January 3, 1955
Dear Dad & Russ,
As our dip bag is going out tomorrow I thought I would just dash off a word or two while I have a spare moment (which is a very rare thing indeed). If you very carefully pry open the staples holding the enclosed two pieces of cardboard, you’ll find a rather beautiful piece of peacock feather. Peacocks run around all over this part of the world, and these parts are the native haunts of the wild peacock.
One of our Canadian Majors, on a team off in the wilds of Cambodia, captured two of these birds and brought them into Phnom Penh for a peacock dinner with some of the other officers. He saved the tail feathers and gave each of us here one as a souvenir. Most of them he gave to our steno, Miss Fyen, so that she could make hats out of them (should be different). I might mention here that this is the same Major who just a few weeks ago arrived in Phnom Penh with the skin of a 9-foot tiger! What a character.
Well, New Year’s was quite an unusual event here in Cambodia. All members of the three delegations were guests of the Indian Delegation at a great international New Year’s Eve party at Camp Tobruk, the Indian Headquarters in Phnom Penh. Golly, was it ever strange to spend New Year’s Eve surrounded by be-turbaned Indians, be-wildered Poles, and be-autiful tropical flowers. To say nothing of a silver moon shining on the palm trees! It was a very warm night and everybody was mopping themselves with handkerchiefs. The Indians provided some very good entertainment during the evening, including some absolutely fascinating Indian dances accompanied with weird Indian instruments. But the highlight of the entire evening was, however, when one lone Indian appeared on stage clad in a very unusual costume and with a six foot long LIVE PYTHON twined around his body!! This Indian, with the help of strange music, hypnotized the snake so that he could handle it safely and do just whatever he pleased with it! The python, by the way, is one of Indochina’s many snakes, so I am told, and although not poisonous, it has the rather nasty little habit of strangling things to death!
Well, as I said before, it certainly was a different way to spend New Year’s Eve and it was one New Year’s Eve that I shall always remember. Earlier in the afternoon of the 31st, a bunch of us went to see Laurence Olivier in Shakespeare’s Henry V, a film in colour and in English.
I have already seen this film about six times before, but I really enjoyed it immensely all over again. Was it ever funny seeing all the Cambodians in the audience trying to understand Shakespeare!*
It rained (of all things) on New Year’s Day so most of us just loafed around. Yesterday, however, was just wonderful (ah, what is so rare as a day in JANUARY!). The sky was a deep blue and the trees all lush green after the previous day’s showers. There seemed to be billions of new flowers blooming like mad all over the place. So what did we do? You guessed it. Went to the swimming pool. I got such a nice sunburn where I shouldn’t have (what with it being the second of January and all) that today I’m experiencing some slight difficulty in sitting down for any length of time. Would you believe it that yesterday afternoon at 5 o’clock, when things had cooled off a bit, that it was 90 in the shade!!! Just imagine. 90 in the shade at 5 in the afternoon on January second!!! I’m rather glad I take a look at the thermometer earlier in the day or I’m sure I would have died of fright!
Speaking of dying of fright, I’m now going to tell you about a little incident that occurred yesterday morning at the Hotel de la Poste.
Having nothing better to do I decided to sleep in during the morning. Here’s the scene: I was sound asleep in bed with my mosquito net up. The big overhead fan was going full blast and one of our little Chinese servants was in the bathroom trying to unclog a clogged drain. Then, sharp at 15 minutes to 12 noon — IT HAPPENED! C R A S H !!! Half the plaster on the ceiling suddenly got tired of staying up and came down! WELL, WHAT A SHAMBLES!!I woke with a start and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what had happened. The fall plaster had collapsed my mosquito net, wooden frame and all, and my bed was inches thick with plaster of all shapes and sizes. The room was filled with dust. Everywhere I looked was plaster. In falling the plaster had been batted all over the place by the big overhead fan, and consequently the room looked somewhat as it might have just been bombed (the thought did enter my mind).
When I finally realized what had happened I just sat there and roared. Honestly, it was all so funny! Then the little Chinaman ventured out of the bathroom, all wide-eyed with horror at what had happened. Seeing me all tangled up with plaster, mosquito net and net frame, he rushed over and began digging me out of the debris! I eventually was able to get out of bed but I could hardly stand up I was laughing so hard!
The room is now restored to its former state and, according to the little attached clipping, I have nothing to worry about as the plaster that fell was directly above my head. I just found this clipping today in one of the local papers and I thought it was most appropriate after what happened to me yesterday.
Well, I must go and get a haircut now. I just got clipped last week, but what with all this heat, my hair seems to grow twice as fast as it did back home. Our barber shop, by the way, is right next door to the hotel They do a wonderful job of haircutting there, believe it or not. It’s run by a little Chinaman who keeps spraying all sorts of nice-smelling liquids all over your head while he’s cutting your hair. Quite strange.
Well, folks, I must get away before it becomes necessary for me to buy a violin [becoming a “long-hair” in the 1950’s sense]. Bye for now and be sure to write soon,
* David’s story of seeing “Hank Cinque” in Phnom Penh either grew somewhat with the telling or he left out some details in his letter home. The version heard at least as far back as the 70’s was that the film was being shown in a local cinema that provided footrests in front of all the seats so people could keep their feet off the floor, out of the way of all the RATS – and there were lots of them. As well, the movie was apparently subtitled in French, Hindi, Chinese, Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese, with some scripts running left to right along the bottom of the screen and some from top to bottom along the right side. The result was that the upper left corner was about the only part of the screen left unobstructed. As well, there was some disparity among the various versions of the dialogue, in that some great long English verses were summarized in the Asian subtitles with short little blips, while brief utterances by the actors on the screen would result in great long outbursts in the other languages. As David had already seen this movie several times, he said that the actual film was definitely secondary to the “show” both on the screen and underfoot.