Borders


As we rode through the central highlands of Vietnam Yasmin got her bottom stroked three times by passing scooter riders. It happened alarming on consecutive days and made us nervous not to be far apart as we climbed and descended the hills. We were in remote country close to the Laos border with the gaps between towns large and mountainous. 

One of them was a boy who stupidly stopped further up the road next to some roadworks who I then confronted. It’s always difficult to know what to do in these situations particularly as Yasmin was not a 100% sure it was the same person who’d touched her. As I stopped he looked away, a give away sign, as everyone otherwise stares at us in bewilderment. I’ve no Vietnamese to say ‘don’t touch my wife’s arse’ so I just mimed that I’d seen him. He was standing with a group of men who all immediately realised that something must have happened up the road for me to have pulled over so abruptly next to him. They started to question the boy as I was clearly angry. I could only hope their queries and his embarrassment might make him think again about touching anyone inappropriately.

We couldn’t figure out why this had happened. There’d been no road incidences other than being offered heroin in the northern highlands, when two men on the back of the same scooter pulled up next to us. Was it Yasmin’s floppy hat she’d started to wear under her helmet that looked very much like all the hats lady scooter drivers wore? No idea. Was it her cycling skirt that was being so provocative? No, because she decided on the second day to wear cycling trousers. Was it because we were in border territory? Maybe.

Heading towards Cambodia the police presence on the Ho Chi Min highway increased dramatically with road blocks pulling over lorry and scooter drivers to check their paperwork. On some of these stretches of road we’d see inexplicably groups of riders standing to the side of a field only to realise, as we turned the corner, that they were waiting for the approaching road block to ‘move on’. It made us realise there was another world prevailing at the edges of a country that might have explained Yasmin’s harassment. Perhaps, in the borderlands through which we’d been travelling, social normalities are distorted by illicit trafficking effecting the behaviour of those too young enough to have known better.

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