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. 

 

 

 

 

 

60. No Matter, I Love San Francisco

© Golden Gate -signedSomething changed inside of me but at the time I didn’t realise this.  I loved San Francisco and I continued to enjoy being there.  I made a point to walk the Golden Gate Bridge for leisure with a thousand thoughts racing through my mind like the choppy ocean below.  

One of those swirling emotions was in regards to Noori.  By now I had written to her a few letters.  Of course I could only mail them to my family home and trust that my sister or mother would be sure to give these to her.  But you know I never, not once received a reply.

Down the road a ways I heard many tales of what happened in her life since I left.  It’s really quite saddening because I couldn’t help as a lot of us do, to think, ‘what if?’  

It was around mid-summer when I changed jobs from the Italian restaurant and through the Union I moved uptown into a position in a very nice hotel.  There was a lovely American restaurant on the rooftop level, the 17th floor as memory serves and well, that was a good experience to have.

I left the Italian joint under very good circumstances.  They were all too happy to provide me with a letter of recommendation as well.  It had been a good relation; roughly 6 months of employment and all good memories.

Even though I am not able to recall the name of that beautiful hotel now, what I remember most about working way up there is how much I always enjoyed the view, oh the view!  

By now you should know how much I absolutely loved watching all the ships coming and going through the Bay.  And at night I would be mesmerised by the lights on the Bay Bridge.  What a treat as far as I was concerned.  Very nice.

Back to my new position.  The food in this establishment was top notch, spread out in a delectable buffet.  The selected dishes were of excellent quality and the clientele definitely had the wallet affording to pay for that phenomenal view.

I was quickly flowing with the hotel restaurant staff, customers and management and yes I’ll admit it, I was loved.  I made an hourly wage and kept my own tips and really good tips they were!  I stayed employed here about 4-5 months.

I still enjoyed the occasional ‘joyride’ on the cable cars, heading out to the turnaround point at Market & Powell Streets.  I loved helping turn the car and waiting for people to climb aboard for the traditional thing to do in San Francisco.

When some friends and I would head out to Fisherman’s Wharf, we were going not for the fish but for what we thought was the best pizza and ice cold beers.  Saturdays however were reserved for crab eats!

I’ve been living in the city for all of the seasons now and winter was once again setting in.  It would be cold earlier than later and I remember my friends and I walking around the city and always realising ‘suddenly’ that it was so cold!

We would pop into an inviting coffee shop, plug a nickel or three into the jukebox and enjoy a hot coffee or chocolate to the sounds of Ricky Nelson, Dean Martin, Elvis, Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra, well you get the idea.

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40. A Breath of Fresh Air After the Storm

Time to live in a lighter present.  I didn’t have to look long before I landed a job in a New Zealand-based jeweler and watchmakers shop in Suva.  Okay so it also happened to be the place of my brother’s employment for the last 10 years.

What a perfect position for me at this time.  I was scheduled 8a-5p with a very leisurely lunch break, Mondays through Fridays and a half day on Saturdays, closing up shop at 1p.  All over the island Fijian natives honored Singa Tambu the holy day or sabbath if you prefer by closing up everything.

My wage was set at £5 – 5 shilling per week and I do say this was higher than the standard.  Saturday also happened to be payday.  And there was a nice bar next door serving ice cold beers where the guys in my circle of friends would meet up for the afternoon.

The next step was a few steps towards the open air market stalls where I would shop for the good stuff; the weekend feast!  I would pick up the seasonal vegetables, what nots and most often fish.  I loved the fresh catch, always tasting it on my tongue before it was even cooked up in our kitchen.  

If a fish of choice was not available I’d cruise over to the meat vendor and grab some lamb usually.  I took these items home for my mother and sister-in-law to whip up something amazing for Saturday night’s feast.  It is a good, tasty memory.

Days like these filled my space in that time; work all week and thankfully not really a daunting thing to do.  The group that made up our staff were all very wonderful people, including the owner.  There was my brother, my uncle and five other sweet, friendly people.  

My brother occasionally went fishing with the owner upon his boat and I would sit at the dock with his dog.  It was a time for me to take it easy and I was glad of it.  

Noori was with me, with all of us most days, usually having to leave in the early evening to report home but always leaving us happy for her presence.  I had a great job, money to spend on the family, lots of love and good eats, ice cold beers and good friends.  

There was swimming at the Suva Sea Baths.  I really enjoyed diving off the high board; yes I had come a long way from the Sweet Water Pool incident.

Oh yes there would always be the cinema.  During the week if I felt like seeing a film the choice was usually an American one, which was always fine by me.  Apart from entertainment it was a learning tool of sorts.  Sundays however were reserved for the Hindi films and that was always special to me.

It would have been even more special if I could have taken Noori with me but all that was not possible.  We were only able to enjoy one another’s company at my family home.  Gary and Noori still couldn’t display their oneness in public.

1957 had played itself out.  One day I got notice in the mail from my legal counsel; it was time for my court appearance.