Movies, Invasions and Travel Plans

February 12, 1955

Dear Dad & Russ,

Well, here’s another week gone by already. Seems just like yesterday when I last wrote you. I usually write on Monday, as you know, so that I can put the letter into Tuesday’s Dip Bag, but due to the fact that our hours are going to change again and because the films at the American Ambassador’s home each Monday night, it makes things a bit rushed. So hereafter I shall try to get my weekly news onto paper either during the week, adding a bit every day or so, or else on the weekends.

About our new hours. The old hours were from 8 to 12 and 1:30 till 4:30 and 8 to 12 on Saturdays. The new hours starting Monday will be 8 to 12 and 3:30 until 5:30. It was getting so hot here last week, especially around the noon-hour that we felt it would be better not to try to work during this time of the day. So now we shall have a 3 1/2 hour break each day in which to eat lunch, have a sleep, or perhaps go swimming. Should be nice, eh? Golly, though, it sure is hot here now. During the day the temperature goes up somewhere between 100 and 110!! And the nights are not much better. No sir. The temperature usually goes down to around 85 or 90 degrees at night!!! Last Wednesday night at 11 p.m., for example, it was 87 degrees!! WHEW! What I wouldn’t give for a snowball right about now.

Our Mister Nixon

Our Mister Nixon

I don’t know if I mentioned it or not in my last letter but due to the fact that last Monday was a legal Cambodian holiday (one of the 150) the American Embassy was closed, so naturally the film was cancelled until Tuesday night. However, on our way back from the Ambassador’s home (we forgot the holiday and arrived at 9:30 just the same) we were passing one of Phnom Penh’s nicer cinemas and we noticed that a film on the Peking Circus was showing. So, in we went. It was quite unusual, to say the least. It was a Russian film, filmed in Moscow, and concerned the visit of a Chinese circus group from Peking. The whole thing took place in the Russian Circus and, after the preliminary propaganda speeches, we saw some very good Chinese performers. That’s one of the wonderful things about this place – if a person wants to, he can go to a great variety of different types of films – Russian, Chinese, Philippine, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, etc., etc. And occasionally American.

Last Thursday a sea mail bag arrived from Ottawa. The poor thing had been on the high seas since last November 23 and you know what was in it? Your envelope containing razor blades, pen refill, and those wonderful clippings, to say nothing of that travel folder from Florida! I had a sneaking suspicion that these things must arrive one of these days and sure enough, Thursday saw their arrival. Many, many thanks. I don’t quite see why the Department put a small envelope like that into a Sea Bag rather than send it by air, but I guess that’s just one of those things. The weekly Courier Bag from Ottawa did not arrive on time last week. As a matter of fact, it just came in today – but no personal mail.

Yesterday we received a rather welcome surprise from Canada. Eight reels of film on the Grey Cup 1954! Not only was the whole game included, right from kick-off to the tearing down of the goalposts, but also the complete history of the Grey Cup right down from 1909 up to the present, and also pre-game comments. I now know how to run a movie projector (thanks to the Army) so I took turns with Howie Morris loading and rewinding the films. The whole thing took 4 1/2 hours to show and as we didn’t start until 8:30 we just finished at 1 a.m. this morning. Quite a night of football, eh? The films were all excellent, being those taken when the game was televised by the CBC – you know, the kind with some real good close-up shots.

Dad, I don’t want to alarm you, but the office has just been invaded!!! Nothing too serious, however, the “invaders” being but a few thousand winged insects. I’ve never seen anything like it!! We are just sitting here minding our own business – some writing letters like me, others reading and some listening to the radio, when suddenly – THE OFFICE FILLED UP WITH BUGS!!! They came swarming in through the doors and “windows” and for a while there, it was every man for himself. However, the good old Canadian Army came to the defence and we now have a Corporal posted in the middle of the room  (looking every bit like the Statue of Liberty) with an insect bomb held aloft in the midst of the invaders. Bodies are dropping all over the place and, by the smell of that insect bomb, I think a few Canadians are going to drop any second now too!!! Oh well another mystery of the Mysterious Far East, I guess.

Speaking of strange things, today on the way back from the swimming pool (it was wonderful there today – real hot) we spotted the strangest looking creature we had ever seen on the sidewalk. It was a lizard – but WHAT A LIZARD!! Now honestly, this is no word of a lie, that lizard was easily half a foot long with a head the size of an egg. But, the strangest thing about it was its colour. It was light blue with red dots all over it!!! No fooling, I haven’t been out in the sun too long, it really was!!

Indochinese Forest Lizard

Say, did I ever tell you about the “rain trees” here in Phnom Penh? I really don’t know what type of tree they are but we Canadians have called them “rain trees” because it always appears to be raining underneath them. The sidewalks under these trees are always wet and sticky and whenever you walk under them you can feel a fine spray and the occasional big drop, just like a shower of rain!!! I’m sure there must be quite a simple biological explanation for this, but they certainly are the strangest trees.

A “Rain Tree”

Last week I suffered through a mild case of dysentery (as we all have over here at one time or another) but I’m all better now and things are back to normal. At the first of the week, when it first started, I figured it was just a passing case of the runs so I didn’t pay much attention. However, by Thursday I was still running (and believe me, I was getting pretty “pooped out” if you’ll pardon the pun) so I took some tablets that were included in our medical kit supplied by the Army for just such occasions. The dose said “take eight tablets first time then take four more every four hours” – so I did. Well. What a struggle it was getting those pills down! They were about the size of overall buttons!! But, as I said before, I’m better now, so all’s well that ends well.

Next weekend I’m off to visit our delegation in Vientiane in the Kingdom of Laos. I’m really looking forward to this and shall give you a report of the journey when I return.

Speaking of journeys, I’m afraid I shall not be able to make Florida this year. I shall just have to leave Florida to those fortunate folks who can afford to travel. Ha! That reminds me – my pay deposit for the month of January came in today and it says that $195 and some odd cents has been deposited to my account last month. Next month, the way I figure it, my deposit should be something like $236.60. My salary, including allowances, is now $286.00 per month [emphasis added] but after the deduction of income tax, retirement funds, etc., etc., etc., etc. (you know the Government) I will have $236.60 clear!!! Not bad, eh?

Just before I forget I want to tell you about a big laugh I had last night. The Army also sent some Canadian newsreels over with the Grey Cup game and guess who was in them? Charlotte Whitton, pointing to some slum areas in Ottawa that she was going to clean up!!! I nearly died! Imagine seeing old Lottie all the way over here in Cambodia!

Some very beautiful semi-classical music is coming in on the radio now and it’s certainly a pleasure to listen to. I’ll sure be glad when my own Zenith radio arrives from Canada so that I shall be able to listen to music anytime of the day or night I want to. That’s one of the things I really miss very much here in the “jungle” – good classical music.

Now here’s some big news! On March 4 I am flying to the city of Bangkok in the Kingdom of Siam!!!! How’s that for a surprise??? Here’s how it happened. It has been recommended that after six months’ service in Indochina, all Canadian personnel should try to get out of Indochina for a short holiday, what with the heat, volume of work, strange living conditions, etc. I really hadn’t given it much thought till just the other day when Cecile and I were talking about her return trip to Paris next month. She is going to stop over in Bangkok for a few days and when I mentioned my desire of seeing that fabled city, Cecile said, “Well, why don’t you take some leave and come as far as Bangkok with me in March?” That sure sounded good to me so I went in and talked it over with Mr. Duder. He said it would be a good change for me and he was very anxious for me to take the opportunity of going. Hanoi has promised us another steno by March 1 so there shall be no problem there. I’ll be leaving Phnom Penh on Friday, March 4 and returning the following Tuesday, March 8. Of course, Dad, I realize that taking trips to Bangkok is not a very good way of saving money, but the way I look at it – anybody can save money if he really puts his mind to it, but just how many people can dash off to Bangkok for a weekend??? Sound reasonable to you? I think I would be foolish to miss visiting places like this while I am in this part of the world, ’cause who knows when I will ever be back this way again. Furthermore, if I can return to Ottawa via Paris, I can take the Singapore route, having already been to Bangkok, thus seeing strange places that I never dreamed of ever visiting. I’ll tell you of any progress I’ve made with plans for this trip next letter.

Well, time for dinner, but before I sign off, would you mind getting out an atlas and just sort of figure how many miles I have flown so far, taking in a return flight from Phnom Penh to Bangkok? I don’t think this will be too difficult as most maps show some kind of scale in miles at the bottom. Then would you please let me know the total in your next letter? Don’t go to any big trouble now, but just for fun, I really would like to know “my flying record” so far. Thanks.

Bye for now,

love,

Dave

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