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Friday, 6 April 2007

Starting to conform: Saigon: Vietnam

I decided to start conforming. When I had first arrived nobody seemed to bother much about local paperwork. Living in Saigon it appeared rather necessary.
We all had our local 'Residence Cards'. With this it was easy to obtain a 'Family book'. This listed the people living at a certain address and the relationship between these people. All overnight guests had, in theory, to be vetted by the local police post. In a country at war, really a civil war, one can see the logic of all that. Also of course it facilitated the control of the authorities in what was a dictatorship.
A driving license was also very easy to obtain. I went to the appropriate office and asked what I had to do. They asked me if I already had one. I showed my Bahamian license and they exchanged it for a Vietnamese one. I was later told I could buy one quite easily on the black market. When I came to France the French exchanged my Vietnamese one for a French driving license, good for life.
I now had a Toyota that I had bought from John. He had gone back to the States, although he would return later. If I recollect the buying and selling of a car necessitated about fifty sheets of paper comprising numerous forms in triplicate etc, plus about eight photos. Of course driving in Saigon was like nothing on earth. I can only describe it as disorganized chaos. Vehicles of all sorts, driving in two flows, moving in opposite directions, vaguely on opposite sides of the road. Some of the time. The most monstrous traffic jams, more of a mess than the Gordion knot. Once when I jumped a red light early on a Sunday morning on an unusualy deserted street a policeman sprang out from behind a tree and blew his whistle. It was wiser to stop as they were known to open fire on vehicles that didn't. I handed over my papers with a large piastre note inside, he handed them back without the note and doubtless had earnt his food for his family for the day. Foreigners driving X numbered cars were rich pickings. Jim killed somebody with his car but nothing came of it.
The old Volkswagen mini bus that was Decca's official transport was stolen. Keeping cars from being stolen was an absolute headache.
One now had a pass to enter Tan Son Nhut. The fact of being an occidental was no longer enough.

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