(Note: The following are excerpted from my manuscript, Vietnam Ruminations,
which is currently an e-book available at www.vietnamruminations.com.
Portions of the book have been published in various venues throughout
the world, on and offline.)
Autumn dusk -
clinging to the sailor's shadow,
We looked forward to the weekends. This was our time to go into Mytho
for a little rest and relaxation. Mytho is the nearest port city. Just
a few miles from our base. It was a half hour's cruise by patrol boat
up the polluted Mytho River, a tributary of the Mekong River.
Ashore, we behaved as typical sailors, visiting the bars, brothels,
restaurants, dance halls, and curio shops. In our wake was a cloud of
children, hoping for handouts of gum and candy. In a way, we were their
entertainment for the weekend. I remember one child well. She was a
nine year old orphan with a bowl shaped hairdo. And what a mouth! She
cussed like a sailor and possessed a cocky personality. She also spoke
good English. Whenever a certain noncommissioned officer came ashore,
she'd cling to him like glue to paper. The NCO was the consummate
drunk; weaving in and out of the red light district with a bottle of
Crown Royal whiskey in his hand. She served dutifully as his protector,
negotiator, and interpreter. Where he was, she was. In return, he gave
her special attention, made her feel important, and provided her with
food and money. It was as if she had a father. Then the man was shipped
I wish they were gnats,
those things whizzing past me
slapping brown water.
One can never relax in a war zone. The element of surprise is the
enemy's trump card. I'll never forget the day I was sailing in a small
one man sailboat in the tiny bay that separated the Navy side of the
base with the Army's in Dong Tam. It was a hot Saturday afternoon in
the height of summer. Their was no wind. Sail down, I was laying
shirtless, looking up at the cloudless sky, daydreaming about home...
when, all of a sudden, silent poofs of air whizzed past me, some of
them slapping the water beside the tiny craft. It didn't take a scholar
to know what was happening. Enemy fire! A sitting duck, taking cover
was not an option. I unhooked the mast, secured the sail, and paddled
like a mad man towards the safety of my ship, hoping none of the
bullets had my name on them.
Listen! A duck
complaining to its master
before the cock crows
Coming from middle class America, my culinary experiences were limited.
That was soon to change. The Vietnamese people ate food I’d never heard
of or dreamed of eating. One of their favorite delicacies is the
Thousand Year Old Egg. It is a nearly mature duck egg that has been
buried in the ground for a long time, then dug up. The egg is cracked
and its contents swallowed quickly. The smell is putrid.
When villagers ate shrimp, they ate them heads and all. They dined on
small frogs, small birds, and lizards. They chased their meals down
with polluted water. Soda pop was for the rich. Milk was nonexistent.
The water buffalo is not known for milk production. Funny thing. Now
that I am older and married to a filipina, I have dined on many of the
foods I’ve just mentioned, including lizards and whole shrimp. The only
one I don’t like is the thousand year old egg. I didn’t like it in
Vietnam and I don’t like it now.