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Saigon Kids Stories: Almost Shanghaied The Night Karaoke Was Invented

By Frank Stoddard (ACS)

Saigon Kids Circa 1960/61. Left to Right: Frank Stoddard, Peter Shahpazian, Bob Layson, Kurtz (KJ) Miller, Dini Haznam, Janet Bogardus. Frank Stoddard Collection.

Saigon Kids Circa 1960/61. Left to Right: Frank Stoddard, Peter Shahpazian, Bob Layson, Kurtz (KJ) Miller, Dini Haznam, Janet Bogardus. Frank Stoddard Collection. Click Image to Enlarge.

This photo is of a bunch of my friends from the American Community School in Saigon.

Dini is the dark haired girl in the center of the photo.

She and I had agreed we’d wear black and white to this party. Dini was short at 4’10”, but was dynamite. She is one of those people, we all meet, who we are instant friends with a real bond that no one can explain — nothing could come between it — Do you know what I mean?

Pete is the dark complexioned guy, looking to his right.

I remember the time when I stayed over at his house. After his folks went to bed, we snuck out. We went out to Kurtz’s house. He is the guy with the stropped shirt (he lives in the Ozarks today). Now Kurtz’ (KJ) father was high up in the military (and very strict with Kurtz) and embassy so he had a Gendarme guard. We gave the guard 10 Pei and snuck into KJ’s house where we woke him up.

The three of us headed to town.

Bar Row: This picture shows the area of Cholon Frank mentions. The first 3 blocks of Trinh Minh street (hi-lited in yellow) down to the Y were a continuous row of bars, cafes, tattoo parlors and assorted other houses of ill-repute. Being located directly across from the wharf with the merchant ships coming and going from Saigon made for good business from the ship crews.

Bar Row: This picture shows the area of Cholon Frank mentions. The first 3 blocks of Trinh Minh street (hi-lited in yellow) down to the Y were a continuous row of bars, cafes, tattoo parlors and assorted other houses of ill-repute. Being located directly across from the wharf with the merchant ships coming and going from Saigon made for good business from the ship crews. Click Image to Enlarge.

There was an area in Saigon that had a name, but I just do not remember it. But to show you where it was, go down To Do Street until you come to the river, take a right, go past the floating restaurants, go south and then take a small jaunt to the left over a bridge and you are there.

Cafes and bars are on the right and on the left are cargo ships tied up to the wharf.

We went to this area because we knew our Dad’s and their friends did not go here (would not be spotted!!). It was a rather rough area, but to us fifteen and sixteen year old boys it was perfect.

Well back to the story — KJ, Pete and I had a few Ba Muoi Ba’s when we met these seaman. We had no idea where they were from, but it came across to us that they were inviting us to their ship. Their language sounded really strange.

We followed them on board a ship. It was rather ugly, a lot of rust and seemed unkept, with a little odor. We went down several decks until we entered what was their living quarters.

One of the sailors pulled out a case of Tuborg beer.

I instantly knew they were Danish, for that was my father’s favorite beer. We drank beer, and sang to a sailor’s harmonic and another one’s guitar.

Please don’t ask the the name of the songs, but we probably invented Karaoke that night — but did not know it.

I must say we had a great time and I have no clue how we got home.

Later I told Pete and KJ that that was not the brightest thing we ever did. My gosh, we could have been kidnapped and taken off to a far away land and forced into porn movies.

I do not remember if it was Pete or KJ that said,”Oh! Heaven forbid, we would not want that!”

Dini and Pete died this year.

I saw them last in 2000 at the Reunion in Phoenix, AZ.

I am glad I was able to at least do that.

True old friendships, I found out, do not diminish with time and distance.

[Admin Note: The area of Saigon/Cho Lon Frank mentions above and talked about in the discussion in the Comments below, has been demolished and is now a Freeway. Bye Bye *Bar Row* and Olympic Bar.]

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21 comments to Saigon Kids Stories: Almost Shanghaied The Night Karaoke Was Invented

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    Great story and I know exactly where you went. Dangerous area if my memory serves me correctly. I, of course, NEVER went there (seriously..my dad would have grounded me until I was 30). These are the stories that keep me smiling.

  • Wasn’t that Cholon? I remember the Bars and the Tatoo parlers … I almost got a tatoo but passed out in chair from too many 33’s and Joe Christensen strapped me around his waist (with his shirt) on the back of his Guzzi and got me home.

    • Roy – Yes, it was Cholon. Just across the bridge closest to the Saigon River. *Bar Row* was across the street from the wharf where all the merchant ships docked and the Customs House was located. I’ve got some pictures of the area some place. I’ll post once I find them – lol.

      Remember the night a bunch of of parked our motor cycles at the bridge and walked to the farthest bar from the bridge then played *who can drink one 33 in each bar* and make it back to the bridge first, if at all – LOL – 🙂

      If I remember correctly that was the night the German Ambassador’s son got so mashed on 33’s that when he got on his motor cycle to head over the bridge to Saigon, he missed the bridge and went into the canal on his motor cycle. We had to pull his motor cycle out of the mud in the canal. I was covered from head to toe with mud. Thank God my parents weren’t home when I got home so I didn’t have to explain why I was cover in mud – LOL. I remember I jumped in the shower, clothes and all, to wash the *stink* off – Geezzz, that canal was a *sewer* and smelled like it too!!! The next day when our maid did the laundry, she asked me why my clothes were all wet and smelled – LOL. I don’t think she enjoyed doing the laundry (by hand) that day. But, by evening everything was freshly washed, ironed and in my closet ready for the next outing … LOL … Saigon ROCKED!!!

  • Al Misker

    Yes, it was Cholon! Spent many evenings down there, enjoying the ‘night life’ Lost the spare tire off my brothers Lambretta on one such excursion (needless to say, he was not pleased, and still reminds me of it, occasionally)! The midnight ‘requisitioner’ was considerate enough to replace the brand new spare with a well worn one! I was not in any shape to realize the swap had been made that particular evening (seems like departure time was 3:00am) and it was a long ride from Cholon to the golf course road and the JDP compound! Unfortunately, that was the first thing my brother noticed that following morning!

  • Al Misker

    I think the unidentified girl’s first name was Becky (Rebecca)! Unfortunately,her last name escapes me at present. Her family lived three houses down from ours in the compound!

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    “Unidentified girl” has to be Janet Bogardus. That smile was so special!

    Guess I will have to get on the stick and scan some party pics from the Saigon days, too. What fun to see everyone together.

    Guys, do you ever think about how lucky you all were not to have been abducted somewhere long the streets of Saigon? Going out at night, riding a variety of local transportation, being the kids of American diplomats/military etc. Holy cow! Makes me shudder to think of the possibilities we all probably narrowly avoided on any given day, thanks to our very busy guardian angels I am sure!

    I know there had to be at least one on duty the early morning I snuck out of our house on Phan dinh Phung, and caught a cab to drive me down to the docks in Saigon. John Treat was leaving to return stateside and a group of us were meeting to say goodbye. I took the cab alone, arrived at the docks and warehouses only to find no one around. Rather than choose to make a hasty retreat home before they knew I was “missing,” I wandered aimlessly through the deserted warehouse area til I finally found where the ship was tied up.

    Everyone had apparently arrived ahead of me, so there were plenty of us teenagers on board to say bon voyage to John and then ride back home together.

    When I arrived back at home mid-morning, and my dad found out what I had done he was beyond concerned: partly for my safety and, mostly, I am sure, for my lack of common sense.

    My “reward” for naivite’: a personal parting gift from John … one of his dirty hightop tennis shoes, which hung by the laces on the security bars of my bedroom window until we, too, left for the States many months later. I am fortunate my father did not hang me along with the shoe!

    Have a Happy Easter everyone. Keep sharing your memories as they do spark my own!

    Suellen

    • Suellen – You are absolutely correct about not being abducted. Particularly us guys and some of the stuff we did and places we ventured too. But, for me, one of the first things I learned after my dad became a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department was that I had a *Diplomatic Passport* which protected me from prosecution in foreign lands. I’m sure that had a direct effect on some of my mischievousness. That an being a teenager able to do all the things only *adults* over age 21 could do in the States, I’m sure had an influence on my choice of activities – LOL.

      A few days before I was exiled from Saigon I did find myself in a situation which I was *certain* was going to result in me being literally *beheaded* in the mazes of Cholon by a couple of Chinese goons. Fortunately I wasn’t – LOL. But, it was the straw that broke the camels back as far as my dad and the State Department were concerned, resulting in my rapid departure from Saigon a few days later. Perhaps I’ll post the story on the site someday.

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    Boy, I really must be getting old as I recall Cholon as being located somewhere else and unfortunately I can’t recall the names of the landmarks that would help me describe how to get there, but it was in a direction away from To Do Street, past the old US Army HQ that my dad worked at and past the Alhambra movie theater or am I crazy (forget the snide comments please)?????.

    • Ken – Cholon covered a lot of area. Basically, it was everything on the other side of the canal from Saigon. There were two other bridges farther up the canal that also went from Saigon to Cholon. You are probably thinking of one of them. Actually, as I recall my Saigon history, Cholon was originally larger then Saigon and was the commercial center developed by the Chinese merchants from China who controlled the commerce of the area before the French colonized Vietnam. Vietnam was under Chinese control for about 1,000 years and was governed by the Mandarins before the French colonized it.

  • frank

    Damn, the girls in Saigon, and especially at ACS, were so good lookin’ and of course smart!

    • Frank – Ditto to that!! ACS and Cercle Sportif girls had a *wiggle in their walk and a giggle in their talk* – OHhhh yeah, baby youuuuuuuu knowwwwww what I wantttt … Chantilly lace and pretty face … la la la … 🙂 – ?Bring back memories, Frank!?!

  • frank

    Bob, I remember You, Larry Smith and I used to go to Cholon and play poker with some Chinese guys. They were really into it. Whenever I see some thriller movies that have the Chinese crime bosses, I think of this. It was good we were so young at the time and had all the answers!!! lol

    • Frank – ME! Gamble in the gaming parlors of Cholon!! Nah, NOT ME!!! … the *shinning example of the perfect poster child all American teenager representing the United States of America in a foreign land* … surely you must be jesting, Frank!!! – LOL – 🙂

      🙂 DRINK 33 EXPORT – COURAGE IN A BOTTLE 🙂

  • Richard Turner

    The name of that waterfront area was **Kan Hoi (sp?). It’s nowhere near Cho Lon. Dick Plagge and I wrote a short story entitled The Olympian Adventures that chronicled our nights at the Olympic bar which was the last one on the block, furthest from the bridge. The most memorable song on the juke box was Geisha Girl by Hank Locklin.

    [** correct spelling – Khanh Hoi ]

    • Rique – Thanks for the information and memory jogger. That area was (and still is) known as Khanh Hoi. You are correct it was not located near the *heart* and main area of Cho Lon, but according to the old map (1963) I have of Saigon/Cho Lon area, everything on that side of the canal is shown as being Cho Lon – lol – but, given that Saigon and Cho Lon seemed to merge together, who really knows where one ended and the other began. Ahh … yes, the Olympic bar! As I recall it was the only bar that served *dry roasted* peanuts. And, didn’t they have a concrete bar painted blue???

      YES, I remember the song Geisha Girl. It was one of my favorites of that era. I think it was born out of the Korean War with all the GI’s hooking up with Geisha girls in Japan.

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    Damn, compared to some of you older SKs, I was a perfect angel….Perhaps Army Sergeant Majors control their kids a bit stricter….LOL. Seriously, I learned early on that my antics could have a detrimental effect on my dad’s career, hence the “spitting on the Buddha” story. I still had a hell of a good time in Saigon despite my “sterling” behavior.

  • Al Misker

    Don’t really want to disagree with Suellen, but i think that her name was Becky Reynolds!

  • Guess what, guys? That girl on the far right is me, Janet – not Becky Reynolds. Suellen is right – thanks, Suellen! I have the very same picture in my photo album, after all these years. I’m very sad to hear about Dini and Pete; I spent many a “wild” slumber party at her place (unfortunately nothing like what the guys were able to do…). It’s good to hear details of the trips to Cho Lon. I always suspected the boys were leaving our community parties on their scooters for more exciting venues. 🙂

  • Al Misker

    Janet,
    Thanks for the clarification! Although the picture does look a lot like Becky! lol! Suellen, you are right and I was wrong, my apologies! Should have known better than to argue with a lady that was there!

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    Cholon has a different set of memories for me. Once a week,I would accompany my mother to an orphanage in Cholon where we would teach nursery rhyme songs to little children blinded by glaucoma. It was always a very rewarding afternoon, as the kiddos seemed to really enjoy singing. Mom would teach nursery songs in English (“Mary Had a Little Lamb,””Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”etc.)while I plinked away on the old piano.
    I have often wondered what happened to that little band of helpless children, blinded by a disease for which there was a medication to halt the progression of it, had it only been used in time.
    I cannot begin to express in words how that experience changed my life forever. Saigon days were an impressionable time for most of us I suspect.

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    Al, no apologies necessary. So good to hear from you on the SK site. I never mind being contradicted, as long as I am proven right in the end..lol.
    Thanks, Janet for helping me out. I knew it was you! That figure and that smile…unmistakable.

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