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. 

 

 

 

 

 

46. Saturday at 28 Mal Street

It was an ordinary Saturday morning spent washing, breakfasting and some light-hearted conversation with all those present.  My elder sister had come from her home to spend a couple of days with me, otherwise our normal comfortable routine was there.  

An occasional neighbor would stop in during the course of the day to say goodbye, expressing their regret of not being able to attend my dockside departure but certainly wanted to make known their good intentions and well-wishes.  

For the better part of this Saturday it was a do nothing day.  I had already decided to save my packing for the next morning as my sailing was in the afternoon and so I mainly rested, daydreaming mostly.  

Besides it wasn’t my day to catch the chickens for dinner so I just continued plotting my near future.  What would I do the first few days of my arrival in San Francisco, U.S.A.?, this I wondered.

I was departing Fiji with a heavy heart, one not completely happy inside because something was missing and that something was someone named Noori.  We loved one another very much.

It was about noon when I saw her for the first time that week.  My little sister must’ve told Noori the day before when she first learned of my plans.  

She spoke gently only her eyes were anything but happy.  “Gary, I am feeling shocked.  You’re really leaving us tomorrow?”  

I tried to smile in the presence of those eyes and I tenderly told her, ‘I don’t know what I would’ve done without you and your loving support Noori.  I had been consumed by much anger and I feel there’s no telling what might have happened next.  It would’ve involved more pain though, I’m almost sure of that.’

I know I didn’t need to remind Noori (but I did anyway) of her compassion which, time and time again had pulled me through my darkest hours, other than that moment on the docks when I realised I couldn’t return to Sonia.  

I had to experience that one through completely on my own.  Besides I hadn’t met Noori at that time.

And then I felt it; the similarity in which this scene was beginning to play out.  I had hoped with all my being this wouldn’t be a repeat.

Our moments together had allowed our feelings to blossom yet unfortunate was our timing; still very real was the actuality of old fashioned views all too present in the form of a solid wall.

You, my seasoned readers, know all this.  My family had quickly come to stand by me where Noori was concerned; this intelligent, beautiful and dynamic Muslim girl was a part of our family already.  Our love however stood no chance to exist where her family was concerned and so ….

Still I made a promise to Noori and shared this objective with my family; I would travel back in two years time, if not possible sooner, to make Noori my wife and return with her to my home in the United States.  

After successfully achieving this goal, I could begin bringing the family there one by one.  If that’s the way I had to do it, then that’s exactly what I would do.  

I long since had memorized the delicious smells coming from the kitchen of my family home, so comforting indeed.  That night the aroma registered in my mind of a final evening meal in my place of birth, my childhood home filled with the ghosts of my youth, making it all the more intense.  

For safe keeping I felt the need to preserve it in my consciousness.  

Journeyed abroad before, I certainly had.  Only this time it was final – I was moving away, really leaving home.  

It was a difficult good night Noori and I shared, one with some serious lingering questions which really couldn’t be answered.  After dinner my brother and my sister walked Noori home.  It was the way we always had to do it.

And so it was the end of Saturday at 28 Mal Street in Suva, Fiji Islands.

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