YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 33, Pretty Woman.

Everybody needs to be wanted and loved, if you are of a sociopathic bent then you can find all of your happy moments by pulling the legs off flies or torturing small creatures.  Most of us need the love and companionship of another human being, unless you love *insert need of choice here* then it’s a different matter altogether. We are the product of our upbringing and the mould is cast early when it comes to sexual preferences, mores and the like. Vung Tau filled the needs of many, soldiers and locals.

Pretty Woman:  My diary is now closed and the stories will be more along the lines of characters and events in general, with no time period. This picture shows some of the girls who worked in the Texas Bar. For now, I will let you the reader guess which one is the lady who made my remaining time in Vietnam a pleasure. Not only sexually but as a female friend and a companion. She was sweet, delightful, friendly and dare I say I fell in love a little. Looking back it seems strange that one can hire another human being to be a friend, companion and sex partner. Yet, in that relationship there was a total honesty. Both of us knew where we stood, at first.

Vung Tau, bar girls.

When I sat down next to her in the booth I felt something different. No bimbo wanting a quick shag here, she had a certain maturity and a sense of humour. We talked, laughed and I bought her Saigon Tea’s so I could sit with her. I found out she was 28 years old, a widow with two children by her first husband and one child by an American who spent his war living with her in Vung Tau. He went home and she needed to make a living. She took me to her place, a room in a small house five minutes away by a Lambro taxi. Don’t worry I’m not going to give any blow by blow details here, I will say though that she knew what she was doing and made me feel like a real man. Her loving was of the tender, kind, and attentive variety. I thought I’d passed on to some bordello in the sky where I would spend my days in bliss. I only ever knew her first name, it was Suong.

Suong is the lady in the Ao Dai, standing in the doorway next to the sweetie with the bendy fingers. I’m not sure but I think the lady in the chequered top, with her arms folded may have been the bouncer. I know she never smiled and I believe they may have commissioned her to stare at fresh milk to make it curdle. The below picture is a better one, Suong wore the heavy white makeup for work and washed it off at her room. Perhaps it added a layer of protection against the world. I had bought myself a Yashica Electro 35 camera and lens set, once we reached Vung Tau. It took reasonable shots but I don’t think I made full use of what it had to offer. All of these pictures were taken with it and for once I had them developed as prints. They have survived 42 years and are still in quite good condition.

Vung Tau

I look at these pictures with a certain amount of wistfulness. They hark back to a time in my life which was full of adventure and new experience, new country, new mates, new love? I can hear some people scorning me for thinking that one could find love with a prostitute. A fallen woman, a whore yet it wasn’t like that. Yes she sold her body for a living, at least she was honest. We had our picture taken by another girl with a Polaroid camera and Suong kept it. She stuck it to the wall above her bed, next to a little statue of the Buddha. I couldn’t get in every night and she had to work. I didn’t have enough money to buy her time out of the bar completely, for the remainder of my tour. Whenever I went in, then we would be together. One of the blokes returned to the barracks this night and bailed me up, he said, ‘I think somebody likes you.’ – ‘Why, who?’ – ‘Suong from the Texas Bar. I took her home and we got undressed. I climbed on the bed and was about to start when I saw your picture on the wall, and said, hey that’s Laurie. She said, you know Laurie? You go, here take your money. I won’t go with anyone he knows. Then she pushed me off the bed and stuffed the money back in my shirt pocket.’
Now how’s that for being faithful? Go ahead laugh, yet I thought it was, well sweet. Okay she kept working, that was business. If I knew them though, it was obviously different.

In a place like Vung Tau, especially in the Flags area everybody knew what everybody else did for a living. No matter how well you dressed, if you were a bar girl then you weren’t fit for polite society. I took the below picture before we headed out on a date, yes Laurie did many things and kept his pink jeans on.

Vung Tau

Suong recommended a Korean restaurant but was adamant they wouldn’t let her in. We’ll see about that. Naturally the maître’ d bailed us up at the front door. I had to give him ten out of ten for arm waving and gesticulation. Although he calmed down when I produced real money in the form of US dollars. Then he bowed and scraped us inside to our table. Looking back I put Suong in quite a pickle, the rest of the staff and most of the customers knew her trade and stared daggers at her. I scowled back at them and they returned to their meals, courtesy of some army quartermaster on the take. She settled and we ate our meal. The food was delicious, we had grilled pork chops and veges, with a fluffy jelly thingy for dessert and a bottle of wine. I need to describe this restaurant. Where we sat, near the main entrance I had a view of the far wall, its blue paint had faded and you could see other layers underneath. You need to remember most of the buildings were built by the French, and French plumbing being what it is, well. There were rooms above us and a sewage pipe came out of the ceiling and down the far wall from upstairs. Then a couple of feet down the old elbow bend had rusted out and a clear plastic one had been inserted, then the pipe then at an angle along the wall.
Oh, charming indeed. Suong and I ate and talked like any other couple out on a date. A candle flickered on the table between us, soft music played in the background and somebody upstairs decided to take a dump. This detracted from the ambience somewhat. When the groaning stopped, the sitter flushed the toilet. The sound of a gurgling pipe can be distracting and we all looked up. I stared open-mouthed as someone’s humongous bowel movement spent a short period of time in the plastic elbow, tarrying so everybody could see it, then disappeared in a swirl of water. I looked at Suong, she put her hand over her mouth and blushed, I laughed so hard I thought I would choke and the room returned to normal.

The below picture gives a fair view of the condition of the roads and the general sense of ‘nobody gives a damn.’ We were walking home and I dropped back and took the picture. I thought she added a little freshness to the place. We bought some fruit to have later.

Vung Tau

I have to say that I could have stayed on and lived with her. I didn’t have a sweetheart back home or anyone on the horizon of my life. Naturally the army would have had a different view. Which brought up the subject of, ‘Laurie, I want to go home with you to Australia.’ Well, that knocked me on my arse. I couldn’t answer her, I knew what it would be. Some of the other blokes had talked about this subject around the card table one night. The army couldn’t stop you from applying to bring a wife home. They could however make it almost impossible. I didn’t give a toss what people at home would have thought, or even what my army mates thought. It just wouldn’t be happening. I have to say that by this time we were at a stage where we spent a lot of time with each other, we laughed and we loved. I didn’t care or give a thought to what she did for a living. When we were together it was all about us. If I couldn’t get into town there was always someone who would take money, food or coffee etc in for her.

I remember Xmas Eve quite well. We weren’t allowed in on Xmas Day so anyone who wasn’t on duty hit the town. I had been to the PX to find her a gift, a box of chocolates that a family of four could live in. A dark red box with an equally huge ribbon on it, my it looked grand. I arrived at the bar and was able to squeeze in. It seemed that every American in town had arrived at the same time, probably Texans. I shoved and elbowed my way through the crowd and found Suong serving drinks down the back. She saw me and came forward, then an American soldier, in his forties moved up next to me and we both held our gifts out. His was a six pack of multi-coloured knickers. Sorry old son, chocolate trumps undies any day of the week.

This picture brings up emotions that I thought were long buried. I took it a few weeks before the cut-off date for going into town began. She had an idea by then that there would be no Cinderella moment, that her prince was nothing more than a boy trying to be a man. So we made the most of our time together. Believe it or not she was quite shy at times and it took some convincing to get this towel shot. I think that I captured something deep here. Her look is one of sadness, of defeat, a knowing that her life and that of her children wouldn’t be getting any better. That when we left and the Americans finally went home her life would be like everyone else’s, a struggle. What captures me with this photo is the squalor in the background, and that her beauty and quiet dignity makes it all fade away.

Suong, Vung Tau December 1971

A couple of weeks after I took this photo Suong stopped working at the bar and I never saw her again. I wasn’t surprised but I felt lost, not for the lack of a sex partner, they could be found in any bar. I was lost because someone who actually meant something to me had gone from my life. Looking back over the years we have a tendency to put a little glitter on some memories. I have peeled away the layers and will say that Suong made an impact on my life.  As a child I had been used by other people, my body sold so they could derive pleasure from me. I think I connected with Suong. Even though she was an adult, she had few choices of employment. Like attracts like they say and at that time of my life she filled a need deeper than sex. She filled the deep loneliness I had endured since I turned five years old. For those who haven’t felt so alone, that it feels like you are living in a dark void, words will never explain the feeling.

The time spent on active duty left little time for feelings other than for the job you were doing. When the pressure was lifted and we moved to Vung Tau, the availability of female company filled the void a little.  Sex without an emotional connection is akin to masturbation, it’s a physical relief. My relationship with Suong, at first purely sexual became something more. The void faded, filled with someone else’s feelings, hopes, dreams and needs. Was she using me? I don’t know but if she was I don’t blame her. Mother’s have done far worse for the benefit of their children. Was I using her? At first for what she had to offer, then she became something more in my life. In that few months I felt alive, wanted, nourished and needed. She opened a new feeling in me, one that shrivelled and died when she withdrew. The void returned and I reverted to bar hopping. Nobody filled the space for the remainder of my tour.
I have yet to decide on next week’s blog, there are more stories to tell.

The photos on this post are copyright protected and will remain the property of Laurie Smith.© 2013. Normally I don’t put this on my blog but these pictures mean something to me.

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64 thoughts on “YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 33, Pretty Woman.

  1. Martin

    I don’t know how I came across this blog, but I was blown away how someone’s relationship from a long time ago, had the power to drag me fully into it.

    This is not just writing, but a soul stirring emotional outpouring of a love that is still felt.

    The eye’s of Suong in the robe photo transcend time.

    Amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thank you Martin. I’m glad that your visit albeit accidental wasn’t wasted. The writing was definitely from the heart. It is actually difficult for me to look at her eyes without feeling guilty. Thank you so much for stopping by.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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  2. ross

    Laurie ,do you know if Suong was from Vung Tau? If she was ,she is probably not far away. The govt up there still doesn’t encourage people to move from the province they were born in.

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  3. ross

    I had a giggle over the bit where you gave her the chocolates. The 1st girl I ever met in VT worked in a bar and Im still friends with her. I gave her a few pieces of Cherry Ripe that I had left from a family pack I brought over in my suitcase.
    Well now it goes something like this “Honey can you bring me bigger bag of Cherry Ripe next time.
    Last bag too small.
    Mother and grandmother want to eat Cherry Ripe soon”
    She told me they divvy the bag up and each one puts their share of the Cherry Ripe pieces in a secret location and each day they have a single piece or a bite from one piece. LOL
    You cant buy them over there.
    When I first went there I had all of these preconceived notions about bar girls. I though if you got drunk enough they might cut your kidneys out and sell them on the black market.
    Well I did get horribly drunk on my 1st night but it wasn’t a kidney I lost ,it was my wallet with $600. It was returned to me by the Cherry Ripe munchoholic from the other side of the bar where I dropped it.
    I bought her a nice cocktail and she still get one every time I see her,must have spent close to what was in the wallet now. LOL
    I can honestly say I dont have any recollection of being over charged or ripped off in any of the bars. Many of them are now run/owned by smart young ladies with a savvy business sense.
    Their main aim is repeat customers they tell me.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Ahh, chocolate. Winning the hearts of young ladies the world over. You can’t go past a cherry ripe Rodd, I can just imagine the bargirl and her relatives huddled around nibbling on tiny pieces of cherry ripe. Looking furtively at each other then scurrying off to hide what’s left. Mate, you could probably be Cherry Ripe’s salesman abroad if you paly your cards right. 🙂 Yes it’s amazing how we build up notions in our minds about a situation, I bet you were surprised t get your wallet back. In my time there the bars were run by an assortment of people, anyone with the money to start up and pay off the police, politicians and Viet Cong. Two of my mates were being ‘entertained’ by a couple of lovelies at their place when there came a knock at the door. One of the girls answered it and a man stood there with a large briefcase and carrying an AK47. They handed over some money and he left. She clambered back on top of matey and said, “Don’t worry Honey, it only VC. He come collect tax.” I wonder who collects the extra tax now? Then they didn’t have to worry about upsetting customers, there were thousands of them. The main problem was out on the street, we called them Cowboys. Those sneaky bastards riding two up on Honda scooters. They’d pull up, the passenger would jump off, grab what he could, usually off some drunk and take off. Nasty bastards.

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      1. ross

        The ”taxes” these days come in the form of extortionate interest rates on personal loans from gangsters.The going rate is about 1% per day,or 365% per annum.(probably about the same as cash converters LOL) Some friends were at a bar one night when some overdue loans were to be repaid.An aussie intervened on the behalf of the woman bar owner and he received a warning slash from a sword from the thugs.
        One of the problems in Vietnam is that you can not borrow money from lending institutions without real estate to back it up.Hence the poor and the desperate have to go to the loan sharks who employ the worst people as collectors.

        Customers in bars are a bit harder to attract these days.The average age of vets is getting on and they are being replaced with seamen and oil rig workers .
        Many of the seamen are from impoverished nations and are not big spenders and the oil rig workers are usually in transit between their home and the rig so only have 24 hrs or so.

        The cops don’t usually harass the bar owners but if the cops are pissed off ,they close the place down for the night. One young lady bar owner was caught using her bar as a gambling den after hours by the cops,resulting in 9 months gaol reduced to 3 inside and 6 months home detention. Although others have told me it was just a friendly game between friends
        I know an aussie there who runs 2 businesses and he says it is fairly easy to work with the government as long as you have a good interpreter but he says the penalties for trying to cheat them are severe.

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      2. laurie27wsmith Post author

        It doesn’t sound like much has changed at all. Graft and corruption is still a national sport. I can well imagine the clientele isn’t made up of fit, young, healthy and horny men anymore. War is hell. 😉 I reckon the Vietnamese government isn’t a warm and friendly mob at all. The more things change the more they stay the same Ross. That’s funny, the same as cash converters about right though. I don’t think I’m missing anything by not going back there.
        Laurie.

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      3. ross

        Ive heard about the cowboys from my friends older brother who was there about the same time as you. He told us about the day they give some of the cowboys a hiding down the beach.
        The cowboys no longer exist,but the grab and ride thief is alive and well stealing from tourist and locals alike. No problem if you catch and belt the crap out of them,the cops hate em and so do the locals. The thieves are usually glad when the cops come after the locals have finished with them LOL

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      4. laurie27wsmith Post author

        They were nasty pieces of work Ross, many came up from Saigon to ply their trade. The cowardly pricks would only pick on poor bloody drunks. I can imagine the look on the face of the hapless thief after the locals have finished with them.. 🙂

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    1. hitandrun1964

      You gave part of yourself to her…you can’t have that back. If you feel weird sometime (or most of the time, knowing you), it’s because part of you is missing. We all have missing parts, but you gave so much to her that she’s still alive in great detail 43 years later. She’s alive in your heart. Do you want to find her?

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      1. laurie27wsmith Post author

        Mr Weird, that’s me. 🙂 I have many parts missing, like a cut price meccano set. I tend to give a lot in a relationship and at that time she filled a huge part of my damaged self. I’ll never forget her, she is someone who is safely attached to a special part of my life. I have a wife now who loves me without reservation and I love her. It wouldn’t be fair to her for me to go off chasing shadows.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thank you Nia, everything else I’ve written about has come from actual happenings and experiences. When it comes to deeper emotional feelings I have to serve it up the same way. I thought long and hard before posting it. A friend has remarked that I was being harsh and uncaring to my wife for posting it. I believe that it proves I had/have a capacity to love another human being. So much for honesty I guess.

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  4. Pingback: Christmas Love – A Holiday Romantic Monday Post | Edward Hotspur

  5. bgbowers

    This is such a sad story, Laurie, for you and Suong. The photo of Suong in a towel certainly does capture her beauty and quiet dignity, and her expression tells a whole story in itself. There is so much more to be said and read ‘between the lines’, but I think you already know that.
    Bianca x

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Indeed it is Bianca. There may be a story there someday, I don’t know. It fills me with a quiet sadness when I let myself think about it. The saddest thing in life is maturity sometimes comes to late for the important things in life.
      Laurie. xx

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      1. bgbowers

        That is so true, Laurie. Sometimes I feel that life is upside down, or maybe that’s the point?.
        I also wanted to say that I greatly admire your honesty, it adds depth & realism to each of the stories you share. Bianca xx

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      2. laurie27wsmith Post author

        I imagine if life were easy Bianca it probably wouldn’t be worth the effort. There are some days when you have to scream out, enough! Yet we plod on with, mainly, a quiet dignity hoping against hope that it does get better. I have to put my feelings out there with my work Bianca and keep it honest. For myself and those who choose to read it. As you know I don’t beat around the bush, preferring to tell it how it happened. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. 🙂
        Laurie. xx

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  6. Holistic Wayfarer

    Wow, Laurie. Such poignant pages from the pages of your history. You captured the ache of emptiness we all have felt where a lifeprint had once filled our longing for kinship and understanding. You managed to bring us – beyond taboo conventions – into the depth of what we all fear and hope for. And this is incidental – but Koreans – esp in earlier days – were quite insular people.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Hi Diana, so nice to hear from you. Thank you for your kind comments. I guess it boils down to the fact that we all need loving, no matter who we are or what we do. You’ve hit it in your comment ‘kinship and understanding’ we want it above all else. It doesn’t matter to me anymore what people actually think of me, as long as they understand me. That’s why I write about subjects like this, to bring people to the door of my life and let them look inside. It may be a brief look but they may gather something from it and walk away an appreciation of what I’m trying to say. That’s interesting about Koreans. I know the Japanese were quite concerned about their privacy as a nation and culture until the 1800’s. Vietnam seemed to be getting invaded every now and then. It wasn’t too long after the Americans left that China invaded the north, never ending.

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      1. Holistic Wayfarer

        1) The timeless truth of how all we want is love is something I’d considered writing here someday.

        2) Hmmm…..you bring to the fore the geopolitical and -historical correlation of Korea’s defensive history and her socially/culturally insular (even snobby) tendencies.

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      2. laurie27wsmith Post author

        1) It would be quite a worthwhile blog indeed.
        2) It seems to me historically speaking Korea has seen a lot of conflict over time. Who wouldn’t want to stay insular? 🙂

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  7. Susan Wingate

    What I get from this post is a deeper understanding of you, Laurie, the human being. Your writing is all out there all of the time. You throw your entire being into what you put in words. Sometimes I feel as if you’re sitting right next to me telling me the stories. This, one perfect post has been compiled of perfect sentences and perfect words with the perfect storyteller writing it.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Susan, what can I say about this feedback? Thank you doesn’t seem enough. I believe in throwing the lot in. If you are going to tell a story about momentous events in life, then it deserves to be told truthfully. I know that I bring up some strange/deep subjects. I want to write about life and its impact in a raw and real sense. Maybe I have the formula down pat now? If I falter then I know you’ll be there to let me know. 🙂
      Thank You.
      Laurie.

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  8. Theresa

    This is an amazing, raw essay, Laurie – poignantly so, in fact. The picture of Suong in the towel – the look in her eyes – speaks volumes, as does the squalor in the background. Life is hard. For every person we meet, a small part of us is left behind.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thank you Theresa, this is what I like about photographs a moment in time captured forever. All the feeling and emotion there to see. I left a lot behind there and still feel a twinge of guilt.
      Laurie.

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  9. davidprosser

    What a wonderful, emotional story shared Laurie. I doubt I’d have handled it as well as you have, including the sharing of pictures that mean so much to you.
    Happy Christmas.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks David. It’s a story I’ve wanted to tell for years. I thought my first wife had destroyed the photos, so you can imagine my joy when I found them last week. They weren’t photos I ogled and drooled over. They were a reminder of some happy days in my life.
      Hope you have a happy xmas too Mate. take care and keep out of ceilings. 🙂

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  10. Pagadan

    Thanks for sharing that poignant story. She was beautiful and looked sweet. I confess that I feel badly for the women and children who were left behind during and after wars. I believe some countries had some support options for the children…

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Joy, I agree with you there. As to support options, I think the communists put a lot of the people who worked with and for the allies into re-education camps when they took over. It didn’t bode well for those who worked in the bars.

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      1. ross

        Yes Laurie ,I met a beggar in Nha Trang recently who asked me for the price of a meal. He was in his late 60s maybe older and was sleeping on the beach at night,smelt of alcohol,but he spoke perfect english. He asked me where I was from and I told him Australia. His eyes lit up and he told me how the australian army had sent him to sydney in 1968 to learn administration(what ever that involved) After the war he was given 5 years in a re education camp because of his involvement.
        As to the girls working in bars ,one of the problems the communists had after the war was that the girls were feeding as many as 20 family members and the communists estimated that was in the realm of 500000 people who no longer had a food source.
        I was interested to hear about about your encounter with the seagulls in the chopper because now in Vung Tau and surrounding areas you can go for weeks and never see a single bird except for a tiny sparrow like thing. A NZ friend who lives there told me after 1975 ,the people left behind ate anything they could find ,and now only birds and animals that were too hard to catch or are too unpalatable still exist.

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      2. laurie27wsmith Post author

        It was quite sad how the Vietnamese were left hanging by the allies in 1975, knowing what would happen when the communists took over. That sounds pretty tragic about the drunk, perhaps they would have trained him to work as a go between for the Vietnamese and Australian army. I can well imagine how terrible it would have been for the people left behind. Some folk condemn women who turn to prostitution but I think you have to look further into the situation, as with feeding extended families. The north wouldn’t have given a rat’s arse about the people in places like Vung Tau. To think that these people existed like that for so many years on whatever they could catch. I don’t feel guilty only saddened about them being left like that. BTW I forgot to answer a question in your other post, no I’ve never been back. I still get a tad anxious around Vietnamese men, especially if I hear them chatting away, funny that. If you look in on my Turnkey’s blog in the archives you’ll see what entailed with some Vietnamese before I finished working in jail. Thanks again for dropping in Ross.

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      3. ross

        hello again Laurie. I was wondering if you would like to see some recent pics of Vung Tau? I have quite few from around town,beaches and the places where I stay etc.
        I would need an email to send them
        Rosco

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  11. nataliescarberry

    You are a very interesting man, Laurie, and you have an incredible understanding of what it means to be human. Your insights into what others feel are remarkable, and you weave stories about people that beg to be told. You also seem to have a good grip on who you were and are before life and others told you what you should be. I’m sure you blessed Suong’s life for the better and wherever she is, she finds time of remembering you too.
    Blessings, Natalie 😉

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Why thank you Natalie, I appreciate your comments here. You have a knack of getting right down to the nitty gritty. I imagine that I have this understanding from the harsh realities of life impinging on my early years. Acceptance is a huge part of it too. of others, myself and the situations life puts before us. I truly hope I blessed Suong’s life I some way, I also hope she survived the takeover of the south and that her children are treating her well. Thanks again Natalie.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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      1. nataliescarberry

        Oh, I’m certain you blessed Suong’s life. A woman is always blessed by the men she loves when they are as caring and compassionate as you. Several times now you’ve referred to the harsh realities of your early years. Have you written about that in another piece that I might read or would you mind filling me in on it when you have a minute or two. I believe everyone’s life is a story, both of heartache and loss and triumph and joy, and I love to hear what carves people into who and what they are. If it’s none of my business you can tell me that too. What out for the suicidal roos and have a great day! Blessings, Natalie 🙂

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  12. Owls and Orchids

    Thank you for sharing so openly and honestly Laurie. She was obviously a very special lady. It was a difficult time for everyone back then and you made a choice which was really not a choice at all. She was a beautiful lady. Blessings, Susan x

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  13. oldmainer

    A lot of raw emotion spilled upon this page Laurie. Bittersweet memories. All the “what if’s” collected over a lifetime. I have them too, but doubt I could relate them with the feeling that you do. Thanks for sharing this. And I too think she was beautiful.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Bob, I know we’re supposed to live in the now, get on with it, forget the past etc but we don’t. The past may be gone yet it calls upon us frequently to have a look at what we did or didn’t do. Like a few of my posts I thought long and hard about sharing certain things. I guess the things that matter are the experiences which touched deeper than others. Yes, she was beautiful indeed.

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