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Saturday, 7 April 2007

More paperwork: Saigon: Vietnam

For my weapon's permit I needed authorization from the embassy. On presenting myself at the British Embassy I was informed that they did not believe in British subjects being armed. I later learnt that they possessed one Browning automatic between them. The guards at the gates were usually Ghurkas who at least had their Kukris, but these were sometimes replaced by men from the Hong Kong Regiment who had nothing. The British remained apart from the war effort as though it were not really their affair.
On going to the U.S. Embassy, who were after all my employers, I was immediately given the necessary forms, complete with the ever important stamps. These forms were in French. I can only imagine they dated from the French colonial era. The paper was old and yellowed as well. These authorized a rifle and a pistol. I imagine the rifle was for hunting and the pistol for self-defense. None of this seemed to bear any relation to the current war but at least would do for me.
Returning to the Vietnamese authorities with these I was able to recover my Smith & Wesson but not my Swedish K, but as I now had an M2 Carbine that was not important.
The Vietnamese seemed to love entangling themselves in a mass of bueaucratic paperwork. It must have been an area where they and the French had really got on. I can't imagine the average villager ever having been much bothered by it but in the towns, crowded with refugees, draft dodgers, deserters, war widows etc. paperwork seemed to pile up. Everyone had to prove who he or she was.
Coming from a country that did not have identity papers I had never felt any need to prove who I was. One of the strange aspects of this war was that in theory I was in Vietnam on a tourist visa. I had been very surprised when arriving in South Vietnam in 1965 my visa was that of a tourist. I always wondered if it were part of an American program to be able to deny having thousands of government employees in South Vietnam, or for the Vietnamese to say that despite the war they had thousands of tourists visiting their country or that that was the only rubber stamp available which would go to show the limits and stupidity of too much bureaucracy.

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