Canadian Christmas in Cambodia (with nuts)

December 27, 1954

Dear Dad & Russ,

Little did I suspect when I was having turkey dinner in the Ottawa YMCA last Christmas that just one short year from that day I would be getting myself all lobster red from swimming in the hot sun all day! But that indeed is what happened! More about this later in the letter, for now I shall bring you up on events that occurred since my last letter of December 22, and tell you what a Canadian Christmas in Cambodia was like.

One of David’s “outgoing” cards

Well, as I told you in my last letter, last Thursday was our big Christmas mess dinner. At the very last minute it was decided that I could attend as a civilian so my Sgt. disguise was not used after all. I’m just as glad ‘cause I’m sure that I would feel terribly conspicuous sitting there trying to look awfully military. I wore a grey tropical suit that I bought in Hong Kong for $22 instead. I also wore a tie! And shoes! For the first time in I don’t know how long! You just can’t imagine how thrilling it was to get all dressed up after wearing nothing but shorts and little white shirts for so long! Well, on with the dinner.

At seven o’clock the NCO’s and I went upstairs to a private dining room at “La Taverne”, the restaurant of the Hotel de la Poste (best meals in town), where we were greeted by a reception line of Officers. For half an hour we stood around, had cocktails and chatted to one another. I suppose you know, Dad, that at a Canadian Army mess dinner at Christmas, the NCOs do all the eating and the Officers have to serve them. Well, what fun we had! The Officers were all grand sports and didn’t mind a bit when Cpl.s, etc., called major-General Snow “waiter”, “boy”, “garcon”, etc. The dinner was delicious, complete with soup, appetizers, baked ham, turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, plum pudding and coffee! As you can see the only that suffered was our stomachs! After dinner we all sat around and sang Christmas carols. I might also mention that the room was very cleverly decorated with streamers, flags and Chinese lanterns. Also there was a lovely floral arrangement of tropical flowers right down the centre of the table. So, as you can well see, a real good time was had by all.

The next day, the 24th, was a half day only at the office for us. Most of us slept during the afternoon, then after supper went to see Doris Day in “Lullaby of Broadway” in colour and in ENGLISH! Most enjoyable. I was back at the hotel by 11 o’clock, then Hap and I and few other fellows sat around in our room and talked. Then, at midnight, after wishing each other a Merry Christmas I fulfilled a little obligation with Sylvia.

Sylvia Tysick

She suggested in her last letter to me that at 12 o’clock we would both sit down and read the 23rd and 24th Psalms, she from her Bible and I from the lovely little book of Psalms she gave me as a going-away present. Then we each wished each other a Merry Christmas all the way from Canada to Cambodia and vice versa. Wasn’t that a wonderful idea? Leave it to Sylvia to think of such a lovely thing. Then I opened all you wonderful Christmas cards that were in the parcel. They were too wonderful for words! Thank you a million times Dad and Russ – I shall certainly treasure these Christmas cards for years to come. All the cards from the gang were just terrific and each of them had a wee note written by the sender.

That night, Christmas Eve, the “Taverne” was open all night and boasted a terrific Christmas dinner served from midnight until 6 o’clock the next morning. So the whole gang of us went next door for a bite to eat. Did I say a bite? I nearly burst! At our table we had Canadians, Poles, Indians, Americans, Frenchman and a young English woman who is personal assistant to the British Ambassador in Phnom Penh. The party lasted until about 4 a.m., then we all went to bed, dead tired but very happy (and full).

Christmas Day was bright, clear and HOT!! I slept until noon then we all met for lunch, after which it was unanimously decided to make for the swimming pool and get away from the heat. On the way over to the pool we just sort of sneaked from shadow to shadow for fear of sudden evaporation! Would you believe it – the temperature was about 90! Christmas Day and all! So for the rest of the day we just loafed around the pool. I didn’t realize it at the time but when I got home Christmas night I looked like an overdone lobster! Oh, I was red! Imagine getting a sunburn on Christmas Day. I just can’t get over it, it seems so idiotic! Anyways I already had quite a substantial tan, so the red soon turned to brown and all was well.

Now here’s a lovely thing. Just as I returned to the hotel I was handed a telegram which read as follows: MERRY CHRISTMAS HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAY GOD BLESS YOU LOTS OF LOVE – SYLVIA. Now wasn’t that wonderful? Sylvia will never know just how much that little telegram meant to me. Receiving a telegram at Christmas is nice enough as it is, but to receive one from half way round the world means so very, very much more. I’m going to drop her a line tomorrow but if you should just happen to see her before she gets my letter, please tell her I appreciated it so much.

Sunday found us all back at the pool trying to keep cool and once again I turned red. Right now, however, I’m back to brown again. If I don’t be careful I’m sure I’ll be mistaken for a native!

Today it’s still hot and I’m sweating something terrible! Some woman is singing Chinese on the radio right at the moment. That’s also something terrible! Which reminds me. I’m sorry to hear that poor old Yma is being so sadly neglected. Maybe you could at least take the record out and dust it once in a while? Ha! By this time, if you have received my parcels and if my Cambodian records arrived safely you’ll probably think that Yma Sumac sounds like Doris Day after listening to them!

We had all sorts of excitement here in the office today. Never a dull moment in this country and always lots of laughs. About half way though the morning, water began pouring through the ceiling in torrents! I guess a pipe must have burst or something but anyways, for about ten minutes, people were taking turns using my umbrella to dash under this unexpected “shower” to make hasty grabs at typewriters, papers, desks, chairs, etc. By the time there was about an inch of water on the floor a little old Chinaman (about 165 years old by the look of him), wearing an old brown felt hat with the rim all pulled down and the crown all pushed up, and a pair of crushed black Chinese pajamas, suddenly appeared in the office. He looked at the ceiling, looked at us, looked at the floor, then laughed. When he laughed we all laughed too. What a sight! He had just two teeth – one pointing up and the other pointing down! Then he left. A short time later the deluge slowed and finally stopped and my umbrella was put away for another emergency, should one occur. We learned later that the two-toothed Chinaman was actually a plumber who occasionally fixes broken pipes but whose real specialty is unplugging plugged toilets!! WHAT A NUT HOUSE!

Then, this afternoon at about 4:30, a troupe of Cambodian coolies came plodding into the office (all bare-footed) and commenced scaling the walls with bamboo ladders. Naturally we were curious, it not being every day that bare-footed Cambodian coolies scale our office walls with bamboo ladders. We asked one of them in French what he was looking for halfway up our walls and he simply pointed at our telephone (a useless instrument if I ever saw one) and went back to scaling his bamboo ladder. Then one of them produced a new telephone from a sack and began to install it in place of the old one. We then realized that the other ladder-climbers must be looking for telephone wires to connect or something, so we just sat back and watched the Cambodian telephone company at work. This new phone is supposed to be the last word in convenience simply because you don’t have to crank it to get the operator. There’s only one drawback. The connection is so poor that to make the operator hear you, you have to shout till the rafters shake! Again I say – WHAT A NUT HOUSE!

Well, that just about brings you up to date on Cambodian affairs. I’ll say bye for now but shall certainly do my best to write again soon, providing the heat doesn’t get me first.

Love,

Dave

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