Saigon Diary: Don’t Worry, Be Happy (and Safe)

Before I came to Saigon, in fact before I even left the comforts of home a year and a half ago, I was totally terrified. Terrified that I would have to come back home for some reason; maybe I would run out of money, maybe I’d have a family emergency, maybe I wouldn’t be able to continue paying my bills anymore. A long tearful chat with my mum brought me back down to earth. She told me not to worry about those things. They can all be dealt with. What I really needed to think about was my safety and well-being.

Two weeks ago, after 16 months of living and working in the city, I was the victim of a failed mugging while walking along a quiet road in broad daylight.

Wondering what we should eat – the options were endless – my friend, Claire, and I were slowly making our way to a nearby cafe when we had to step off the pavement due to some obstruction, and walk a few metres along the road. Strangely, I noticed a motorbike slowly pull up beside me. Then I felt a tugging on my bag strap, which was across me.

My primal instincts were unleashed and I screamed and tensed every muscle in my body. I wasn’t going anywhere, but the bike was already pulling away and gaining speed. I instinctively held on tight to my bag and the strap near my left shoulder to protect my neck, and pulled as hard as a could.

Ahead I could see two young men on the bike, the one at the back I noticed was holding on to a piece of my bag strap, about 15 to 20 cm. Even now I’m not sure how I escaped being dragged across that road.

I have heard so many stories of muggings from friends that I had half expected it to happen to me at some point.  Although, before the attack I found myself scoffing at the advice given to me by the locals; “hide your bag”, “put your phone in your pocket”, etc. Now I know that they have always had my best interests at heart.

A Canadian male friend of mine, a big guy, was sat at a roadside cafe when two opportunists on a bike drove onto the pavement and into the chairs of the cafe to steal his mobile phone. They got away with it.

My friend Claire told me about her friend who had been mugged in a similar way to me and ended up having severe bleeding from her neck, her bag emptied all over the road.

And of course the Vietnamese are not immune to attacks. Some time ago a woman actually had her arm hacked off just for the items she was carrying on her motorbike.

When there are two young white women taking a stroll, and one is wearing a knee-length blue and white striped summer dress with her little leather bag so tantalisingly hanging against her right hip, what gambler isn’t going to want to at least give it a try?

Safety has become my number one concern now that this has happened to me and I want to offer you an analysis of what I believe I did right and what I did wrong.

Take heed, especially any ladies reading this, and do not make the same mistakes as I.

What I did right

  • I have always worn my bag across my body, this means that if someone has the audacity to try and steal it then they have to deal with my body weight first.
  • By screaming and tensing my body I was able to immediately use the adrenaline to fight against the motion and strength of the mugger.
  • For the last 6 weeks I have regularly been going to the gym and focusing on doing weights for my back, arms and legs for the sole purpose of growing in strength for the next bout of travelling that we will be doing (and to get Michelle Obama-arms). I felt that I wanted to be able to defend myself from attacks but never truly believed that I would need to do it so soon.

What I did wrong

  • Although carrying my bag that way was a benefit, it was also to become a big huge target that made me fair game. I am now an advocate for carrying things in pockets or even better a hidden bumbag/fanny-pack. If one needs to carry larger items then DEFINITELY use a backpack. Keeping valuables out of sight is the number one priority.
  • Walking on a road, unless absolutely necessary is now completely forbidden to me. It takes someone with giant balls to ride up onto a pavement and mug.

This week I am investing in a backpack and I intend to wear it across my chest when I ride my bike. It’s substance over style for me from now on.

OK, maybe a cute brown leather backpack that will go with my blue and white striped dress…


Originally posted as ‘Safe’ on Jen Can Jump –

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