Nights out in Vung Tau - Avis Wilkes

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Extract from an interview with Helen Frizzell, 6 May 2010

Reproduced with permission of Avis Wilkes

Where would you go dancing?

Oh, this was an amazing place. There was the local Grand Hotel, and it was owned by a Madame something or rather. She was a very beautiful upper class Vietnamese French woman, very wealthy. And she had this, oh, it was a lovely hotel, served beautiful food, and, and that was where we used to go quite often. And there'd be absolutely abominable music with Vietnamese girls singing [sings]. Oh, I can't remember but it was the local, it was the local sort of, you know, it was Vietnamese music but they would have things of the day like Leaving on a Jet Plane, and you know, all that stuff. And we would go there to eat very often.

So when you say we, who's we?

Oh, there was a – well, we had some male friends. We were always very careful of things but I had a nice New Zealand officer who sort of looked after me and steered me in the right direction. He was very, very helpful as far as the army went. But we'd go out and sometimes there would be two of us and often we'd go out in a group.

But, we would dance. And dancing was illegal, because it was considered very sinful and, and the regime was quite puritanical, really. So, they'd have all the lights out, all the – what do you call those things that spin round? The strobe balls, you know the lights that dance all over the place and make you feel as though you're having a brain haemorrhage or something.

But then suddenly the lights would start flashing, like the ordinary lights would flash on and off; and that would be the signal that everybody would had to run to their tables and sit down and look as though they were eating. Run off the dance floor, and whoever it was, was singing, the little Vietnamese girls, they'd disappear out the back somewhere.

And then the White Mice would arrive and they would stomp round with their guns at the ready – well they were always armed. But they would, I don't know – nothing every happened, but they used to periodically turn up. And everybody would – and the lights would all come on, and it would look as though all these people were just sitting round eating. There'd usually be remains of food or something there and drinks. And so, and then as soon as they had looked round and they would decide that everything was reasonably in order and away they'd go. Then all the music would start up again.

So how do you think they knew the White Mice were coming?

Oh they'd have a spy out. They had their, they had their bush telegraph sort of system, but it was really comical.


Vietnam War Oral History Project, Manatu Taonga Ministry for Culture & Heritage

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