BY DAVE FRAZIER
First order of business on my tour of Saigon (many still use the traditional name rather than the official “Ho Chi Minh City”) was to visit the old neighborhood where I lived in enlisted quarters. As soon as I lumbered off the back of the small motor scooter, a crowd developed when I showed a couple of recently printed images of the locals taken 47 years ago. These folks were my neighbors when I lived amid the squalor of Bui Vien Street during what is known in Vietnam as “The American War.”
Just like folks around the world, everyone wanted to see the pictures. The crowd grew. One pretty young woman clutching a baby approached and pointed to a cute little girl in the 47-year-old photo, proclaiming the girl to be her mother! Mom had died, but grandmother was still around.
Another pretty 20-something girl in a white dress came up to me and announced a cute little guy in the photo was her father. She pointed him out and it was the little guy we called “Hey Man” because each day he would run up and jump in my arms shouting, “Hey, man!” He would always manage to get chewing gum or candy from me.
“He works just over there in the park as a motor (scooter) taxi. Would you like to see him,” she asked with a bright smile.
Would I ever! The last time I had seen him was in 1968. We walked to the park where she found her dad. He was grinning from ear to ear when she brought him over to me. Sadly, I hadn’t acquired any Vietnamese language skills in the preceding half century and neither had Hey May. He was still short after 47 years, but like me he had gained some weight. I was glad he didn’t jump into my arms. By the time I left, he hadn’t taken any gum or sweets, but I did give him $20 just for old time sake.
We chatted with his daughter acting as interpreter (she works in a tourist bar) until he got a customer and departed on his motor taxi. What a treat to see three generations some 47 years after first meeting them as mere children living as refugees in poverty.
They still live in poverty, but now they understand how poor they are, thanks to world television and internet connections.
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