Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fashionista Travels: Robbed in Ho Chi Minh City

Very recently I saw a friend posting on Facebook a newspaper article on tourists being robbed by taxi drivers in Ho Chi Minh City. 

The newspaper article that my friend had posted on Facebook. Thank you Ismandy for highlighting this article on Facebook today. 

I've always been wanting to blog about my own experience but I've kind held back from blogging about it because I did not want to re-live the experience. You may have noticed that I did not blog about my trip in Ho Chi Minh City either for the same reason. And I was only able to blog about halal food in Ho Chi Minh [click here for the link] about a year after the trip. 

Anyway, it seems that the rogue taxi drivers are getting quite aggressive so I thought it's better for me to share tips on HOW TO SPOT A FAKE TAXI DRIVER IN HO CHI MINH

Before that, let me share with you what happened. 

Us on that fateful day. 

It was the second day of our trip. We had just arrived in Ho Chi Minh the day before. We wanted to see the sights and because we had Alexa with us (traveling with a baby is definitely different compared to traveling with just your partner), we decided to join a tour. It was a whole day tour and it included lunch. Unfortunately, the lunch was not halal. We did not join their lunch but we did manage to grab some croissants and hot chocolate at Starbucks. 

The tour ended at around 4 pm. It was still early so we decided to ask the bus driver to drop us off near Ben Thanh market where we knew that halal food would be plentiful. Had some food at Salima Halal Restaurant and then we went off to Ben Thanh market in search of souvenirs. 

By 6 pm we decided to head back to the hotel. Our hotel is not that far from Ben Thanh market (perhaps about 15 minutes walk) but it had started to rain. Because of Alexa (she was sleeping in the baby carrier at the time) we decided to take a cab and immediately grabbed the one which was conveniently parked in front of Ben Thanh market. The car was painted in white and green, similar to other taxis and there was a meter on the dashboard. Hubs decided to sit in front for safety reasons (he felt that we would be more vulnerable if all of us were sitting at the back)

While the driver was driving, I noticed that the meter was moving pretty fast. That kinda got me slightly worried. And then as I was looking outside, I also realised that the windows were tinted black. Alarm bells started to go off in my head. This doesn't look right, I thought. But he had the meter and there was an ID as well on the dashboard. So I just kept quiet. 

And then he stopped by the main road (a very busy intersection) and said (in broken English), he cannot go any further. The road is packed with cars and he is unable to turn into the small road that leads us back to our hotel. He asked for payment.

Since hubs was sitting next to him, hubs asked me to pay (because I was sitting at the back, and thus at a distance to the driver). Took out money from my wallet and paid the amount on the meter. The driver got angry and said not enough. He then took all the cash that I had in my hand. 

Bear in mind, Alexa was sleeping at the time in the baby carrier. Hence, Alexa is positioned in between me and the driver. I did not know what happened to hubs because he suddenly started asking me to just give my money to the driver. It was weird for me that hubs did not seem to notice him taking my money and instead asked me to just give the driver more money. 

The driver noticed that I had more cash in my wallet. He took a newspaper and put it next to Alexa's neck. Instinctively, I feared for Alexa's life. I did not know whether there's a knife inside the folds of the newspaper and I certainly do not want to find out. However, I did push the newspaper out of the way and lo and behold, I saw his other hand underneath the newspaper and was inside the opening of my wallet. How did he do that, I don't know. But he was very smooth and cunning. I pulled away my wallet, gave him almost all the money in my wallet (you can always replace the money that you've lost but you definitely cannot replace lives) and satisfied with that, he finally allowed for us to leave the car. 

By this time, I was shaking. Hubs, unfortunately, was oblivious. Outside the cab (or fake cab) hubs asked me what had just happened. I said, I was robbed. Hubs was shocked. He thought I was arguing about cab fare (I mean, seriously? Me arguing over cab fare?). We walked slowly to our hotel and told the staff that we had just been robbed. Johny (the receptionist at our hotel) had warned us about being robbed by taxi drivers the day before, but because I was busy tending to Alexa, I only half-listened to him. And funnily enough, we got robbed just the next day. 

Now that I've gotten the story off my chest, here's how you SPOT A FAKE CAB in HO CHI MINH CITY

The city is filled with Vinasun cabs. It's the best cab (most reliable and safe). All tourists are encouraged to take only Vinasun cabs. They are very easy to spot, white and green paint, logo on top of the cab. 

Logo by the side of the passenger doors as well and company number. 

The Vinasun logo is very visible and easy to see. The phone numbers on all Vinasun cabs are the same. Vinasun cabs are not tinted at all. 

This is one of the entrances to Ben Thanh market. Behind the black car, you can see white cars parked at the entrance of the market. That was how we got into the fake taxi. We had just exited the market and (fortunately or unfortunately) there was only one cab in the vicinity. As it was raining, we jumped into the car immediately without checking the logo. We only saw shades of white and green and thought that we were in a Vinasun cab. 

And here is a fake cab. Looks similar right? Same white paint and green numbers. But it's not a Vinasun logo. Even the phone number looks almost similar. And if you notice, the windows are tinted black. 

Fake cab. Different logo. Black tinted windows. However, car paint color is almost the same to Vinasun. 

To compare, this is how a Vinasun cab looks like from the side. 

So, I hope this post has been helpful. The reason for me writing this is to ensure that you (my fellow travellers) are safe and able to differentiate between a fake cab and a legitimate cab. Despite the trauma, we went to Ben Thanh market the very next day for the one reason so that we could take photos of these fake cabbies for me could warn others on how to spot them. As Johny (our hotel receptionist) would say, just take Vinasun cabs and nothing else.

Would I go to Ho Chi Minh again? Truth be told, after that incident, I had second thoughts about traveling but now, after having Alexa join me to other countries such as South Korea, Indonesia, China and also on our many trips within Malaysia, I know that it would be very difficult for me to stop traveling. Inshaa Allah, I'll try to take extra caution the next time and make a lot of dua'a for Allah to keep us safe. That being said, if there's an option to rent a car with a driver, I'll go for that option the next time.

Alexa was only 1 year and 3 months old at the time of this trip. All praise be to Allah for keeping us safe. Although we were robbed, we were unharmed. Alhamdulillah.

Do take extra care and enjoy your holiday, peeps!

xoxo Mrs Fashionista

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mommyhood: Three Years Later

Time flies, Masha Allah. Alexa will turn three next week and here I am, amazed that we survived the past three years *phew*. Alexa is still alive and kicking, Alhamdulillah, and she has the makings of a healthy toddler and she also has transitioned well from babyhood to toddlerhood. And no, that doesn't mean that she's a docile, well-behaved toddler, but she's behaving just like a toddler would, loud, opinionated (when she wants to),stubborn, cheeky and I wouldn't want it any other way.

If I have time, one of the things I would do is to bring Alexa to the playground. It's one of the things that I know she looks forward to, she would say, "Alexa mok pegi playgeraon." Unfortunately I don't have the luxury of time (as I am sure most mothers don't have the same luxury as well) but we do what we can, don't we?

Positive signs of toddlerhood (in my opinion) includes: laughing when she's happy, fascination at the weirdest stuff (current fascination includes aeroplanes, escalators *yikes*, and talcum powder), crying out loud when she doesn't get her way (we have a 50-50 rule against this, we let her cry sometimes and we give in sometimes), singing (usually when she's enjoying the moment), stubborn when she wants something and sometimes there's drama (she even knows how to sulk *gosh*). She sometimes wants to pick her own clothes (I've told her, she's not ready for fashion) and even objects to the clothes that we pick for her (when I was smaller, my parents made me wear bright yellow pants with a bright red shirt and never did I object to that). She gets frustrated at me (I mean, seriously?) and I know that because she would have this exaggerated sigh and say, "Mommy tok eh."

I love reading to her and to be honest, I don't read out word by word, usually I just explain the illustrations and on other days, I let her explain them to me =).

Being me, I actually have a mental checklist of things that I want Alexa to learn, and I want to make sure that she has these capabilities before she starts kindergarten. Here are three of them:

Alexa at Benbino's, Publika. Love their set up and I know Alexa enjoyed herself as well. Would have enjoyed the place better if they had bigger portions (most are kid-sized portions so you kinda have to order more food). 

1. Be Happy in Her Own Skin
I think we've achieved that so far. We try (very hard) to give constructive criticism when we can. It's not easy I must say (coming from an Asian family where criticism is a culture), and so far we haven't been really successful with this (I'd say my success rate is perhaps 20 - 30%) but I do try to remind myself to say things in a positive manner instead of a negative manner. But Alhamdulillah so far she is happy and hopefully she'll learn to be confident next.
How do I know that she's happy? Firstly, she's very excited to share what she's up to. We sent her to kindergarten for a few days, she cried for the first couple of days but by the third day she came home all happy, bubbly and all excited. There were lots of singing involved on the drive home. She also has her solo playtime and she likes to play make believe with her lego toys. She gives them her milk bottle (I told her the milk bottle is too big for the lego man) and puts them to sleep (arranging them properly on the bed and putting the blanket over them and petting them to sleep).

Alexa having fun at one of the conferences which we had attended. Alhamdulillah the conference organisers do provide toys for the kids to play with which is absolutely great.

2. To Share What She Has with Others
This is a work in progress but I want her to have the ability to be kind and not be afraid to share. So far this is working only half of the time but Alhamdulillah, at least she's trying.
This is how I do it:
Whenever we go for conferences or events, I would buy/ pack a packet of crayons or color pencils and a drawing block for her. Besides that (if I remember to), I would also buy a set of stickers and a packet of balloons. Kids just love stickers and balloons. Then we would also have one or two books handy (because we hope to foster her interest in reading as well). During conferences, in the mother's room, I would have her color/ play with balloons/ stickers or read her book. Other kids would come (kids are naturally curious) and I would encourage Alexa to share her stuff with them. The first couple of times it was difficult for her to share but after the third time or so, she's more comfortable with sharing. I do notice most parents do bring toys for their kids but they are very afraid of sharing (to the point that they would tell the kids to give back Alexa's crayons/ stickers/ balloons etc).

This is us at Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan's session at Masjid Wilayah. 

Personally I feel that that is not the right approach to sharing. The best way would have been to teach the kids to ask for permission in using other people's stuff (it's the perfect occasion for it) and let them play with each other. And once the playtime is over, also encourage the kids to return whatever items that's not theirs. I feel that the parents are the best example to the kids and if we want our children to be generous and kind, we must show how generosity and kindness is practiced in front of the kids so that they can take heed.

Alexa joining my mum and me for Tafseer of Surah Al-Mulk in Shah Alam. As you can see, she always has crayons and a drawing book with her to keep her occupied during the program. As with other toddlers, she does get bored after a while (she does not do this all day). If she needs to run/ walk/ explore, I let her be and just make sure she's within eyesight.

3. Have the Habit of Asking
Kids, being kids, do not know how to ask for things and usually they will snatch the items that they want from the shelves/ other kids etc. I learnt this from a colleague of mine in UiTM when many years ago, she and her family went for visiting to our home for Eid. We had these KFC Hello Kitty figurines in our house and her kids liked them. Her kids were around 7 to 10 years old at the time. When their father saw them playing with the figurines, he asked the kids, did you ask permission? And wonderfully, the kids did ask permission before playing and they even asked if they could keep the figurines and bring them home. What I like about this is that the kids are open and honest, they liked something and they wanted to play with it. They wanted it enough to take them home. And I did give some of them to them, but not all. No tantrums, with proper thank you's and I loved the whole experience. My colleague was slightly embarrassed but to me, hey, there's no need to be embarrassed. Your kids are amazing!
So what we've done is to try and remind Alexa to properly ask for what she needs/ wants and say thank you after. It's still a work-in-progress but Alhamdulillah, she sometimes do it (and sometimes she doesn't). What matters is that we keep on teaching and reminding her to ask, and say thank you (and we show her how it's done as well).

Running to go to kindergarten. Alhamdulillah she is excited about school.

Kids are amazing, they learn the darnest things (so be careful of what you say and do in front of them) and everything is a work-in-progress. As a parent, it does get frustrating sometimes and it gets overwhelming as well. Don't give up and take baby steps together. As much as we are teaching them the necessities of life, they are also teaching us how to be a better person, inshaa Allah. Celebrate small successes and teach them the importance of trying.

Me, a work-in-progress.

xoxo Mrs Fashionista