Sitting next to me on the plane to Ho Chi Minh city was a chap and his wife going back to visit. They live in Melbourne now, but he was originally from the old capital Hue. He will visit the south of Vietnam but will not go north. It brings up too many bad memories.
His wife is from Cant Tho, in the Mekong Delta. She still has family there that they visit…he has none. Her family own a fruit farm. They grow durian, mangos, mangosteen, rambutan, oranges and more. They make $20 000 a year. This is a good amount of money in Veitnam and can easily support the extended family. Joe and Marree go back every year. They have four chidren and five grandchildren.
I asked him if we should call it Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City cos he kept calling it Saigon. He said it doesn’t matter…we have money…we can call it what we like…
“In the 1960’s I spent some time in the United States learning how to be an English Instructor. I came back to Saigon and taught people English. During the war I was a Major in the army and consequently I was captured after the fall and spent nearly fifteeen years in gaol in Vietnam. I was released in 1989. In 1991, with my wife and three children, I escaped Saigon and managed to get to Malaysia, where we spent some time in a refugee camp on an island.
After some time we managed to get into Australia and so we moved to Melbourne. We lived with people we knew near Brunswick for a while. Our fourth child, a boy, was born in Melbourne. He is the baby of the family and he is spoilt. He is nearly 25 and lives at home. He is a bit of a playboy.
I teach Vietnamese to the younger generations. They are keen to learn their old language and culture. This is not a bad thing. They are all Australians and they speak very good English…not like us.”
When Joe spoke about the North and his fear of going there his voice became a whisper and he scanned the area for anyone who may be listening. He showed me an old photo of himself and his wife when they were young and recently married in Saigon. He was handsome and in his army uniform and she was so young and elegant, like a film star. This was just before the fall of Siagon. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo…it seemed too intrusive.