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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1. Imagination & Beyond! part 2

It was 1941 and I was 6 years old when my parents put me into school for the first time.  Methodist Mission Boys School was the name and it was near my maternal aunt’s home in Toorak, Suva.  The school was just 3 blocks from her house so I had to stay in her home during the week for convenience.

I remember my 1st grade teacher, she was a nice Muslim lady.  Next year I had a male Hindu teacher for 2nd grade who just so happened to be my 1st grade teacher’s sweetheart.  How ’bout that?!  I know I was taught both Hindi and English every year in school; Hindi being the 1st language spoken at home.

My favorite memory was receiving fresh cold 🥛 every single morning at ten o’clock.  Lunch came at noon and I went home to eat, often rushing to play afterwards, enjoying a quick kicking around of the soccer ball with some of my classmates.

We were let out at 3 in the afternoon.  I did this for 4 years, going back to my home at 1 Mile for the weekends and school holidays.

One of many hot days it was when on a lunch break from school I ran home as I almost always did, anxious to squeeze in more play time with my mates.  At this time I was eight years of age.

There was a pakar tree (weeping fig or ficus), no more than 9 or 10 feet tall, growing on the side of my auntie’s house.  This lovely tree provided lots of shade from the brilliant sun.

Having overheated myself from the run I decided to cool off for a moment or two in the luxurious shade before going into the house for lunch.  Upon arrival at the tree I had placed both my hands on its trunk, leaning in towards it to better catch my breath.

Only a few seconds had passed and this tree started to shake violently; my thoughts were of a giant uprooting the tree from the earth!  I really thought it was an *earth-shake.  I then quickly wrapped my arms around its trunk just incase it was.

As a child I couldn’t think of what else to do, having only heard of but never experiencing an actual earthquake.

While I am hugging the trunk tightly, I hear my auntie’s voice calling to me from the kitchen window, telling me to immediately get away from the tree!  I instantly let go and ran straight away into the house as fast as I could, without question for the warning tone of her voice said it all.

I managed to eat a few bites of my lunch in silence, my auntie going carefully about her afternoon duties and neither one of us mentioning the tree.  I went over to the sofa, put my feet up and fell fast asleep.

My auntie did not wake me to go back to school nor did I go out to play that day.  Later that evening she told me to never go under that tree at noon.  What??  Out of respect for my elder, as we’ve been brought up to do, I did not question her warning.  I simply agreed.

Inside of me however this child’s curiosity was at full boil and my auntie’s unexplained warning was not enough to satisfy.  Why did the tree shake so and why, away from the tree all was calm as though nothing was afoot?

I remember noticing for a split second that several yards away, children were still playing and the grown-ups went about their business; no peculiarities there.  I simply had to know more.  Yes this young mind was always at work.

I decided I would have to make inquiries.  I’ve always been extremely inquisitive about the world surrounding me.  Eventually I questioned a few of my older (and wiser?) relatives and the reasoning came down to this:  at 12 noon and 12 midnight, the **churail occasionally passes by looking to harass a human or two and sometimes will just sit in these trees.

This tree must’ve been her vibrating chair then!  Therefore anyone unsuspecting and hanging out under the tree would be in danger of harm or at the very least, a dreadful fright.  Needless to say from then on I avoided these trees at all times!

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*earth-shake   simply the way us kids referred to earthquakes

*churail    witch