Monday Feb 15 Saigon

Written by Jack van Ommen on February 15th, 2010

It is very easy to spend a couple of months travelling through Indo China to all the usual tourist spots and not find out much about what’s really going on beyond the tourist scene. Your conversations are usually with other tourists along the way. A level closer is with foreigners who are living here, many married to Indo Chinese women. That’s with whom I spent most of the day with today. The next level is with the locals but that takes more language skills/time. A few things I learnt today, one of which that there is still a marked difference between Hanoi and Saigon. The northeners are politically still much more in step with the gospel according to Ho Chi Minh whereas the Cochinois take that most with a grain of salt and like to poke fun at the rigidity of the Tonkinois. When I was here in 2006 every boat larger than a rowboat flew a Vietnamese ensign. Now more than half of the boats in the Mekong Delta have done a way or fly a tattered remnant of a Vietnamese flag. In Hanoi and Halong Bay they still fly one on every floating object.

The owner, Mike, of the breakfast only restaurant on the corner here had time to talk to me because I was the only customer, for once. He is 5 years younger and was trained in California, when I was serving here in the early sixties, for the Vietnamese army. He managed to get out to the U.S. after the fall of Saigon in 1974 to California but came back 10 years ago. Next I stopped to see my Vietnamese/American repatriate friend  Mike, for coffee. He pointed out to me that the urchins who are panhandling here this week have been brought in from Cambodia, to take advantage of the repenting Vietnamese wanting to make Buddha happy. Later on, in the area around the hotel I saw new little beggars, I had never seen before. They do not understand Vietnamese but just grunt out some  basal noises.

My third stop for the morning was at Sheridan’s Irish Pub to meet Thomas Hutchings.  A second generation Dutch Canadian, Fred Wissink, I met earlier in Saigon suggested I meet Thomas. Hutchings spent also a year and a half in a U.S. Airforce intelligence unit at Tan Son Nhut in the early seventies. He has been living here for the last 8 years. He is a free lance photographer and has had two books published, fictional stories based on his Vietnam experiences.  He is also a columnist for the local  Saigon Business Weekly.  http://www.thomas-hutchings.com Thomas introduced me to another U.S. Vietnam veteran living in Saigon, Gil Simpson. We talked for a couple of hours. I enjoyed their company very much. Monday afternoon I decided to apply for a seat with the group of ex-patriate French men who gather in the restaurant just next to my hotel.  Philippe a Breton, from Skrelder. This is the same spot where my friend Philippe Blochet is from. The single handed sailor I wrote about in my Blue Water Sailing magazine article. Philippe’s Vietnamese wife used to work for the security section of the new Vietnamese government and he had some interesting stories on how the few foreigners in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon till deep into the eighties were being shadowed and all their contacts being interrogated. Fabrice a young Parisian. Joelle from Lausanne. A couple from Cannes, regular returning tourists like myself, Bernard and  Anne Marie.  This, now Tuesday, morning I shared a table with Michael a British Australian from Melbourne. He had spent time in the British army in Vietnam in 1954, at age 18, before Dien Bien Phu. I had a chance to see Iris off Sunday evening, she found me next to the hotel and we had a beer together. She had just come in from Dalat and had stopped in Hue, Hoi An and Nhatrang. She flew back to Maryland early Monday morning.

I am taking the sleeper bus to Nha Trang this evening and plan to be back to Saigon for at least three days or more before I fly back to Seattle on or around the 23rd of March. This will also depend on my Visa extension/renewal.

At Sheridan's Irish Pub

At Sheridan's Irish Pub

 

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