Saigon, French Indo-China

Sunday, August 11, 1929

This durned watered ink again. Still the life in the big city continues. Awakened at eight for petit déjeuner, a cup of café au lait and un bout de pain brought to the room by the boy. After this you get a book or newspaper and lie there reading it till you fall asleep again or else get some inspiration as to something to do. Eleven or twelve and you sit down to déjeuner at the hotel, having first had a promenade along Rue Catinat, to the river, or to the Consul’s.

By one, even those sipping their apéritifs and bocs have disappeared and the streets of Saigon are all but deserted of French and natives alike, save the wandering jinrikisha men. Another short walk, and the languid atmosphere and heat has turned your steps toward the hotel to follow the rest in their mid-day siesta. Two or three hours of reading, propped up in the bed, are enough to put you to sleep or else in a not-unpleasant state of semi-coma.

You wake up at four in a cold sweat, get up to rinse your clammy hands and watch with satisfaction the dark clouds pile up for the afternoon shower. In the neighborhood is a woman or child who, perhaps on an average of once a minute cries something in a flat, nasal, singsong voice, never varying in tone nor in what she says. You tumble on the bed again with more newspapers, and wonder what the heck she is yelling about—from morning straight through until late at night, day after day. Is she crazy or is it religious?  When she doesn’t yell, you miss it, and when she does, you could cheerfully shoot her.

Thus passes the time till five or six when you find courage to rise, go through a few exercises to see if you still have any energy left, and surprised to find that you have, hop in a cold shower to come out feeling like a new dollar bill, glad you have survived the day and perhaps added a bit to your knowledge besides. Dressed for dinner and harnessed up in a tie and coat, you sally forth along Rue Catinat just as light changes to darkness with tropical quickness.

A half hour after dark is seven o’clock and therefore time to eat. You sit down to your table on the sidewalk under a ceiling fan, shake hands with the excellent manage, M. Chaillet, help yourself to the potage au riz, call the boy for buerre and glace, then divide the next three-quarters hour between food and watching others eat, the pedestrians and autos pass by, the infrequent clanging trams, and the bright electric signs. Not being especially inclined either by taste or finances to the wine, cognac, etc. I take its place by the evening walk along the Rue Catinat, watching others at the more exclusive Hotel Continental, window-shopping in the many oriental shops displaying a great variety of Chinese and Japanese silks, embroideries, ivory carvings, and china and jewelry ware. There are always quite a few on the streets till about nine. Then Saigon outwardly shuts down—cafés deserted, shops closed, streets empty.

A few more exercises to be sure I wasn’t mistaken before, then, fortified from mosquitoes by the net, more reading for an hour or so, entertained by a few victrolas and brass horns. American jazz has a popular place in the program. I often wonder if the people understand the words. One man has a nice selection of operas, which I enjoy very much. You go to sleep wondering if you can find anything original to do on the morrow—a truly hard job in Saigon for there is absolutely nothing to do here except walk. Mail is the greatest diversion but I get no hopes up over that.

Saigon is what I call delightedly informal—in strong contrast to cities of British possession. Quite a few of the younger women wear no stockings. The Anglo-French or whatever you call them, maybe Frenchified-Indo-Chinois, seem a contented group and proud of their white suits and sunbonnets. Unlike the English, the French mix well and are not too high-hat to walk down the streets or eat at a hotel with a F.-I.-C., or to stop for a chat on the street while out promenading with the wife and kids. I have seen many of the poorer French living in the same row of apartments as families of F.-I.-C.

Though rated 3rd best, this hotel is not so stiff as are the 4th rate English hotels. The men wear white, often with collars turned down, the guests bring their dogs to meals with them and chain them to the table—one man who has a huge beast orders a plate of food for him and from time to time gets up to add more from his own plate. Then there is the Mlle. who trips the light light fantastic across the Salle à Manger chewing her toothpick. This is all very nice and allows me to use my bread as a pusher and put my elbows on the table.

Thus Saigon moves on—as full of political squabbles as is Washington, but a nice easy-going tropical French town just the same.

I am 100% par again and am slowly growing moss-eaten from doing nothing. Can leave the 15th if I have any money, otherwise not till about the 20th unless I find a cheap French boat to Hongkong.

Today, Sunday, was the Election Coloniale in which some six gentlemen ran for meat inspector, gate keeper, or whatever the office was. Everybody’s brother-in-law dragged the family out for a spin in car or rickshaw and en route stopped at the Hotel de Ville or City Hall to see the returns on a large lighted signboard. ‘Twas a hard evening on the cross-eyed individual who directed traffic on the corner of Rue Catinat and Rue d’esparge or whatever it is. I suppose he had long since given up trying to solve the riddle of which way traffic really was moving, and now had taken to drawing pictures in his notebook. Coming down the slight grade from the Cathedral, many a two-dog-brake had an opportunity to use all ten to avoid getting sunk by a larger cruiser.

M. Adrin was leading M. Febebre 987 to 926, one town yet to be heard from and 1,977 votes cast in Saigon. This seemed to please two inebriated gentlemen who took it upon themselves to make speeches and in general put on a first class vaudeville act in the street—to the amusement of a large crowd. A very French little goateed man was doing most of the speech-making and doffed his sun bonnet many times to bow to the victorious candidate’s name. The second, much larger and rather stout, added or detracted from time to time, thus causing frequent disagreement that always invoked a pushing match. After a long time, two of the public-spirited pushed them on down the street still tussling with each other and in hot argument, filling the air with gesticulations. Such cases are indeed rare over here—at least you do not find them in public.

I may not have a dog to feed but I did locate a black cat tonight who didn’t miss downing all the chicken and beef I gave it—don’t know whether to call it chat, minot, or minet, so say psst instead with the same results. . .no results.

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