Snippets, a Nose, and a Trip to Saigon

Snippet 1: Last Wednesday night one of the army fellows and I went to see an Indian movie. The film was called “Mela” and was quite a thing to see. It was filmed in India and all the dialogue was in Indian. No sub-titles whatsoever. However, we enjoyed it immensely and had no difficulty in following the story at all. There was a lot of Indian music and temple dancing in it. It was all very strange and beautiful. We’re now considering taking in a Chinese movie as well as a a Cambodian one. Should be quite interesting.

Snippet 2: I think I told you in one of my letters about the Buddhist temple, pink staircase, etc. situated smack in the centre of town. Well now I know why this place is called Phnom Penh. It seems that the Buddhists always cremate their dead and bury their ashes in this hill. Now the word Phnom means “mountain” and word Penh means “full” in the Cambodian language. Consequently Phnom Penh means literally “full mountain”. One learns something new every day.

The Phnom

The Phnom

October 25, 1954

Dear Dad & Russ,

Just finished a hard day’s work. Things are beginning to pick up around here now. Last Monday we went out and bought some file folders as our supply from Ottawa had not yet arrived. Since then everyone has been running around like headless chickens getting our file system established. However, things seem to be getting pretty well settled now and very shortly we will have our office routine down pat. It’s really sort of fun starting from scratch like this. There’s nobody to tell you exactly what sort of system to set up so we can just go ahead and set things up as best suits us. Certainly is a big job, however, but once the initial organizational period is over, things should work out pretty well.

I received (since I last wrote you) your little note with newspaper clippings attached dated October 6. Many thanks. I certainly do enjoy reading these little clippings as do the other fellows I show them to. Also received your very newsy letter of October 13 and just today I received your very welcome note of October 15 acknowledging receipt of the parcel. Glad you enjoyed examining the contents. Very shortly I shall send another parcel with many more little souvenirs from the “Mysterious East” and also some of the pictures I have taken already.

Now, about the nose situation. Well, Dad, one might almost say that the breaking of my nose was a “lucky break” (if you’ll pardon the pun), because due to this I was able to spend 2 1/2 days in Saigon, the “Paris of the Orient”. I flew down to Saigon on Tuesday afternoon, October 19 and returned to Phnom Penh Friday morning, October 22nd. (It seems to me that for a person who had never even been inside a plane up till two months ago I certainly am doing a lot of flying all at once.. I just pop in and out of aeroplanes now as if I had been flying for years and years. Sure do love it though. I don’t think the thrill of flying will ever wear off. Especially when do most of my flying over strange and fascinating countries.) However, to get on with my Saigon trip. I arrived in Saigon shortly before three Tuesday afternoon and was taken by International Commission white jeep to the Continental Palace Hotel where I was given a very, very nice room. Nothing could be done about my now famous nose that afternoon so I just lounged around the hotel until suppertime. There were eight of us Canadians in Saigon that evening so we all decided to really live it up and have a huge dinner at the Majestic Hotel – a very modern hotel with a plush dining room way up on the top floor overlooking the lights of Saigon Harbour. For dinner that evening I had (get a load of this) Russian caviar, cold consommé with lemon, breaded veal cutlet, spaghetti, cauliflower cooked in butter, crepes suzette and tea! Along the middle of the table were 24 (repeat 24) glasses, three for each of us. These were for water, white table wine and red wine. Honestly, what a anquet. By the way, mine was one of the smaller dinners! The fellow next to me had everything I had plus two lobsters!

David’s ISC ID card for hopping on and off of aeroplanes and white jeeps. That thumbprint doesn’t look like it would do much good as an identifying mark.

Wednesday afternoon, I went to the Saigon hospital to see about my nose. With me were Major McCuaig, our Canadian Medical Officer, an Indian M.O. and a Canadian Captain who spoke French and came along as interpreter. The doctor looked at my nose then gave me me a little note for the X-ray division to which I went immediately via white jeep. I had the X-ray taken and inquired as to when it would be ready. They said not before Friday morning, then just before I was leaving a little man appeared holding my X-ray dripping wet from development in a drying frame. I don’t know who he thought I was but I guess he figured it was a rush job so he developed it immediately. This dripping wet negative was handed to me frame and all, and I climbed into my white jeep and drove back to the doctor’s building. I should explain here that each division of this hospital is in a separate building and the whole place stretches over a great area of land.  The doctor looked at my X-ray and announced that my nose was broken. (Brilliant observation!) He then diddled with my nose for a few minutes and said “no treatment required”. Explanation: the bone was broken cleanly and straight across. Thus there is only one position it can set itself into and that is straight. The doctor said that the reason for the crookedness was merely the initial swelling caused by the break. That was last Wednesday, and sure enough by now my nose is as straight as a rule. The swelling has all gone down and the bone is now knitting itself just as straight as it was before it was broken. So ends the episode of the broken nose!

On Thursday I walked all around Saigon’s main shopping district. I picked up a few little souvenirs which I shall send via next parcel home. Saigon by the way has a population of a couple million people. Its population has increased immensely recently because of the refugees fleeing from the northern Vietnam area. For example, there was a great theatre directly across the street from the Continental Palace that had been taken over by refugees as living quarters. Saigon is a very pretty city with wide boulevards, artistic traffic islands and lovely water fountains. I certainly enjoyed my stay there and shall look forward to another visit very soon, I hope.

Well, I’ve been to Montreal, the Paris of America, and Saigon, the Paris of the Orient. Now all that remains to be seen in this line is Paris itself. Well, who knows, maybe on the way home…?

When I returned on Friday morning I found your note of October 6 and letter of October 13 waiting for me. Also a very nice letter from Bob, whom I shall be writing tomorrow if time permits. Please relay this to Bob and tell hime he shall be hearing from me very shortly.

Saturday afternoon we spent at the swimming pool just floating around and soaking up the sun. Sunday morning all we Canadian Protestants here attended the first church service to be held by a group of American missionaries here in Phnom Penh. The service was held in the American Embassy of Phnom Penh and was very lovely indeed. A tiny little portable organ had been installed at the front of the room and we sang hymn from little printed sheets. More people than were expected turned out (much to everyone’s delight) and people were sitting on chairs ranging from great overstuffed armchairs to tiny typists chairs borrowed from the offices of the Embassy. We had no collection plates so a wicker waste paper basket was passed around for donations. The service was non-denominational  —  very simple, yet very sincere and moving. I think it was the simplicity of it that impressed most us most of all. Nobody seemed to mind the lack of stained glass windows, a good organ or church pews. It was just a quiet half hour of prayer and hymns and a short sermon concerning “Faith”. All during the service I couldn’t help thinking of our simple little services up at Camp Y in our woodland chapel. These services are going to be a regular thing now, and we are all looking forward to the next one. By the way, there were not enough hymn sheets to go around so I shared one with Mr. Macdonnell, our Ambassador. Ambassador and clerk sharing the same hymn sheet. Just a thought.

Sunday noon some of us went over to the Royal Hotel where we were given some shots that they failed to give us in Ottawa before we left. Some fun.

Sunday afternoon a whole crew of us went to the swimming pool. Was it ever hot!!!! I now have a glorious tan. We have a wonderful sun tan lotion here called TANTOO that stays on for hours even while in the water. It absolutely prevents sunburn but promotes the best tan I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I mentioned it before but we all bought French bikini bathing suits here in Phnom Penh. Consequently I am getting tanned in places I never tanned before. These bathing suits are quite skimpy to say the least but everybody here wears them. So as the old saying goes, “When in Rome…”. I was floating around in the cool, clear green water gazing up at some beautiful palm trees waving gracefully in the warm sunshine and clear blue sky when suddenly a little breeze blew a delicate mauve orchid-like flower off an overhanging shrub. This little flower landed right beside me and floated along with me. Right about this point I recalled you had said in one of your letters that the leaves in Ottawa were turning now and that the weather is getting chilly. ARE YOU SURE! Honestly, it hardly seems possible that you people at home are getting into the winter season when everything is so lush, green and warm here in this tropical part of the world. Ah well, that’s the way it goes, I guess. I’m sure that I shall find cold Canadian winters frigid after two years here.

Well it’s now 7:30 and my stomach’s telling me that it’s time to go for supper. By for now. I’ll write again soon and shall look forward to your next letter.




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