Roadside Vendors

supermarket1Any place we stopped in rural Vietnam a number of boys appeared begging for food and selling various retail items such as coke, beer and pornographic pictures. They were aggressive sellers, traders and thieves. Kids learned the new language (English) much faster than adults and did a decent sales pitch. Our battery was traveling parallel to the Cambodian border, on a cow path leading to the most isolated place we had built a fire base. A bridge had been blown up and we were waiting for a portable one to arrive; the portable bridge was mounted on a tank body, and could be unfolded and span a surprising distance, I will add a pictures of one. In less than 10 minutes young vendors appeared. This was unpopulated country (at least we thought it was) at the edge of nowhere!

Next up the retail line with a larger selection were old women and young boys. They set up shop outside a fire base entrance. Officers tried to move them along but they returned as fast as the GI’s sent to move them returned to the base. They closed shop during the dark hours as our bases were attacked at times, but that threat did not stop capitalism springing from the Vietnamese soil. These shops did not have roofs but had ice, cold soda, beer, drugs, porn, and anything else they could find to sell including a few boys selling their sister for a roll in the paddy. Payment was in our script which was money backed only by the Army and for authorized use only but it was the grease of commerce throughout Vietnam. I guess it was backed by the full faith and credit of the US Army but the locals valued it more than their native currency. They would not accept Piasters (local money) from us.

Selling centers with cover from the weather were at road intersections but there were not many roads to intersect in Tay Ninh. Their inventory was almost all American made and customers were American soldiers. Most goods if not all, were stolen from Americans somewhere. If Army Supply was out of bug spray it might be for sale in one of these places.

In February, 1969, I visited Saigon and the downtown area was covered with street vendors with inventory stacked around their rug. The stores behind them sold Vietnamese made items, such as jewelry, carved wood with sea shell inlay designs, storage chests and silk clothing, but the street inventory was mostly American, including C-rations. Young boys on Saigon street were mostly outlaws called “Saigon Cowboys” and were a physical threat if they thought you were “in from the pumpkin patch”. I was.

By | 2017-03-18T10:49:45+00:00 January 23rd, 2017|Assorted Stuff, Soldier Stories|Comments Off on Roadside Vendors