A few days back, I shared a short story I wrote about a very sad childhood experience I had in Viet Nam. I wrote it prior to returning to my home country for the first time in 35 years, ending with contemplation about how I’d handle helping ease some of the poverty I would experience there. Specifically, it was the street children because it was street children survival brutality that I had been exposed to as a child that one day of The Pho Incident story.
I was in Sai Gon, now called Ho Chi Minh City formally, while I was in Viet Nam. I encountered a lot of poverty there. There were, of course, the street kids and street people. There were so many lottery ticket sellers everywhere that it felt like the entire country was addicted to gambling. They don’t sell lottery tickets like corporations in Canada, but rather through individuals. There were people victims of the war who never had the chance to help themselves, or whose Parents couldn’t help them. There were the disabled who weren’t taken care of by the government system. And there were just things that made me feel so many strong feelings it was like getting injected with a drug cocktail, each one of which jolted something different in you. The example that’ll always stick with me was a lady in the market giving water and food to an almost lifeless adult in a child’s body with an oversized head. I was going to give her money but my relatives informed me she was being pimped out to do this! That is, that’s not her child, and some man was taking most of the money she got! Wow…
I went to Viet Nam knowing I couldn’t “save the world”, so that I couldn’t just give money out everywhere. I was just going to have to suck it up a lot and choose a select few situations where I would. I didn’t buy the lottery tickets, as sad as those kids and adults selling them were to see. I wasn’t going to have some of my money go towards that Communist government in that way through them!
I didn’t actually end up giving a lot of street people much money, although I did give three kids in Da Lat some money while they slept. They were sitting on a curb in an alley shortcut I ended up taking to get home from the market. It was cool there, but cold to them, so they all had pulled their T-shirts over their heads and knees, and put their head between their knees to sleep. It was a devastating sight to me. Pictures would have been better than this description but I felt I’d be exploiting them if I took a picture, even though you wouldn’t have been able to see their faces. I left them each enough for 3 meals in their shorts pockets, without waking them.
Where I ultimately ended up giving lots of money were to the extended family I met for the first time there. They weren’t poor, per se, but money was tight and they had treated me real well on their own impetus and kindness. I chipped in for a lot while I was there, enough to take care of my costs, I’m sure, but I gave the rest away before I left except for $3. It was bus change on top of a ticket I’d need from the airport ride home in Halifax, and maybe a can of Coke. I had a credit card I was going to use otherwise. So it wasn’t to the poor people to whom I gave a lot, but you know, what I gave I knew was appreciated. I gave it to people who meant something to me who could use it. It helped people, was what ultimately mattered to me in the end. Maybe it’s not as noble to some as to give to the poor, but these people could do more with it than just survive for another meal or two. Ultimately, it’s my money, and I’ll do what I want with it was my rationale for my decision, and I’m very happy with it.
I also helped “give” to the less fortunate by not bargaining for anything, as I was told I should so as not to get ripped off. I gave buyers what they asked for, although I did bargain a few times for the experience. I just gave them their original asking price in the end and said it was price plus tip, with a smile and thanking bow.