Historians of Ho Chi Minh City, part 4: Fond Memories

January 13, 2010

Ho Chi Minh City is racing towards the future at breakneck speed. But there are some who have dedicated themselves to remembering and preserving the city’s past. In this five-part supplement to January’s Urban Archaeology feature, contributing editor Thomas Maresca profiles the self-made historians who helped us piece the puzzle together.

Fond Memories

Thomas Hutchings, a novelist and photographer, is another American who felt the pull of Vietnam. Hutchings served two tours in the Air Force in 1970-71, and like Henry Bechtold, had wanted to come back for years. He finally returned in 2004 and had the same reaction:  “I wished I’d come sooner.”

He returned to his native California, but soon made up his mind to come back for good. “I decided, I can’t stay in the States any longer. I’ve got to go home. I always say that I was born in California but grew up in Vietnam,” Hutchings says.

Once back in Vietnam, Hutchings wrote a novel, Tears of Tay Ninh, which required extensive research for historical accuracy. He’s at work on another novel set during the French colonial period and has continued to research and share information with other Vietnamese history buffs and veterans (www.thomas-hutchings.com).

Another former soldier who has made Vietnam his home is Gil Simpson, who returned with his Vietnamese wife in 2007. Simpson came to Vietnam and after his tour of duty was up, stayed in Saigon all the way until April 1975–just before the fall of Saigon–working in various jobs including managing the International House, a U.S.-run club located on Nguyen Hue, where the Duxton Hotel stands today.

A day spent wandering the streets of downtown HCM City with Hutchings and Simpson is a highly entertaining, living history lesson about the changing face of the city. Their reminiscences are fonder than one might expect considering the circumstances of the time. Perhaps it’s the distance of memory. (As Gil puts it: “Soldiers from World War I didn’t talk about their time in the trenches, they remember that one weekend they spent in Paris.”)  But there seems to be more to it than nostalgia; their stories, memories and research show a special feeling for Vietnam, and are a vital part of the story of HCM City.

Read the next post in the series: Witness to History.

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