"Tân Ba 1964/65 . . ." Bien Hoa by Nemorino
Bien Hoa Travel Guide: 34 reviews and 58 photos
From October 1964 to March 1965 I was the lowest ranking member of a five-man American "advisory team" stationed in a small Vietnamese village called Tân Ba on the bank of the Dong Nai River.
Since Tân Ba is not included in the VirtualTourist database, I am posting this page under the name of Biên Ḥa, which is a city several miles downstream on the other side of the river. At night we could see the lights of Biên Ḥa air base across the river to the east, which seemed strange because we didn't have any electricity in our village.
The composition of our "advisory team" varied from week to week, but basically it consisted of a major, a captain, two sergeants and me. It didn't really seem like being in the army, since I was not in a platoon or company or anything like that. The five of us took turns standing guard at night, so I would wake up the major when it was his turn. Most nights were quiet, except once or twice a month on dark nights with no moon, when small groups of Viet Cong would sneak in and try to blow us up.
Except for those few dark nights I really loved Tân Ba. The people were friendly and we lived right there in the village with them, not fenced off in a compound. It was sort of like being in the Peace Corps except that we weren't at peace.
Theoretically I was supposed to be the radio operator, but it soon turned out that I had a different function entirely, as I will explain in some of my General Tips.
Thirty years later, in 1995, my son Nick and I hired a car and a driver in Biên Ḥa 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.
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 this one 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 on the photos were grown up now. They had families and jobs, some had moved away and some hadn't.
The school was now full of a new generation of lively children, and the whole village seemed just as friendly and beautiful as I remembered it from thirty years 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 a bit 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.
They also took us down to the river to show me how the landing had been improved, and finally to the pagoda to have a talk with the monk -- more about that in the General Tips aka Favorites on this page.
I suggest that you read these tips/reviews in chronological order, which you can easily do by clicking on the link at the bottom of each tip.
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.
-- In the banquet hall of the large pagoda I was introduced to the monk who seemed to be in charge. He was a friendly... more travel advice
-- This may not look like a very luxurious way to wash dishes, but it was a big improvement to have the stone steps... more travel advice
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