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Sunday, 9 October 2011

A tragic death. The Mekong Delta: Vietnam memories 1965 1975

Post 110

A tragic death. The Mekong Delta, Vietnam

I decided to go on a trip around the Delta. I was always surprised how the inter town coach service continued to function despite the war. One had a choice between an ordinary coach or the more expensive multi seat car. Not that either was really expensive. The coaches were usually overcrowded, hot, smelly and dirty. Full of all kinds of humanity and animals as well. The Vietnamese always travelled with an enormous amount of bagage. When flying their interpretation of hand luggage seemed to be any amount one could physically carry with two hands. However it was a good way to get to know the country and it's people. I decided to take a coach. The coaches periodically went over mines, were stopped by Viet Cong and various passengers taken away. I know of one incident where a coach had some army cadets on it who didn't let the driver stop at a VC checkpoint and forced him to drive on. The Viet Cong opened fire and everybody was killed. There were also frequent fatal crashes. One had to believe all this happened to other people and could never happen to you. In any case that was my policy. Perhaps other foreigners used the coaches but in all my years in Vietnam I never saw one nor heard of any friend or aquaintance using one. My main problem was deciding, as usual, which was the safest seat. At the front entrance by the driver or the back exit. I had the same problem in planes. It was probably the result of seeing too many accidents.

I travelled through My Tho, Can Tho and Long Xuyen and other places I forget. I mostly used coaches but sometimes hitched lifts with the South Vietnamese army. I was not impressed by either Can Tho or My Tho but found Long Xuyen a very lovely town and felt it was the kind of place I would like to live in. It was also the home of the Hoa Hao, a Buddhist sect created in the 1930's about the same time as the Cao Dai. Why they should have both sprung up at this time I don't know. They led a very simple form of Buddhism trying to keep close to the land and avoiding all forms of extravagance. They did not build elaborate Pagodas in the way the Cao Dai had built their temple at Tay Ninh. The men also had long hair, which they folded in their turbans. They were inevitably drawn into political alliances for or against the various regimes. I believe their leader in the early 1950's was publicly beheaded on the orders of Big Minh, another figure in the story of Vietnam whom I would often see playing tennis at the Cirque Sportif.

Travelling was very slow as at each river one had to often wait an hour or two or three to cross over by the ferry. The traffic jams were enormous and at times the military would arrive and take priority. I saw few if any Americans during this journey.

The incident I remember most from this trip was very minor but tragic. As the coach I was in was travelling slowly through a village I saw a group of people coming up from the river. A man, I imagine the father, was carrying the lifeless body of a young girl, about six or seven, in his arms. He had a look of such terrible anguish on his face that seemed to tell the whole story, although the scene only lasted a few seconds.

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