On the road …again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Looking Back With Mixed Emotions and Memories
Thanks to the photographic record, recalling a few details of the lavishness of Anh Sao’s house in Viet Nam can be shared with others. As time passes, it becomes harder to reconcile the facts that brought us together, but photos make the stories more plausible.
Anh Sao had been a captain in the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) when that war raged in the 1960s and 1970s. Only a lowly captain at the time, he was also a professor at the Vietnamese equivalent of our US Military Academy at West Point. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, he became a refugee. Not long afterward, he came to stay (for about a year) with the Mother-in-Law of the Footloose Forester at our condo apartment in Honolulu, where he slept on the floor at nights and spent his days trying to open a restaurant. Sleeping on the floor in front of the open door to the lanai may have been humbling but Anh Sao was not the only one who did so. All of the 4-5 other male refugees who Tiger Dao took in following the war slept there on her floor until they adjusted to life in the USA. The refugees who made it as far as Hawaii knew about her; and she treated all of them as adopted sons.
Anh Sao did not talk much, but he quietly prospered. He opened a restaurant in the Makiki District of Honolulu that continues to thrive to this day. In the meantime, he went back and forth to Viet Nam as a businessman. Although the Communists are hostile toward the United States, they have always been practical enough to realize that many businessmen in the defeated South brought in valuable foreign exchange, and that included Anh Sao who decided to build an expensive home in the countryside where he eventually planned to retire. In 1997 the Footloose Forester, his wife Thu and her mother, the kindly Tiger Dao, were invited to that rural home near the village of Lai Thieu.
We were amazed at both the exterior and the interior, both of which were crafted according to Anh Sao’s instructions. To say that his house was designed to suit him would be an understatement. Many of the features were so unusual that it would be more accurate to say that certain features were first designed, and then commissioned to be built. That included the ornate carved railing leading to the second story; and the large stone sculpture of a reclining Buddha that adorned one of the gardens at the side of the house.
In the first photo below, the distinctive oriental design of the eves gives a hint that his house was quite unlike most houses in the region. Although the Chinese style of architecture might seem appropriate in Viet Nam, it is not really commonplace. Anh Sao, however; had grown up in Chau Duc, a city with significant ties to Chinese culture.
Exterior scene of Anh Sao's rural home
The unique staircase in the second photo was something that Anh Sao had commissioned. Such a staircase was not something that one finds in a furniture store, thus he had it commissioned by an artistic craftsman with specific details in mind. In fact, many items both inside and outside were commissioned by various craftsmen.
The Bengal Tiger rescues The Bear from two menacing dragons
The magnificent natural rock sculpture on the second floor is not one of the commisioned art works, but the water painting on the wall behind it is. A smiling Anh Sao was happy to show us around, while saying very little about his treasures.
A smiling Anh Sao has good taste about works of art
One of the bittersweet memories that trip to Viet Nam in 1997 was rekindled when we visited the Three Bells Church near Saigon. That was where the Footloose Forester wed his beloved wife, the Bengal Tiger, in 1968. We had always wondered whether the Communists would destroy the 1:5 scale model of the SA-7 Saturn rocket that stood in the courtyard astride the church. Thankfully, they did not.
Footloose Forester stands in front of church where he was married in 1968
Mother Mary, the queen of heaven and earth, was the theme of the modern sculpture that was actually commissioned by the priest who married us. Father Peter Thanh had studied in the United States; and he had a lot of modern ideas.