We live, We learn…
For a while I had trouble figuring out what it means to live in the now.
Does it mean that I forget the past? Does it mean I make no plans for the future?
The past, is a story. The story of a life. Our life.
We don’t forget this because it is filled with lessons that we can use, now. But what we must be careful of is living in the past. The past has already happened, and there is nothing we can do to change it. But we can learn from it.
Let me tell you a story…
It was 11 am on a Tuesday and I was walking through the busy streets of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam.
I was on my way to the museum, hoping to take in some culture.
I was stopped by a cyclo-driver (a cyclo is like a bicycle, with two wheels in the front, and a seat for a passenger to ride, with the driver at the back), he asked me if I would like a ride. I was prepared to walk, I was trying to save money, but he showed me how far it was and offered me a price I couldn’t refuse. I figured sure, why not? So I hopped on.
We chatted on the way. He was a very friendly man, full of interesting stories and facts. He spoke of his family, he made jokes. It was an enjoyable ride.
We arrived at the museum, and he said he’d wait for me and take me to the next museum I planned to visit. I figured what the heck? Even if the price was per hour it was still a good deal. So we toured around to several sites over the next four hours, and continued to chat along the way. I liked this guy.
It was getting towards evening and he asked me if I wanted to get a beer, for “happy hour”. I told him that I would. He knew a place and off we went.
This was my first full day in HCMC, and I didn’t know my way around. We arrived at a local watering hole in an area I didn’t know. I figured that this was the way he made his money, I’d buy him a couple beers and he’d get a kickback from the place. Seems like a good arrangement, I was ok with it.
We drank some beers, and continued to talk. The topic of payment hadn’t come up yet, I wasn’t concerned.
We spoke of my country, and we spoke of his. We talked about our families. We talked…
The time came to pay for our drinks, and I did so. They were far too expensive, but I thought oh well, it’s still a good deal all in all.
He took out his little book to calculate the costs. He gave me the price…
It was 10 times the price he quoted me!
I was in shock.
He proceeded to show me that the price quoted was one-way, if I wanted to get home, I had to pay the inflated price. He then showed me his book full of people’s testimonials to this price.
Needless to say I was angry, but I was also several beers deep and in a place I didn’t know.
What do I do?
I pulled out what little money I had taken with me, which was nowhere near enough to cover it. This worried me also. I showed him what I had, which he took, and said we could stop at an ATM on the way. There was no way I was going to pull out more money for this guy. I told him that I didn’t have my debit card with me (which was true) and if he wanted more money we’d have to return to my hostel first. His tune changed and he said he would take what I had given him and return me, that it would be ok.
We road back with me fuming the entire way, I wanted to knock the teeth out of his head. I felt stupid, like a sucker, like a chump. I didn’t even want to hire him in the first place! Why had I been so stupid?!
We arrived at the end of my block and he said I should get out here on account of it being a one-way. I was fine with that, I didn’t want to be anywhere near him anyway.
I walked to my hostel, drank beers and stewed in my anger. The same thoughts playing on repeat… I should have told him to fuck off… I should have just walked away… I should have just walked like I had planned… I should have strangled the life from him… I should have…
What was I accomplishing? He was riding around town with money in hand, happy as could be. I wasn’t hurting him, I was only hurting myself.
So what do I do?
Well, first I drink another beer, then I never trust another person in this country again!
I learned my lesson.
Wait just a minute!
That’s not a moral. That’s not learning my lesson. That’s living in the past, just as fuming about it was. If I let past “bad” experiences taint the present then I’m still living in the past, I’m still living in that mindset.
I know that not all people in this country are jerks. In fact most of them are amazing! I’ve had so much generosity shown to me, again and again. And if I go into every situation with distrust, what will that accomplish? I’ll just be preventing any genuine connection from being possible.
So do I forget about it?
No forgetting is never the answer, and I can’t force myself to forget.
Learning is the answer. So what did I learn?
- Always be sure of prices in advance, as much as you can be.
- Always keep a sense of direction, don’t let yourself get totally lost.
- Always remember, if the price seems too good, it probably is.
- Stick to you guns, if the price increases at the end, or halfway through the trip, don’t put up with it. And don’t pay anything more. Walk away if you have to.
So did I learn my lesson?
It was late.
My bus to Siem Reap dropped me off at the bus station outside town.
I was approached by a horde of tuk-tuk drivers (a motorcycle with a trailer designed for passengers attached) asking me if I needed a ride.
I walked past them, entering the office.
I asked the woman how much a tuk-tuk to my guesthouse should cost. She told me. I returned to one of the tuk-tuk drivers, I told him where I was going and how much I was willing to pay, and he agreed.
I shared the ride with two others whom we dropped along the way. After they had disembarked, he turned while driving to inform me that my destination was very far and would cost more. I shook my head.
When we arrived at my stop he asked for the inflated price.
I firmly, but with a smile, said no. The price had been agreed on that was it.
I handed him the initial price. He tried to argue, but I grabbed my bags and said that we had an agreement.
I could see he wasn’t happy about it, but he took it and went on his way.
I stuck to my guns.
I didn’t go in initially distrusting him. I was simply aware.
I was calm, collected, firm. Aware.
And so maybe my cyclo experience wasn’t so “bad” after all.
Maybe I should be grateful for learning my lesson early on in my trip.
Yeah it cost me some money, but sometimes a lesson has it’s cost.
A fee for instruction, a payment to my “teacher”.
There’s one last story to bring this full circle…
I got up early.
I had my breakfast.
I was ready to explore the temples of Angkor for a second day.
This time I wanted to explore the further temples. Too far to do by bicycle. I had to hire a driver.
I asked at my guesthouse house how much a tuk-tuk would be. It was too expensive. I was told by the owner that a motorcycle could be found nearby for much cheaper. I headed out and found one quickly. We discussed prices and my plans. We agreed on a price.
We departed, it would be a long day with many miles covered.
We arrived at one of the first stops and I explored the temples while my driver waited.
He was quite young, his English wasn’t very strong, and I got the impression that he didn’t drive people around the temples often.
I returned to where he had parked.
He was talking to one of the tuk-tuk drivers. They both came over as I approached.
The other driver pulled out a map and proceeded to show me where it was that I was going, his English was far better than my driver’s.
He explained that my driver didn’t know the temple I had asked him to take me to. That it was much further than he’d expected. I knew how far it was, I had come prepared. I knew I had haggled to a really good price. He said that it wasn’t enough for how far we were going, especially with petrol prices as high as they were.
He quoted a new price.
I stuck to my guns.
We had agreed on a price and that was it. I wasn’t going to be duped again.
I could see that my driver was saddened, but he would still do it, it wasn’t going to be a profitable day for him.
We went to every temple on my list, he delivered as promised. At lunch we stopped and I told him that I’d buy him lunch, I was getting a good deal, and I did appreciate his service. We talked what little we could, he was a nice guy, a little shy.
We finished the day late, the sun had already set.
He drove me to the door of my guesthouse.
It was time to give him our initially agreed upon price. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the money and handed it to him. He was initially shocked. It was the second higher price. I could see how grateful he was, and I was grateful too.
I wasn’t going to be bullied into paying higher prices, but after our long day I knew that it was worth the price.
He went away happy, and so did I.
Upon entering the guesthouse the owner asked me how much I paid and I told him.
“It’s a good price.” he said, and I thought so too.
So I had learned my lesson.
I wouldn’t be bullied or tricked, but I also wouldn’t take advantage of another’s ignorance.
I wouldn’t be a sucker, and I wouldn’t be a miser.
I wouldn’t live in the past, I would simply learn from it.
I would let the present be the present.
A place where I’m aware and alert, but not tainted by past “wrongs”.
Living here & now.
As best I can.