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Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Life in Tan Dinh. Saigon, Vietnam

I more or less settled in to life in Saigon. That is to say I started to treat it as my home and I now had no desire to return to the Bahamas. There was of course no question of returning to England. I had truly become an ex-pat.
I would read the overseas edition of the Times at the British Council, although in fact I frequented the English very little. There was a certain type who had adapted to the East who were fine, but those who were in Vietnam for the short term and still had English habits rather irritated me. My only visits to the Embassy were more or less on official business and never social. I was a regular of the Cirque Sportif. One needed one's club and it was really a most civilized place with just the right touch of former colonial splendour. I was just as happy in the local cafés, either down town or in Tan Dinh though. It was the lack of privacy that was the most trying; one could never be alone. At home there were people wandering in and out all day long, sometimes we seemed to aquire extra servants who turned out to be old family retainers from KC's family in the days when her father had had three cooks, former French légionnaires to guard his property and they had been the first family in the province. These people would be looking for a roof in Saigon for a period of time.
There was a great panic one day when a peasant woman had appeared. I never got the story exactly straight but it appeared she had been sent by a member of the family who was a colonel in the Viet Cong, a doctor I believe, who was asking for some financial help as the Americans had bombed his home.
Our son was born around this time. I know I had been woken up many a night with false alarms. In any case it was decidedly dodgy to drive through Saigon at two o'clock in the morning to try to get to the hospital. One was likely to get shot up by the People's Self Defense Force and end up in the morgue. There was this fellow I read about in an air conditioned car, windows up, listening to his radio, who failed to hear an order to stop and was shot dead. That was in the day time. There were many incidents of the police chasing robbers, firing in the air to make them stop, and the bullet falling back to earth and killing them!
One morning I told KC to check into the hospital as I didn't want to find her home when I got back. The maid stayed with her in the day and I stayed over night. One never left anybody alone in a hospital. The following day I went off to see some friends and when I got back it was all over so everything worked out in an organised fashion. Anyway the last person one wants around at a time like that was the husband.
There were only three hospitals in Saigon. The Hôpital Grall, which was run by the French military and The Clinique St. Paul which KC had chosen and was Vietnamese. Some American organisation, religious I believe, had taken over the former American 3rd Field Hospital at Tan Son Nhut, but I knew very little about it. There was of course an acute shortage of hospitals. There was a team of English doctors and nurses at The Children's hopital at Cholon, but the nurses were involved in a crash with their jeep near My Tho and rather badly hurt.

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