During a trip to Laos my wife, Gloria and I, had an…episode, in a river. She came out no worse for wear, but I ended up losing my sandals and glasses. Luckily, our next destination was Da Nang, in Vietnam where we could get a replacement pair.
After finding a hotel on China Beach, we jumped in a cab, and communicated/pantomimed to our driver what we wanted. In the heart of Da Nang on a busy corner, we arrived at a very impressive optometrist shop where a large variety of glasses were displayed in the windows. Four pretty girls, all wearing glasses, were wiping down the counters, trying hard to look busy.
As soon as we stepped in, the optometrist, a young man, clad in a short white lab coat, eagerly ushered us inside, an air of desperation evident in his manner. I don’t think he’d had a customer all day. My first concern was if he accepted Visa. I’d exchanged for a bit of Vietnamese Dong and didn’t care to walk around with a pile of notes. With 20,000 VND to the dollar, exchanging $50 USD made me a millionaire. He didn’t speak much English but did recognize the credit card and nodded enthusiastically. Good.
A tabletop machine analyzed my vision in 30 seconds. I picked out some frames, agreed on the price, and he pointed to his watch indicating how long it would take. Gloria and I stood outside watching the city bustle and noted few Vietnamese wore glasses. On closer inspection, the shop girls had no lenses in theirs.
Twenty minutes later the glasses were ready to roll. I plunked down my Visa card on the counter. He looked at it for a long moment as if he’d never seen it before, then winced slightly and shook his head.
“Hey, you said was good,” I stated.
“Visa for Dong. Go bank,” he responded.
“He wants you to get cash thru your Visa at a bank,” said Gloria and shook her head.
“Aha, I have U.S. dollars,” I said fumbling in my money belt.
“No, no take,” he said. ”Go bank.”
“U.S. dollars?” I discovered later that Vietnam doesn’t trust U.S. greenbacks. I swept an arm toward the outside and shrugged my shoulders. “Where is bank?”
His shoulders slumped. A look of alarm crossed his face as I walked to the door.
He held up a finger, indicating one minute. He returned with two motorbike helmets and handed me one.
“Go bank,” he said.
Clearly, the optometrist wasn’t about to let me out of his sight. Gloria and I exchanged glances and chuckled. I said a silent prayer hoping the Vietnamese were saner drivers than Cambodians.
The optometrist held out a palm to Gloria signifying for her to stay. With my wife as collateral, we buzzed away on a Yamaha through Da Nang traffic. Although the Vietnamese obeyed most traffic laws, they were not to be trusted.
We pulled up to an ANZ bank. Employees inside craned their necks to watch the lab coat and tourist dismount.
Inside, I presented an American $100 bill to a female teller.
She caressed it and flipped it around a few times, then said, “Passport.”
“For a cash exchange?”
She pushed it back to me and gave me a blank look.
I turned and headed for the door, seeing the look of bliss on the optometrist’s face outside, images of Dong floating in his head.
He grinned and began to put on his helmet.
“No money, need passport.”
He deflated and then drew in a long breath. “Where passport?”
“Hotel. China Beach.”
He let out a long breath. We zipped off to China Beach 10 minutes away, his white lab coat flapping in the wind like Super Optometrist.
Staff at my hotel gawked at us as we strolled in. They weren’t about to give up my passport so easily, as it’s law for them to hold it. Super Optometrist explained, promising to bring it right back. We zoomed back to the bank.
At the bank, I proudly presented my passport to the teller, handed her a 100 USD note and instantly became a multi-millionaire. We zipped back to the shop where I counted out a stack of Dong to the optometrist and received a relieved smile.
“About time,” said Gloria. “I worried what would happen to me if you didn’t come back.”
“You’d probably end up working here–wearing real glasses.”