It's odd the moment the man who's essentially mugging you decides to attempt friendly conversation. "So what's New Zealand like, very beautiful?" asked the conman sitting in the passenger seat next to the taxi driver. Just seconds earlier he'd reached behind and snatched a US$50 note out of my wallet as I leafed in vain for something smaller. I'd touched down in Hanoi in Vietnam and had so far done pretty much everything wrong when it comes to getting from the airport to the city.
For starters, I believed the smartly dressed man who approached me by the baggage carousel really did drive a taxi. Secondly, I inexplicably told him I had to go to the ATM before getting in his car. Thirdly, I let him put my bag in the boot rather than on the seat next to me. And fourthly, I got in the car even though he was all of a sudden not the driver, but the interpreter and tour guide I never asked for.
Alarm bells were already doing a decent chime by the time I noticed the meter spinning like a pokie machine. I knew all about artificially sped-up meters and this was definitely one. Then we pulled off to the side of the road and my friendly guide informed me of an airport highway toll.
"The same one my guidebook says is a scam and doesn't exist?" I said, holding open the relevant Lonely Planet page. "I know you're trying to scam me!" I shouted. It wouldn't have taken a rocket scientist to figure that one out. I was attempting to sound tough, but sitting in the backseat with my bag in the boot and half an hour from Hanoi, what could I do?
That was when I prayed for a misplaced couple of singular US dollars to pay the bogus toll into the pocket of the jerk in the passenger seat. As I opened my wallet he swivelled his body and in one motion, lifted a $50 note. I was pickpocketed before my very eyes. That's when the question about New Zealand scenery arrived.
No demands to get my money returned worked and when driver and faux guide dumped me about a 10-minute walk from my hotel, the fake meter told them I owed another $50.
What should've been $10 had become $100. "I'm not paying that!"
The smiling con-man responded with a grin and a line that made this otherwise even-keeled traveller feel like knocking his teeth out. "You won't get your bag back then".
Tax + Tip + Rice = Twice As Much As You Thought
Few things - save a cockroach in your fried rice* - make the eating of a meal while travelling as deflating as when you decide that this time you're really going to save money and you end up failing to do so. This always seemed to happen to me in Canada at a time in life when my adventuresome spirit was much, much larger than my wallet.
I'd have intermittent panics about how much money I was burning through and would try to cool things with cheap 'n' cheerful Thai takeaways. Planning to do my old student routine of one takeaway green chicken curry with half for dinner and the other half for lunch the next day and all for no more than $10-$12, failed approximately 100 per cent of the time while in Vancouver.
I'd look at the menu and find a dish that sounded good and it would be something like $10.95. Perfect. Only I'd without fail forget that tax would be added later. Do I have the option of not paying the tax? No! So include it in the written price please!
"Would you like rice as well sir?" Vancouver Thai takeaway establishments in the early 2010s evidently did not believe in complimentary rice. How could anyone not believe in complimentary rice?? In an increasingly uncertain world, I'd always thought that at least we could count on rice being complimentary with Asian takeaways. I was thrown.
With the tax plus the rice added, all that would be required was the tip. And the one thing I'd actually belatedly remember about this repeated exercise of financial amnesia was that you'd never get offered any change back from your $20 note. Good times.
*Cambodian highlands, 2010.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's The Two, Coast Soul on Coast and on iHeartRadio and writes the music and travel blog RoxboroghReport.com.