Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Have you had your bag snatched yet?

If there's one thing that really bothers me as a white woman living in Saigon, it's the bag snatching and petty crimes against foreigner women that are often accidentally quite violent.  It's not losing stuff that's the issue - though losing stuff is inconvenient and upsetting.  It's the fact that people are often injured as their assailants try to make a quick getaway.

  • Like my friend who told me about getting her bag ripped from her shoulder by a motorcyclist as she walked down Ham Nghi. And then dragged along the road. 
  • Or another woman who wrote about having her bag - again - taken by a motorcyclist, this time while she was riding a bicycle, and being pulled head over handlebars onto the road. 
  • Another friend of mine was not injured but very shaken and upset when her bag was cut from her person in Pham Ngu Lao.  Here to work as a volunteer for three weeks, she cut her trip short and left for home early after losing all her money, her camera and her phone.

As is often the case with crimes against women, the victims all blame themselves as much as their attackers. "I shouldn't have carried my bag like that." Or, "I shouldn't have had so much stuff in it". "I should have been more careful".

And while it's true that there are some things we can do to minise losses when - nobody deserves to be attacked in such a way. Furthermore, while holding your bag differently might give you some protection, the real beacons for these scum are the things about us we can't change -the way we look, the way we dress, our very foreignness.

So far, I have been lucky and nothing bad has happened to me. But in my head I think - nothing bad has happened to me - YET, and that it is only a matter of time. And so, I am often afraid to walk around the streets alone and very nervous about my bag, and my manner - careful to stay alert.  And it really, really bothers me that this has to be the case.

Downtown in the tourist areas there are police absolutely everywhere, and yet these crimes are happening every day and nobody is doing anything about it. The tourist police on the street corners help pretty, skimpily dressed Korean girls cross the road and completely ignore fat older people like me.  Outside the Tax Centre the other day there were 6 different fake Mai Linh taxis lined up, and police standing on the corner watching hapless tourists getting ripped off.

It all makes me very grumpy because I genuinely love living in Saigon and really wish I didn't have to feel so paranoid every time I leave the house.

Anyway, this is what I do to protect myself and my possessions on the street.
  • Men's clothes have pockets, so boys can much more easily get away with not carrying bags. But - I have LADY POCKETS. 
 No - that is not me! I'm a brunette, remember?
  • I usually have my money in one and my cellphone in the other. So that I can get home, and call someone in an emergency. And amuse taxi drivers. Maybe you don't have enough  room in there for a cellphone and so I prove there are advantages to being a bit of a fatty. Geez - I could practically fit a cellphone from 1992 in mine.
  • And that's another reason why I like the slightly padded t-shirt bras - not so many edges show. 
  • I carry ugly bags. Like backpacks. I know beautiful bags are cheap here, but it's an extra temptation - the bag itself becomes something to steal. 
  • If it has a long strap, I wear my bag around my body, and keep one hand on it. 
  • When I remember, I carry my bag on the shop side - not the road side.  It's actually not easy to keep away from the roads in Saigon so this tip is of limited value, but it's just another thing to do. 
Actually, probably these precautions do very little to reduce the likelihood of something happening to me, but it makes me feel better and more confident going out on the street.

Finally - we are here to live - not to hide!  Don't let them win. GO OUT. Live your life.


  1. Hoorah for lady pockets! What do you do with coins though?

  2. Ah well - Vietnamese money is all paper. The smallest denomination in paper notes is 500 dong - which is the equivalent of about 3c NZ. There are coins around up to 5,000 dong (29c) but they're rarely used. When I do get a coin I usually leave it is a tip. I've got a small pile of coins in a bowl at home waiting for when I get my ceramic money pig (ARE YOU READING THIS HUSBAND!!!).

  3. Great Post! I have had a necklace snatched off my neck while driving once. They guy hit me in the chest so hard to get my necklace (a cheapy fake gold chain) that my first reaction was to hit him back! I punched him in the face so hard I had his teeth marks on my hand! He even dropped my necklace! Mind you I remained on my bike the whole time.

    I also had my work bag stolen out of my bikes basket while I was driving a few weeks later. Unfortunately it was the one time I actually had a little bit of money and my ATM card in my bag. It really sucked. My husband was actually right behind me on his bike when it all happened and took off after the guys. NOT a smart move. they usually work in teams and will knock you off your bike if you chase. they were much to fast for my husband, and got away, and fortunately Gavin was safe and sound.

    Remember this does not only happen to foreigners. I have watched Vietnamese women get robbed right in front of me, and know plenty of Vietnamese people who have had their computer bags and purses stolen while driving. I also have hear about many cases when the people have died due to falling off their bike as they're getting robbed. Recently that happened to a RMIT Student.

    Always watch your bag here! But I agree, don't hide! get out there and do stuff, just be smart about it!

  4. They snatch anything that is snatch-able. So, not just purses but also cellphones, cameras, necklaces, earrings, hats, etc. Sad but true. It's a dangerous world out there.

  5. after seeing a friend loose her handbag i got myself into the habit of carrying my wallet or change purse sometimes both inside my bra cup. cell phone also. i dont care if the corners show and they do or what people think. its the safest way i know to carry my money and valuables. i even do this if i have pockets. its a habit that i have and will continue with me.