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Sunday, 22 April 2012

A sickness in the family. Tan Dinh, Saigon: Vietnam memories 1965 1975


A sickness in the family. Tan Dinh, Saigon

KC's father became sick and he was taken to the Hôpital Grall. As I have mentioned this was the major hospital in Saigon. It was still staffed by the French military as part of their continued aid effort. He had been in declining health for some years and had not left his house for a certain time.

Her family were from the Mekong Delta, although the grand-father was Chinese. Along with many others he had arrived in Vietnam during the troubles in China in the 1880's. A grand-mother was from Hue, the old Imperial Capital. When he died this Chinese grand-father had had his body taken back to his village in China. There, for some reason I've never clearly understood the funeral had to take place in secret at night. At a recent family meeting in France I discovered that there were still links between this village in China and the family.

The grand-mother had had a special coffin made for herself. This had been carved out of a single trunk of wood. Evidently very expensive and highly prized. Due to the war with the Japanese when she died she was unable to use it.

KC's father had been Minister for Agriculture in the Nationalist government at the end of the war when the nationalists were briefly allied with the communists. As I have mentioned earlier he was imprisoned and then went into exile in France. This was probably lucky as the communists started eliminating the nationalists. The family were large landowners but the house was destroyed by the French and at the end of the war much of the land was lost to the communists and the rest confiscated by the government to be redistributed to the peasants in some program of land reform. They were meant to be paid for it, but the money arrived very slowly and the payments hadn't finished by a long way when the communists took Saigon in 1975.

I was never able to visit the village as it was not considered safe. The Vietnamese were always attached to the land and all the family’s money was in it. Normally very secure, it was perhaps not the wisest investment, but until 1939 the world had been a fairly stable place. After the Second World War began the troubles in Vietnam continued until 1975, when they could not be said to have ended in a very satisfactory way for the better off classes.

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