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Saigon Kids Stories: Mother’s Taxi Adventure

by Kevin Wells (ACS)

It seems overconfidence in taxis runs in the family and is genetically transmitted through the maternal line. I had my taxi adventure, but at least it did not involve assaulting the driver!

My mother, now gone these three years, had what she thought was aplomb. She was perfectly capable of uttering a street address and thumbing though Time, Newsweek, Look or the Saturday Evening Post while the taxi driver drove her to the address she specified.

There is one problem with this approach other than, shall we say loose traffic discipline. My mother imagined that her attempts at a tonal language communicated what she intended.

Over time, she learned well enough, but some of the learning came at a price. On one notable day, she determined to visit a friend on a street out towards the airport. She hailed a cab and started to flip through the magazine she brought. It was the time just after the mid-day break and traffic was heavy.

She just assumed the position of the passenger in back and enjoyed the fact that she did not have to deal with the traffic directly.

When she looked up, she was definitely not in an urban area. There were too many water buffalo and too few people for her taste so she made another stab at the street she wished.

Oui, madame, smiles of reassurance and gesticulation through the front window is what she got back.

Now, imagining she was being kidnapped, she decided on one more try before should would escalate. She tapped the driver on the shoulder and gave him the pidgin French for return.

He was not fast enough, so she looped her purse strap over his neck and reined him in. Hard.

That got results, and he did a Y turn, zipped back past ACS, and deposited her in the driveway and held his hand out the window for the fare.

I was just arriving, and at this early time in my stay in Saigon, I was not fluent in all the curse words in common use, but from what I could tell he hit all the high spots and was elaborating for effect. Primitive things. Forbidden things. Impossible things.

Then Nam arrived on the scene attracted by the commotion. Nam was a Northerner and had a finely tuned sense of social class and brought the noise to an abrupt halt. As majordomo, she found the problem, convinced the driver to go away, if not happy, at least away, and worked on the diplomacy necessary to teach my mother to avoid her pronunciations in favor a written note that Nam would generate as necessary.

As I found later, the driver was doing exactly what he was asked to do. With a tonal language such as Vietnamese, you just have to be careful, and she was not even knowledgeable. If she had been accurate in her pronunciation, the incident would have never have happened.

There were no official inquiries, but I have to believe that the word went out among some taxi drivers that there are some crazy Americans in town, and watch out for the crazy woman that lives on Ngo Dinh Koi!

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