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Sunday, 28 January 2007

The road from Saigon.

I forget why I was in Saigon. I imagine it was to see some girl I'd met before I was posted to Baria. I must have stayed overnight and had to get back that evening to be ready for duty the next day. It was too late to get a flight so I did the obvious thing and took a taxi. There were cars with chauffeurs one could hire. Big powerful American cars. There were French cars with seats for eight or ten people where one could buy a place. But I had only been in the country a month or two and I didn't know this. So I took a Saigon taxi, a venerable old Renault 4cv. The driver had vaguely heard of Vungtau and as I offered a lot of money he agreed to take me.
All went well down the Bien Hoa highway. It had theoreticaly three lanes in either direction. Or at least I think it did because in practise the concept of lanes was alien to the Vietnamese mind. Let's just say that there were two flows of traffic going in opposite directions. Flows made up of every conceivable type of transport imaginable overtaking on your left or right, no matter. From big US duce and a halfs all the way down to overladen motor scooters. The inevitable three-wheeled-scooter-powered-taxi-cum-all-purpose-goods-transport. The only thing I never saw were tanks. They did appear from time to time but then everything else vanished. I've never been down that twenty (?) mile stretch of highway without seeing a major, often fatal accident.
After the highway we passed by rubber plantations of sinister reputation. In the heat of the day rubber plantations are delightfuly cool. But they feel really spooky. Too many things have happened in them to ever enjoy being there. This area would later be the responsibility of Thai soldiers. Mostly known for having very effectively shelled there own base.
Evening was drawing to a close and the car's radiator started giving cause for trouble. The driver kept on getting out to go and find water in what were probably the beginings of the mangrove swamps. Night falls suddenly in the east and suddenly it was dark. The Renault either had no lights or the driver chose not to advertise our presence by using them; the darkness was total.

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