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Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Thoughts on life and death. Tan Dinh, Saigon, Vietnam

I can't recollect ever being present when anyone died before I came to Vietnam. Most of my uncles and aunts lived to a ripe old age and didn't pass away before I left the United Kingdom when I was eighteen. Of course when my maternal grand parents died I was not present at the funeral as children never were in England. Death has been sanitized in the west. If a relation dies in hospital the body is returned neatly packaged in a coffin. Not to be seen by children of course as the idea might shock them.
The first time I ever saw a corpse was when I came to after being nearly drowned in the Aegean. This American had fallen overboard. Being a good boy scout, (soldier actually) I had jumped in to try to save him. I can remember swimming to the fellow, who being unable to swim was flapping his arms weakly in the air, slowly drowning. The sea was very heavy. The inter island boat bore down on us, a line was thrown, I held on with one hand, the other around the American, the boat didn't stop and we were dragged under. That was the last I remember until I came to in the cabin with this blue coloured corpse on the other bunk. It quite put me off swimming for the remaining week of my leave. Why do I recount this? Because in my first eighteen years of life I had been completely seperated from death and met it by accident in the Greek Islands.
Living in Vietnam I was always close to death. Either from war, sickness or accident. It was never of course a pleasant experience but how can one live one's life without confronting it. One fears it much less when one is surrounded by it than when one continually sees programs on the TV saying don't do this or that because it is bad for you. I end up a complete hypochondriac when exposed to such programs. When one is actually in the same room as it, or in a street or the countryside amongst brutal death one appreciates life much more and gets on with the business of living, being thankful of today and not worrying about tomorrow.
When I saw the women making up the white clothes of mourning I understood the end was near for my father-in-law.

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