I love these unexpected evenings in Saigon
You gotta love this town. On the way home this evening I stopped off at a local haunt when I saw a good friend having a quiet beer there. We chatted for awhile then ordered some of the great food this very local place serves. We’re there for awhile when a guy next too us strikes up a conversation. Now this is not the first time this has happened and, on previous occasions we have found ourselves drinking dubious alcohol or engaged in simplistic conversation and mime but, on this occasion our conversationalist proved to be from the United States.
He introduces himself as being from San Francisco but, for all intents and purposes, appears to be Vietnamese. Both my friend and I are well travelled and neither of us are particularly insensitive so it takes us awhile to ascertain that he is indeed American (which neither of us doubted) but was born in Saigon and is one of those people who escaped from the south in 1975. I say escaped because those are his words and because for him it was, no doubt, an escape. Now this is what I love about this town. I was planning on a quiet night but instead I end up having an experience. Our friend turns out to have been an air traffic controller (hence the photo above) who left the country in 1975 just as South Vietnam was about to fall. He tells us about making a new life in San Francisco, the pre-1975 days and how English and French were widely spoken in the streets of Saigon and how he made it out. We learn about his restaurant business, how he didn’t return to Vietnam until 2005, after Clinton had normalised US/Vietnam relations and how the city had changed so much since he left. We don’t talk politics because that is still a no-no in Vietnam but we do skirt around the edges. We’re fascinated by our newly found friend because he connects us to a Vietnam that we only know of through documentaries. We buy each other drinks, although I think he buys us more drinks than we buy him, share phone numbers and agree to meet up one night in Cholon, the Chinese district which he knows well, at some stage in the future. I love this town. I was just driving home and going to have a quiet night. Instead I lived a little history, not for the first time and, no doubt, not for the last.