I had a problem with the altitude in Mexico City and my pulse went up to a worrying 144. I stayed in a rather boring hotel and did the usual tours but was not overly interested. I went off on a car trip to Acapulco. Stopped at one town, I forget the name but famous for its silver. Drank too much tequila in the Mexican fashion; Tequila, a pinch of salt and a touch of lime. A foul hangover in the morning. I was trying to get out of these bad habits. A glass of tomato juice in one hand and a beer in the other for breakfast.
Left the car at a place we had stopped for lunch to recuperate. The Hacienda Victor Hermoza. A most luxurious hotel converted from one of those old haciendas. Just to my taste. I stayed there ten days. Ten utterly delightful days where I spent the mornings riding and the afternoons lazing by the pool. A little concerned about riding amongst bulls being raised for bullfighting. I had been to a bullfight in Mexico City. Not the same atmosphere as when I had been staying with my sister in Seville in Spain years before learning Spanish. Almost no guests. Sometimes a few Mexicans. I do so love being virtually the only person in an hotel. I made the acquaintance of a young woman or two but everything remained on a very casual basis. No desire to get involved.
When I was round at her apartment one evening her flat mate walked in wearing what I thought was a rather daring nightgown in the presence of a strange man. Later we bumped into her in some nightclub down town. She wearing the same nightgown/dress. Which goes to show how out of touch I was with fashion.
Then one day she said I was quite the most selfish man she had ever met. I was not conscious of being more selfish than other young men. I think the problem was in the manner Australian women, or for that matter English and American women also, dealt with men. In Vietnam one tended to be spoilt. Doubtless she or the others were good tennis partners or fine to go out sailing with but had no idea of being feminine.
Another girl told me frankly to go back to Vietnam as my place was no longer in the Bahamas. I would say that the residents of this self-governing colony tended to be very self centred and didn't give a damn what went on outside their own little world.
I had though grown out of the place. It was my home only in theory. I wanted to be part of something. I think perhaps I had always been in search of my own Gunga Din.
I sent a telegram to Washington saying I was prepared to go back to Vietnam.
The sense of family is strong in Vietnam. Their culture is built around that of the village with its headman and council of village elders. Into this was fitted the family with the father as head. They knew their cousins to the tenth degree, whilst I hardly know any second cousins. They know their parents, grand parents and great grand parents. Family history is often lost in the occident where one lives with a very limited family. The extended family does not fit into a modern apartment. The older generation are often to be put into the dustbin of the past. In Vietnam where the State traditionaly was some distant organisation the family looked after it's own. After the village the family was built upon respect for one's elders. In it's language the personal pronouns refer to 'older brother' or 'younger sister' etc. There is a duty to the family that is almost non existant in the west.
There is also a respect for education. There was no higher honour than to return to the village with a doctorate from the University of Hue, the old Imperial Capital. Teachers were also highly respected. All children wore a school uniform. Usualy khaki drill for the boys when I was there. White Ao Dai's for the girls in state schools. Pink Ao Dai's for Vietnamese Catholic schools. The only exceptions were The Couvent des Oiseaux, in Dalat (boarding) and Saigon, which wore a white blouse and blue skirt. And the French Lycée Marie Curé in Saigon (in the French tradition no uniform) where the girls looked like a parade of mannequins every morning, each trying to outdo the other in the latest fashion. In a country town the sight of a long line of girls wearing the gracefully flowing white Ao Dai's, often with conical straw hats, sometimes with waist length hair, walking sedately along leaving the school was a picture of such innocent and elegant beauty as to defy all thought of war.
This of course was exacerbated in Vietnam by the war which had resulted in towns being overcrowded and the countryside deserted but dangerous. As a people though they liked each others company and tended to get unhappy if left too long alone.
Their manners were graceful but certain of their habits at table with regards to making noises whilst eating grated on my ears. The more refined method of drinking soup at the dinner table in England did not exactly apply in their establishments that specialised in 'Pho'.
It seemed that if you were using a toilet you didn't lock the door. If you left it unlocked they would open it, see it was occupied and leave you alone. If on the other hand you locked it they would start hammering on it furiously.
If you had nearly been run down by somebody and they then started laughing it took some years to understand that really they were laughing because they were happy you were not hurt.
It took some time to get used to their ways and adapt. I had not always had much patience at the begining and a very narrow British and then colonial background had not helped. In all the years my family had lived in the Bahamas we had never once had a local to the house on a social occasion.
I had in years gone by met a Canadian girl on this beach. She was part American Indian and had the most intriguing eyes I had ever seen. A deep brown, almost black, with flecks of green and gold. She wrote me the most beautiful letters in French when I had gone back to the out islands. We only received our mail once a month when the sea plane arrived with our food and beer. I had to wait to the following month to send the reply. It had been a very slow pace of life. Cut off from the world, no telephones and only the BBC foreign service. The most utterly lovely swimming where one would spend up to three hours in the water at a time scuba diving.
I saw my sister walking towards me down the beach. She was dressed for the office and had a purposeful stride to her and I immediately knew what she was going to say when she was ten yards away. I was to call Washington immediately. I went to the local office, called the head office and two days later was on a plane to Washington. The goodbyes were untroubled this time. No tears. Even Susan came along. She was to move to Paris later, but maybe she will enter another blog I'm writing.