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TT August 21st, 2007

So it all started as we (Jen, Katie, Bob, Hien, Linh, Au, and I) were having a goodbye dinner at Banh Thanh Market for Bob last night. The street restaurant was packed even though it was a rainy night. We were having a good time and were on our second round of Tigers when a big commotion broke out. All of a sudden there were hundreds of people yelling and screaming. A man threw a metal pole into the crowd. Then a woman picked up a chair and threw it at the man. Before long, there were dozens of people wielding chairs and metal poles, scrambling around in the middle of a horde of onlookers. The mayhem moved down a small alley as four security officers (who just traded their official bamboo authority-poles for more efficient metal poles) chased after. After a while, they came back out dragging a battered man.

The Official Story…

So, apparently there was a group of thieves in the middle of the crowded alleyway. They created a fake fight amongst themselves for a distraction. In the middle of the ruckus, one of them (as planned) snatched a purse from an American woman. She was quick to grab her purse but was pulled to the ground. The shoppers and shopkeepers nearby who witnessed this immediately and started to assault the thieves. This is how the real fight started. Most of the thieves ran away, but one was cornered, so he ran into a store and grabbed a metal pole to fight his way through the crowd. The mob was furious when someone was hit so they retaliated by grabbing their own weapons. By apprehending him, the security guards probably saved the thief’s life.

What I learned from this….

  • Vietnam is a safe place if you are not a thief. Seriously, if anything happened to me, I expect no less than an angry mob of dozens administering their own version of vigilante justice. Just don’t steal anything.
  • There is no shortage of metal poles in Vietnam. Seriously, at the end of this fiasco, there were thirty poles lying on the streets. When the back up security came to try to find the other thieves, the twenty-five of them all put down their standard-issue red-and-white ass-beating bamboo poles for big metal ones.
  • Vietnamese people LOVE a good fight. Probably because the penalties for violence is so high that you don’t see as much of it on the streets. But because of this, whenever one breaks out, expect dozens of witnesses to join the cause (as long as they are administering the justice). Also expect hundreds of people to drop whatever they are doing and become cheering onlookers. Our waiters just left to see the fight. A guy driving by on a motorbike was so interested in the fight that he ran into a security guard!
  • Expect the excitement to last at least an hour. Even after the first guy was apprehended, there were swells of excitement when the crowd thought that they found more of the thieves. Even the guy running into a guard created a minor scuffle.

It was an exciting night, and a perfect last night for Bob, who will be moving to a small, quiet village in the countryside. We’ll miss you Bob.

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