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Saturday, 21 April 2007

Settling in at Tan Dinh. Saigon, Vietnam

The house I rented in Tan Dinh was very bright, airy and agreable. It had recently been redecorated and it had a clean bathroom and toilet, not always easy to find. There was a school opposite. Behind the road where it was situated was a rabbit warren of alleys inhabited by refugees from the various wars that had been fought in Vietnam over the preceeding thirty years. It seemed there was a borderline between this area and the streets where I lived which had a few French from the colonial period, a few other foreigners, mostly involved in this war and some relatively well off Vietnamese. Not a rich area but respectable and I hoped secure.
A stones throw from the front door was a compound of decent apartments.
In 1945 the British army, mostly Ghurkas and Indian soldiers under British officers were restoring order in Saigon. They were in fact also rearming the French and some Japanese to stop the town being taken over by the communists. In various outlying suburbs the communists rose up against the French and started massacring them, particularly former police. In this particular apartment complex they kidnapped about three hundred French men, women and children and killed about half of them.
In the rainy season the house would get flooded every time there was a downpoor. Cockroaches were a problem one learnt to live with. If I went to the kitchen during the night and put the light on, the floor would be thick with them. Really large ones. It was irritating putting one's shoes on in the morning and finding a cockroach inside. One evening whilst sitting down having a quiet drink I wondered how many mosquitos I could kill in an hour without moving. Just by slapping them on my legs I got twenty five in sixty minutes. Sleeping one had to use mosquito nets. Luckily there was no malaria in Saigon.
The maid would go to the market every morning so the food was always fresh. The maids of the various neighbours co-operated with each other. If mine run out of gas whilst cooking a meal she would finish it on a neighbours stove. If she needed help when I had guests she would borrow a maid and if necessary the cutlery and crockery as well.
When visiting friends who were absent it was always pleasant to be invited in by the maid and to sit down and be given a cold beer before continuing on one's way.
One of my neighbours was an old Frenchman who smoked opium. He had one of these long black opium pipes. For some reason I've always found them exotic but I never had any temptation to use mine which was just for show. I couldn't get my own brand of pipe tobacco. My mother used to send some from the Bahamas. One day at the post office a customs inspector , going through my parcel came across some. He remarked on how pleasant it was. It was in fact Erinmore. I never received any more after that for some reason. Some of the local tobacco was very strong. There was always the PX or the black market of course. Pipe cleaners were very cheap, razor blades very expensive.

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