Thursday, September 11, 2014

Letters from Esther - Letter 4

I am writing up a series of letters my grandmother, Esther, sent "home" to her siblings in North Dakota as she traipsed around the world working for the State Department as a working woman before it was chic. Letters were chosen over phone calls because long distance calls were expensive, and it was sometimes difficult to hear well at a distance.

This letter is the next letter I have from Esther by date.

USOM Vietnam
Progress Support Div. Box 32
Navy 150, c/o F.P.O.
San Francisco, Calif.

July 14, 1958

Dear Folks:

I'm going to take you at your word and write to everyone at once with carbon papers.Of course this way some of you will get a repeat cause I have written in longhand to some. Anyway, the reason I want to write en mass just now is to send you some pictures that I took. I think they're pretty good. I'm anxious to see some of those taken in the church in Ironwood with all of us. The two in the picture with me on the edge of Saigon River are a Belgian fellow and a Vietnamese movie star. She was acting as a guide on a tour I took on the first day I got here and the Belgian happened to be on the tour too.

Then there is the picture of Bill and his wife, Jerry, in front of their house -- which in case you didn't get a description of it before is just beautiful. Its a rambler type but hs a full basement with a fireplace and even a juke box. There's a huge living room and dining room, with a dinette that is as large as many dining rooms are at the end of the kitchen; three bedrooms and an immense bathroom with two wash bowls. There's a fireplace in the living room and also one outside on the patio. The yard is large and lovely too,, with all kinds of plants. Jerry is very nice 00 she has five children by a previous marriage but only one (a 2-1/2 yr. old boy) lives with them. I didn't get to see him cause they had just moved in the day before I got there and he was with a baby sitter. Saw his picture though and he is rel cute. One of Jerry's daughters is married and lives in Rhode Island and is going to have a bab.y in September and she is going out to be with her. Darcy works at Bill's shop and Jonny occasionally too.  Judy and Dawn and Jane would make a good trio -- they're all built alike.

My trip was very nice. I got a thrill out of stopping in Anchorage, Alaska and seeing it daylight at 2 in the morning. Tokyo smells foul, but Hong Kong was beautiful. By the way, Saigon does not smell. When I got there was no one at the airport to meet me and very few who could understand English but I finally decided the only thing to do was to go to a hotel, which I did. And then the next day I went on this sight-seeing tour and during that time the people from the office had gone to meet me and realized that I had come in the day before since there was no Air France flight on the 5th. They found the hotel where I was registered and left me a note and finally caught up with me Sunday and brought me to the little temporary apartment they had arranged for me. They even had a maid, Hai, and had gotten some groceries. I think I will like Saigon very much. Its not too hot, I still have to see all the bugs, etc. that are supposed to abound. Of course the worst difficulty is not being able to talk the language but I am starting classes in Vietnamese tomorrow and French classes in August. I do hope Loraine, the girl from Washington I told you about, is coming cause it would be nice to have someone to do things with.

July 15 - page 2

I didn't get this finished for this morning's mail after all. Since then I have decided against the Vietnamese lessons -- everyone says its a waste of time. Anyway, the job is pretty terrific to catch on so I think I'll just relax in the evenings for a while. Tonight I plan to go to see a movie -- The Ladykillers -- with Alex Guiness. There's a gal in the same apartment building with me from Aurora,,, Ill. by the name of Ann Streit, who doesn't seem to be dated up to the hilt and she and I are going together. We also went to see a play put on the teenagers of the American community last week. It was pretty lousy.

This seems to be quite a large city -- very flat -- something like Washington with a lot of circles and squares and streets going every-which way. The streets are also very wide for the Orient and there are lots of trees. The buildings though look to be in need of repair. They seem to be quite old and all the little shops have iron-fence fronts that fold up during the day and are pulled shut at nights.

The buildings all have very high ceilings, about 12 feet and every room has at least one big fan up in the ceiling. They're very effective. You can regulate the speed. Neither the office nor my apartment is air-conditioned but so far I haven't minded. They say though that May and June are much hotter than it is now and that from October to March its very nice.

All the people still look alike to me, I suppose because they seem to dress all alike. The women wear long black or white pants with a long-sleeved, high mandarin neck and long tight sleeved garb over it. They are split up the sides to the waist.  That is the well-dressed costume. For work my maid wears a short jacket with short sleeves over the black pants. The jacket is usually white for work -- the dress up ones are any color and sometimes flowered. In the office the girls dress in the native costume  but the men wear American type clothes. Also on the street you see many American men in shorts, but never women. The little kids -- some have only pants, short or long, and some have only shirts, short of long; and I've seen a few with nothing on -- especially out in the country.

The coolies have a very odd way of squatting on the sidewalk, both men and women (I'll draw a picture on the end) and they all wear those crazy looking hats.

Well, enough for now. I hope to hear from you all soon.

With love,


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