Seeing Saigon's surrounds in style

Meet Thong - alias Slim Jim. A man with a long story to tell, having fought on the losing side in the American War (as the Vietnamese logically call it) and did a stint in a Vietnamese prison, as well as as a teacher in a Mekong Delta which might be just as painful. Nowadays he spends his time in more placid surroundings, as a tour guide from Saigon to the surrounding districts, and a darn good job too. Like many in his generation, T (aka SJ) learnt his English from American GIs during the war, and liberally dots his speech with kitsch, dated cliches. It sounds odd at first: the Vietnamese accent, the perfect English, and then the occassional reference to 'having a butchers' (go on, work it out, we all did). Then it turned really strange. A group of Israeli visitors on the trip jumped on board the bus, and were greeting with a big 'Shalom Chaverim' from SJ, and then a decent level of conversational Hebrew followed. Not many Vietnamese-Hebrew speakers out there, but I now know there's at least one. (The story behind it is not really as interesting as the fact itself - SJ took a group of Israeli travellers on an extended trip and there was a bit of a cultural exchange along the way.) Now if only he spoke some Yiddish...

The trip itself was not bad. One particular highlight was a trip to a small community which is the biggest concertration of Cao Dai followers in the world. Cao Dai is to religion what Sizzlers is to the restaurant business - there's something for everyone. Cao Dai has elements of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucism, all wrapped up nicely in yellow, blue and red as a tribute to the three. It also boasts Victor Hugo as one of it's three spiritual leaders, along with a pair of 19 century Vietnamese poets. Natually enough, along with the pair of Israelis on board the bus it was worth a crack at introducing Judaism into the mix. We could be in charge of the catering. It didn't work.


Anonymous said…
Surely we could do a deal with Carla's Kitchen to provide fresh cookies and cake to nibble between religious observances.

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