‘The Grand’ Hotel was a majestic white colonial building located on the coast of the southern tip of the Vung Tau peninsula (formerly called Cap Saint Jacques). The splendour of the old hotel in this resort town had remained unchanged up until the year 2008, with the only difference after 40 years being the absence of soldiers on leave (from both sides). The large contingent of ex-pat Russian oil workers living in Vung Tau, along with the growing tourist trade, has revitalised the sex trade that once flourished there. This ‘grand’ hotel epitomised a sense of ‘time standing still’.
NB. A 2010 visit to Vung Tau, revealed that modernity had caught up with ‘The Grand’. It has had an extreme make-over and from the exterior it is unrecognisable, except for its name and its location.
♪♪ And I can still see Frankie …
Drinkin' tinnies in ‘The Grand’ Hotel …
On a 36 hour rec leave in Vung Tau …
And I can still hear Frankie …
Lying screaming in the jungle …
Till the morphine came and killed the bloody row. ♪♪
- from ‘I Was Only 19’ - by Redgum, 1987
The 'Grand Hotel'
Into the South China Sea,
Juts this long narrow cape,
A town immune from the war,
Once a place to escape.
Never believing till now,
I would do this again,
Feel the sweat, walk those dunes,
See that monsoonal rain.
Seeking a past so distant,
Back here in Vung Tau,
Some things unaltered,
Others different, somehow.
Of colonial splendour, mere glimpses,
Harbour views from each room,
Frangipanis line the court-yard,
Below in full bloom.
Popular songs of the time,
From so long, long ago,
Encourage memories to surface,
Some fade, yet never go.
Background music, now wafting,
From a Vietnamese band,
In the shade of this garden,
Sipping a beer at ‘The Grand’.
Glancing out from this hub,
Images seem so unreal,
As they flick ’round, encircle,
Blurring, like spokes in a wheel.
Out on the street, near the beach,
Cyclos and bikes racing by;
Fishing boats at low tide,
To one side they all lie.
Beggars still down on their luck,
Seek anyone who may care;
This regime like the old,
Gives no supporting welfare.
Cafes, stalls and bazaars,
Abound, but ‘bars’ are not there,
And hawkers still ‘hustle’,
Whilst locals nod, or just stare.
Pretty girls laugh, catch your eye,
Yet, it’s not quite like before;
Subtle smiles for the tourists,
Their dollars hard to ignore.
Although it’s been thirty years,*
I can well understand,
As foreign money rolls in,
The past will return to ‘The Grand’.
[* Note: Poem was composed in 1997 – ‘the past’ has now indeed returned to 'The Grand']
The 'Grand Hotel'