06 July 2006

Help, I Am Lost!

While living at D Block of Nguyen Van Thoai Apartment Complex, most of my school days were spent at Quang Nha School. However, maybe for one school year, for whatever reason, I attended Sung Chin School, located southwest of my home, as shown in the map. The normal walk to Sung Chin School is shown by the blue arrows. Through the serpentine alley into Le Dai Hanh, make a right at the Viet Cong Grave, left at the T intersection (Thiet Marketplace), turn right at the corner, go past the garbage dump and the popular coconut juice stand across from it, then at one of the many alleyway on the right, turn into Sung Chin School. The school as pointed out in the map is really just my best guess. I simply picked out a building that is much bigger than its neighboring slumlike houses. There are two things I remember most about Sung Chin - its mean principal and my adventure of being lost.

Corporal punishment was the norm of 1970s Viet Nam. Maybe even now, although I do recall reading in the government's newspaper that such practice was discouraged or may even be frowned upon. The principal at Sung Chin was such a practitioner. I think at least once a day we had assembly in the schoolyard to hear the principal's lecture - what the lectures were about I have no recollection at all. What I do remember was the public humiliation and punishment of some unfortunate students who either were caught earlier in the day for some infractions. Also, if any students misbehave during assembly, such as not paying attention or talking, would be brought up to the platform for a sound beating. Each time the subject of the Mean Principal of Sung Chin was brought up, my eldest sister O.P. would tell me the time she witnessed some kid cringed in pain as his open palm was smacked by the principal.

Just a few days after I started attending Sung Chin, I made the wrong turn leaving school. I think I probably got onto the wrong line to during dismissal assembly. Instead of turning left outside the school, the line went right (north). After a longer, also winding, trip through the alley, I ended up on Tran Quoc Toan Avenue (now known as March Second Avenue, probably because March 2nd of some year has a significant to the Vietnamese Communist government). I didn't recognize the area and immediately ran back into the alley but there were many forks in the road. I didn't know which way to go so I went back to the avenue. With tears streaming from my eyes, I walked eastwardly along the avenue hoping I would recognize some street. I still remember seeing truckloads of soldiers traveling against my direction and got the idea of asking for help. A policeman on bicycle passed by and I ran to him for help, but he either didn't hear me or didn't give a hoot simply went on his way. This was 1970s Viet Nam where the telephone was a luxury for governments and some businesses, maybe for the wealthy, too. There was no public phone, not that we had one at home, plus I probably didn't have any money on me. Nope, no cell phone either back then. So I kept walking east along Tran Quoc Toan and at some point a young man, perhaps in his 20s, noticed me. Luckily, I did know where I lived, just not how to get there from Tran Quoc Toan. The man led me by the hand further along TQT Avenue and at the intersection with Le Dai Hanh, at the sight of the Phu Tho Racetrack, I recognized my neighborhood and immediately let go of my savior's hand and ran home! Without saying a word of thank! That's my second regret from my childhood. By the way, the red arrows outline my trip home from being lost.

During my brief disappearnace, my mother searched all over for me, at first on foot, then on cyclo (xich lo, or trishaw, a bicycle with three wheels, pedaled from the back, with the passenger(s) sitting in the front.) People in the neighborhood, including Mrs. Cam, pregnant with her third child, joined the search, too. Luckily, a good soul took me close to home, and I didn't even thank him!

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