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Thursday, 8 February 2007

A new car

I managed at long last to get a car. For some reason, very high taxes I think, buying a second hand car in Vietnam was expensive. Maybe the locals didn't pay taxes , I don't know. We were able to import tax free cars, usually from Japan. The Japanese dominated the market in cars, motor scooters, and fridges etc. The word Honda became synonymous with motor scooter. The girls used to ride side saddle on the back, most elegant.
I picked up my car in Saigon, a very underpowered Mazda, delightful to drive though, and took it back to Vung Tau. Driving in Saigon for the first time was quite an experience. Over the years it played havoc with my blood pressure. I had no Vietnamese driving license and didn't bother to get one for a number of years. When I eventually started conforming I was able to exchange my Bahamian license for one. Many years after that I was able to exchange the Vietnamese one for a French one that I still have. I didn't have any number plates either. We were given special numbers begining with an X on, I think, a green plate. This of course denoted that we were part of the US war effort. When I got back to Vung Tau and had the plates made up I had a set of local plates made which I used when travelling on roads where it was wiser not to be associated with the Americans.
There were two colours of petrol, one for the military, and one for the local population. I cannot remember at that time the price of petrol ever being taken into consideration when running a car.
I was also begining to slip into my various identities. When stopped after curfew by the US military police I produced my Vietnamese identity papers. With my beard and strange accent they couldn't hold me. It rather confused them when I drove onto their airfield in a US 3/4 ton wearing my old basque berret, khaki drills, filled up with petrol and took off up country where they weren't allowed to go. When the Americans started to wear berets I switched to a bush hat.
If stopped by the Vietnamese police I would produce my US Defense Department Identity papers so they couldn't hold me either. The thing was to always confuse the enemy, friend or foe and put some doubt in their heads as to who you were.
I was to live under a curfew more or less permanently all the time I was in Vietnam. It varied according to the security situation etc. Usually in towns in periods of quiet, from midnight until five in the morning. In small towns or the countryside it could begin as early as eight. Being out after curfew was not too bad if you were recognized as a foreigner but some places were very dodgy, the Vietnamese local defense forces were very trigger happy.

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