After the emotion of visiting the old battle sights we settled in Vung Tau for a couple of days RinC (Rest in Country). We visited the Ettamogah Pub for breakfast each morning and planned our day. Sometimes the planning took the form of a one-liner – ‘taking it easy today’. On other days we explored the town that had once been my leave port.
I didn’t recognize much at all and I guess the fact that I had only been there a few times and that was 30 plus years ago might have had something to do with my poor recollections.
The other contributing factor could have been that I was usually drunk when I had been there previously.
The more gentle of my readers may think that is a poor show but considering that I was Infantry and that some of the mates I had spent earlier leave passes with had been killed or de-limbed by mines then you might understand that each subsequent leave pass was spent in the knowledge that it may be my last -literally. The sword of Damocles imbues a desire to live the rest of your life to the fullest, at the earliest.
And I did!
That’s my excuse anyway.
I found the Flags, or at least where they had once been. The ‘Flags’ was a construction with flagpoles for all participating nations and written explanations; a RV point to us, as in ‘Meet you at the Flags tomorrow morning’ or ‘Let’s catch the bus back to base at the flags’ before curfew…sometimes.
The flags – 1970
and in 2004 – the flags have gone…the bars have gone… and the bargirls have gone to families or are all re-education camp graduates.
There are still beggars underfoot in Vung Tau and the pressure is incessant. I figured, from previous experience, that to surrender once to a plea would signal the remainder of the beggars that the big white guy with grey hair is a soft target. I’m sure the word would spread and the siege would be amplified.
To counter this I maintained a steady chant of ‘cam..cam..cam’ - the word for no. The trouble is ‘cam‘, pronounced like the English come can be confused with the word ‘com’ – the word for rice that is pronounced as in the com of communicate. The language is more tonal than I recall. Looking back I think some of the confused looks from the beggars could have been caused by meeting a large westerner who chanted rice..rice..rice..as a form of greeting.
I did surrender. While eating rice with something in a local restaurant the woman, pictured below, approached me with the standard load of hats, caps and photo copies of the booksThe Quite American and The Cu Chi Tunnels. I said no until it occurred to me that she would be a photo op. I took her photo and then she literally went on bended knees in front of me and said ‘Please sir…I’m feeding two babies
I gave in, sometimes I only sound tough, and brought a cap I didn’t want that on later inspection didn’t fit me.
Never mind – I was distracted.
Street vendor in Vung Tau
Vietnamese Cyclo – note the absence of gears
Stu and I took a cyclo each and toured around to the Back Beach to look for the old Peter Badco Club. It had gone and where it had been was now a construction site for a new hotel. Hotels are going up faster than white flags in a French regiment so nothing is the same. Now of course there are a lot of Russian tourists and oil rig workers from several countries using the back beach as a holiday destination.
Back Beach now
…and way back then (pic courtesy of 104 Sig Sqn)
At the Ettamogah Hotel there were several bar girls on duty each and every night. Traveling with my son had it’s advantages as on entry to a bar I was instantly left to my own devices while the girls attacked him. I was left to make witty and intelligent conversation with the other older males at the bar…or something like that. After working out that Stu wasn’t going to succumb to their suggestions they then attacked the old man.
Holding a conversation with Dave from Louisiana, (that’s pronounced Loosiana, Kevin!) became difficult while one of the bar girls massaged my shoulders with fingers so strong they separated one-piece muscles. She was persistent in her suggestions of a massage in my room and I repeatedly repelled her advances until the last night when I said, in exasperation, ‘OK. Tomorrow at twelve…be at my hotel and you can have your way with me’.
The next morning Stu and I caught the ten o’clock ferry to Ho Chi Minh City.