The ex-villager doesn’t yet feel at ease in a street wider than would be needed to let two or three people pass, or at most an oxcart. Saigon takes terrorism—assassinations or the bombing of buildings—in stride, much as traffic accidents, but the fighting in the city during the Tet offensive, in 1968, and a few subsequent rocket attacks produced widespread fear. People couldn’t dig shelters under their houses; such digging is forbidden, lest insurgents use the tunnels as hideouts. And so for a while the things my friends in town wanted most of all were sandbags.
The future casts a shadow over the city. Somehow, sooner or later, the war will end, but what will those newcomers do, that first generation of rapid urbanization? Many won’t be able to go back to the rice fields, even if they want to, even if the countryside should become safe. For if a boy left the farm at the age of 8 and is now 15, he has missed a crucial part of his education for the farming life—working with buffalo, threshing rice. He has lost the confidence that he can be a successful farmer. I have seen children like that by the score.
Right now they are still shining shoes, opening restaurant doors, or making money in whatever ways an enterprising boy can find in a war-fevered city. Their mothers wash clothes for foreigners, or work as waitresses. Their fathers and older brothers are in the army. What will happen when we can’t afford to spend time in the old town apartments prague? Already people in Saigon sense a lessening of their chances for earning a living. Orders are fewer for souvenirs going to the post exchanges of the foreign soldiers. Construction laborers are losing jobs. Their women support them by selling soup, but when men don’t have jobs, they don’t go out in the evening for a bowl of soup with their friends.
And while pay isn’t going up much, prices are. In one week when I was there last October, the price of eggs rose 30 percent, vegetables 70 percent. In a government office a secretary told me that in 16 years her salary had increased by 75 percent, but in that time rice went up 1,000 percent. Saigonese lucky enough to own television sets can turn off their worries and tune in on “Bonanza” or “Gunsmoke.” Most popular, though, are the weekly shows mixing songs with dialogue in the style of Chinese opera (http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/arts/chinese-opera.htm). They abound in virtuous but wronged heroines and repentant villains.
Thus a recent production presented a beautiful blind girl, raised by a devoted foster father whose enemy, the wicked district chief, wants to kill her. She flees, and meets a teacher of swordsmanship who trains her to defend herself. She is wounded by the district chief, but rescued by her teacher—who, it turns out, is the district chief’s long-lost son; she marries the son, and the district chief promises to mend his wicked ways.
Not all endings are as blazingly happy as that. Sometimes the heroine simply retires to a life of religious contemplation. In any case, justice is always done harmoniously, in a Confucianist way.