Chapter 36: Vung Tau – Rest in Country and the Bar Girls!
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Vung Tau is a rather large town on the coast about an hour’s truck ride south from Nui Dat on the south-eastern end of the delta. We’ve been down there a couple of times now, staying at the Peter Badcoe Club, a facility built especially as a place for Australian soldiers to have down time as a getaway from it all – except you can only go there as a whole rifle company with all your dickhead mates. I mean, I’ve lived with these guys 24/7 for 12 months now. A break from them would be nice.
The Badcoe Club is located right on the beach inside the 1st Australian Logistical Support Group base camp. It has a swimming pool and if you time it right you may be entertained by a visiting concert group.
Once there, we store our weapons, throw off the green Army suit and change into civilian clothes ready to hit the town in pursuit of leisure – the Army makes us do this you understand – but only for 36 hours.
We are paid in MPC (Military Payment Certificate) which looks like monopoly money. MPCs are meant to keep the American greenback out of the black market. We must exchange our MPCs into the local currency called Dong. We exchange $20 at the base and exchange the rest in town where the going rate is much better. But don’t tell anyone I said that.
We travel into town by Lambrettas, essentially a motor scooter with seats in the back. It costs $1 to go to town. In town we check out the local culture, the museum, the library, the hill covered in Buddha statues, including the reclining Buddha, the temple – that kinda thing.
Oh who am I kidding, we hit the town to get to the bars and the bargirls.
They gave us the lectures – don’t walk around by yourself, don’t stray from the centre of town, don’t visit establishments unless they display the sign (some approval sign where a govt hack declares the girls clean and free from disease by medical inspection every month), don’t get pissed, don’t smoke mary jane, don’t carry a weapon, don’t carry pornographic material, respect the local population. We are here at the invitation of the South Vietnamese Government, what you do reflects not only on the Army but also on Australia, blah, blah, blah……
An hour after being in town a guy from 1 Platoon smoked weed, bought naked-girl playing card and, to complete the trifecta, bought a flick knife. Trivial shit for a combat soldier in a war zone taking some time off. If he was a psycho the Army would not have trained him to kill and given him the weapons and authority to do so. But now armed with all these contraband items he is suddenly a danger to society. He gets nabbed by the MPs. They cart him off as his mates boo and jeer. This is why they take our rifles off us – so we have nothing to fight the pogo MPs with. Bastards. It must have been a slow day for them, you know – no shootings/stabbings/punchups or anything like that going on. Maybe we should start a riot so they earn their punchup money.
An hour later he is back in town. The MPs took him back to the Peter Badcoe Club and told him not to be a naughty boy. What else could they do, lock him up? Who then would close with and engage the enemy in actual combat? Not the fucking pogo MPs, that’s for sure.
We hit the strip where the bars are located. They are similar to the milk bars back home except they serve beer and girls. There is a counter on the side or at the rear, and down the other side are a number of cubicles, and in the centre, normal tables and chairs. Just getting inside one of these bars is a hassle. The girls, all with heavy makeup, short dresses and small tits, wait at the doorway to coax you into their place. As you step in they grab you on the genitals, the bum and everywhere else as they giggle and bounce up and down while you dance around them trying to get inside. Well that’s if you are a new guy. An experienced guy pushes the girls aside saying “Didi mau,” and barges straight through.
These girls are the day shift. Only a limited number are for hire. Their job is to extract money from you by getting you to buy them ‘Saigon Tea’. I dunno what this drink is, and I dunno any bloke who has had a taste, but I suspect it is just jube juice – or flavoured water to you civilians. When you sit down, the girls are all over you, stroking your leg and holding your hand; they make you feel like a man women can’t resist.
Now, Australian soldiers are tightarses, we just want a couple of beers and bit of a giggle without any hassle. Budweiser Beer cost $1 in the bars, which is five times the cost of real beer (Australian beer) back at Nui Dat. None of us drink spirits, well not if we are paying for them, as they are too expensive. And if we want a girl we’d rather wait until after dark when the price is cheaper. They wrote a song about us. Uc dai loi is the Vietnamese term for Australian.
Uc-dai-loi, Cheap Charlie,
He no buy me Saigon tea,
Saigon tea costs many many P,
Uc-dai-loi he Cheap Charlie.
We have strategies to upset the girls so they leave us alone, but we don’t use them straight away of course, we want them to cuddle and smooch us a bit first. A good strategy that upsets them is to hold hands and use sign language to let them know that me and my mate are an item. This really upsets the girls. They shout and gesticulate and off they go in a huff.
These girls have some sort of code. If you visited a bar before and spent the night with one of the girls, then you are expected to come back to the same girl. If you want another girl they will label you a ‘butterfly.’ So this is strategy number two. When you come into a bar and a couple of your mates are having a beer surrounded by girls, you take one of the girls by the hand and say, “You butterfly, you belong to me, what you doing with him!” The girls get a look of horror on their face, and then you pretend to start a fight with your mate. The girls soon scatter leaving us all to have a rollicking good laugh.
Well it’s time to take a break from the girls and have a look around town and check back later when the night shift arrives. There’s plenty to do. We can get a haircut and, ahem, get some other services while we wait. Indeed, just by walking down the street, people come up to you and ask, “You want girl?”
There is a large Yank airbase in Vung Tau and about eight of us decide to check it out. At the entrance, a large double gate size opening, is a big black MP. He is a very imposing figure indeed. We walk in through the open gate, line abreast, real confident like. The black man-mountain speaks, “Hey you guys.”
We stop and turn to face him, with pained expressions on our faces. “You guys know you are supposed to go through that building over there,” the big guy points to a building where people are lining up to go in. It’s probably a security check thing.
Smithy rolls his eyes and says in the broadest Australian accent, “Gees youse blokes, come on, let’s do what this big bloke fucking well says.”
“Don’t worry about it this time guys, but next time, you go through the god damn building.”
We scarper off before he has us arrested and searched or something and we enter what seems to be a wonderland. What a place. Choppers taxi towards runways about a metre off the ground, there are traffic lights to direct them. There are jets taking off and landing almost continuously, the noise is deafening. As we move deeper into the base we pass by some maintenance hangers and I can see Cobra gunships being stripped down for service and repair. I pause to take a photo. One of the guys working on the Cobra gunship stops, looks up at me and yells out to his mate, “Hey Chuck, move back a little, the man’s trying to take a photo!” Doncha just love the Yanks?
We found the soldiers club and invited ourselves in. The sign out the front says ‘Zulu Club’. It was just like a nightclub inside. We settled down at a table and started to make real gooses of ourselves by being brash and noisy, real over the top ocker stuff, to entertain the Yanks with.
The Yanks are funny guys. They don’t seem to form large groups like we do. They are in groups of two or three, indeed many are by themselves. I went to the bar for a shout and this guy introduces himself and wants to buy me a drink. “What will you have, a whisky?”
“Ah, geez, fair crack of the whip mate. If I don’t get these beers back to those pack of drongos over there they’ll fucking well lynch me, no risk mate!”
Then I overheard another Yank coming out of the toilet. He said, “Don’t go in there, there’s FOUR of them in there!”
A few blokes come up to say hello, but most stay back a little just watching our antics as we ham it up. It’s a wonder they didn’t toss us out. There is a stage at the front and a guy steps up to the microphone, “Gentlemen welcome to the Zulu Club. We hope you are enjoying your stay with us. There will be some live music in about an hour so we hope you can stay for the show. Now, are there any men here from the 173rd Airborne Brigade?”
Somebody must have raised their hand.
“Go to the bar gentlemen and collect your champagne.”
“What about the Australians?” Gee that sounded like Smithy who was talking to some black guys way down the back.
“Are there any gentlemen here from the 1St Cavalry Division? Aha, welcome. Your champagne is waiting at the bar?”
“What about the Australians?”
“Are there any gentlemen here from Austewalia?”
“YEEAAAHHH!!!! WOOHOO!!! BEWDY BOTTLA BONZA!!”
“Gentlemen your champagne is waiting at the bar with our compliments.”
Smithy races to the bar and comes back with a magnum of champagne. We didn’t need glasses. With much noise and mayhem we passed the bottle around and demolished the magnum real quick.
Well, having been paid homage to by the Yanks, we settle down and start to act normally. Those Yanks are friendly types but they are so gullible. They want to know all about Australia so we tell them all about the drop bears and kangawallafoxes and stuff.
Soon the entertainment starts. The live music is very good, much better than the Shades and Silhouettes, two top bands that played at the dances at Cootamundra and surrounding towns. They were Philippinos: the band sounded great and the singer had a really good voice and sang all the songs we knew; but we were looking at the backup singers and dribbling at the mouth.
“Shit what time is it?” It was 8.30pm. Curfew was at 10.00pm. A couple of us leave the others and leg it down to the bars. We manage to find another couple of blokes from the platoon at about 9 pm, many of them are paired up with the girls already, you know, the ones you can dance with back at their place.
Now here is the important bit – and it requires a sober mind and a steady nerve. The deal to get a girl must be done by 9.30pm so that you are off the streets by curfew. If you make your move too early you may pay too much. As 9.30 approaches, the prices start to fall. If you leave your run too late all the good lookin’ girls are taken, leaving you only the, ah, energetic ones to choose from. It becomes a strategy play as to when to make your move. It’s even harder when you are full of American beer, champagne and a couple of whiskys.
You don’t have to do anything, you just sit there and the girls come to you. “My name Lin, you like me?” Lin looked OK so I nodded. She came close to me and kissed me on the neck, you know, that thing that women do to men. It sent tingles down my body. I pay Lin in Vietnamese money, about $17. I would have paid more if she had asked. She checks in with Mamasan and I head off into the night with her. I am fuelled up and I have plenty of bravado. I am not concerned about my safety as I am a rough tough jungle fighter. I am 10 feet tall and bulletproof. We walk to Lin’s place with not much time to spare. Curfew means that no one is on the streets.
Lin has a small flat she shares with a friend but the friend is not there. Lin tries to pronounce my name. She can’t say ‘Ian.’ I tell her my last name, Cavanough, and she manages to say “Kevin.” I think that’s close enough. Maybe I should get her to try and pronounce ‘Knackers.’ “Kevin, take shirt off, come to me.” Lin moves to the rear of the flat, she turns and looks at me with that ‘come and take me look.’ As I move forward she hands me a bucket and, with a curling finger, she takes me over to a well. “Water.”
As I stand beside the well with the bucket in my hand and my mouth open, she moves over to two rather large vats. “You fill, please?” They have no bloody plumbing so I have to draw bloody water from their bloody well, carry it to some bloody large vats and bloody well fill them up. It took me a few trips as I was spilling a fair bit; I think the floor was a little uneven.
Pretty soon the water job is done and I have a sweat up. “Kevin wash now.” Lin takes me to the bathroom. There are no taps or shower rose, just a vat of water and a ladle. As I am washing myself I can see she is checking my body out. “Sores on legs” she says pointing to my lower legs.
“Leeches” I tell her and then make my fingers move like a leech. She has a closer look, nods and then smiles. I pass the medical test. “Teeth” she says pointing to a tooth brush. The toothbrush is old and the bristles are all splayed outwards. I wonder how many mouths it has given service to. I pretend to brush but I use my finger to smear toothpaste on my teeth. She doesn’t notice my subterfuge.
Finally we are off to bed. Living rough in the jungle, patrolling to the point of exhaustion, being sleep deprived with very little food, and limited water for a few weeks at a time makes one yearn for the softer feminine things in life; a need to be pampered. Lin pampered me. I drifted off to sleep with a bloody great big smile on my face.
Suddenly she is waking me. “Police, quick.” She takes me to the back door and pushes me out. She places her finger up to her lips signalling me to keep quiet; then she closes the door. I look around, it is very dark but I can see that I am in a small triangular yard. The back fence is small and I can see other buildings over the fence. I can’t see any gate though.
So here I am somewhere in Vung Tau in the middle of the night locked out of a building. I’m lucky I’m not naked, I have my underdaks on, but that’s it. I can hear voices at the front of the flat. Apparently the White Mice (Police) give the girls a hard time, they want money or favours.
Well what am I going to do now? If I am stranded here I guess I’ll have to wait until morning and make it back to town in my underdaks. The only thing that worried me was the ribbing I would get from my mates. Gee no wonder they call us dumb grunts.
A few minutes later the door opens and Lin grabs me and pulls me inside. She is very apologetic and takes my hand. “Kevin like Lin?”
“Lin is shit hot!”
“Lin shit hot!” She repeats what I said and she seems very pleased with my assessment of her. She takes me back into her bedroom and pampers me some more.
I am in man heaven.
Reproduced with permission from FUN, FEAR, FRIVOLITY – A tale by an Aussie infantry soldier in the Vietnam War – which is now also available in ebook format. See here to order.
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