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Sunday, 29 April 2007

The face of war, Tan Dinh. Saigon: Vietnam

There was this café in Tan Dinh which made quite the best pho. I've never had any like it since. I think one of the reasons was it was the only dish served and perhaps the fire was never put out. My grand mother used to keep a pot of soup cooking the whole winter around the time of the First World War. The best food in Vietnam was usually in small places, often very dirty, that specialised in a particular dish or in this case noodle soup.
I often stopped there for a beer on the way home. This was the inevitable '33'. I must have become accustomed to the taste over time. It was also very strong with a piece of ice to cool it. The block of ice usually broken into lumps on the floor where people walked to and from the kitchen and toilets. The beer also helped to numb the mind concerning certain sanitary practices. When I had arrived in Vietnam years before I refused to use the ice, not trusting the water.
There was usually a street vendor in the area who sold slices of squid cooked over charcoal. This had a cheesy taste and went very well with the beer.
One evening I heard a 'tap, tap, tap' approaching. As it got nearer a silence fell around my immediate area. 'Tap, tap, tap'. The owner of the establishment had a worried look on her face. 'Tap, tap, tap'. I recognised it as the sound of a blind man's stick. I also felt a certain apprehension. One had the impression that doom was approaching. I wanted to move, but suddenly he was there. He was wearing old army green fatigues. Rather thin, he was walking slowly but steadily along the pavement, his body upright but full of a terrible intensity of hatred. His stick was tapping the way for him. He had a military cloth cap on his head which was pulled down the front of his face so that the peak covered his chin. His face was hidden. One immediately knew that he not only couldn't see but his face was too hideously mutilated to be seen. I have never known a single person, and blind as well, to spread such an aura of dread around him. I could see it in the looks of the people near me.
Then he was gone and life returned to normal, but one could never escape the after effects of the war.

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