94. Anchors Up! Onward to Subic Bay

Easy targets required a strategic move …

Our ship, along with several others were instructed to relocate immediately.  In the first place we were never in a favorable location along the Vietnamese coastline but there we were, sitting ducks just waiting to get blown out of the water.  With this sudden (?) urgency our ships made haste!  

Traveling over 1000 nautical miles and 4+ days later, we arrive at Subic Bay, an American Naval base in the Philippines.  Our ship would remain here for a few weeks; we were still loaded with the greater percentage of Napalm cargo.  

While docked here, my normal work routine continued and so did the shore visits.  I remember the first time out.  For a day trip into Manila, a bunch of us would gather to take an air-conditioned bus ride into the city.  Feeling excitement once more for a place I’d never been, I took a seat on the bus and for the most part, would quietly gaze out the window.  I looked back only for a moment to see my ship get left behind.

I admired the coconut trees (reminder of home) situated in the back and forefront of passing scenery along open spaces.  There were plenty of farm lands most of which were being toiled by beasts of burden & human labor alike.  

We passed a little village or three and the roads shaped up nicely.  Manila, she formed  gradually in the near distance.  In eager focus on what lay ahead, I noticed tall buildings rising as we drew near and before I knew it, we’d arrived.

There were these brightly painted bus-like modes of transportation driving all over the place and I tell ya, what a site to see!  At the very moment of my wonderment, I overheard someone on our bus say to another curious passenger, “…these are called Jeepney.”  Besides being colorful, there were balloons, flowerpots and toys on sticks hanging off the sides and well, so much more including people!

We get off somewhere in what felt like the middle of town and began walking around.  It didn’t take long at all to feel a bit weary in this heat.  We had been cruising in and out of shops and eventually our only focus became search for the nearest bar and frankly, that wasn’t hard to do.

I was all but soaking wet and yes, it was definitely time to have an ice cold beer.  Truth be told, one didn’t even have to walk anywhere, simply being outside was enough to do the trick!  We’d leave one bar to go into another couple of shops only to make our way to the next bar along an unplanned route.  It was just hot and I was constantly thirsty for the next cold beer.

Something else I can clearly recall is just how nice the people seemed to be.  I mean they had a relaxed feeling about them and a smile was received from nearly everyone I made eye contact with.

One week later we had to return to one of the Vietnamese ‘parking lots’ as our cargo was once again needed.

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48. All aboard!

First thing I did was surrender my suitcase at the entry level and having checked my ticket, it was accepted and my hands were free.  I came back down to the wharf where my family and friends, who had come directly to the docks, were waiting.  

Saying the this-time-for-real goodbyes to the family before climbing the gangplank was rough to say the least, especially seeing my mother’s face and knowing this was, once again, tearing her up … it hurt.  

Then there is my sweet Noori.  I was closest to her now than ever before and knowing how dearly she loved me didn’t make this farewell any easier.  

The loudspeaker blurted out the commencement of pre-boarding for those passengers who were already residing on that ship from the previous port.  My heart skipped a beat and I can only imagine what my mother, sisters and brother and Noori’s hearts were doing.  

“Send us a postcard!”  someone said.  “Don’t forget to write!” said another.  “Remember us and return soon …”  trailed another voice.  It was time to say our final (such a word!) goodbyes.  

One by one I went to each person, young and old, hugging, kissing and wiping tears and making the repetetive promise to take care of myself and return sooner than later.  

Do you know there were a few of my family members whom I had never in my life, witnessed them shed a tear up till just now.  How heart-wrenching.  It was a long line-up of dear ones and then I get to my brother and my sisters.  

I had never seen my brother cry either and in our embrace he poured which of course caused me to cry my eyes out too!  My dear sister-in-law stood by him silently crying.  To make her smile I told her I’d miss her meals as no one could touch her cooking where I was going.  It worked.

I gave my brother a personal promise; whether or not he wanted it I would send money to assist so that he wouldn’t have to miss me that way and I reminded him that I will definitely call for him as soon as I have settled.  

To my sisters I told them how much I loved them and would miss them (I knew my little sister would be the one writing to me) and to all my nieces and nephews I laid down the promise of goodies from America.

My mother, my dearest, most precious mother.  I don’t have to tell you about the nonstop tears there.  She said to me, “Maybe I’m not going to be here when you come back.”  What a stab in my heart, I had that coming.  

I knew I’d better say something comforting and quick!  ‘Amma don’t worry please.  I promise you as I have made the same to Noori that I will be back in two years to marry her.’  

Noori was naturally standing there right beside my mother.  That statement brought a gentle smile to my crying mother’s face … and to Noori’s.

It was nearly 4 o’clock and the steamship whistle sounded.  The call for all to board was heard and went through my bones.  Noori and I embraced, tightly, she cried a lot and we repeated our love statement for one another.  ‘I will see you soon Noori.’  I assured her and she assured me in return, “I will wait for you Gary.”

Orsova ticket to.. 1959I began my ascent of the gangplank and I could hear all the crying.  I made my way to the top deck of the ship.  Boxes of streamers were laid out for the passengers to throw as their departing gesture and final tie being broken … well that’s what it felt like to me.

I grabbed half a dozen of those paper streamers and made my way to the railing of the ship, obviously dockside.  The Fiji Military band had begun a tune and the mood was set.

I see my people down there on the wharf and I can tell they’re searching for my face among the many.  A couple of the excited children spot me waving and point me out to the rest.

The Orsova horn -that sound- was blasted again, twice.  It was 4:45p and the gangplank would go up in five minutes.  I hold one end of each streamer and then begin to throw them towards the crowd, in the general direction of my family and friends.

Then the departing song Isa Lei began.  A man had caught one of my streamers and as though by fate, handed it to Noori.  She may not have caught one on her own, I don’t know and I had no idea who he was.

The big rope at the stern was first released and the ship begins a controlled slip away from the dock.  The tears and emotions for nearly everyone present were uncontrollable.  It’s such a haunting piece of music and the way the lyrics are sung, one cannot help but to lose it.

Isa is God in Fijian.  A feeling of hearts full of pleasure and return right away and your absence will bring pain … that kind of a feeling, very haunting you know.   

“Why did you come if you have to leave …”

The band is still playing and the streamers have been flying.  Now the stern has been released as the ship pulls away under it’s own complete power.
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You know this goodbye with Noori reminded me of 1953, nearly the same scenario up in Vancouver with Sonia.  I had said to her I would return to her and that we would run away and get married.  Sonia had said she would hide me from everyone.  This felt a lot like the same and I really didn’t want to suffer that love lost once again.

45. At Last I’ve Been Dealt the Perfect Hand – Wednesday

January 1959

Rise and shine to Wednesday morning and half-way there!  I went to work.  I had a few words with one of the front-line girls, Jules.  We got on real good, always a smile for one another, great for a successful working environment.  Okay, I would’ve dated her if it were possible.

Actually every last one of us at this jeweler shop got on perfectly, including the boss man.  I thought to myself that I would be blessed indeed to have such a wonderful working environment again, wherever I ended up.

I lowered my voice as I spoke to her, ‘Please don’t speak of this to anyone, not yet.’  She promised she wouldn’t.  I asked her what she thought.  Did she have any ideas as to what I could do to get the final document; promise of accommodation?  

Honestly I hadn’t a clue (and believe it or not, neither a connection) what I should do with this one.  After only a few brief moments of thought she smiled at me and said, “Don’t worry Nand,” that’s what she called me, “I’ve got a brilliant idea!”  

Bless her angel heart, Jules went on her lunch break that very afternoon to the church of the Bahá’í Faith and returned with an official (yes, on their letterhead) letter stating my name as a member who was migrating to the United States.  What an unexpected surprise!

To Whom it May Concern …. Mr. Masala is a member in good standing … please accommodate him with a place to stay and help him all you can until he can get on his feet …”

I hugged her so tightly, I just couldn’t help myself!  ☺️ I’m suspecting she’s not minding.

Was all of this supposed to happen or what?!  Else all of these elements couldn’t have fallen so easily into place, right?  It was like magic, I just couldn’t believe every piece was coming so freely into my hand.

I went straight home again, no Guinness stop after work.  It was a wonderful evening as was most always the scene.  A perfect dinner, everyone talking along with the laughter and fun with the children.  

Then at one point my brother mentioned casually, “For a week I’ve been noticing that you’ve been slipping in and out of work, taking some extra time away.  Curious, what are you up to?”  

I responded, ‘Nothing in particular, just some personal stuff I had to take care of and some people to see.’  He acknowledged the answer with a slight smile, the kind that comes from a twinkle in the eye.  My brother was smarter than I knew at that time.  

This reply was good enough because everyone knew I had legal matters to tend to every now and again so what I was doing really didn’t raise any flags.

Later that night after everyone had gone off to their rooms, I made certain all of the paperwork was complete.  No blanks on any of the official documents and triple-checking to be sure I had all the items called for.  

I then placed all of that into a nice bag which I had previously purchased for such safe keeping purpose.

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With such great conviction, I just knew it was my destiny to live in these beautiful United States of America.