i almost got robbed in hanoi. while walking around the lake near the historic district, a guy touted a cardboard sheet with some photos printed on it, offering something i didn't care to know. red flag! a cardboard with print, a newspaper, a menu, a petition list, or a photo being shoved in your face for attention is (almost) always a decoy. while you're struggling to see what's printed so you can vehemently say no, the guy's other hand is probably very busy picking your pocket already. if you're sitting in a cafe with your stuff on the table and someone shoves something on your face offering something, you can be sure that the guy's (or girl's) other hand is already swiping your things from the table. it bears repeating: anything being shoved in your face to grab your attention is ALWAYS a diversion so a thief can take your stuff. anyway, i saw the sign so i politely said no and walked on - but this one's pretty persistent. at one point, where there was a bigger crowd, he blocked my way so that i can't walk forward, still showing me his pictures. this was, i assumed right, step two. while he blocked my way, someone he works with was already busy trying to unzip my backpack. as i was aware of the play, i instantly noticed the guy behind me at work, yanked my bag, and walked away. at this point the guy with pictures walked even faster so he's still ahead of me, the other guy who was opening my bag ran a few meters ahead. when i saw that they haven't let go, i yelled and warned everyone to be careful because the guy's a pickpocket. at this point the thief closer to me stopped walking, so i just looked him in the eye and walked past. the other thief also stopped, stood with his back on the crowd, like he was looking at something from a distant, feigning innocence. when i walked passed him i felt the energy - conscious control of excitement, unnatural stillness.
so anyway, why let such an encounter ruin your trip, right? the photo above has nothing to do with the failed robbery - other than that it was taken in hanoi on the same night. this is supposed to be a popular cafe - on the menu, among other things, are grilled or boiled dog meat. i read somewhere that dogs can smell whether or not you've eaten dog meat before. is this true? if you know for sure and have an explanation for it, please drop me a line.
i forgot to mention that the above warning isn't just for hanoi - it's for any city when you're travelling. i remember once while in fisherman's wharf in san francisco (a tourist trap if there ever is one), amongst the thick crowd a youngish couple suddenly had a yelling row and a very public breakup. only the whole thing was so fake and staged (they really should've taken acting lessons) - everybody's attention turned to them for a couple of minutes. i wanted to yell "beware of pickpockets" but i was afraid there might be one near me holding a knife (they sometimes do, tho not usually)