In conversation with Chief Steward the next morning, he liked very much the thought of tailor-made slacks too. He asked if I wouldn’t mind taking care of the transaction for him. I offered a smile attached to a ‘No problem chief!’ and so he scribbled his measurements on a slip of paper and handed it to me with a few dollars from his wallet.
It may be only the 2nd time I went ashore but it felt like I’d already done it a hundred times. Hot and muggy was the forecast for, like the entire time I would be here so naturally there was an ongoing thirst for ice cold beers! 🍻
Upon reaching shore, my first order of business was a detour to the Indian shop delivering CS’s order and measurements. I was told 36 hours should see all the slacks ready.
The first establishment we chose to walk into had a few people sitting at the bar, others were seated at tables; the majority of bodies being young Vietnamese girls and music played crisply out of a jukebox up against a side wall. No sooner we sat down at a table, we were flocked by some of these girls.
In what sounded like their best broken English they’d proposition us to buy drinks for them. They took our drink requests which would only be beer 🍺 and went up to the bar. No hard liquor or sodas even were served here.
It would seem the sodas were reserved for drink in the cafés. I gotta say, these bars certainly knew how to grab their share of business from the foreign visitors! 🍹 The girl’s drinks we bought for them (later we learned) was simply colored water and each one cost near twice the amount of our beers!
In our socializing I learned the power of the American dollar in Việt Nam; approximately $5.00 would cover feeding their entire family for a week and the impression we all got was they’d pretty much do anything for these dollars.
Some girls smoked our cigarettes and others did not but all were quick to light ours for us. They were skilled in giving a nice little massage here and there, arms, shoulders, neck and/or running their fingers through our hair.
I smiled big when I looked at one of the guys across the table from me … his eyes closed in sheer delight and grinning away as the girl on his lap was massaging his brain!
The one girl attentive towards me began massaging my head, gently pulling on my hair (which I had lots of it), of course it felt nice.
The guys and I continued to talk amongst ourselves for the most part as we could tell they weren’t about to leave our company so easily. It was of little matter to them as they too conversed amongst themselves.
“Tonight you stay with me and you pay,” one would say to her guy and another would verbally climb over that (sometimes literally) and using as persuasive a voice as possible, “No! You come with me!” We each heard this approach circulate around our table.
🍻 After a few beers and a considerable amount of dollars later, I noticed it was getting dark. We all agreed it was time for food. A couple of us made sure to keep an eye on the time, curfew is definite, there was only one boat back and make no mistake, we’d best be on it!
The girls collected a few dollars from each of us and a couple of them went quickly outside, coming back with some freshly prepared chicken for us to eat.
It was made in a street kitchen just outside the bar. Of course they ate with us. The chicken was flayed open, seasoned, cooked between two racks over an open flame and it was delicious. 🍗
“Now we go home.” they’d say to us, gently tugging at our arms. “No, no! We’ve got to get back to our ship!” protested a couple of the guys; definitely speaking for all of us in the group.
We promised them we’d return tomorrow and breaking free at last, we headed as swiftly as possible through the town and down to the beach.
We remained in the Qui Nhơn harbor for just over a week. The best description of my daily routine on the ship; same, same.
Every early evening almost immediately following the dinner shift and next morning’s prep, I’d scurry down that rope ladder to catch the boat into town.
Returning to the same bar as before, these girls who overnight became our friends, were waiting for our return.
On the fifth day I picked up the slacks; lookin’ good! After the shopkeeper showed them to me, I paid him and he wrapped them up so nicely, knowing they would have to travel a very long way.
I asked him to wrap up the Chief Steward’s slacks separately. I noticed the shop had some postcards amongst their wares so I bought a few; one for Diana and my kids and some for the family in Fiji.
Back at the bar which we had made our own for the week, our company had now become more like one on one, no longer flanked by many. We’d play the jukebox, dance with the girls, eat chicken, socialize, drink beer, and generally let our hair down as it were; wanting only a little bit of fun and relaxation.
We remained diligent to the curfew at the end of every evening and always managed to wiggle away from our friends just in time.
A couple of days before our ship pulled up anchor, I was able to send out those postcards from our ship’s post office. By now I was confident that half of my ‘war-zone pay’ salary, the 1st paycheck, was already on its way to my family in Santa Monica, via the pay center in New York.
You know I felt great that I was providing for my family even while on this other side of the world but I never thought my life would go down a path like this one.
While I cannot even compare to the soldiers’ lives here in Việt Nam at this time, I certainly was learning to understand a small piece of it.
A coastal town located in central Việt Nam, Quy Nhơn wasn’t established as a city until 1986 and it is home in the Bình Định Province.