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Tuesday, 27 February 2007

The Outsider. Vietnam memories

The Outsider, or the stranger or the foreigner. Whatever term Camus was expressing applied to me. One who did not fit in. I had been in the country for more than two years, but I was still a resident of the Bahamas, which was my base and I considered my home.
I had never felt so much a foreigner than during the first Tet, the Chinese or Vietnamese New Year. This had been a great holiday amongst the Vietnamese before their various wars, often lasting weeks amongst the well off. Even during the war it was a three day festival with a general easing of curfews. A great family get together where all outsiders were excluded. I had heard a lot about it and expected much and then what. Imagine walking along a snow encrusted road in Europe or the States , parties and family reunions going on in every house but you who are the stranger and have no friends, go back to a lonely hotel where not even the bar is open.
I had made some friends though, my personal relationships, although somewhat tempestious at times, had progressed. I had become acclimatised. I enjoyed the food, the work, and life in general but was still largely unmoved by the suffering of the people. Indeed I think I was going through a period of extreme callousness where my emotions had been switched off.
There was an incident many years later which might best express it. It was at the Cirque Sportif Club in Saigon. I was reading my newspaper, perhaps having a drink and smoking my pipe, behaving as any French or British member of a colonies elite might have been doing. I heard a noise and looked around and saw a waiter had collapsed unconscious on the floor. I calmly went back to reading my paper as if it was not my affair and did not even raise an eyebrow. This was a complete detachment from others suffering. Earlier, when I had not been in the country a few months I had been quite willing to go and help the victims of some road accident or Viet Cong mine if you remember from one of my earlier stories. I had become very hardened.

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