Supplies and How to Deal with Them

Cambodian Calendar Page, May 15, 1955

May 15, 1955

Dear Dad & Russ,

Last August (nine months ago) somebody in Ottawa put in an order for supplies for Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Last Tuesday the supplies arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia!!! Five great crates of them!!

So the question arose as to where we were going to put all these supplies. The only storage space we have here consists of two cupboards – one wardrobe cupboard with no shelves at all and one sort of linen cupboard with two or three shelves. Up until last Tuesday, this space was quite adequate, chiefly because we had no supplies to keep in them! The arrival of these new supplies presented quite a problem.

Now, as you both well know, I was posted to Indochina as a stenographer. Since arriving in Indochina, my duties as a stenographer have indeed been quite un-stenographic and rather strange. But my “stenographic” duties during the past three days have been the PAY-OFF!!!

It all started on Friday when John Plourde and I came over to the office to “size things up”. It was obvious that we didn’t have room for five crates of supplies in the two cupboards we had. So, out we went to the garage behind our office to build some more shelves. Our tools consisted of one hammer and a rusty saw. Our working material consisted of a crate that our filing cabinet arrived in and two typewriter crates. No nails.

Between the two of us we managed to take the crates apart, being very careful not to bend or lose the nails, and built several shelves which we nailed into the two cupboards and covered with brown paper. Fine. That was Friday afternoon.

Yesterday [Saturday] afternoon, Roger Reardon came over to the office with John and me to help unpack the five crates. As they were too heavy to carry up the stairs (they had been left in the little hall by the downstairs door to our office) and as the stairs were too narrow even if we did hire about six coolies, we couldn’t for the life of us figure out just how we would ever get the things upstairs without making endless trips up and down the stairs, carrying just a few things at a time.

Then I came up with a brilliant idea! (If I do say so myself.) I went back to my room at the hotel and picked up two wicker baskets that Hap and i use for dirty laundry. Back at the office, I tied long ropes onto the baskets and lowered them over the upstairs railing into the little hall below. Roger would fill up one basket, I would haul it upstairs and take it over to the cupboards where John started putting things away. The I would lower the empty basket back downstairs and pick up the full one that Roger had been working on while John was storing the stuff from the first one. Clever, eh? Sure saved a lot of trips up and down the stirs.

Oh, and I should have mentioned before that two of the five crates smelled very strongly of FISH!! And some of the contents were covered with fish oil! Which made things quite pleasant to say the least!!

After getting all five crates unpacked we found that we still didn’t have enough space for everything, so this afternoon John and I tore the empty crates apart and made a a rather crude, but very serviceable, cupboard with five shelves. We covered the thing with brown paper and it really doesn’t look too bad at all!

I never dreamed that stenographic duties included carpentry, but I guess that’s the case – in Indochina at least. I couldn’t help but think that this must surely be the first time at any External Affairs post that the clerks and stenos had to build their own cupboards before they could put away their office supplies!!! Oh well, this experience might come in handy in some other future posting, although I’m inclined to doubt it very much!

On Thursday night, we celebrated Roger’s 12th wedding anniversary and Howie Morris’ 28th birthday. The celebrations consisted of “Cocktails in Chambre 9 (Howie’s room) of the Hotel de la Poste followed by dinner in the main salon of La Taverne”. This is what it said on the invitation cards that the two fellows typed up and circulated to the invited guests (the NCOs and me). The dinner was really delicious – the very best I’ve had in Indochina. It consisted of vegetable soup, pork chops, “puree de pomme Canada” (apple-sauce – we had to show the cook how to make it!) mixed peas and carrots and potatoes fried in a batter. For dessert we had a special cake on which the cook had written “Happi Anniversary R and H”. Get a load of the spelling!

Needless to say, I’m quite tired out after the past three days’ activities, so I think I shall get to bed real early tonight to be nice and fresh for tomorrow morning’s work. I’ll be sure to add a few more lines to this letter tomorrow.

Bye for now.

May 16, 1955

Yes sir, a stenographer’s lot is a strange lot indeed (at least in Indochina!) This afternoon, from 4 to 5 o’clock, my stenographic duties consisted of showing three films up here in the office for the Major-General, the Colonel, assorted Majors, Captains, etc. The three films were one about the Coronation, “Bronco-Busters” and a short film on Barbara Ann Scott. Running a movie projector is all sorts of fun and I’m sure that having learned to operate one will be of real value to me on any future postings I might have. Most of our Embassies have movie projectors and it’s always handy to know how to operate one, just in case.

Today has been another steamy hot day in the tropics. It’s so hot it’s unbelievable!! During the past week we have had no more sickness than a few odd stomach ailments and headaches from the extreme heat. However, we all have been afflicted with that tropical nuisance – HEAT RASH!! You’ve never seen such a sorry looking bunch of Canadians in your life. We all look as if we have the measles or something!! This heat rash is something like prickly-heat back home, only about ten times worse. The only treatment for it is lots and lots of showers and covering yourself with powder from head to toe. Nothing serious, but as I said – a real nuisance!!

Thank you so much for all the clippings. You know, it’s amazing how newspapers can blow things up out of all proportion. I’m referring of course, to the clippings on Saigon. I suppose some sensationalist writer figured it would be good to bring out the “Canadians safe” angle in his report. Well for goodness sake – OF COURSE WE’RE SAFE!!! Naturally things were a little rough in Saigon for a while, but even in a civil war, the natives don’t go around shooting all the foreign diplomats in the city!! And as for Cambodia – well – I’d be most surprised if anybody, including the natives, would have the energy in this heat to start a civil war!!! They all seem quite content to just sleep all day long and I’m inclined to think that they have the right idea in this climate.

Barring hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, civil wars, etc., I’m off to Hong Kong next Friday! You know, travelling about doesn’t fizz me one bit. Going from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Hong Kong is just like taking a streetcar from Westboro to the East Block!! I’m quite convinced that I’ve become a hardened and experienced world traveler now and I must admit it does give quite a lot of self-confidence. It’s all wonderful experience besides being a lot of fun.

An Ottawa streetcar on Sparks Street c.1957 (now a pedestrian mall).
P. Lambert photo

Which must, I’m afraid, bring me to the end of my last letter from Phnom Penh until May 30th. You’ll be hearing from me from Hong Kong, you can rest assured. Please don’t be worrying about me charging around the Far East like this. I’m perfectly well and able to take care of myself now and you’ve no idea just how many doors a passport marked “SPECIAL” opens to the world traveler. It gives you all sorts of priorities and privileges that the average tourist is not entitled to.

Lots of love,

Dave

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