89. Quy Nhơn Chicken 🐓

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 Vietnam;  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 Vietnam at this time, I certainly was learning to understand a small piece of it.

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A coastal town located in central Vietnam, Quy Nhơn wasn’t established as a city until 1986 and it is home in the Bình Định Province. 

 

 

 

 

 

88. Cash & Tailors

 

I climbed down a rope leading into the boat which would take us from our ship to the Qui Nhơn Harbor shore.  We didn’t tie up at any dock instead, the boat took us aground into the sand.  The trap/exit door opened up and we’d jump out onto Vietnamese soil.  We walked up the beach and into Qui Nhơn town.   

Being hyped up right from the start, I felt a little scared but it was certainly comforting knowing that I was never alone; we were always in one another’s company …mostly.  And as we walked, carefully at first, thoughts of what the Skipper and some of the Marines had told us, rushed to the forefront of my mind.

Absorbing the street scene crowded with men, women, children, the young and the old, I began to relax;  they were basically just people like me. There was plenty of street cooking which smelled amazing and lots of little shops and bars.  I felt eyes on me.

I’d see them waving in order to attract us into their shops.  Thinking of the families back home, I saw some things which interested me such as handmade trinkets, clothing, jewelry and the like.  

I detoured with a couple of the guys into one of these places, a tailor shop.  The tradesmen were Indians, like myself. Why I found this as a surprise, I do not know.

And perhaps we were obvious as new to the area because almost immediately, we were asked to join them in food and drink.   “Let’s talk, have something to eat and enjoy.”  They actually closed the shop for a couple of hours.

After a shared meal and hearing the stories of where we came from originally, how we found ourselves in this little corner of the world etc., they asked us, “What can we do for you … what would you like to buy?”

From these Indian tailors, I would buy a couple of slacks.  As measurements were being taken I asked,  ‘Aren’t you afraid to be here in this war zone?’  

The shopkeeper reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash from both pockets.  In his fairly decent English he explained, “Of course we’re scared sometimes but this is home.  If we must run suddenly, at least we have our money with us. My wife and kids do same. It’s how we handle.”   I remember thinking to myself just how fascinating living a life this way is.

After a much enjoyed evening in comforting hospitality of the locals, we knew it was getting late.  With the Skipper’s speech still fresh in my mind, it was definitely beach time.

Making my way there I remember looking at the sights along the way and thinking of the fun time ahead tomorrow.  At the shore we were just in time to hear a Marine’s voice blaring through a bullhorn, “Load ‘em up!”

Several of us to include guys from some of the other ships in the harbor, climbed aboard this fairly large boat and off we went.  Each various group would let them know which ship they had to return to. I called off the Trans Western.

Thank goodness for our Marines for in this dark night amongst all the boats anchored offshore, there was no way we ourselves would know which one was ours.  We arrived at our ship and quickly climbed up the rope ladder.

Myself and the other guys headed straight for the mess hall to raid the refrigerator and pantry for a late night snack before turning in.  The chef had tuna salad and fresh breads waiting to be turned into midnight sandwiches.

A full day it was and I was more than ready for some snuggling down in my bed.  That’s the sum of my first day in Vietnam. Not bad at all.

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77. Now We Are Five

Our youngest was not yet one year when he started holding on to things and toddling about.  The other two children were coming into their individual personalities.

And guess what?  It was time for us to move once again.  So from 4th Street we moved to Euclid Street, right between Broadway and Colorado.  

Also I would change my job.  Briefly to explain, a new manager hired from outside our current staff came into the Banquet Room changing things entirely and re-staffing with people he brought in.  I wasn’t exactly excited about the changes and so I went from the Hotel Miramar to the Santa Ynez Inn.

This new work location was a bit further away from home.  It was up Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) a bit, on Sunset Boulevard just below the SRF Lake Shrine Temple which by the way was and still is, a very beautiful and peaceful spot for contemplation, slowing down and catching one’s breath –if you’re into that sort of thing.  

I’m thinking Diana and I should’ve spent more time there.  Many movie stars frequented the Lake Shrine, getting away from the hectic flow of their daily lives and writers too.

Anyhow I got along so well with everyone at the Santa Ynez Inn; they really liked me, it was plain to see.  A Jewish family -the owners- were very kind and generous and occasionally allowed me to occupy one of the rooms when the working night had become too late.  I’d of course call Diana and let her know.

At the end of our shifts we were all given a meal if we wanted it.  For me I was allowed anything from the bar if it was the overnight stay.  I gratefully would enjoy only one ice cold beer with my dinner.

You know if it wasn’t a full moon, the drive was dark down the lonely coast and after such a busy shift, this journey just felt that much longer than it did going to work.  

Breakfast came along with the offer; I was encouraged to ask for anything.  Although it wasn’t often, I quickly got used to a thick, juicy steak!

Another thing they trusted to me was playing chauffeur to some of their special weekend guests.  They provided me the additional opportunity to earn even more, that was real nice.  Yes I wore a cap and the uniform.

One day Diana and I were discussing getting Alok baptized.  She said it would be nice to find godparents for him if we could.  My first two children (with Diana) were already baptized but they didn’t get godparents in the deal.  

When I went to work I mentioned in casual conversation to my manager George, that my wife and I had been discussing Alok’s baptism.  I said we had no idea how or who to appoint this important position to.

He and I had easily become pretty good friends.  George listened keenly and then much to my surprise, he offered to take the position, saying, “…well, I’d be extremely honored to be your son’s godfather.”

Since I was with Diana I had become accustomed to more Catholic ideals though I remained true to my Hindu religion in my heart.  Being entirely honest with you my followers, since I’d been away from home in Fiji for so long and away from my family, I wasn’t as devout in my worship.  

I didn’t forget my roots to be sure.  And being a part of my wife’s explorations of life made my Diana happy: well why not get educated in as many things as possible?

I told Diana of George’s offer and she was pleased with this news.  She thought it was a real wonderful thing he did to volunteer and she happily agreed.  

We baptized Alok shortly after George’s acceptance in the local Catholic church which we’d begun attending.  George had come with his wife and daughter and it was clear, they took this very seriously.  It was all very touching for Diana and myself and Alok was now blessed with a caring godfather.

The five of us frequented the beach whenever possible, no surprise, a love of ocean.  I remember there were hotdog trucks (and the like being beach finger foods) and we both enjoyed the fun of that.

We shared these treats with our kids as part of the whole experience.  My eldest boy ate his with no fuss and enjoyed drinking from his carton of milk.  The baby was neutral with baby snacks, a bottle and maybe a bite or two here and there.

mommy, Arvind & me-2Then there is our daughter.  She’s a finicky one (still is).  If there was something she didn’t like she’d watch and wait.  Then she’d hide it somewhere. We didn’t realize this at first; I was amazed to see she’d eaten her hotdog and was smiling while sipping her milk.

I’d say to Diana, ‘Look she’s finished it completely!’  We were both pleased, knowing how she could be. When it was time to move on, we’d gather up everything of course and then, discover the unconsumed hotdog she had hidden.

We were five; my family I made here in America, with the help of Diana of course, felt real good.

 

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