The Hanoi Hilton and River
Just a Boy On a Peaceful River
Just a Rag Tag Group
It was just the right time of the morning before scheduled meetings. Those of us ex-pats were up and at it early. The breakfast buffet was wonderful and they served the best Western style coffee. It really is a lonely crew, those of us far from home for indefinite stays. You can tell a seasoned foreigner by with whom and where they sit. Not alone, not with locals and not anywhere near a family.
In this land of the Hanoi Hilton you also chose by size. Sorry but real small white Westerners were kind of shunned. Or probably they shunned us big old light brown guys. My table that morning had a Melbourne translator fellow. Broad at the shoulders and narrow at the hip with a crooked nose, I would not give him lip. He had his uniform on (we all had uniforms that matched our work) Tee-shirt and shorts for a Techie, Kakis and a hat for a translator, tropical sweater for real estate and fancy silk suit for us negotiators. Shoes either had to look and feel like they hurt or be like an Italian boot. To hell with them I always wore real good walking shoes. Oh lord how I love doing my urban walkabouts.
So we all had our newspapers. Of course the translator was all over a UK sports section – soccer and rugby. This guy must have spoken 10 languages and his Aussie “brogue” was like he was a professional singer. His skill was communication and he was awesome at translating things like attitude. I would say 6ft 5. We called him Thug.
The German was a real jerk. But he was our jerk. I call B.S. but his name was Hans. This guy was GQ for Ivy League schools to beat all. Pink sweater tied over shoulders and tassel loafers and a gold Mariner watch. Hands so perfectly manicured without a single callous. This guy could smell a real estate deal three miles away in a hard upstream wind. I jokingly called him Barracuda but again he was my Barracuda.
The Canadian was Korean, living in Vietnam. Have you ever seen a 6 ft 2 Asian? Their presence is enough to intimidate. We just called him Ill. How rude. But he seemed to like it. A finance guy, kind of a trader but basically just in currency. If Hans said go, Thug said they weren’t lying and Ill said it was doable I went to work.
I just have never figured what people think of as a negotiator. Seems people think they do valuations, and predictions and legal crap and math. Wrong. We do people. Sometimes they are super sophisticated so I leave the sales to Hans. Sometimes you are as cheap as a 5 dollar suit. I leave that to Ill, sometimes you need to understand the situation (often a lie) and I leave that to Thug. My job as a negotiator was to make them want the deal. I would not be sitting in my home office in a 500 thousand dollar house not having to work for a living if I had done that poorly.
Young Man River
I hope you notice that it is a full on international team effort. And as I was trying to open up a communist regime to free enterprise and commerce I never lost a moment of sleep by guilt. By the way we slept about 4 hours a night. Drank about 4 gallons a night and chased women. We did not suffer hangovers we medicated them with champagne and beer or brandy and coffee each morning. My favorite was an IV of Irish whiskey.
You can laugh but we had massages, laps in the pool and in my case 6 klicks of walking a day and maybe some bicycle action not to mention unspeakable exercise. Huge stress seemed to keep the weight as well as the sleep down.
The night before there was a power deal with nasty lightening. This morning raining like an ocean upside down. Our power was from the Hotel. Generator. Did I mention we all had laptops with double extra power back ups? Did I mention this was a 5 star hotel complete with brass standards holding big red ropes to block off areas for us haughty taughty rich dudes? Only a guy with a taxi or chauffeur could walk on the right, tourists of the norm and locals were on the left.
On that unforgettable morning the lightening cracked so loud and close it was at the same time as thunder. Thug got up to look out our restaurant’s 3rd floor window and said, the river is in the street and it is rising boys to no joke. “Aye” I wiped my mustache with starched linen napkins and headed over and I just about did my dooty in my pants. Folks were drowning as they were washed away in the current. Hans immediately had a plan and we started to run.
Ill coiled up a good bunch of that rope over his shoulder and grabed 4 stauncheons. I freaked out some more yelling. Thug grabbed as many cushions as he could from the lobby. Hans just ran out fast down the 40 steps and started grabbing arms and literally flinging souls up on the steps. Many a broken bone I reckon.
The Big Freak Out
Finally I stopped freaking out. I grabbed the rope from the lobby and ran up stream with it secured around my waste. No thought. Thinking would have crippled me. I ran so hard to about 80 meters up. My rope trailing behind bright red and thickl Thug had grabbed the other end and tied it on and followed me up. At about 6 meters he yelled “It is now or never punk”. I backed up 3 meters and got a running start and did my best racing dive into the debris and people filled water. Ten hard strokes and I was losing fast. So 4 pumps of air and it was the dive. I had to “lever my fists” into the road cracks and hand over hand to the other side underwater with crap hitting me all over, including small children.
Wells bells and cocker shells I made it with Thug holding tight and securing is rope on his side. I found the concrete light pole and swung myself around to gain purchase. The safety bridge was up. Victims could grab hold and breathe for at least a moment. Then Hans dove in and raised up as the water was only 4 feet deep and he started grabbing people and using the rope as a kind of bridge brought them to “shore”. Ill was grabbing them and doing a triage on the side. Thug dove in and started clearing debris so the rope would withstand the pull of the flood.
A Little River
That Boy Can Swim
This only lasted about 15 minutes. We all got some medal of something. We were busy insisting our bosses pay for new clothes and a few other issues like Thug’s dislocated shoulder. I spent a few hours puking out that nasty water, but whiskey cuts through much.
Now you all just go and say that this is a tall tale fully made up from whole cloth. Call Hi-Tek Multimedia and ask them. The medal hangs on their wall not mine.
I am no great man but I have been blessed to do a couple of good, well kind of good things. Thank a first responder for me.