Stolen Identity. Hanoi, Vietnam.

11 Dec

Wanted adventure.  Got adventure.

Entire identity was stolen from me last night. Passport. Visa. Credit cards. Driver’s license. Cash… You name it. Gone. All in the name of shopping. The first time I’ve shopped since I left the land of free press.  BAM.  Talk about buzz kill.

I’m sitting at the US Consulate’s office in Hanoi, Vietnam. Waiting.  Thought now is a good time to start chronicling these last 18 hours.

The US Consulate’s office is what you imagine. Grey blue walls. Gray tile floors. Obama, Hilary and Joe all staring at me – smiling. I’m not taken much comfort in their rosy disposition.  Instead, I want to cry. I need to cry. I feel it in my throat. The enormity. The violation. It’s settling in.

Last night was just adrenaline. Today is –oh shit. I’m in a wanna-be Communist Country with out an identity. I keep pushing my mind to the positive. God is good. I mean, I could be in Russia. I could be in jail in Russia. They they imprison you for being without a passport.

I keep going to the positive.   Well, I could be in China. I could be in a jail in China where I would be a just another faceless number buying my time.

God is good. I’m in Vietnam. This capitalistic communist country recognizes tourist dollars are needed for their economic survival. I’ve got that on my side. God is good.

So, what happened. How in the world am I seeing the inside of one of our nation’s consulates  in a country we terrorized only 35+ years ago.  It goes back to shopping. Two main points here. Vietnam is on sale. And, US dollar is one degree stronger here than other Asian countries. Oh, I almost forgot, the post office is in walking distance from my hotel. The shopping stars aligned. So, I took to the markets to spend US dollars.

Wait. The US Consulate’s office is blasting God Bless America over the sound system. They have a video of clean, happy Americans eating pie, BBQ, riding motorcycles, drinking beer and smiling. Who are these people? I want to be them right about now. Kudos to the video editor for it looks like the US is diversity sensitive. I look around. Is anyone watching the video? I’m the only one. Have tears in my eyes. I love our country. I’m soooo ready to cry right now.

Back to yesterday.

Of COURSE, I was pick-pocketed five minutes away from my hotel. Just bought a bowl with a hole for chop sticks. Yes, liking the chop sticks thing…. I paid with cash. Put my mini-wallet in my backpack. Walked out of shop with three bags. Meandered down the street looking at counterfeit Northface jackets and Gucci shoes. Cruised into the hotel lobby. Reached for my purse. Noticed my zipper was slightly open. Hmmmm.. Yes, I did the hmmmm thing. Felt heart start to race. Felt light headed. Felt sweat. Body going straight into adrenaline mode before I even reached for my bag. Spirit knew I was FUUUU before the mind did.

Breathing got labored. I started to wave my hands next to my face, thinking it would cool me. I took a deep breath and went into search and destroy mode. Dumped everything on the hotel lobby marble floor. Two mini-Vietnamese front desk girls looked on in horror. Words have not been uttered yet. Just crazy flapping of the arms and shit spilled on the floor. I look up at them and bellowed, “Call Ang now. Call Ang. Call Ang. Call tour operator. Passport stolen. Need him here now. OK?”

Within seconds, I’m out the door. Walking as fast as possible – if not jogging – back to the last store. Trying to navigate motor-bikes, taxis, bikes and walkers. At this point, I didn’t care if I were hit because I would feel NO pain. I’m now sprinting. Within minutes, I’m back at the shop. I walked in calmly. I wanted to see the expression of the girls’ eyes – afraid or questioning. If it’s afraid, they are going down. If it is innocently curious, then they are scratched off my “who done it” list. By now, I had a long list for everyone I passed on the street are guilty.

The two girls were helping another customer. One waved. The other smiled and walked over.  They are excited to see me.  They don’t have it. I hastily ask about my wallet? They look frightened now for their store will possibly be named in a police report.  No longer my problem.

I sprinted out the door. I’m actually surprised I found the shop for Hanoi is one big cluster of streets, markets, shops and traffic. Each street looks and sounds the same. Run down French architecture and a lot of honking. I spied a $3 pedicure place. Damn, I wanted to get a pedicure, but now can’t because I have NO money. Not even $3! I’m screwed…

I’m back at the Hotel Serenade in minutes. I shouted, “Where is Ang? Call him? Where is he?”  I called Tour-Burn and asked him for Ang’s number. No, I did not have his number for it was in my WALLET. The front desk lady handed me the phone.  She was clearly frightened of me. I told Ang what happened. Twenty-six year old appeared at the lobby minutes later.

By this point, I’m back in my room. For whatever reason, the hotel hooked me up with an AWESOME room overlooking the streets of Hanoi. Big king size bed and over-sized tub. But, no internet connection. How do I know? Well, I called the front desk. Raised my voice in hysteria about “no internet connection.”

Seconds later the hostess at the restaurant appeared with a cable cord in one hand and hot water for tea in the other. Why can’t it be vodka. After she fiddled with my computer, she declared “Room no internet. Near street and far from router. Cable no good.”

It did not makes sense but I had a solution.  I will take Magic Jack and the 1980’s phone from Wal-Mart to the lobby and work off their computer. I had to call the bank to cancel my life line of $$ and have them reissue new cards ASAP.

It’s around 7 pm. I’m seated in the hotel lobby with my 1980’s phone. French tourists were walking in from a day of touring. They were loud. Ang is sitting next to me –just watching. He won’t leave my side, yet has zero solutions so far. I ask, “I’m sure this has happen before. This is common, no?”   He responds, “First time happen to me… Vietnam is very safe…” Great. Got a newbie here.

On the phone with USAA ATM hotlink. I’m mentioning their name because I’m floored. Here it goes… This is after hours lady…

Me: “Hi. I’m a USAA member. Bank with you. I’m in Vietnam and had my passport, ATM and credit cards stolen. I need for you to cancel my ATM and reissue me a new one.”

ATM gal: “Wow. That is terrible? Where are you?”

Me: “Vietnam. Hanoi. Capital City. Yes, it’s bad. Can you please stop my ATM.”

ATM gal: “Not a problem. I will take care of it. Your new card should arrive between 14 to 21 business days.”

Me: Pause. Shake my head. Brain was screaming, NOT AN OPTION. “That will not work. I need for you to FedEx the new card immediately. I need you to overnight it.  It must be here in 2 days. I leave Hanoi for Saigon in 2 days. ATM is the ONLY way to get any money. Don’t forget, I’m in Vietnam.”

ATM gal: “With international express mail, I can’t guarantee you when it will arrive. You didn’t carry checks?”

Me: Did ATM gal really just ask me about CHECKS? All credibility just flew OUT the door. “Yes, you CAN guarantee international shipping. Fed Ex has a tracking system. Their whole business model is based on the premise of getting random stuff to people anywhere in the world in matter of hours or days – not weeks or months. You pay up the nose. But, they will get it to you. I think there is some confusion here. I need my ATM fast. I need for FedEx to deliver it to my hotel in 2 days. I leave in 2 days…”

ATM gal: “You will need to call Fed Ex.  Do you have a pen.  It’s 1-800-Go Express. It’s an easy number. Tell them you have the $8 option. That is what USAA uses…”

Me: “$8 option? I will pay the $80 option….. And, don’t I need a tracking number before I call them……. And, what I’m hearing you say is if I call this 1-800 number and say “$8” option they will know what I’m talking about? Look… I need my ATM. And, you are a military bank – you have people living all around the world. I’m SURE you can send cards to people within days… I’m positive..”

ATM gal: “Let me check for you. It looks like we can’t guarantee it but there is a chance we can get it there in 4 to 5 business days. So, we’re looking at next week sometime. Do you have a physical address?”

I think to myself. FedEx ships on the weekend too. Has this lady missed the memo on international shipping? And, does she realize she works for an international bank, not some community bank in farm-town USA where Fed-Ex stands for former Federal employees? Yep. This is what you get when working with the after hours on call folks. I WILL be calling back.

Now, I needed to think through dates. Where in the hell where will I be in 4 or 5 days. I don’t even know what day it is. My bottom has been glued to a bike seat for 3 days and, after that, I’ve been trekking for another 3 through the jungles and rice fields of Vietnam. It could be Thanksgiving for all I know. Mind is calm. The day Tuesday pops in my head. It’s the 17th. So, in 4 days, I will be in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in route to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Couldn’t get any less civilized right about now. And, I’m not staying at a star hotel with a reputable name. So, sending my cards to a random, no star hotel in Ho Chi Minh or Phnom Penh was not an option.

I turned to Ang. I needed to make this kid useful. I asked, “Hey, does your company have an office in Ho Chi Minh?”

He said, “Yes. We do.”

I responded, “Write down the address. Do they speak English there? And, is it a physical location or just a PO box….”

He answered my zillion in one questions. Who knew I could come up with so many questions about an office location… “speak English? Receptionist speak English? Manger at this location? Telephone work at all times…Back up generator during power loss… Open on weekends? Hours of operations? Do they understand what signing for mail means? Have they heard of Fed Ex? Do they have the authority from their manger to sign????” Questions kept coming until I felt assured that this travel agency, Handspan Travel, can handle the signing and holding of an envelop with precious goods. Yes, Tall Girl is still in control, bully mode..

I get back to ATM lady.

Me: “I got an address for you in Ho Chi Minh. Yes, that is right. They use both Saigon and Ho Chi Minh. Today, we’re using Ho Chi Minh…. What do you mean the computer won’t let you put in Ho Chi Minh…what do you mean there is not enough lines for the address…what do you mean the address defaults to ‘Street’… what do you mean that the phone number does not fit…”

Yes, this was the call. So, in my mind, I will never see the ATM card. I need to think of another option. Next was the call to the credit card side to shut down my card. Another dozy. I never thought getting a credit card would be SO impossible. They give them out to students at college campuses. My word, they were mailing them to us when Enron was crashing. Giving them out to people who can’t pay, yet can’t get it to those that can pay. And, you wonder why they are in such a mess. Shock city. Focus.

Call with credit card lady at USAA went something like this…

CC lady: “Glad you are OK. Of course we can stop payment on your credit card and reissue you a new one. Do I send it to your home address listed in the system?”

Me: “No. I said I’m in Vietnam, not Winter Park, Florida. I need it sent to me in Vietnam….that should not be a problem for you are a military bank. An international bank with clients living all around the world. And, credit cards seem to fly by themselves. So, I’m confident there will be NO problem getting me my new credit card in 2 days…”

CC lady: “It normally takes longer. It will be in for an emergency credit card with Master Card. It’s up to them on when they process and send it to you. We ship by FedEx and you should have it in 7 business days.”

Are these people mad? I’m mean REALLY!!!! I have NO money. Nothing. Not a cent. I’m thinking of opening up a Viet-Comm banking account right about now. I’m thinking they can get me a card in an hour, not days and days and days. Unreal.

ME: “What I don’t understand is you are an international bank. And, you can’t get me a new card faster. I need this expedited. I will pay.”

Turns out, she can get it to me – NOT guaranteed” in 3 to 4 business days, if I’m lucky. Turns out that her system allows enough room for the address, but not enough room for the company name. Computers…. UGH. I hung up and decided I will be looking for a new bank. Citibank is everywhere.  This is truly ridiculous. I have no money. Need to figure out $$. So, who do you turn to in crisis situations, DADDY!

I called Dad. It’s after 7 am there. He’s up. He’s probably at work. I got him before he walked out the door. I tell him the situation. Calm, cool and collected, he says, “I’ll wire you money. Western Union. No problem.” What is it about Dad’s and daughters? They have that gene to solve problems of hysterical, emotionally wrecked daughters who are sitting penniless in communist countries.  I felt confident I would be seeing the green back by the next day. Love DADDY!

Ang gets a call from his agency. He informs me that a woman from Handspan Travel will be at the hotel at 8 AM to take me to the US consulate’s office and local police department. Told me not to worry. By this time, I’m not worrying about anything. All I wanted was a beer and some rice. It’s out of my hands. I am no longer in control. Bully, demanding, I’m in control of everything Amanda has been purged. And, it SUCKS. So need a drink because the next 48 hours will be a wild ride.

Ang, Tour-burn and I head to dinner. We opted for a restaurant with windows and chairs over 2 feet tall. I ordered steam broccoli with my dinner. They brought me steamed cabbage. I told Ang – this is not what I ordered. I’m in a mood. Over it. And, I’m fighting for my steamed veggies tonight.

Ang and the waitress go at it. I mean, he is attacking her. She’s attacking him. They get the menu out. I just watch. Mind is checked out. Mind is in a far away place. Ang finally says, “They fry broccoli, not steam. Only steam cabbage.” This would NOT fly in the states. I just nod. Reached for the soy sauce, chillies and chop sticks, and began to consume my steamed cabbage.  No need to ask questions, just salt the shit and move on.

Back at the hotel, I crawled into my super-sized bed. Can’t sleep. Mind races to random places. Somehow my neurons find their way to V-nam police station.  And, V-nam immigration offices…. I think I slept about 2 hours. So, I was emotionally primed when I met – who would later become my travel angel… The adventure continues…

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