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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.