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. 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Diamonds & Lumber – part 2

There was still time before lunch duty and so we relaxed on deck –yes, away from the passengers- and watched the ocean go by.  Regardless of how I was doing it, I was thoroughly enjoying my new adventures at sea.  I’d catch full views of whales occasionally and other fish swimming around too, it was fun!

It’s the 7th day and our ship is approaching Honolulu Harbor, it is still the dark hours of the morning. The ship has slowed its pace as it enters the waters of Hawaii, the Harbor Master must board, enter the Bridge and take over, bringing the boat into the port.

I am awake and find myself at the railing on deck to bare witness something I never even dreamed of; the lights of the city. Twinkling from the homes along the mountains were thousands of tiny lights; it was like someone tossed millions of diamonds on to hills of black velvet and I remember saying to myself, “Oh God this must be heaven.”

The experience of a different place; it is now twilight and as if lost in a dream yet feeling the state of wakefulness, I watch the sunrise happening over Honolulu. It was something completely new to me.

It wasn’t at all dark like Fiji as in the level of lights there; just as you cannot count the stars in the sky, it’s how the sight of those lights affected me at that moment. I am looking on at Waikiki.

Back to the kitchen for breakfast service with a definite air of excitement!  We’ve stopped here for supplies such as fresh water, fresh foods, mail and laundry exchange as well.  The length of our ship’s stay in port is 12 hours; our shore leave would be about 4-6 hours.

A group of us hailed a cab and asked the driver to take us to a great place where we could shop and check out a little of the local scene, which we could enjoy in a short period of time.  He took us to a big mall complex (which a few years ago I returned to, it was still there) and I ate pineapple of course!  And for another enjoyable treat I had a watermelon shake for the first time in my life, it was delicious!  I bought some Hawaiian shirts too.

Back to the ship and we are heading towards Vancouver, Canada and another 7 days at sea. Our ship is bringing sugar in from the plantations of Fiji for delivery into B.C., Canada. British Columbia was extending a wet welcome – it was soooo cold especially due to the fact I come from a southern tropical climate. I was used to warmer rains!  This rain was freezing and it was my first experience in cold rainy weather.

There was a warming period however – I met and fell in love (or so I thought) with a lovely French – Punjabi girl.  Sonia was 18 and one of many daughters of a sawmill big shot in Canada.  We first met at local nightclub, dancing and having a drink or three.  Hold on, I got just a little ahead of myself, so I’ll detail it out for you just a bit.

A friendly passerby on the street directed my friends and me to this particular club as we walked along the streets of Vancouver one early evening.  He too was an Indian national. We fell into a mutual hello as our eyes met, we all began conversing.

It started off with our ‘what to do around here’ answered with his suggestions of shopping, restaurants and a great club that was a good place where a younger crowd meets.  He told us that he too went there sometimes.

We found it and went in. It was a nice dance club, no hard liquor, only beer and soft drinks; that’s a good thing as younger people were welcome there too.  We grabbed a few seats and about 3 or 4 tables away sat a group of young girls.  I couldn’t see exactly their faces but naturally that assemblage received my attention.   Ah, eighteen and still so innocent.

At first it was difficult to catch a full glance of her face but as the girls began going off to the dance floor, I got a clearer vision.  And I’m so glad I did.  She and I definitely began to notice one another; it was that subtle eye flirtation and shy quickly looking away yet a corner smile would form as the head turned.

And every time I looked her way I noticed she too was looking my way.  All the while I’m going through fifty ways in my head as to my approach and if I did, what should I say?  This went on all evening.  I felt we were surely on to something and I wanted to know what that might be. I felt she may be thinking the same things, I hoped.

Well that night, we didn’t meet, the guys and I just hung out for maybe two and a half hours but not once did this young lady and I verbally communicate.  The guys and I had to return to the ship for an early morning start for breakfast, so we left and that was that.

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Sonia is of course a fictitious name but trust me, the young Canadian gal was very real  🙂