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Sunday, 1 May 2011

Late 1960's. Life in Saigon. South Vietnam

Post 87
Late 1960's. Life in Saigon. South Vietnam

Saigon at this time was a city full of energy. The only time it seemed to stop was during the hours of curfew. If my memory serves me correctly this was usually between midnight and five in the morning but was sometimes extended particularly if there were threats of a coup d'état.

Saigon was overcrowded, full of refugees and one wondered at times how it functioned as a municipality.

People were always busy, yet always had the time to stop and talk or spend a while in a café.

The usual means of transport was the cyclo-pousse. These poor drivers who pedalled away all day had a hard life and usually died off fairly young. TB was endemic and they were also undernourished. There was a motorised version that let off horribly polluting fumes all day long. Both forms were highly dangerous to use although fatal accidents seemed rare. Jim was in a cyclo one day when his watch was stolen off his wrist by a couple on a Honda. The Honda or motor scooter was another very common form of transport and much more practical than a car. There were bicycles by the dozen. There were no buses inside Saigon although when the Americans pulled out they left behind their military buses which were then used as a bus service. Taxis, the old Renaults, were becoming a headache. What used to be a 17 piastre drive to Tan Son Nhut, where I had given a twenty note and said keep the change was now over three hundred piastres and always accompanied by bitter arguments. It was wise to talk to the taxi drivers in French. They, who had been in Vietnam for generations, were not victims of the US presence and were curiously, as former colonial masters, treated much better than the Americans. One therefore tried to use the old French names for streets, such as Rue Catinat for Tu Do.

Once after a somewhat shaky ride the driver of my taxi lit up his opium pipe even before he asked for his fare. Another time the hand of the driver, held out to receive my money, half covered by some form of glove, was missing its fingers; it appeared to be leprosy.

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