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. 

 

 

 

 

 

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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14. Could I Side-Step This Marriage?

So what to do?  Cold and hard to accept fact time; the marriage proposal was on the table and we had to talk about it now.  I pleaded with my brother that I didn’t want to get married yet, it was too soon.

‘I don’t know her well enough!’ was the best petition I could make and because a simple ‘I don’t want to!’  was not cutting it.

It’s not only respect for family doing what your elders deem is right for maintaining the family’s honor but “…it’s been this way for hundreds of years, what do you want to go and change things for now?”  Not forward thinking I felt; tradition takes precedence.

Somehow they just knew that when the SS Lakemba returned from Canada into Suva, I would certainly be on that ship, right off the island I’d go.  Hmm maybe my brother did peek into my bag at some point.

It appeared that all who had a say in this household wanted me to marry Hemma but what about me?  No, no, that didn’t matter, their minds were made up and that was that.  My brother being the head of the household since our father passed, announced to me, “You will marry Hemma and that’s final.”

I am certain the pressing uneasiness also was that my family would be the ones who failed to keep their promise, certainly not honorable, if I didn’t make good on their word of this marriage.  Personally I don’t think that promise should’ve been made in the first place!

Feeling that this pronouncement had to be accepted I just had to distract myself for the time being before entering into this marriage which had to be.  Staying around the house everyday this predicament surely would cause me to blow a circuit or two; I desired no participation in the details if I could help it.

Simply put, this is not how I thought my life should go.

Well, it was a new year and so it was also time to move forward I guess.  I went over to C & A Kalyan, Ladies Tailor shop hoping they’d take me in.  I was accepted and they made it known to me they were happy to have me back; well that was nice!

For those of you who have read post 6Tailoring My Way Off the Island, you’ll remember this is where I worked before heading out to sea.

I knew I’d enjoy what I was doing and it would keep me out of the center of things at home.  I was blessed to work at least 40 hours a week and half a day on Saturdays which was also payday so I definitely showed up!

Well, the month of May just had to come around didn’t it?  The preparations were being made at my house and believe me there’s beyond a lot to be done for these Hindu weddings.  There’s construction of the celebration accommodations such as tents for sitting and eating areas, etc., to spices and menus being prepared, clothing and jewelry bought and well you get the idea and everyone goes the way of the vegetarian for the preceding week.

The town electrician came to string up the lights and generally the neighbors all jumped in to help; it’s really a big to-do!  We also fed everyone, everyday!   And I’ve only told you about the goings-on at the groom’s household.

The festivities always begin a week ahead of the marriage day and can continue for up to a week afterwards.  It’s really quite a sight …and much work, but normally everything is good and everyone involved is very happy.

Noori had been in and out of my house all this time, helping everyone she possibly could with their work, also known as my wedding preparations.  We had a private moment when she told me that she would always be there for me.

Her heart was breaking yet in spite of that she told me she understood why I was going in this direction and even I should go forward with her blessing.  Noori said she thought me even more respectable that I was honoring my family’s wishes; that she declared was worth so much more in her eyes.

All over the place there’s lights galore, dancing, laughter, eating and singing everyday.  And talk about a rainbow of deep rich colours, colours everywhere!

Sooner or later I knew they’d catch me!  I was now off duty from work for a week or so and the preparations on me began.  All week long I wore only white clothing.

Every evening I sat outside on a chair in the place which was prepared for daily prayer.  Before every ceremonial duty to be performed which was wedding related, a prayer is conducted.  This is how we do it.  That’s why I sat there.

Anyhow focus.  All the females of the family and some female family friends would paste me up with Haldi.  So as the week progressed I became a golden child!

In our Indian tradition it is favorable to do this because, for the couple about to begin their new life together, it gives a spiritual cleansing as well as representation of prosperity.  And there’s another reason why Haldi is used in this instance and that is to rid the new couple of Buri Nazar.

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Haldi  made from golden turmeric, water, sometimes rose water and sandalwood powder & it looks like our Little Blue Masala has turned gold!

Buri Nazar  the Sanskrit term for evil eye.