Wartime Flashbacks

Alex and I had a week to kill before our visas expired, and we badly wanted to get out of noisy and smelly Saigon. We hopped on a local bus to the Vietnam-Cambodian boarder town of Tay Ninh. The bus was the typical Asian cram-as-many-people-on-to-maximize-profits ride. My seat was next to an old lady holding six chickens, while Alex got pushed to the back with the goats.

Packs of kids followed us everywhere.

Arriving in Tay Ninh we were instantly swarmed with curious onlookers. It was rather apparent these people had little or no contact with the outside world. There was hardly a time when we were not surrounded by a small crowd as we made our way into town. We stopped to have a look at a small temple. As we were walking around the temple, an overbearing young man cut through the crowd and took our hands to take us somewhere. Alex and I were up for an adventure, so we went along. He took us to his father and family's home nearby. We greeted his father on the porch and he beckoned us inside for food and tea.

Everything was going well until I noticed three plaques on the wall with military awards. The overbearing son pushed my arm down when I pointed to them, but the father calmed him down and explained to us in broken English that he was a highly decorated Viet Cong officer. There was an eerie feeling in the room, knowing that he fought and most likely killed American soldiers. We asked the father some war questions and the overbearing son's apprehension grew to the point he looked like he was ready to take up arms against us. This was our cue to get going.

Commander and his Viet Congettes.

Outside their home we asked them to pose for a few photos. A crowd of other kids began to gather and Alex turned to take a shot. The overbearing son ran out, grabbed Alex's camera, yanked off the lens and was about to throw it down and smash it, just before the father told him not to. He gave the camera to his father who gave it back to Alex, and we got the fuck out of there quick.

Alex and I walked into town and began looking for a hotel. The locals pointed us in different directions, but we couldn't find any hotel. Finally we located a huge, monolithic Soviet built hotel. It was very ugly and devoid of any guests. The woman at the front desk said they would only accept U.S. dollars as payment. We told her we didn't have any U.S. dollars, and why couldn't we use Vietnamese currency? "No Dong from foreigner. U.S. dollar or no room!"

Back out on the streets we started looking for another hotel. An odd fellow with a twitch in his neck rode up on his bike and stopped us. "Where are you going?" he inquired in perfect English. "We need to find a hotel, can you show us one?" Alex asked. His twitching became more acute and he said very seriously, "Who is your commander?" We were astonished. Then he began shouting, "Where is your unit? WHERE IS YOUR UNIT!"

We had to run to get away from this nut having a flashback. Just as we were free from the nut, a police motorbike with a sidecar pulled up and two cops jumped out. "Get in" they ordered. Having no choice, we got into the sidecar. With sirens blaring, they raced us through the village to the police station with locals jeering us all the way. I looked at Alex apprehensively, and he knew why -- I was carrying a big bag of pot.

Into the complex we rode; past the sentry towers and sandbags, through three gates and into the captain's compound. "Passports, visa, and travel permit" the captain requested.

All our papers were in order and the captain asked us why we were running and out past dark. We told him our story since the Soviet hotel and he and his men had a big laugh. The captain said he would get us into the Soviet hotel, and would we like a ride around town first? Sure, we told him, and got back in the sidecar for a joy ride -- even more to the bemusement of the locals.

Back to the Soviet hotel, the cops gave the desk girl a major tongue lashing in Vietnamese as she sunk lower and lower into her chair. Finally the cops finished scolding her and she looked pale. She cleared her throat and said in English, "We can accept your Dong now. Welcome to Tay Ninh."

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