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Saigon Kids Today: Summer Is Almost Here

by H. Clark (St. Paul School, Saigon)

Bob I took your advice to heart and followed your steps and golden rules in writing. So here I am, I will start *just as if I am talking to a friend.* So far so good! You are right, writing seems so easy now… like you’ve described – LOL – 🙂 Copy cat me!

You don’t know it, but Vietnamese has a zodiac similar to the Chinese. Most people think they are the same; they are not. For the life of me, I don’t understand why people often mistook me for a Chinese or Japanese (especially if I have a camera in hand), so please don’t make this mistake of asking me that question, … Are you ….? for that would be like an insult to me – LOL – 🙂 It’s a long, painful story… for another time.vietnamese zodiac

Back to the Vietnamese zodiac and the cat story. I was born in Saigon, in 1951, year of the *cat.* For the Chinese, they call it year of the *rabbit.* Nahh…! Cat is better – LOL – 🙂 Now you know the difference between Vietnamese and Chinese zodiacs. As most Asian do believe, at times I think I have the characteristics of a cat. Funny to say, but I am the most curious person. I am so curious of the places, countries, culture, and ways of life… I like to know and see what people do in faraway places. Love to explore. Last night, my husband and I watched a new TV series he recorded from a discovery channel, 750 DSCH, called Explore North America, Born to be Wild. I highly recommend it! It’s a new series and the photography, if watched on HD, is FANTASTIC, the incredible wild life and sceneries are terrific. I didn’t know, for example, grizzly bears can smell 2,300 times better than human… Imagine that!!!

Well, my first story begins with life *here and now,* because it has a good ending… I think for the most part, the SKs had already known and re-counted their experiences in my homeland during their stay there, my stories living in Saigon from my perspective and point of view can wait.

Our daughter left home for college a couple years ago to San Francisco, so my husband and I are empty nesters. My husband is retired, but I am still working for a couple of years longer. As a retiree, he foresaw that it will become much harder and harder for us to maintain a big house with a big yard. Gradually, we began to give stuff away, ready to downsize from a four-bedroom down to a two-bedroom home. It was really hard for me at least to let go of lots of stuff we accumulated over 35 years… down to only half.

About a year and a half ago, we moved into a tiniest little single family home with two bedrooms and a two-car garage in a trendy town (it happens to be where I work). Some historical tidbits of the town you might find interesting:

Pleasanton, CA Circa 2013. Huong Clark Collection.…”It is a suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area located about 25 miles (40 km) east of Oakland, and 6 miles (9.7 km) west of Livermore. The population was 70,285 at the 2010 census. In 2005 and 2007, Pleasanton was ranked the wealthiest middle-sized city in the United States by the Census Bureau.

Before the establishment of Pleasanton, in the 1850s, an earlier settlement, called Alisal was there. It was located on the lands of the Rancho Santa Rita near the site of an Indian ranchera, around the Francisco Solano Alviso Adobe, called El Alisal (The Sycamores), one of the earliest houses built in the valley in 1844. It is still standing and serves as the centerpiece of the Alviso Adobe Community Park. Alisal, nicknamed “The Most Desperate Town in the West”, was one of the settlements located along La Vereda del Monte that was a haunt and refuge of bandits and desperados in the era following the beginning of the California Gold Rush. Main Street shootouts were not uncommon. Banditos such as Claudio Feliz and Joaquin Murrieta would ambush prospectors on their way back from the gold rush fields and then seek refuge in Alisal. In the 1860s Procopio, Narciso Bojorques and others took refuge there.

The reputation it had gained from its days as Alisal passed and in 1917, Pleasanton became the backdrop for the film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, which starred Mary Pickford. The town was once home to Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who lived in a 50-room mansion on a 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) estate, now the site of Castlewood Country Club…”

The front lawn is about one tenth of what used to be at the old house and no lawn in the back. With not a lot of time required to maintain a small yard, last year I had an idea of starting a small edible garden in one corner. I envision when I retire, life would be easier and convenient for me to use some herb or whatever I plant in the backyard rather than having to make trips to the grocery stores to find all of the herbs needed for cooking a particular recipe.

As a Saigon kid, I knew nothing about cultivating and planting. I really didn’t know what to plant in my edible garden. To make it simple, just like a song I enjoy from the past, Scarborough Fair, that you heard so much in the 60’s from Simon and Garfunkle, I planted …”parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme…” 🙂

From that point, I’ve added to the garden, basil, oregano, green onions, and then later, tomatoes, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, grapes, and more… Had to cover most of these with a light floating net, because the birds like them, too! The net also helps with shading of the plants, cutting down the summer heat by a few degrees.

I found herbs in my garden so much more fragrant than those in the stores. Also found green onions more flavorful and they are evergreen; something I overlooked when I planted them. Along with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, the green onions survived last year’s coldest winter, unlike some other herbs that disappeared. I like them so much in my cooking that I’ve decided to plant more this year.

Spring has sprung in Northern California and summer is almost here. This year, along with other plants, my tiny garden starts with some Peruvian purple potatoes (taste like russet potatoes) planted in a container that a coworker gave me. Her family owns a 2000-acre farm in southern Colorado. She told me they are the oldest type of potatoes on the planet from Peru, South America. This variety was also reserved for Inca Royalty thousands of years ago and is very high in anti-oxidants so is very healthy. With this in mind, I’m very anxious, and curious like a cat, to see if I am successful in producing these legendary potatoes at harvest time in October.

Share your memories, experiences and stories of your days in Saigon.

You can submit your stories and photographs by using the
*Contact Form*.

CLICK HERE To Go To CONTACT FORM

9 comments to Saigon Kids Today: Summer Is Almost Here

  • Huong – Great stories! Thank you for your contribution to the site. Much appreciated! 🙂

    Hope you’ve not forgotten to plant …

    Thai Peppers
    Chinese Parsley (Cilantro)
    Thai basil, or Asian basil (húng qu? in Vietnamese)

    and, no Vietnamese garden would be complete without … Lemon Grass – 🙂

    Yummy, yummy … 🙂

    • H. Clark

      Hi Bob,

      Thank you for the kind words. Am soooo happy you enjoyed reading my first story 🙂

      I am also pleasantly surprised you know so much more of these herbs to remind me. Yes! I have planted Thai peppers and Thai basil (rau que).

      Thai basil cannot withstand the winter, so they disappeared on me.
      Thai peppers are OK, so far so good. I love to have them in my soup (Pho). Yummy…

      Had a hard time with cilantro last year. Because of the small backyard, I planted it in a container as with many others. Don’t know why cilantro didn’t grow well despite how many times I have carefully moved it in and out of the sun. Ahhhrr… so finicky… Will try again this year…

      Also had no luck with Lemon Grass. I love this in grilled meat. I did grow some “lemon basil.” Hard to believe it smells wonderful and taste exactly like lemon grass when it’s fresh!? However, I haven’t had a chance to see how it tastes when cooked.

      The Vietnamese call all herbs *rau.* It’s always rau … something… LOL 🙂

      For example:

      rau que (Thai basil)
      rau hun lui (mint)
      rau ngo (cilantro)

      Too many for me to recall, so I have to ask my mom. She knows everything. LOL 🙂

      I will try to write more and it will take time… because words don’t come easy for me… 🙂

      I have a little trouble attaching pictures. It appears that it can only take one picture? Maybe you can give me some advice on this. Later, I would like to attach a picture or two of St. Paul school. Thank you so much for inserting the Vietnamese zodiac picture for me. It was an brilliant idea! I was quite moved by your thoughtfulness. You are great!

      Huong

      • Huong – regarding uploading pictures: The Contact Form section for attaching *files* (text, images, or pictures) is only designed to accept *one file* at a time. But, a file can contain multiple items – 🙂

        If you want to attach and send more then one picture at a time, do this:

        1. Create a new file folder on your computer. Name it whatever you want.

        2. Drag and drop (or copy/paste) *copies* of the pictures you want to send into the file folder.

        3. If the file folder contains over 100 MB Zip (compress) it. (Note: If you don’t have a Zip Program on your computer, 7-Zip is a good free program. You can download it here:

        http://www.7-zip.org/

        4. Attach the file folder to your Contact Form message.

        Note: If the file folder contains too much data to send as a Contact Form attachment, then you can use *DropBox* (a free file sharing site) to send it. It is located here:

        https://www.dropbox.com/

        With the free version you can send files up to 2 GB.

        Note: If you just have 2 or 3 pictures to send, you can always just send them as an email attachment, also.

        Hope this helps – 🙂

        • H. Clark

          Hi Bob,

          Thank you for the helpful tips. They are all new to me, but your instructions steps are easy to follow. I’m sure I won’t have any problems going forward… 🙂

          Hope you have a wonderful Memorial weekend.

          🙂

  • Sarah Rogers

    Glad to have you join us Huong. Where was St Paul School in Saigon?

    • H. Clark

      Very nice to meet you Sarah!

      St. Paul School (St. Paul of Chartres) is located on 4 Cuong De Street (now Ton Duc Thang) in Saigon. Very nice and quiet street off the beaten path back in the good old days.

      If you are facing the Saigon zoo on Nguyen Binh Khiem St., St. Paul School is across the street to the right, all the way down to the very end of the block down by the Saigon river. Nguyen Binh Khiem ends on Nguyen Huu Canh.

      The school was gated, beautiful, and huge, as it was also a monastery. Because it occupies the entire corner of the block, like a U, the back side is on Nguyen Binh Khiem (same street as the zoo’s), the right side is on Nguyen Huu Canh, and the front is on Cuong De (Ton Duc Thang). The school is now divided into separate schools and something else…unrecognizable!!! I am heartbroken!

      I’m not very good at giving directions so I’ll try to also include a picture of it in my next writing.

      Thank you so much for your welcome note.

      Huong

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    Dear Huong~
    Thank you for your wonderful letter. I hope you will keep contributing as I found your comments very interesting. I cannot wait to hear your Saigon stories as I am sure they will be very informative and personal.
    I was interested in your comments about down-sizing to a smaller home. We should probably do that, too, but I cannot imagine sorting/distributing/disposing at this time. We have just done that for our parents’ homes in Texas and S.C. and have not found places to put all those goods, yet! Our clean garage has become a “mini-warehouse storage unit.” Agghhhh!
    Love the herb info, too. My husband and I have started growing herbs with small “in-the-pot” attempts to have fresh herbs instead of paying the exhorbitant prices at the grocery. “Hot-as-a-hound-dog” Houston, Texas, is a challenge for herbs, but with constant watering we have managed to keep them thriving. Our collection is expanding and the oregano, basil, mint, chocolate mint, sorrel, and thyme are doing very well…June, July and August will be the test! Our basil re-seeded this Spring and is already very bushy. Any advice is welcome.
    Thank you for your contribution to the Saigon Kids. St. Paul’s sounds like it was beautiful school.
    Suellen

    • H. Clark

      Dear Suellen,

      I like your name. Thank you very much for your kind words and comments. I feel humble that I am allowed to contribute. I find it so wonderful that the SKs can remain in contact after all these years. I often felt it, but one particular day, I was terribly homesick, or Saigon sick. It’s not like I can just jump in my car and drive to it.

      I was wondering how Saigon was in 1950s, around the time when I was born?

      By a stroke of luck that brought me here to the SKs, I read Bruce’s story… “Saigon Kids After 50 years…” A lot of things came to mind and gave me shivers and joy at the same time. I wish I could write like him, Bob, Frank, Ken, and many of you, and would like to contribute. I’m real happy that you enjoyed my first story. 🙂

      I agree with you that we have so much stuff around the house. It was very painful for us to sort through and decide which item should go, which should stay. After all this is done, the question remains… “Will we have enough room for all the rest in the new place?” It took a tremendous amount of time. I’m afraid it will be an on-going thing when I retire…. As the saying goes, you can’t take it with you…

      I also feel like you, that it costs so much to buy the herbs, especially if we use only half and then toss away. I saw on TV that many restaurants have their own gardens. Some even have them on the roof tops.

      You can teach me more of these expressions. I love the term *Hot-as-a-hound-dog-days* – LOL – 🙂 Never heard it before and never been to Houston, TX either to know. Maybe some day…

      Since you have asked, I offer my following own opinion:

      I follow the weather forecast almost daily – LOL – 🙂 If it will be a hot day tomorrow, early in the morning I would water all the plants very deeply, including spraying their leaves before I leave for work. I imagine they need a good rain fall… In this way, they are ready to take in the hot day. In case the hot days happen on the weekends, I would give the plants an extra light shower mid-afternoon or so – LOL – Like taking care of kids… 🙂

      For berries, grapes, and tomatoes, I grow them in black, 20-gallon size, containers along the fence — south side. I realize as I get older, it’s better to have the plants somewhat elevated. As a start, I don’t fill the dirt all the way up to the rim. As the plants mature, I intend to pull them out of their containers to add more dirt to the bottom, trim off some roots, and then return them back into their containers. This time, the dirt level would be almost to the rim, and so on… You see, I am buying time for them to grow.

      I hammered in some small nails along the top of the fence to attach a floating black net, and then draped the net over the plants. The net is weightless and deter birds from attacking the berries. The plants seem to like it as they are growing real well with lush green leaves, flowers, and then berries. They get over 4 hours of full sunshine during the day. Their top parts are now as high as the fence, so they get all of the sunshine they need all day long.

      Last few tips: I remove all of the bottom leaves off the plants to about 1 foot or so above ground for good air flow… This promotes more growth at the top as well as height to the plants. I also can see better when I water.

      As you might have known already, do not remove any leaves until the plants have at least a few sets of leaves. The first 2 leaves are like embryos. If these are removed, the plant dies.

      Huong

      p.s. How do you use sorrel? Somehow the Vietnamese only eat it with “Banh Xeo” which is a crepe seasoned with turmeric (yellow in color) mixed with onion, shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, and green onions.

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    Dear Huong~
    Thank you for your detailed response. I am excited about your garden and the produce you are culitivating, and I do appreciate your suggestions and notes on how you garden in pots. It sounds very practical.

    The Vietnamese crepe with sorrel sounds delicious (minus the shrimp, as I am not a seafood eater:(
    Sorrel can be added to a green salad and eaten like lettuce. Our single potted plant is nearly big enough for the first picking this year.

    We have just arranged for a sprinkler system to be installed in our front and back yards. We have waited for many years and finally decided that we have lugged hoses around the yard long enough. Time to give ourselves a break, especially during the long Houston summers. They say that Houston has only 2 seasons: summer and August. It gets beastly hot here for many months, and Houston is called the “bottom of the bucket” for our high Texas humidity, too.
    Nothing like Houston in the summer!Only the strong survive outside, and the rest of us live in the AC for about 10 months!
    I wish you well with your garden, Huong. Please keep us informed as to your successes.
    Suellen

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