Sunday, 15 May 2011
The German at the Hôtel Continental, Saigon, Vietnam: Memories of Vietnam 1965 1975 : photos,notes,stories from the war
The German at the Hôtel Continental, Saigon, Vietnam
I met Hanz again at the terrace bar of the Hôtel Continental. This should not have surprised me really. It was the kind of place where one could meet any enterprising person one had known before. In the centre of Saigon it looked out on the old French theatre, which had become a National Assembly in a lip service to democracy. On the other side of the theatre was the Hotel Caravell which I always considered an architectural monstrosity. I only ate there once in all the years I was in Saigon.
I had first met Hanz years before in Geneva. I had been in France visiting the vineyards studying the wines and was waiting to join my sister who was coming over from the Bahamas where we lived. We were then going down to Spain to study Spanish at the University of Seville.
I had some time to kill and decided to visit an American couple I knew who were staying in a small village on Lac Léman, just outside Geneva.
When I got there I found there were about six young people, students or ex students, living in a one roomed apartment with one bed. Nobody had any money worth speaking of. At one time I had to try to register a car for one of them. I was the only one with a valid driving license, Bahamian, and the car had no number plates. This in a town where you couldn't cross the road without the police saying yes. One student, I forget his name or nationality taught me to appreciate Mahler. I met an Egyptian girl who later got smashed up in a road accident.
Anyway, Hanz, who was from Berlin where I had been stationed with the Black Watch some years earlier, and I got on very well together. One day his mother sent him ten dollars. We went out and drank five dollars worth of wine. The following morning he said goodbye. When I asked him where he was going he said Afghanistan. On five dollars. This was before the hippy trail to Kathmandu and adventure holidays. We used to make our own in those days. The greatest travelers I used to come across were Germans and Australians.
When we got talking in Saigon he told me he had got to Afghanistan eventually. From there he had ended up in Burma. Getting kicked out of Burma and having no money for a flight, the only authorized way to leave the country, he had had to walk through the jungles into Thailand. He had finally come to Vietnam where he was working in some capacity for the Americans. A very enterprising young man.
Some months later he said goodbye. Asked where he was going he replied Singapore. To buy a junk to sail through Indonesia. I never saw him again.