Thirty years later, in 1995, my son Nick and I hired a car and a driver in Biên Hòa and set off to find the village of Tân Ba. I had a general idea of how to get there, but didn’t know where to turn off the main road, so our driver kept stopping and showing my old photos to the local people. Several people recognized the distinctive small pagoda with the dragons on the roof (in the photo above), though they must have found it quaint to see an RVN flag in the picture, since the old “Republic of Vietnam” had ceased to exist twenty years before.
They gave us directions, and after a while we found the village and the small pagoda and the school, all intact and all looking very similar to the way I remembered them. The big difference was that our old helicopter pad no longer existed and the roads were narrower because it was no longer necessary to clear away the vegetation on both sides.
We arrived in the middle of the morning, shortly before recess at the village school. At recess the teachers invited us in for tea and passed my old photos around, including these photos of children in the schoolyard in 1965:
I felt a bit anxious about this at first, because I thought the children might have been killed or injured in the war, or might have been traumatized or demoralized by all the awful things that had happened. But I needn’t have worried. The children in the photos were grown up now. They had families and jobs, some had moved away and some hadn’t.
Thirty years later there were fewer children, and some of them even had bicycles, but otherwise the schoolyard looked much the same as before.
After a while a large group of people took us up the road the house where I had lived in 1964/65. Of course the old man and woman I had known were no longer alive, but three or four generations of their descendants were still living in the house. None of them had inherited the old man’s passion for gardening, however, so the front yard was quite overgrown. Also the house hadn’t been painted recently, but otherwise it looked much the same as I remembered it — except that they had electricity now.
The girl in jeans in the photo was learning English at school, and even had a blackboard set up on an easel in the living room with some English vocabulary on it. Her parents wanted her to speak English with us, but she was too shy so they didn’t insist.
Instead they took me around to the back and proudly showed me the new addition that they had built onto the back of the house, because there were so many more people living there now than before.
Then they took us down to the river to show me the other big improvement, a set of stone and concrete steps and a ramp leading down to the river bank. This really was an improvement, because thirty years before there had been nothing here but a steep path that was dusty in the dry season and muddy during the monsoons. They seemed really proud to show me this since I was one of the few people in the world who knew how it used to be. (GPS 10°58’42.62″ North; 106°46’10.30″ East)
But some things had remained the same, like the dishwashing methods. This may not look like a very luxurious way to wash dishes, but it was a big improvement to have the stone steps here, instead of just the steep dirt path that I had known from thirty years before.
Finally they took us to the large pagoda, which I remembered as being the center of religious and social life in the village.
In addition to the rooms with altars and religious statues, there was also a banquet hall where the local people met for social gatherings. I recalled that Major Giam had once given us a tour of the pagoda, in 1964, with me as his interpreter.
In the banquet hall of the large pagoda I was introduced to the monk who seemed to be in charge. He was a friendly man who was very interested in talking with me. Unfortunately our only common language was French, which neither of us had spoken for many years. Nonetheless, we tried to converse for quite some time, and he succeeded in confirming my impression that Tân Ba was still an intact, functioning community, which is something I was very happy about.
Thanks to my older son Nick for taking the pictures during our travels through Vietnam in 1995, and for scanning my old photos from 1964/65.
If you would like to read all six of my Tân Ba posts in chronological order, please start here: Arrival in Tân Ba 1964.