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. 

 

 

 

 

 

72. Prejudice or Just Plain Crazy?

Hotel Miramar kept me busy just as our children kept Diana and the grandparents busy.  Our home was more and more lively with each passing day.  The little bundle of a daughter was still with baby needs but not causing too much commotion, apart from when she decided it was time to test her lungs and then oh boy, look out.  Our son had barely started walking and that’s plenty going on there already, isn’t it?

In all of this Diana was just as effectual in the air mail communications with the family in Fiji, all together with current photos and detailed letters; she wanted to be sure they were up-to-date on their son’s family life in California.

We took our children to the park whenever we could, usually twice a week.  As a quick flashback being at the park with children always reminded me of the family outings from my youthful self back in Fiji.  Then just as quickly I’d return to the giggling voices of my two little ones.

The boy he’s running around happy as a clam just having a ball and my daughter not at all minding the fresh sea breezes and chirping birds.  Of course it was a great way to work up a nap too, for all of us.

We had been living in the Pico apartments for quite some months when a new neighbor moved into the vacant unit upstairs, directly over our place.  I clearly recall this man was of brawny build and with him was (I can assume) his wife and older teenaged son.

The neighbors to our side had been there quite some time and we had long since become regular friends with them.

You know to this day I really cannot figure out an exact reason why this man upstairs behaved the way he did; we can still only guess he may have felt offended by the fact that my beautiful wife, clearly an anglo lady would have married a non-white man and then make children to boot!

Diana and I discussed his behavior briefly chalking it up to well, possibly he was nothing more than a mixed marriage hater?  Before you decide, read on!

The trouble began not too long after he moved in.  He’d pound on my door shouting in a strong southern American accent, “Open the door you damned Mexican!  Come out here, I’m gonna kill you!”  Wait, Mexican?  He’d already made up his mind about me, to include a label on my persons?

Interestingly he’d only do this when I was at home; it never happened while I was at work.  I mean this person never troubled Diana –thankfully- not once had he harassed her or shot an ugly glance her way.  He didn’t come out of his apartment else he wasn’t there at all, probably at work but either way it was clear he was out to torment only me.

He must’ve watched and waited for me to come home in the evenings.  Which is why we would assume his threats were just for me; he being appalled that I even had a place on this planet.  My skin was brown and my wife’s was not.  I mean we’ve really never known what else to think.  Why else he was so adamant to label me?

Forgive my thought for a moment but as you my readers should know me by now, I tell you my story with honesty in all things.  That was then and I am alas, always me. Those life experiences have brought me to who I am now.

And so to tell the story properly, in context I must relay my thoughts as I had them then so all of you can follow the narrative as it occurred.

He’d cause quite a ruckus and the neighbors would call the police.  I think it’s important at this point to mention we didn’t have a telephone.  This man would hear the sirens and dash back up the stairs to his apartment.  He’d actually get arrested but as his fate had it he was released the next day, out on bail each time in fact.

Three separate times he was arrested and 3 times he returned the very next day.  From what little information anyone had on him, he worked at a car dealership; we’re guessing he got them to bail him out?  That’s the rumor we caught in the wind but who really knows and what did that really matter?

It was approximately an 11 to 13 day period in which this went on at the rate of about every other day.  As I mentioned a few moments ago he seemed to wait and watch for me.

One afternoon round about 2 o’clock, the upstairs man came down and immediately began kicking at my front door.  He shouted crude language continually kicking at our door.

I slightly moved aside the window’s curtain to peek out at him.  To my complete disbelief I see in his hand, there’s a pistol.

I swiftly directed Diana to make haste and with the children go into the bedroom.  Not being able to come up with any further plan of action, I was right behind them heading into the bedroom, the only thought being, ‘this could buy us a few precious seconds.’

We sat on the floor under the window and I quickly told her about the gun our neighbor was brandishing.  I raised myself up to look out the window there hoping to see someone downstairs, anyone I could ask to contact the police.  I look out the window there hoping to see someone downstairs, anyone I could ask to contact the police.

At first I saw no one and I turned to look at Diana and the children.  She held them tight.  The poor little things, my son looked frightened, his parents not behaving normally and our daughter well, she’s just being a baby.  Our son softly whimpered but I know Diana encouraged him to stay quiet and fortunately the baby didn’t choose now to test her lungs.

I’m almost certain my wife saw the panic in my eyes.  I looked out the window again and this time I saw a man down there in the alleyway.  ‘Oh thank God!’ I thought to myself.  This man was swerving along his way and for any number of reasons that could’ve been the case why, it was not important to me.

I knew we had a glimmer of hope now and so, shouted out to him through the open window to please make haste and get the police.  I spat out there was a man at my front door with a gun and there are small children in here.

I‘m pretty sure he listened, he looked at me yet he did not respond.  The man then continued swerving along his path.  My heart sank.  Diana looked at me with pleading eyes that cried, Urgent, I’m scared!

At this point I thought for sure it was the end for us.  And then I sank back down to the floor, desperately looking at Diana and my 2 children.  ‘I fear this is it, there’s no one to help us,‘ my voice trailed off.  I took hold of my son and she held our daughter tighter still.

In my mind all I could see now was a dreadful scene of us dying together, as a family.  I really tried to shake it off … I just didn’t know what to do.

 

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47. Fiji, My Bittersweet Farewell to You.

Sunday morning it was.  Time to get crackin’ for it’s sailing day.  Turn by turn we got up and took our showers; as usual they were cool and quick!  

Busy emotional day ahead.  I got dressed, made my bed and placed my suitcase upon it.    The kitchen had been buzzing since before my eyes opened and breakfast smelled especially good this morning.  

We all sat down to enjoy our meal and I wanted to savor everyone’s face who was sitting at this table with me.  After breakfast Noori arrived and just after that my aunts, cousins and uncles arrived from Toorak.  

All the bodies in the house were busy doing one thing or another, the children were running around as they do.  I had gone off to my room to pack and Noori was right there with me.  

There was a little wardrobe where most of my clothing hung.  She immediately began to remove and fold them;  she was packing my suitcase for me.

I’d glance at her as I buzzed around the room for things to put in the case.  She’d watch me and I knew it.  I closed in on her near the suitcase and saw the tears just rolling down her cheeks.  She stopped adjusting my garments in the case and reached out for my hands,  

Noori held my hands in hers and then she embraced me with the most affectionate hug she had; naturally I responded to this with a tighter hug and there we stood, embraced for what seemed like an eternity yet too short.

She cast a look around the room mainly towards the open bedroom door just to be sure no one was looking our way and then she said to me, “I love you Gary and I will miss you so much.  I also promise you this, I will continue to come here and take care of umi as often as I can possibly manage it.”

I pulled her to me, again in a hug and then I kissed her.  ‘I love you very much Noori.  Please know I have to leave for now but also I feel you do know me well enough to understand why I must do this.  I promise you I will come back soon and we can finally be married. Then we’ll be with one another forever!’

A lite lunch was laid out and we all ate together.  Then we did whatever last minute preparations were remaining before leaving for the wharf.  The family bus came (out of my brother-in-law’s garage) and it was time to pile in.  

Better than taking many different cars wouldn’t you say?  There was roughly thirty of us, adults and children, climbing on board.  I was the last one to get on as I wanted to gaze upon my family home one last time and bid it farewell.  

The bus driven by my brother-in-law drove away down Mal Street and towards the wharf where the P&O Liner Orsova awaited me.

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