Almost Christmas

December 22, 1954

Dear Dad & Russ,

WHEW!!  Well, there’s another day’s hard work finished. I’m pretty played out but I thought that before I go back to the hotel I would just sit down for a few minutes and dash of a few words to you folks on the other side of the world. HA! I just had a funny thought! You know how we Canadians always refer to this part of the world I’m in now as being “down under”? Well, it just occurred to me this minute that to me now, Canada is “down under”! What a revolting situation. Makes one wonder just where, exactly, “down under” really is, doesn’t it? I guess it all depends which way you look at it. Well, that’s enough of that. Now on with the letter.

Sidewalk dentistry display

David’s photo of a sidewalk dentistry display

Sidewalk barber

And a sidewalk barber

So far (not counting those in your wonderful, wonderful parcel which I’m saving for the 25th as per instructions on the envelopes) I have received Christmas cards via mail from the following people: Bernie Leger in Vientiane, Laos (my old Hanoi pal on loan to Indochina from our Tokyo Embassy), Les & Kay in the USA, Bob & Mary Hoare in Canada, Errol Wyse in Japan (a fellow I knew from the Ottawa “Y” that I met again working in our Embassy in Tokyo), and Charlie Shaver.

One of David’s cards from Canada

I’m getting to be quite the International Character aren’t I? There were some lovely letters in those cards, too, and I received a short time ago a grand long letter from Aunt Clara and Uncle Russ. Now the reason I mention this is that I wish you would mention me to all these wonderful folks when you next write them, Dad. Believe me, there is nothing better I would rather do than to sit down at my typewriter and write everybody great long letters, but honestly, time is a very jealous thing here in Cambodia. If you don’t make the best use of it when you’re supposed to, it catches up with you eventually. We’re very, very busy here right now (that’s the way I like it) and there doesn’t appear to be any signs of lessening up, at least not for some time to come. So, Dad, if you’d explain this in your letters to the folks for me I would appreciate it very much. I do, however, think about all of them very often often and send them my love.

Sgt. Plourde, my Army sidekick has been away in Saigon for treatments for sinus for the better part of December so in addition to my own work I have had to tackle his jobs besides. And just this afternoon, Miss Fyen, Mr. Duder’s private secretary, stayed home sick. Consequently, I had to do three people’s work this afternoon, even to the extent of making coffee and tea for the officers, one of Miss Fyen’s jobs. Well, more fun!! I took dictation from Mr. Duder (our Commissioner, by the way) for most of the afternoon. Just before he started to dictate he said to me “Well, Dave, how’s life treating you?” That’s just the way he is, Dad, always taking a personal interest in his staff whether they be Major-Generals or file clerks. He really is a wonderful man, very clever and full of humorous wit. He certainly has the respect and admiration of everyone on the delegation. It really makes life so much more pleasant when you’re working for a swell person like that.

I think I mentioned that the Army had sent us a movie projector. Well, we sure had some good evenings watching films right here in the office. When everyone on the delegation has seen all the films we intend to start trading films with Vientiane and Hanoi. I believe Hanoi has the film “Conquest of Mount Everest” which should be most interesting. Last Thursday, the Army NCOs (including me – I’ve been adopted) and the Army and Ext. Aff. officers had a little volleyball game over at the Royal Hotel. What a strange experience that was! Just imagine playing volleyball on an outdoor court with palm trees all around on the 16th of December! The officers won, by the way. Mr. Duder was referee and Miss Fyen was a one-woman cheering section. Well, even though we did lose we certainly had a lot of fun. We’re planning more games after the New Year.

External Affairs also did their bit to make our Christmas a pleasant one here in Cambodia. The Recreational Organization sent us a “Scrabble” board and two decks of cards. “Scrabble” is quite a fascinating game and certainly a pleasant way of passing the evening. We also received one of those Zenith Trans-Oceanic Portable Radios I told you about, that I was considering buying, from the Department. They’re terrific radios and right now we are listening to Christmas Carols from Australia as I type this letter. We get best reception from Australia, India and Manila. Very often Tokyo and London come in clearly as well. I didn’t realize just how much I’d missed having a radio around until this one arrived. My goodness, I even like listening to commercials now, it’s been that long since I heard a radio playing. We also get some weird Cambodian music on the local Phnom Penh station. By the way, I DID order one of these radios for myself.

The Delegation has been receiving quite a few Christmas cards from various people all over the world and Mr. Duder suggested that might be a nice idea to hang a string somewhere on which we could display these cards. Well, I agreed that it would be quite a nice idea, but a string is such an un-Christmasy (there’s that word again) thing, so I put my imagination to work and here’s what developed: we had a a very blank looking corner in the big main orderly room of our office and so I decided to use this corner for my creation. About ten feet from the floor I stretched a short piece of string across the corner and fastened it to each of the walls with adhesive tape (only thing I could find for fastening string to walls). A few inches below this I fastened another piece of string (a little longer) across the corner and so on, each piece being just a little longer than the other until I was about three feet from the ground. Over this string (I mean these strings) I hung pieces of green crepe paper which I sliced finely to look like pine needles. I thn hung the Christmas cards over the strings and topped the whole thing with a star made out of cardboard covered with cigarette box paper. Directly beneath this “thing” I place a green paper-covered waste paper basket, into which I stuck a bamboo broom (much to the consternation of our cleaning boy) and around the basket I piled bunches of straw. Between the cards I hung bits of cotton batting and VOILA!!! We now have a Christmas card decorated Christmas tree!! The effect is really quite amazing, if I do say so myself, and visitors to the Delegation are forever commenting on and admiring our “Christmas tree”. Well, it was all lots of fun and gives us a little bit of Christmas spirit to boot.

Christmas cards from David’s Hong Kong tailor, Gene Loo

The birds, butterflies and balmy, balmy breezes are still with us in this part of the world. The winter is all over here, so we have been told, although quite frankly I was not aware that winter had even started. Last week the temperature DROPPED way down to 70 or so and the natives nearly froze to death. Some people around here were saying that this year was the longest and coldest winter Cambodia had ever had! Well, I’m all confused. If that was their idea of a long and cold winter I’d sure hate to be here for a “mild” winter. I’m still sweating.

Well, mon pere et frere, I must be away. Tomorrow is the big night of our Christmas banquet and we are all going to bed early in preparation for the big event. We finish work here on Friday morning both this week and next. Whoops! Nearly out of paper. Expect I’ll be hearing from you in a day or so. I’ll write again right after the 25th to tell you how we got along on Christmas Day. Thanks again for your terrific parcel.

Love, Dave.


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