoa grabs some leaves off a nearby bush, crushes them between his fingers, puts them on her wound, then wraps it up in a cloth bandage he whipped out of nowhere like some sort of first-aid magician. Next, he grabs a tool and fixes the woman’s bike in a matter of seconds while he recruits an onlooker to drive the woman to the hospital.
We follow along to the hospital (which seems to share a building with an indoor racquetball facility..?). She needs some stitches in her foot, but there are no serious injuries. I’m relieved to hear this, but I’m still shook from the whole situation. Hoa tells me that I’ll pay the medical bills, and it will all be done. This is different than I’m used to, but okay. As we sit and wait to hear what it will cost, I can’t help but notice people congregating around us, one by one. I try not to pay much attention to it, until they start interrogating Hoa in Vietnamese. I can tell they’re arguing, but it’s not heated, so I’m not worried.
Next thing I know, I’m surrounded by a small group of men in beige uniforms, or “Police” as they like to be called. One of them speaks some English and invites me to come down to the station with him to record a statement. He invites Hoa to come as well, but Hoa refuses. I’m starting to feel like my own personal episode of “Locked Up Abroad” is getting underway as I climb into the paddy wagon. Luckily, Hoa hops in right behind me.
*** Fast forward ***
Now you’re all caught up. Yours truly is still sitting across the desk from an intense detective of the Mai Chau Police Department. I’m providing every detail I can remember, while he’s asking me to guess on details I don’t. Nice try, Officer Friendly, not gonna happen. He spends a good amount of time to write out a whole statement in Vietnamese as well as English. He asks to me read it, and sign if I agree with what is stated. Looks good, so I sign.
Now a new man walks in. He sits down next to me, but doesn’t acknowledge my existence. He’s talking to the stern detective, but of course I can’t understand a word. Hoa explains this guy is the father-in-law of the woman I wrecked into, and he’s here to discuss “emotional resolution” to put this whole incident behind us. “Emotional resolution” is an unfamiliar term for a very familiar idea: settlement.
We agree on a dollar amount (much lower than he initially proposed) and the police insist we write up an agreement to ensure that no party could raise any further claim following the exchange of money. We write it, sign it, take pictures for proof, and walk our separate ways (at this point, shock and adrenaline have worn off, so I technically limp my separate way). The detective simply rips up the statement I previously signed and tosses it in the trash. Man, they sure do things different here in Vietnam.
To wrap it all up, I’ll tell you this: nobody’s ideal vacation is sitting in a foreign country’s police station, negotiating a price to compensate physical and emotional damage of a person you personally injured. I wish it never happened, and I wouldn’t want to go through it ever again. However, this was by far the most memorable and educational travel experience I’ve had to this day (Up next: escaping my kidnappers!).
I guess all I’m trying to say is: travel can be shitty. But if you look for that silver lining, those shitty moments could end up being your favorites. If not, they’ll probably make a good story one day.
TL;DR - In one afternoon: I wrecked my motorbike into a family of four, injured a woman, and then negotiated a settlement in a Vietnamese police station. Sometimes the line between best/worst memories is hard to define.