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Sunday, 6 January 2013

The climate. Remembering Saigon, Vietnam

Khanh Ly, another of my favourite singers from before and after the fall.

When I first stepped off the plane at Tan Son Nhut airport in July 1965 I was met by a wall of humidity such as I had never known before. I had come from the Bahamas which are not exactly known for their bitter winters but being islands had always had a sea breeze. This humidity in Saigon was terrible. I don't know how long I took to acclimatize. I think there is an initial period that takes a week or two. I drank enormous quantities of beer. The US army spent two weeks settling their troops into the country.

At Baria or Phan Thiet I had no problem and of course Da Lat was a delight. Saigon though was always difficult. To the humidity one had to add the pollution from all the traffic aggravated by the noise. The Americans used air conditioners, which although lovely they set far too low and the continual changing from an air conditioned room to the outside caused innumerable colds and sore throats. After a number of months your blood started to thin and you could bear the heat much better. Of course you could no longer put up with the cold.

In the countryside I usually wore a bush hat. In Saigon unfortunately I gave way to custom and did not wear a hat. Why during one of those few periods in my life I should follow other people I don't know. The result was I often suffered from headaches. A long siesta at midday was called for. If I ever had to work at 2 o'clock I suffered. I remember once, in 1965 I think, just after I had arrived in the country a South Vietnamese army unit under attack from the Viet Cong called in for an air strike in support only to be told the pilots were having their siesta.

I learned to avoid the sun, to always walk in the shade, to walk at a special casual pace, never to hurry. I still walk at a steady slow pace even now. I am never impressed by people hurrying. There is a slow walk that is not lazy. One only has to look at the French Foreign Legion marching. Slow and dignified. After all they had to learn to march hundreds of miles over the desert.

Was it the climate, or the war, or simply youth, but passions always seemed to beat much more strongly in Vietnam? Perhaps the beautiful faces? Life was short and to be lived to the full.

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