Bien Hoa Favorites

  • The small pagoda, 1965
    The small pagoda, 1965
    by Nemorino
  • Photo from an RVN propaganda leaflet
    Photo from an RVN propaganda leaflet
    by Nemorino
  • 1. The old man tending his garden, 1964
    1. The old man tending his garden, 1964
    by Nemorino

Best Rated Favorites in Bien Hoa

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    Our visit to Biên Hòa in 1995

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    Nick at Bi��n H��a Bridge, 1995

    Favorite thing: --

    In the city of Biên Hòa in 1995 we stayed at the Peace Hotel (Khách San Hòa Bình), which was fine, but I won't do a hotel tip on it since I have no idea what it's like now or even if it's still there.

    We had a meal at a restaurant by the river and then walked over to the road and railroad bridge, where we were politely reprimanded by a local policeman for taking this photo, since taking pictures of bridges was still illegal in 1995 even though there wasn't any sort of war going on.

    In the evening I had a long talk with a hotel employee named Nguyen Tri who wanted to practice his English but was also very helpful in finding us a car and a driver that we could hire the next day.

    On my Tân Ba intro page I have described how our driver kept stopping and showing my old photos to the local people, so we were eventually able to find our way to the village of Tan Ba, where the teachers invited us in for tea and later took us up the road the house where I had lived thirty years before.

    Next: Access to the river 1995

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    The Cao Dai religion

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    1. Cao Dai poster in the house (photo 1995)
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    In his house the old man had a poster showing the Three Saints of Cao Dai signing a covenant between God and humanity. I was happy to see that the poster was still there in 1995.

    The French words on the poster mean: God and Humanity, Love and Justice. And I assume the Chinese characters mean the same.

    The Three Saints are, from left to right: the Chinese revolutionary and political leader Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the French author Victor Hugo (1802-1885) and the Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm (1491–1585).

    Cao Dai is a religion that was founded in 1926 in Tay Ninh, Vietnam, as "a universal faith with the principle that all religions have one same divine origin, which is God, or Allah, or the Tao, or the Nothingness, one same ethic based on LOVE and JUSTICE, and are just different manifestations of one same TRUTH."

    In 1964 the old man lent me a book about Cao Dai in French and Vietnamese, so by reading the French side I learned a bit about his religion.

    My impression was that most of the people in Tan Ba were Buddhists and only a minority were Cao Dai, but I never found out for sure.

    In 1995 my son Nick and I visited Tay Ninh on a day trip from Saigon and toured the Cao Dai cathedral or Holy See, which has now become quite a tourist attraction.

    www.caodai.org

    Photos:
    1. Cao Dai poster in the house (photo 1995)
    2. Inside the house in Tan Ba (photo 1995)


    Next: The darkest nights of the month

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    Working out my one sentence

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    My Vietnamese dictionaries

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    Since I had nothing else to do until suppertime, I got out my Vietnamese dictionaries and started working out the one sentence that I wanted to say to the District Chief.

    This took me about an hour because my knowledge of Vietnamese was minimal.

    I had started learning a few words from the language cassettes at the base library back in Fort Knox, Kentucky. Later, when I was stationed at the zone headquarters at Phước Vĩnh, I traded lessons with one of the Vietnamese interpreters. For half an hour each day I helped him with his English, and in return he taught me the basics of Vietnamese.

    He said the first and most important thing was to learn the tones. Vietnamese has six tones which change the meanings of the words completely, and the first hurdle for anyone trying to learn the language is to recognize the tones (I couldn't even hear the difference at first), and then learn to reproduce them. So he drilled me on the tones for several weeks, and as a result I could already understand a few words and could even make myself understood at a very basic level.

    When I had my one sentence worked out I practiced saying it a few times, making a special effort to get the tones right, and soon it was time to go up to the District Chief's house for supper.

    Next: Major Giam, the Tân Ba District Chief

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    Me at my desk

    by Nemorino Updated Jul 11, 2014

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    Me at my desk

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    This was my desk at the front left corner of the house in Tân Ba. Note the ever-present weapon leaned up against the wall on the right.

    The lamp was attached to a battery, since we had no electricity. The little globe was one I had bought in Saigon, with the names of all the countries in Vietnamese.

    When I wasn't interpreting for Major Giam I sometimes talked on the two-way radio, for instance to the helicopter pilots or to our colleagues just a few miles up the river at Tân Yuên. But I also had lots of spare time for reading and writing, which was fine.

    One evening each week the old man and his wife listened to a broadcast of a Vietnamese opera on the radio. To me it sounded just the same as Chinese opera, but they said it was Vietnamese.

    http://www.vtaide.com/ASEAN/Vietnam/opera.html

    Next: Our next door neighbor

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    Water from the river

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    1. Fetching water from the river
    2 more images

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    Another industrious person in our neighborhood was this young lady who earned money during the dry season by carrying water up from the river, not only for us but also for other people on our street.

    Rumor had it that her brother was a member of the local Viet Cong group that was based in a small patch of jungle about three miles away, so maybe she was spying on us, but she was so nice about it that we didn't mind.

    Perhaps she even saved us from being directly attacked by telling her brother that our house was full of weapons and the whole backyard was surrounded by trip flares. Maybe she even knew that our sergeants had set up a Claymore anti-personnel mine, a devilish machine that sends shrapnel flying in all directions when it is set off.

    Photos:
    1. Fetching water from the river
    2. Pouring the water into a big jar
    3. On her way back for another load

    Next: Children in Tân Ba

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    Tân Yuên

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    1. T��n Yu��n, 1964
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    A few miles up the river from Tân Ba there was a town called Tân Yuên where another small group of Americans was stationed.

    We went up there once on a river boat, sort of a patrol boat that belonged to the RVN navy. This was the only time we ever traveled anywhere by boat.

    Since Tân Yuên had taken several direct hits from mortar fire a few days before our visit, there was rubble everywhere, and the whole place looked quite desolate. I knew the American radio operator there, and didn't envy him, not only because of the mortar attacks but also because the new American major at Tân Yuên was one of the crazy kind who used to walk around the jungle (with his radio operator) looking for trouble, so he could become a hero. One of the younger American officers tried to get him court martialed, but to no avail.

    In 1995 the area around Tân Yuên looked quite idyllic (second photo) but in 2010 the provincial government decided that Tân Yuên should be the site of a new industrial park, as you can see by clicking on the link below.

    Click there especially if you are a potential investor, which is what they are looking for.

    GPS 11° 3'30.15" North; 106°47'52.41" East

    http://namtanuyen.com.vn/web/?lang=en

    Photos:
    1. Tân Yuên, 1964
    2. Drying rice near Tân Yuên, 1995

    Next: Our visit to Biên Hòa in 1995

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  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Mealtimes at Major Giam's house

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    Lunch at Major Giam's house

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    I didn't get much to eat that first evening because it was my first try at eating with chopsticks and because I spent the whole time interpreting French-English and English-French.

    Major Giam was delighted that he could speak French again and was no longer dependant on the incompetent ARVN interpreters, so at the end of the meal he suggested that we all come and eat with him twice a day and we could conduct all our business at mealtimes, with me interpreting. And he expected to be left alone the rest of the time, because he had work to do.

    He was evidently satisfied that my French was up to the task, but I was acutely aware that I didn't know the military terminology either in French or in English, so on my next visit to Saigon I bought a book called "The Military Interpreter, Lexique Militaire Français-Anglais", which really did come in handy though it also included some funny bits. There was a section on "Landing operations" that included not only the obvious phrases like "Nous débarquons : We disembark" but also the sentence "Tâchons d'avoir l'air intelligent pour le film d'actualités : Let us try to look good for the newsreel (US)."

    With all this interpreting at mealtimes I soon became very proficient at eating with chopsticks, otherwise I would have starved.

    GPS 10°58'40.01" North; 106°46'4.32" East

    Next: Major C., the Tan Ba District Advisor

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    Our next door neighbor

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    1. Handing a cup of coffee over the cactus hedge
    1 more image

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    Most of the Americans had the fixed idea that the Vietnamese were lazy, lacked initiative, etc., but our next door neighbor was living proof that this was not true.

    In his thatched house he had a café where I often went to meet the local people and practice my few words of Vietnamese. He served us our breakfast every morning by handing us fresh coffee and French bread across the cactus hedge between the two houses. And he did our laundry (second photo).

    When he had saved up enough money he made the most sensible investment that anyone could have made in a rural village in wartime. With the help of some relatives and neighbors he dismantled his house, put in a sturdy cement floor and rebuilt the house on top of it. Anything else could easily have been destroyed by rocket or mortar attacks, but his cement floor was practically indestructible, and when I returned thirty years later it was still there.

    Photos:
    1. Handing a cup of coffee over the cactus hedge (with his thatched house in the background)
    2. Picking up our laundry

    Next: Water from the river

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    The small pagoda, 1965

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    The small pagoda, 1965

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    This was one of my old photos that our driver showed people by the roadside when Nick and I were trying to find the village of Tân Ba in 1995.

    Several people recognized this distinctive small pagoda with the dragons on the roof, though they must have found it quaint to see an RVN flag in the picture, since the old "Republic of Vietnam" had ceased to exist twenty years before.

    GPS 10°58'40.63" North; 106°46'3.57" East

    Next: The village school

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    The village school

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    1. In the school, 1964
    2 more images

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    The village school was right behind the small pagoda and just next door to the house where Major Giam, the District Chief, used to live.

    The schoolyard was full of children in 1964 (second photo). Thirty years later there seemed to be fewer children (third photo) and a couple of them even had bicycles, but otherwise the schoolyard looked much the same as before.

    GPS 10°58'39.76" North; 106°46'3.51" East

    Photos:
    1. In the school 1964 -- photo from an RVN propaganda leaflet
    2. Children in the schoolyard 1964
    3. The same schoolyard 1995

    Next: Tân Yuên

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    Access to the river, 1995

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    1. Showing me the new public landing, 1995
    1 more image

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    The people who lived in the house in 1995 were all descendents of the old couple I had known thirty years before. After they showed me the new addition they had built onto the back of the house they took me down to the river to show me the other big improvement, a set of stone and concrete steps and a ramp leading down to the river bank.

    This really was an improvement, because thirty years before there had been nothing here but a steep path that was dusty in the dry season and muddy during the monsoons.

    They seemed really proud to show me this since I was one of the few people in the world who knew how it used to be.

    GPS 10°58'42.62" North; 106°46'10.30" East

    Photos:
    1. Showing me the new public landing, 1995
    2. The seven people who took me to the new landing, 1995

    Update October 2010: I have just looked at Tan Ba on Google Earth for the first time in several months. They have added new imagery, dated January 29, 2010, which shows that a new highway bridge has been built, crossing the river just north of Tan Ba, about 220 meters upstream from the public landing shown on this tip. This new bridge connects the right bank of the river to the large hourglass-shaped island, which up to now has been reachable only by boat. (But so far there is no bridge connecting the other side of the island to the left bank of the river.)

    Next: Washing dishes in the river, 1995

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    My arrival in Tân Ba

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    Dong Nai River from the helicopter, 1964

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    I arrived in Tân Ba by helicopter on October 16, 1964, and was met at the helicopter pad by the other American members of the "advisory team".

    They told me I had come at the safest time of the month, because tonight would be full moon, and the local Viet Cong preferred to operate under cover of darkness, not in bright moonlight.

    They also told me that they hadn't accomplished much of anything since their arrival a few weeks before. They were supposed to be "advising" the District Chief, an ARVN major who spoke no English and had thus far shown little interest in their advice.

    But we were all invited to the District Chief's house that evening for supper, and they were looking forward to that because he had a very good cook.

    GPS 10°58'40.78" North; 106°45'57.88" East

    Next: Working out my one sentence

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    The Cao Dai Eye

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    Favorite thing: --

    In the center of the living room, where the television would be in an American home, the old man had a shrine with a picture of a big eye in the center.

    This reminded me vaguely of the CBS television eye, but actually it was a depiction of the "One All-Encompassing Eye", a symbol of the Cao Dai religion.

    Every evening the old man came to me and asked who exactly would be sleeping in the house that night. At first I thought he was spying on us for the Viet Cong, but it later turned out that he just wanted to light the correct number of incense sticks on his altar, one for each person in the house.

    I'm not even sure he knew who the Viet Cong were. When there was an attack one night he came in yelling "Viet Minh! Viet Minh!" -- which we all thought was rather quaint since the Viet Minh were the ones who had defeated the French in 1954, but their role had long since been taken over by the National Liberation Front a.k.a. Viet Cong.

    www.caodai.org

    Next: The Cao Dai religion

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    Meeting the monk at the large pagoda

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    1. Talking with the monk, 1995
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    In the banquet hall of the large pagoda I was introduced to the monk who seemed to be in charge. He was a friendly man who was very interested in talking with me. Unfortunately our only common language was French, which neither of us had spoken for many years.

    Nonetheless, we tried to converse for quite some time, and he succeeded in confirming my impression that Tân Ba was still an intact, functioning community, which is something I was very happy about.

    Photos:
    1. Talking with the monk, 1995
    2. The banquet hall of the large pagoda, 1995

    GPS 10°58'38.37" North; 106°46'1.62" East

    Back to my first review: My arrival in Tân Ba

    OR

    Back to my Tân Ba intro page

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    The old lady

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 14, 2013

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    The old lady, 1964

    Favorite thing: --

    One reason the old man was so upset about us moving in to his house was that his wife was very ill. He was so sure she was dying that her open casket was already set up in her bedroom, right next to her hammock.

    When he found out that one of our sergeants was a medic he asked him to have a look at his wife. The medic addressed the old lady cheerfully in English, which she didn't understand:

    "Now ain't that handy, old lady, having your open coffin right there by your hammock, so when you croak they can just plop you right in, no problem. Since you're dying anyway it doesn't really matter what I give you, does it? So just take some of these white pills to make you feel better and some of these pretty yellow ones to make you sh!t, and we'll see what happens."

    Whether because of these pills or in spite of them, the old lady soon recovered and was up and about, sweeping, cooking, washing dishes, clucking at the chickens and chewing her betel-nut. And that was what finally reconciled the old man to our presence in his house, because he was convinced our medic had saved his wife's life.

    Just to make sure, Major Giam arranged for a government nurse to come around once a day to see that she was all right.

    The betel-nut, by the way, is a mild narcotic that the older women often chew and spit. It makes them feel good, evidently, but also stains their teeth and eventually damages the teeth and soft tissue of the mouth if they chew too much of it.
    http://www.seadolby.com/

    Next: Our medic

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