Lost and Found in Hanoi

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I will write and post more about my recent holiday in North Vietnam as soon as I get my photos sorted – but something significant happened to me in Hanoi that I thought deserved its own post.

So I lost my cellphone in Hanoi. My brand new, 3-month old Sony Xperia that I waited for almost a year to get.

Gone. Just like that.

But there’s more to the story than just that. A long one.

We had just returned from our 9-hour sleeper train ride from our incredible adventures in Sapa. Getting off the train, I took out my cellphone to take a photo of the morning scene at train station, and put it back into my pocket. We hailed the nearest cab the moment we walked out of the station (or more like the cab driver hailed us) to head back to our hotel in Hanoi.

***Hanoi travel tip: If you’re travelling in small numbers, try to get the smaller cabs, they run at a cheaper rate. But don’t worry, travelling by cab isn’t very expensive there – every cab adheres strictly to the metre regardless of distance – something our local cab scene should emulate.***

As we checked into our rooms to freshen up before boarding the next bus that would take us to Ha Long Bay, I realized my pocket was unusually empty. I searched through my bags and pocket thoroughly before confirming that the worst had happened.

The two possible scenarios were:

  1. I was pickpocketed at the busy train station; or
  2. my phone had slipped out of my pocket whilst we were in the cab.

Using one of my friend’s phone, I tried calling mine to see if a stranger might pick it up and return it to me. However, the fully-charged phone responded with the typical “The number you have called is not available” tone. Being Malaysian, I had to learn to accept that my phone was gone for good.

After some consolation hugs from my travel buddies, I sucked it up and decided to not let it ruin the rest of the holiday. When we were ready, we headed to the lobby to await for our ride to Ha Long. The cheerful receptionist greeted us and asked us how our trip was so far, and I decided to tell her about the unfortunate incident that had just occurred.

Whatever followed, blew my mind.

Receptionist: (In her Vietnamese accent) Do you know where the taxi stop?

Me: Just opposite of the hotel, the other side of the road. He did an illegal turning.

Receptionist: We have camera outside the hotel, maybe we can see the taxi. Can you follow me?

My friend Eddy and I followed her to what we think is the control room. After speaking several sentences in Vietnamese to her staff, everyone suddenly transitioned into CSI-mode. One guy began to run the surveillance tape of the camera, and another opened the famous Google search page on his PC, while the receptionist continued to ask us more questions.

We managed to rewind and freeze the scene where the cab appeared, but the image was too blur to confirm the cab company’s logo at the side of the cab door. Next thing we knew, more Vietnamese sentences began to spew across the room which took us a minute to find out that they were guessing the name of the cab company. The Google guy started searching for the nearest matching cab logo but no one knew for certain what it was.

Our ride to Ha Long arrived, and we knew we had to go. I apologized to the receptionist and thanked her for her efforts, and told her that it was alright if they couldn’t track the cab company.

And then she said the darnest thing.

Receptionist: Don’t worry, you go to Ha Long. We will call every taxi company to find for you. You come back here for good news.

If I hadn’t been groggy and blur from the train ride, I swear I would’ve cried right there and then. Not because I lost my phone, but because of the overwhelming kindness that was shown from a mere stranger.

After two awesome days at Ha Long Bay, we were back at the Hanoi hotel. To be honest, I had almost forgotten about my phone as we were having such a great time (there’s no WiFi on the junk boat, I had my DSLR with me, we were captured by the beauty of Ha Long at sunset and we were too busy star-gazing at the top deck of the ship at night).

The same cheerful face greeted us at the counter, but fell sullen when she told me that they found out the cab that took us that day belonged to an illegal, unregistered company – so there was no way they could track it down. I think she was surprised when I was still smiling despite the news.

I told her that coming from Malaysia, I was trained to accept that my phone is gone for good right from the start. My friend Natasha painted the perfect scenario of what would’ve taken place if the same thing was to happen back in our homeland:

Me: Kak, phone I dah hilang… mungkin tercicir dalam teksi… (Sis, I’ve lost my phone, I might have dropped it in the cab…)

Receptionist: Oh, iye ke? Ala… kesiannye… (Oh, really? Oh dear, that’s too bad…)

And it would’ve ended right there. Unless you have blonde hair and blue eyes, you may still have a chance to get a free room upgrade as a consolation or something.

But no. I was in Hanoi. An Asian, in another foreign Asian country (which is about thirty years behind Malaysia in terms of progress), where we look alike, but we were still treated like honorary guests. And for three days, they tried locating my phone. They called all the cab companies. They were sympathetic, and they did something about it.

It didn’t matter that my phone was not found – what mattered was some strangers who owed me nothing tried to find it. They were earnestly trying to help me, and they were genuinely sad when they couldn’t.

And this isn’t limited to the hotel staff at Hanoi. We realized that throughout our week spent in North Vietnam, we have not once encountered a self-centred (or fat – more on that in the next post) Vietnamese.  We were constantly surrounded by kind, positive-thinking people. I think that was truly the highlight of our entire trip.

I may have lost my phone in Hanoi, but I found something that money can’t buy.

I’ve found the true meaning of compassion.

3 Replies to “Lost and Found in Hanoi”

  1. That really sucks, losing your HP — but how the receptionist handled it has renewed my faith in humanity. Thanks for sharing this, dear.

    PS. Those telephone cables like webs in Hanoi: How I miss them! (Visually, I mean. In practice, er…)

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