David, the NFB, and Oudong

April 21, 1955

Dear Dad & Russ,

This morning dawned grey and miserable and pouring rain. WERE WE EVER HAPPY!! No fooling, it was so wonderful and refreshing to wake up for a change without the hot, bright sun beating down on us. I never thought I would get tired of sunshine, but after about six months of straight sunny weather, that grey, rainy sky sure looked good to me. I guess it all boils down to “too much of a good thing does get boring”.

What a coincidence! On Tuesday night, I used up the last of my Yardley’s after shower powder and said to myself “I must go out and buy some sort of powder to tide me over till the arrival of your parcel”. But, somehow or other, I just never got around to it. Then, this morning… IT ARRIVED!! Your most wonderful parcel from home came this morning from Saigon!! Just like Christmas in April!! The toffee is delicious; the hairbrush is just what the doctor ordered; nylon socks ALWAYS WELCOME AND NEEDED – just to mention a few of the many, many wonderful things in that terrific parcel. And, incidentally, the needles and thread arrived just in time ’cause a button is about to fall off my pants!! Good timing, I must say. The ciggie box is exactly what I wanted – so much handier than carrying around cans of fifty cigarettes!! Many, many thanks.

I mentioned in last Monday’s letter that I was going to see a film on Billy Graham at the American Embassy on Tuesday night. He certainly is a powerful speaker (to say the least) but, somehow or other, he just didn’t appeal to me very much. Certain scenes in the film, when you could just hear his voice, I enjoyed very, very much. But when you could actually see him, I found it very distracting to try to absorb what he was saying when he was making so many gestures with his hands and arms – indeed, with his whole body! Another thing that bothered me a bit was the fact that he would begin his talks at a very rapid pace and in a very loud voice which, unfortunately, he maintained through the entire talk, thereby reaching the climax of what he was saying in exactly the same pace and voice he had used building up to it. Get what I mean? I felt that if he had saved his tremendous gestures and voice until he he reached the point of his talk, it would have been so very much more effective. Oh well, that’s just my personal opinion – may be that I’m too theatrical or something, I don’t know. The main thing is, he’s doing a lot of good for this wicked old world and that’s what counts.

Last night was a riot at the Hotel de la Poste! I don’t know whether I mentioned it before, but the National Film Board has been in Indochina for the past two months making films and taking “still” shots of the International Supervisory Commission. There are three fellows in the group: Herb Taylor, Don Wilder and Morten Parker – three grand chaps. They knew [David’s school friend] Judy Gimblett very well at the NFB in Ottawa and were the same crew that filmed “The Stratford Adventure“, thereby knowing Bill Glenn. Well, last night was they pay-off. They wanted to get some movies of the living conditions of Canadians in Cambodia. And, as we all had just newly-decorated our rooms, they decided it was as good a place as any to get their shots. First thing that happened was a fuse blowout as a result of plugging in their strong lights. Blackness prevailed at the Hotel de la Poste for about 20 minutes till we located the fuse box and installed a new fuse. Fine. Then they filmed a fellow brushing his teeth with bottled mineral water just to get across the fact that the tap water here in this part of the world is not even safe to brush your teeth with. Then, some shots of Sgt. Plourde adjusting his sampot (native sarong) and preparing to write a letter to his wife. Then, on to Room 3 (Hap and me) to get some shots of Canadians fixing up their living quarters (we practically took took the room apart to make it look as if we just starting what we had actually finished a few weeks ago!) Just as they were about to start the filming (after a few rehearsals, I might add) the lights dimmed and the transformer went up in a cloud of smoke!! Well, more fun! A new transformer was brought in and we were all set to roll.

“Now, if I take two blue ones and a red one…”
[NFB still] And see how straight the part in David’s hair!

Let me say right here and now that if what they filmed in Room 3 last night ever reaches the screens of Ottawa theatres I shall surely have to leave town. I’d never be able to live it down!! The scene opened with me with my back to the camera adjusting our “newly-hung” drapes. I was dressed in a sampot (it’s what I always wear around the hotel and they wanted to get it as authentic as possible) and the most ridiculous hat on my head! It was the same Indian “topi” that I wore on my weekend to Angkor and it was pulled way down around my ears! What a sight! A combination of Dr. Livingstone and Dorothy Lamour – that was me! Well, anyways, to get on with it, after arranging the “newly hung” curtains, I spot Hap struggling with the bedspread on my bed. I offer to give him a hand and the camera follows me over to the bed. Then followed a “brief encounter” with the bedspread, after which I spot a dandy spot on the wall between two Cambodian swords to hang my “topi”. Then Hap flops down on the bed and I go charging around to the other side of the bed and (like an idiot) fling myself (bottom down) upon the bed, too. Now back home when a person sits violently on a bed he usually bounces about for a few seconds doesn’t he? Not here. I just landed with a dull “thud” and there I remained!! You realize, of course, that there is no “spring” to beds in these parts – just like boards every one of them. Then Hap and I sit there, looking about at the completed room and looking very pleased with ourselves for a job well (?) done.

Howie Morris, David, Jean-Marc Plourde “at ease” at the
Hotel de la Poste [NFB still] …and they’re ALL smoking!

There is no guarantee that anything filmed last night will make it past the cutting room, but who knows?? The film, incidentally, will be released next fall so I shall have a good chance of having to bribe theatre managers to just sort of slip the film past the part (if it’s left in at all) where I suddenly brighten the screen in a sarong and topi!!!

Last Tuesday night, the most unusual phenomenon occurred here in Phnom Penh. We had a GREEN sunset!! It was the weirdest thing! The sky was all full of clouds that looked like huge fingerprints. The centres of these clouds were a dazzling yellow which then blended into a sort of orange, then into red. And the whole fringe of each cloud was coloured a bright emerald green! Really green!! I don’t know if it’s a common occurrence around here or not, but we Canadians certainly got quite a thrill out of our first green sunset!

April 25, 1955

Our office hours have changed AGAIN as of today!! The heat was getting pretty awful around here, especially during the afternoon, so we now work the following hours: Monday – Saturday 8 to 1; Mondays and Thursdays ONLY: 4 to 6. Not bad , eh? Means just two afternoons a week we have to come to work. And besides, we are now getting well into the monsoon season and everything is getting sort of dampish and sticky. We have had several spectacular rain storms during the past week. Nice change.

Last week, we were informed that a Mr. Errol Wyse of our tokyo Embassy would shortly be coming to Phnom Penh to assist us and to eventually be my replacement. Well, what a coincidence!! You probably remember Errol from the Ottawa “Y”, Dad. He is a tall chap with flaming red hair. I met him last fall while I was in Tokyo and and he was the one who took me shopping and showed me around Tokyo. I certainly was pleasantly surprised to hear that he was the person who was going to replace me!! As soon as he gets here, I shall be free to take leave in Hong Kong. Hope he gets here soon!

Last Saturday afternoon, right after lunch, I retired to my bed for an afternoon siesta. At exactly 4:15, I was awoken by somebody pulling on my big toe. Imagine my surprise when I opened my eyes to see that it was Mr. R. “Paddy” Duder, Canadian Commissioner to the International Supervisory Commission for Cambodia pulling on my toe! He said, “How’d you like to go to Oudong? I said, “Sure, I’d love to go to Oudong!” (not having even the slightest idea where – or what – Oudong was!! I got dressed and joined Mr. Duder, Herb Taylor and Mort Parker (NFB) at the front of the hotel. We all climbed into Mr. Duder’s car (a big black Dodge with the Canadian ensign waving proudly up front) and Mr. Duder said to his driver, “Oudong”.

On the way to Oudong, I learned, much to my relief, what Oudong was. It is a small village about thirty or forty minutes by car up the Tonle-Sap River from Phnom Penh. At one time, years and years ago, Oudong was the capital of Cambodia. The big attraction there now is its three phnoms – or hills – that rise starkly upward from a palin of rice paddies and jungle. It was a lovely afternoon – a blue sky and not too hot. Everything seemed to be all freshly green as a result of last week’s rain, and millions of new flowers – reds, reds, oranges, yellows, etc., seemed to have bloomed from nowhere! We drove through some very lush jungle on a fairly good road for these parts. We were fortunate enough to see natives using elephants for working purposes on the drive, too!

A long way from Oudong we spotted the three phnoms rising in the middle of the plain. Then we drove off the main highway and continued down the most delightful palm-lined lane I’ve ever seen! The palm trees had quite evidently been planted purposely because they were all evenly spaced and of equal height. I was really quite lovely. We by-passed the village of Oudong and made a left turn onto a small dirt track that led through a small settlement of native huts. This road took us to the foot of one of the hills, where a great long staircase led to the top. We got out of the car and began climbing the stairs. At the top we found a huge Buddhist pagoda and were invited to enter by several shaven-headed, orange-robed bonzes (monks). Inside were great white pillars supporting a high wooden ceiling and, at the end of the temple, stood a gigantic bronze statue of of Buddha himself. Quite impressive.

After bidding our Buddhist friends good day, we followed a path that led down into a gully then up to the next of the three hills. On this hill stood a group of magnificent stupas, or ornamental towers that contain the ashes of some deceased personage of great importance. The most elaborate of this group of stupas, for example, was the resting place of King Sisowath (or something) who was one of the past Kings of Cambodia. I got some excellent shots (I hope) both in black and white and colour. Sure hope they turn out. Also, the NFB took a shot of Mr. Duder and me exploring these stupas.

David and Mr. Duder in Oudong, April 23, 1955 [NFB still]

The view from U Dong, looking across the wide, shallow bowl of Cambodia

The view from Oudong, looking across the wide, shallow bowl of Cambodia

By this time we were quite a distance away from the great staircase we had ascended, so we began looking for another way down. It was so very quiet and peaceful up on that hill. All around us lay miles and miles of jungle and rice paddies, as far as they eye could see. There were dozens of strangely gnarled trees, twisted into the most fantastic shapes by years of wind and weather. And MONKEYS!!! There must have been dozens of monkeys swinging and chattering in the trees! And of course, birds of all descriptions and colours flew around us. Very pleasant spot, I must say.

One of the temple spires of U Dong

One of the stupas of Oudong

An arty shot of an U Dong temple

An arty shot of an Oudong stupa

Well, finally Mr. Duder spotted a little trail that seemed to wind downward to where the car was parked. We started down and very soon were engulfed in the thickest, spiniest jungle you every laid your eyes on!! Great trees loomed overhead and thick vines draped themselves right down to the ground. After quite a little safari, led by our Commissioner, we emerged (of all places) in the midst of some half-dozen native huts. We were quite surprised but not half as much as the poor natives were to suddenly see four white men appear from the jungle!! They greeted us with smiles and little prayer-like bows that are typical of these people. We soon found a road that led us back to the Dodge and we were soon on our way back to Phnom Penh.

I sure hope Mr. Duder pulls my big toe more often!!

Well, folks, that’s about it for this time. I’m in the best of health again now, believe me. Won’t be long till you have to go charging out to Uplands in the Ford to pick me (and my luggage) up when I arrive fresh from Gay Paree! By the time you get this letter, it will be less than four months till I’m home again!!

Lots of love,

Dave

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