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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Of champagne and spiders. Saigon: Vietnam memories 1965 1975


Post 111

Of champagne and spiders. Saigon: Vietnam

One of the centres of quiet in Saigon was the Cirque Hippique. This was the local riding club. Although I had ridden all my life, starting at the age of three with a Shetland pony I had no great desire to do so in Saigon. What appealed to me was trekking in the countryside; a thing impossible to do in Vietnam at that time during the war. However it was very quiet and pleasant there and it was where I had held my wedding reception. It had been a formal sit down dinner of eight courses for one hundred and fifty guests. One accepted that one had to greet everybody personally but here one had to speak to everybody during the evening and then say goodbye individually at the end. And keep relatively sober.

Actually the only person who got drunk during the reception was the Maitre d' of the club who staggered out onto the floor with a bottle of champagne in his hand trying to give me a drink some time during the course of the evening. They served Vietnamese food which was very good. The real problem was the ten o'clock curfew in place which meant everyone had to pack up and leave by 9.30. It was interesting to note which people kept to traditional dress and which favoured western styles. Also one had to know which women to shake hands with, which to kiss on the cheek and which to give a slight bow to with the palms of the hands together. Too often I would put my hand out to find no hand to shake or keep mine together when the other person put out a hand to shake.

I must have had some problem with my maid. One morning for breakfast she had gone out to a street vendor to get me a bowl of noodle soup. As I was about to put my chopsticks in it I noticed a spider. It was floating on the noodles. Very large, it entirely covered the top of the bowl. I called the maid's attention to this. She said it wasn't important as the spider was dead. I was of the opinion she had put it there, or the vendor had. If it was an accident why had nobody but me noticed. I was angry again. It was very easy to get angry in Saigon and increasingly difficult to maintain a relative calm.

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