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Wednesday, 25 April 2007

In search of Gunga Din. Saigon, Vietnam

I needed to get my residence permit renewed quickly with a year's visa. I decided to take up teaching. This was very far from the war but was initially just a stop gap measure. I was, though, becoming somewhat disillusioned with the Americans. I can remember walking along a street one Sunday morning seeing this very overweight American, that is with a beer belly hanging out, standing on his balcony in his underwear, holding a can of beer, in full sight of the street. I am not saying he was typical but he did typify a certain vulgarity that I found rather irritating. Before coming to Vietnam I had lived under a colonial regime where if one went to the cinema one wore a jacket and tie. If one wore swimming clothes on the beach one put on a shirt to eat at the adjacent restaurant. In my family the men never appeared unshaven at breakfast nor the women with curlers in their hair.
I had lost all taste for the low life and was begining to wonder what had interested me in the first place. Perhaps having spent so many celibate months on the out islands in the Bahamas just before arriving in Vietnam. Partly it was a question of getting naturally bored with it. When I had first arrived everything had seemed fascinating, the vibrancy and glamour of a country at war. Maybe those words seem strange now but looking back I think it was what I had been looking for during all the time I had been growing up. Searching for my own Gunga Din. I feel it was the period of the three W's. 'War, Whiskey and Women'. I also had felt it very normal for a young man to feel that way. Not for me the draft dodging hippy trail. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones had meant nothing to me. I agreed with those Americans who thought Joan Baez and Jane Fonda were akin to traitors. However after a year or two I was begining to find it all very jaded. I now have a collection of Joan Baez and rather like her singing and find Jane Fonda was more than appealing. However I still maintain that a young man owes his country one war. On returning from it he can put the political establishment in the trash can, particularly if they weren't there. I think it was Walpole who said, 'A man will always regret not having been a soldier'.
It was, I decided, a very good time to really get to know the Vietnamese.

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