Moving, monkeys and misadventures

October 18, 1954

Dear Dad & Russ,

First of all, let me apologize like mad for not writing for such a long time. Reason: work, work and more work. Since I last wrote I have received three wonderful letters from you. One is dated September 10, the next (an Aerogramme) dated October 5, and just today I received one dated September 28 which was addressed to Hanoi and forwarded to me here in Phnom Penh (Puh-nom Pen-huh). Also thanks a million for the six pairs of short white nylon socks. They’re just what I wanted, fit perfectly, and arrived here in perfect condition along with your letter of October 5.

There are so many, many wonderful things to take pictures of here that every time I go out I take my camera with me. Just you wait until you see some of the shots I have already. I intend to fill an album I bought here within a few weeks and send it home in time for Christmas. I had most of my pictures made up into postcards with the intention of sending them home that way but, honestly Dad, they are so good that I am afraid that they might become damaged in the mail.The little camera I bought in Tokyo [a Zeiss Ikon] is really something. The lens on it picks up little details that I never even noticed when I took the pictures. All of the other fellows borrow my negatives when I am through with them and get prints made for themselves. As I said before, just wait until you see them. No fooling they’re not postcards, but actual pictures I took myself. I also had my picture taken in a local photographer’s in colour. It turned out quite well and you can see the beginning of what I hope is going to be a terrific moustache.

Our Mister Nixon and his moustache

Well, last Thursday we moved into our new office. It is situated on the second floor of a very nice building which is occupied on the first floor by the police or something. Our office was originally a flat and has two bathrooms with showers and even a kitchen with a fridge. All along one side of the building we have a great big patio! Real lush to say the least. The office is situated in a corner of the building and instead of windows all the walls are lined with great French doors that open up in the daytime. These doors are floor to ceiling in length with a little railing outside of each to keep us from falling out. When all the doors are open it’s just like working in an open air sun porch! My wee desk and typewriter is situated right in a corner with a door about three feet in front of me that looks out onto a blvd. that is all laid out with ornamental tropical gardens. The other door is just about two feet to my left and overlooks the gardens in front of the building. There are two of those fabulous fan palm trees just outside my window and a short distance away is a clump of six royal palms. Honestly, Dad, it’s really a job keeping my mind on my work with all these beautiful palms waving in the warm sunshine just outside my “windows”.

Mr. Macdonnell arrived from Hanoi last week and took over the Canadian Commissioner. Mr. Duder is now deputy and alternate to Mr. Mac. I am now secretary to Mr. Duder and Maj. Gen. Snow, our Military Advisor. Also I am file clerk, stock keeper and doer of any other little odd jobs that crop up from time to time. Certainly keeps me busy, but I like my work more and more every day. This job is all so new and interesting to me and I certainly feel darn proud to have even a little bit to do with this big undertaking that our good old Canada has accepted.

On thing that I don’t think that I mentioned before were the great number of monkeys that play all around the trees here. I could just stand for hours and watch them, they are so much fun. Something else that is very unusual here are the sunsets. Here in the tropics it is light one minute then suddenly everything turns bright yellow, orange, pink then dark purple then it is night. Just like that. It is really beyond putting into words the beauty of this sight. Especially if it has rained in the afternoon and there are still some clouds left in the sky. Breathtaking! We have had one or two real good storms lately but the rains do seem to be letting up a little. We’re pretty well over the Monsoon season now and next month there is a big feast here in Phnom Penh with celebrations lasting for days and days. Should be quite interesting.

Now for some real news. Very soon (probably early next month) four or fie of my army pals and me are going on a big game hunt! A French guide has offered to take us along on one of his trips. He has a car and all the necessary weapons. When I heard of this I said all I could shoot were pictures and it was agreed that I should go along with my camera and make a photographic record of the trip. They are going to place me smack in the centre of the “safari” well protected on all sides by the armed personnel. We are starting to get our equipment together now and I have already obtained a pair of French Foreign Legion jungle boots that come up around your pants and an Indian topi (hat). Should be lots of fun and I am certainly looking forward to it. It’s not the sort of thing I would do every day in Ottawa.

Yesterday morning (Sunday) a Chinese friend of ours from Hong Kong who speaks English and works in  a store where we deal a lot picked us up in his car and took for a drive around Phnom Penh and the outlying countryside. It was really wonderful and shows a little bit what the oriental hospitality is like. We even visited the stables of the Royal Palace where all the royal elephants are kept. My goodness but they’re big!

Le Cercle Sportif, Phnom Penh

Le Cercle Sportif, Phnom Penh

Yesterday afternoon I spent swimming in the green pool of “our club”. It was really wonderful and a grand way to beat the heat. However, (now don’t panic Dad) I had a wee accident. Two army fellows and I were doing some little gymnastics in the shallow end of the pool and during one of our tumbles someone’s foot, hand, head or something hit me on the nose. Voila! I now have a broken nose! Now don’t worry about it Dad. I’m certainly not the first person in the world to have their nose broken. There is absolutely no pain and aside from the initial bleeding and swelling no discomfort at all. I had an X-ray taken this morning and the doctor says that it is a clean break. I may have to go down to Saigon for a day or two to get it set, but that shouldn’t be too bad because I hear that Saigon is quite a nice place to visit. Right now my nose has the funniest little curve in it that you ever did see. It’s the topic of all sorts of little jokes and some of the fellows suggest that I leave it the way it is as a sort of souvenir of my trip to Indochina. Well, nuts to that. I’m very partial to my wee snoz and as I only have one and it will have to me the rest of my life I see no reason why I should not have it set straight rather than curved. Right at the moment, my nose is the subject of several telegrams to various medical officers inquiring as to the best place to go for treatment. It’s all very hilarious and I’m having more fun out of my little accident than a barrel of monkeys. As I said before, Dad, I’m not the first person to have a broken nose, nor do I expect to be the last so don’t worry one little bit about it. I’m not so don’t you. It could have just as easily happened in Ottawa as Phnom Penh. Probably by the time you receive this letter the whole situation will be a thing of the past. I shall report further about the nose situation in my next letter.*

Poolside horseplay

Poolside horseplay

Well, I must get to my bed now. A person certainly needs lots of rest to exist in this heat here. It’s certainly hard to believe that the trees will be turning in Ottawa just about now and I guess the nights are starting to get a little chilly. You’d never know it here. Whew, it’s hot.

Hope you like the little collection of stamps I put on this letter. They’re only worth about 25 cents though so don’t think I’m spending my money foolishly. (A little lizard just crawled down the wall and is eyeing me suspiciously. Guess I’m keeping him awake with my typing. Friendly little fellow.)

Each day I like Phnom Penh more and more. I’m actually going to hate leaving here, believe it or not. Well, as I said before, I must be gone. Don’t worry one little bit and keep writing and sending me clippings which I appreciate and enjoy very much.

Bye for now.



* What David did NOT tell his Dad was the very novel way in which he dealt with the swelling around his broken beak. This was in the days when military personnel were issued all kinds of things for personal use “just in case”. Among those items were condoms. Our Mister Nixon got the brilliant idea to put several ice cubes in one condom, tie it off, insert that into another, tie it off and use it an ice pack across the bridge of his nose. He told the story with relish, especially the part about the medical officer there noting it in his log as both unique and very resourceful.


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