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By Helen Nolan

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It was Kerry’s dad, Phil, who had come to get us in a Vietnamese taxi, a tiny Renault. We blew out the candles and raced outside into the cool night air. Bundled in the taxi, we took off in a mad race across Cholon into Saigon to the Schwartz home. I tried to keep my head down, but the flickering of firelight on the glass window made me peek out. It seemed as if every second or third house was on fire. It was a miracle that our house had not been hit. I could see bodies in the street and this time they were not dogs.

We never took malaria tablets (they were huge orange once-a-week pills, which produced bodily effects known as the Saigon Quickstep). We made friends with neighbourhood women and children. We had a favourite papasan, a kindly toothless old gentleman who waited each morning outside our villa with his pedicab to pedal us to work. We went to his home and met his wife and children. We ate in Vietnamese restaurants, Japanese and Chinese 24 Between the Battles restaurants, and tasted the exotic culinary delights denied the fussy American.

We were well into our meal when Penny, choking on a mouthful, suddenly burst out laughing. We looked at her curiously. ’ We all turned. Where there had been four marble cherubs standing peeing decoratively into the pond (hence the tinkling sound), there were now five. A small Chinese boy had climbed onto the fountain wall and had joined his marble mates in a pee. We just didn’t know where to look! It is considered terribly rude and uncouth to show any emotion in public in Vietnam and we couldn’t lean back and roar with laughter as we desperately wanted to.

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