Category Archives: Articles

Memories from the battlefields of Vietnam, R&R in the Korean DMZ and much more… – by Joe Joshi

Joe Joshi (Rivaz 1954 to 1963)

I was in BCS for 10 years beginning 1954, as was my younger brother. My two elder sisters went to AHS (Auckland House School).
My parents, both successful doctors of medicine in Burma, said they wanted us to get a proper education in a British boarding school for children in India. My parents were born and educated in Burma, made a good fortune as a surgeon and doctor of internal medicine. They loved Burma, had many friends and family there. Life was good for us.

I got a good education after BCS, a B.A. degree with English Honors, a diploma in mass communication from Berlin, a commercial and combat pilot license and an honorary M.A. degree for excellence in journalism. I have travelled all over the world several times, having worked in many countries or been there and done that on vacation. I speak 5 languages fluently, have many good friends worldwide and a few ex-girlfriends.

I am a veteran editor in print and broadcast news, now writing a book on my experiences in the battlefields of Vietnam so many years ago that stunned friends and foes. I am sending a preview of that book:

I had to rework some parts of the full package on the fall of Saigon since I first wrote it for The Bulletin newspaper in Bend, Oregon, on the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.
I ran a somewhat similar version, including other thoughts, on another anniversary when I was in Laredo, Texas, and for the Korea Times in Seoul. Yet every time I try to put this together, there are so many flashbacks of sidebar stories I wish to include. But as the years pass, a compulsive guessing game continues to which I fear finding answers.
For instance: where, I still ask myself, is the beautiful woman who has come to symbolize for me the lost world of old Cambodia? Offering a fruit in her hands, sheathed in an emerald-green sarong, she moved with the sensuous grace of celestial dancers carved on the friezes of Angkor. She came one Buddhist holy day to a 15th century temple as late monsoon clouds darkened the sky. Our eyes met fleetingly through a curtain of incense perfumed by jasmine, and then she melted into the vivacious swirl of worshipers.
Where is the lovely girl, who wrenched herself up from a hospital floor in the refugee camp of Aranyaprathet decked with flies and feces to tell me her story? An American pilot had mistimed his bomb drop by a few seconds, so her right arm was now sheared off, the collar bone jutting out naked and already greenish with decay. Her little body trembling with pain, she looked at me and smiled: the fathomless stoic smile I think saved Cambodia from collective insanity — and melted my heart.
And what about Mark Basinger. He was just 17 months old when his father died. He has no memories of the man who left on a train in August 1966 and never came back. His mother remembers, though. And when she recalls Capt. Richard Louis Basinger, her tears flow.
Mark still watches old newscasts from Vietnam and thinks: “That’s where my Dad died.” And he wants to know more. He has pieced together a Web site that pays tribute to his Dad, his more than 350 helicopter combat missions, and his death on May 12, 1967 when his helicopter was hit by an enemy mortar round near a Marine outpost at Con Thien.
Capt. Basinger was 24 years old, 14 years younger than the son who so desperately wants to connect with him. Mark now wants to go to Vietnam. He will, he hopes, visit the spot where that helicopter crashed.
“I’m just trying to feel a part of him,” Mark says. But his mother tells him he need not go to Vietnam to do that. “Look in the mirror, son,” she says, “and you’ll know your father.”
And where, I wonder, is Helen Nguyen — the stunningly pretty mamasan at a Tu Do Street bar in Saigon. She didn’t have any time for me because I wouldn’t buy her the $25-a-shot Saigon tea. Our paths crossed again shortly before the fall of Saigon and she didn’t want to let me out of her sight. She brought a mattress and slept outside my hotel room door.
And remember Ha Thi Tran? I left Saigon three days after the Viet Cong gained total control of the city. Helen joined me and one member from India of the International Control Commission on Vietnam as we made it to Bangkok via Hanoi. Ha didn’t want to go to Hanoi and failed to show up in Bangkok a week later as planned. Neither did she make it to the sprawling refugee camps of Aranyaprathet on the Thai-Cambodia border. She was not on any of the refugee boats in the years to come and I continue to search for her today.
“I am not going to Hanoi because there is more hell in there than the rest of this ugly war put together,” she said. And I understood why Ha, being a South Vietnamese feared going to Hanoi.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
By Joe Joshi
Senior Editor, Korea Times

On Monday, April 28, 1975, a late-afternoon thunderstorm rumbled outside the open balcony windows of Saigon’s Independence Palace as 71-year-old Tran Van Huong, lame and nearly blind, clutched the arm of an aide and stepped slowly away from the microphone. He had just given up the presidency of South Vietnam after only six days in office. Another aide scurried forward, removed the red-and-saffron seal from the rostrum and replaced it with another, the outline of an apricot blossom containing the Yin and Yang symbol, an Asian sign for the combining of opposites to make up the universe.
Only then did ex-General Duong Van “Big’’ Minh, chosen as president to make a last desperate plea for peace, begin speaking. He appealed, as expected, for an immediate ceasefire, unconditional negotiations and national reconciliation.
Later, as war correspondents stood on the palace steps to watch members of the new “peace government’’ drive away, a correspondent for the Hongkong Standard said: “Perhaps now we can have some hope in this catastrophe.’’
He was wrong. The Viet Cong’s answer came less than an hour after Gen. Minh’s speech when a series of explosions buffeted the city. Communist pilots flying captured American fighter planes were bombing Tan Son Nhut Airport, though no one knew then where the planes had come from or who were flying them.
The heavy flak guns at the palace balcony opened up and there was pandemonium as policemen and soldiers all over the city began blazing away at the sky. The firing lasted perhaps a half-hour and then sputtered out. Soon the nervous city began to move again, its people hurrying through the dusk to get home before the 8 p.m. curfew closed in.
We could not know it them, but the bombs falling on Tan Son Nhut signaled the last battle of the Vietnam War.
Before dawn Tuesday, when artillery, rocket and mortar fire began pounding the airport, government resistance quickly evaporated.
That day, under the guns of Marine helicopters from a naval task force offshore, the final evacuation of U.S. Embassy staff and other Americans began. In the rush to get out of a city going mad, many desperate would-be refugees were seen clinging to the landing gears of the “iron butterflies’’ and babies were thrust at departing Americans by mothers hoping to at least get one child to a carrier of the 7th Fleet.
But most Vietnamese began to lose hope of being evacuated when U.S. Marines and American civilians used pistol and rifle butts to smash the fingers of men, women and children trying to claw their way over the wall of the U.S. Embassy. Those who didn’t make it also saw that helicopters landing on ships of the 7th Fleet were quickly unloaded and heaved overboard to make room for the next one.
Refugees who used sampans to reach the U.S. carriers sets their boats on fire to keep them from falling into communist hands. It was getting dark now and the tranquil waters, as far as the eye could see, was covered with burning boats. It looked like a vision from hell.
Those who made it to the ships, and those who didn’t, wept.
At that point, my life changed… Something died in me. I was on the waterfront with an arm around Ha Thi Tran, my Vietnamese girlfriend. Amid the clatter of helicopter blades, she silently wiped away her tears and I was shaking.
I had seen many horrible things in Vietnam, but could always turn to Ha for comfort. She was a breath of fresh air, a pretty girl of 22 with a quick, natural smile that made others smile. And she loved to wear the ao dai (Vietnam’s traditional flowing tunic over trousers with slits up to the waist). Ha always was so focused on whatever she did and could analyze situations others could not even comprehend. She made me feel there was some hope in this crazy Asian war.
We returned to the Caraville Hotel and sat by the window of our third floor room. I opened a bottle of beer as Ha pleaded on the phone with the operator to get us a line to Washington, Hongkong, Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo… anywhere.
Amid the chaos on the street below, we could see Vietnamese women offering money, gold or sexual favors for sponsorship promises and refugee documents, but nearly all the foreigners had left Saigon by then.
Ha and I stayed up most of the night talking about how our lives had taken us in different directions since we met in early 1969 under a hot, cloudless sky at My Khe beach near Danang. Most Americans remember it as the GI oasis called China Beach.
We also recalled our daily trips to Vietnam’s media centerpiece, the MACV (U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam) center in Saigon where Ha would translate the daily command briefing which put information (true and false) on the record during the 5 o’clock briefings.
There were several hundred reporters in Vietnam and competition was fierce. There also were would-be journalists, actors, teachers and some characters of dubious background with ambition and a taste of adventure. Many were frequently wounded. In the end, more than 70 were dead or missing.
Ha also was with me a few days earlier when 76 infants were killed in one of the first flights of Operation Babylift.. The C-54 Galaxy cargo plane was loaded with 300 infants, toddlers and caretakers when it plunged from the sky near Tan Son Nhut Airport.
Memories of that tragedy tore at our hearts as we talked about it that night, even though we were already numbed by the war’s horror.
Operation Babylift was authorized to evacuate 70,000 Vietnamese orphans, many fathered by American GIs. Some 2,000 children, with toddlers placed in cardboard boxes along the isles of the aircraft, made it to the U.S. before Saigon was lost to the communists.
Although Ha’s parents were not rich, they helped their only child acquire an education. Ha was studying business administration in Philadelphia.
We finally went to bed exhausted and dreamed of the country she had lost.
The day after that, Wednesday, April 30, Saigon surrendered. The gold-starred red-and-blue liberation flag fluttered over the palace.
After 30 blood-soaked years, the Vietnam War was over.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Filipinas forced into sex trade
By Joe Joshi
Senior Editor
Korea Times
June 2, 2003

Dongducheon – Shirley, a young Filipina, stands in front of the bar where she works in vampish boots and a skirt so short it leaves little to the imagination.

“Work,” she says simply, a helpless smile spreading across her pretty face. “Work, that is why I came. In the Philippines there is no way to make money.”

Prostitution is an old trade but not an honored one, so Shirley prefers not to give her family name. At age 21, she has a plenty of company in this U.S. military base town where bars have names like The Dungeon, DMZ, Sunshine, Papaya, Blackjack, Platinum and Olympia and young women loiter at every corner on the strip.

More than 99 percent of the bar girls are foreign, most of them from the Philippines. Others come from Bulgaria, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. All of them cater to the sex tourism boom in this town close to the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea.

Lina, who is very popular among the soldiers who frequent the club where she dances, put Dongdecheon’s lure simply: “One-zero-zero-zero,” she said laughing, “instead of one-zero-zero” – indicating a chance to earn $1,000 a week instead of $100.

But the laughter can be short-lived, promised money illusionary and the human cost high. Scratch the surface in the bar area and a world of violence, xenophobia, disease and misery is revealed.

For the sex trade, the balance of supply and demand could scarcely be better. “The business of trafficking for sexual exploitation is booming,” said Lee Bong-chol, who manages a neighborhood convenience store. “It is an industry now worth several billion dollars a year.”

Some of the Filipinas come here without illusions, however reluctantly, that prostitution for a wealthier clientele is the only way to feed their families and fashion a future. Others come deluded, lured into thinking they will work as singers or barmaids, but are forced into unpayable debt and deprived of all freedom in the end.

Maria, a Filipina with so many curves, it made my head spin just looking at her, was waiting outside the nightclub for a soldier who had just paid a $200 bar fine for her. Maria told me she saw no alternative to her current work on the strip. Her parents are dead, killed in a car crash when she was 16 and still at school. She took a succession of odd jobs, but they were insufficient to support her 10-year-old sister. Hardship, dead ends, vague dreams of getting married and maybe finding happiness, brought her to this God-awful place.

She stops talking abruptly, saying she has to go, when the soldier comes out and puts his arm around her waist. Of the $200 bar fine, Maria will get about $33. The bar owner gets the rest.

Maria takes a wad of notes out of her bag and hands it to her bouncer who has a distant look, track suit, Adidas sneakers, gold chain and sleeves short enough to reveal the bulge of his muscles.

Lorna, 19, also from the Philippines, is standing outside a nearby strip club. Unlike Maria, she is in the second category of women, those deceived, trafficked and ultimately trapped. She came to South Korea believing she would marry a rich man. Her husband turned out to be a poor farmer.

Lorna says she was locked up 24 hours a day and escaped when she was allowed to see a doctor. She was recaptured by her broker and had her passport taken. She was then told she had been “sold” to the bar where she now works. She has no money, she says. Her gaze is vacant.

Some of the Filipinas at the clubs are undocumented workers, others have three-month tourist visas arranged by gangs that bring them under false promises. Their stories tend to resemble one another. The women may be teachers, farm laborers or unemployed, ages 18 to 30. Often they have one or two children to support. They receive false offers of temporary work and good earnings. Travel and visas are arranged for a large sum of money – the women’s debt to the gangs that organize their transportation and work. After arrival, passports and any money are taken and the women are deposited in small guarded apartments. Then they are told what their real job is to be.

The average rate in brothels is $200, but no more than a tenth of that reaches the women’s pocket. Their “owners” buy food and pay rent, and the debt becomes intractable. The women are terrorized because they are often unable to pay off the debts. And they are paralyzed, afraid to go to the police, terrified the gangs will do something bad to a member of their family back home if they try to escape.

The trade in women from the Philippines has spread throughout South Korea and is increasingly well organized. The gangs that dominate the business are slick, flexible and elusive. Everywhere, women are reluctant to testify because they are afraid.

If they are going to testify, these women need witness protection, often new passports and assurances they can remain in South Korea. But government authorities will not provide this. And the gang members are much more sophisticated than the police.

At age 21, Raquel graduated from college with a degree in business administration and left the home of her poor, widowed mother to come to South Korea and clean the houses of upper-class families.

For years she scrubbed the floors, washed dishes, hung laundry and baby-sat toddlers — all the while cowering as employers called her stupid and sexually harassed her. Now she is a nightclub dancer.

“Many times I had to leave my job because of the sexual harassment,” said Raquel who has no valid travel document or permission to work in South Korea. “I always had to eat after my employers did, on separate plates, as if I were a pet. In fact, I think pets have more privileges.”

She has no pension plan, no social security, no health insurance, working practically in slavery. That’s because South Korea remains in the dark ages when it comes to the treatment of foreign workers, particularly the undocumented ones. This is despite repeated efforts by activists to reform antiquated labor laws and President Roh Moo-hyun’s promises to improve conditions for all workers.

One young Filipina outside a bar who refused to give her name, has a tattoo of a rose on her upper arm and a ravaged look in her big brown eyes. She seemed a waif broken before she could live.

She sells her body voluntarily. At least this is “voluntary” work in the sense that it is the only work that she has been able to find that allows her to make what she called a “reasonable living.” She plans to stop working next year.

“I met an American GI here who is my stable boyfriend and he wants to marry me,” she explained. “He understands why I have to do this. If things work out, I plan to go and live with him in America.”

…..

In continuation….

Sunday..
The quiet day..
I rise with the sun
and hear a multitude of birds..
Is it the dream I had last night
or the arrow that flew as Rush rushed past singing “The Garden..”
I had butterflies in my gut..
weakness in my knees
my body spoke
but did I listen? Ever did?
“ Pack your bags Gypsy-you Gitano-you Ziginare* “ they whispered.. “it’s time to leave, to depart again yet again and now again…”
They smiled at me as I floated down…
Walked with me on the charted path..
through the corridors I trudged my shoes hitting the shining stones where we and you’ve walked..
They opened the doors..
I silently stepped in
so many memories..
and songs of praise echoing all around ..
every moment was precious,
every step was slow and measured..
I reached the Alter..
I stopped and looked and knelt..
staring up at
Our Good Shepherd..
And the voice..
“ The Navigator has come home..”
I closed my eyes as my thoughts swooshed from the mountains to the valleys and shot across the lands arriving at the oceans of the world, zipped over the continents looking down at all those faces who knew me more than I knew them… and in those priceless seconds I was back where I belonged.
It was time to leave, yet again…
I turned and bowed my head as they smiled and I knew..
walking along the passage besides our Chapel to
The Lawrence Gate.. with a heavy heart..
I glanced up and saw Linlithgow and the stone steps leading down to the Irwin Hall, the Chapel and the Dining Hall.
Yes.. I see myself as that five year old coming down those steps in a queue, no sound no whisper..
I stopped and call for you..
Can you not hear me? Read my lips or at least acknowledge my presence..?
My presence is an old man who moved out of your five year old shell.. you look happy my five year old ..
and me your sixty five..
“ I and I we both are.. but I am not leaving this place; I am barely five .. but you must go back into the cacophony of sounds at this age your stage .. for me your young one, I will wait for your return eagerly…”
The steps remain
The corridors remain
everything else is frozen in a time zone .. except myself ..I continue to grow and age..
Whilst my other I, stays…
don’t we both still have the same name ..?”
“Yes yes I plead- no never change even if the clock ticks away, I will hold back time…
And I will but return to meet you .. perhaps then..
you will leave
and
I will stay..”🙏❤️

My School
Living in its own time ..
Vivek Bonnie BHASIN
Lefroy 1961-1970
*gitano-ziginare : Gypsies
Easter Sunday 04 April 2021


– Vivek Bhasin

Colts Cricket Team 1961 / and the exchange of emails about

[CLICK FOR LARGER VIEW OF THE PHOTOS]


At the request of some with fading memories, I am forwarding the names of the team members of the Colts Cricket team 1961. I am unable to name the Thai boy standing. Please assist.

Standing (L to R) Partap Grewal, Rishi Rana, Brandy Gill, Unknown, S S Chauhan, R Bhatnagar
Sitting (L to R) R L V Nath, Vijay Amin (Desai), Gurinder Parkash (Capt), Ravi Inder Singh, Ruby Kohli.

There were unconfirmed reports when this team was constituted that Ruby Kohli threatened the coach with his knuckle dusters which ensured his inclusion as a fielding specialist. Sounds appropriate. I am not able to confirm this report but any comments will be welcome !!

This and other photograph are from Partap’s collection and I will be glad to circulate them to remind you that you were a sporting group about 60 years ago !!

Warmly,

Vijay

Vijay Khurana


Was it Krishna Pong of Ibbetson house?

Neel Mehra


Neel

That sounds accurate because we know he was from Ibbetson. I am waiting for a second confirmation before making the label change. Any other inputs ?

My thanks

Warmly,

Vijay


Dear All,

I refer to my mail below.

Two things happened. First BM Singh informed me that the label to the picture was incorrect because he was in the Colts Cricket team in 1961. I lost a bet in the process and a bottle of Scotch is owing to him. It had no fewer than six guys from Curzon in the team that year!!
Second, the missing name for the Thai boy who was in Ibbetson was Krishna Pong. He never returned to School the following year and the game of cricket never took root in Thailand!. So the team line up for the year 1960 Colts team was:

1960 Colts team
Standing (L to R) Partap Grewal, Rishi Rana, Brandy Gill, Krishna Pong , S S Chauhan, R Bhatnagar
Sitting (L to R) R L V Nath, Vijay Amin (Desai), Gurinder Parkash (Capt), Ravi Inder Singh, Ruby Kohli.

The Colts team for 1961 is sent as an attachment to this mail. I am also forwarding a picture of the First XI Cricket team for 1961 where Gurinder Parkash feature prominently. He could not have been in both teams in the same year. So that resolves the issue as well!!

Colts team for 1961
Standing (L to R) Sunny Brar, Ajit S Padda, BM Singh,  Govinder Singh, R Bhatia & PPS Sidhu,
Sitting (L to R) JPS Kniggar,  S S Chauhan, Brandy Gill (Capt), R Bhatnagar, Anupam Sachdev.

A request since such pictures generate so much interest. First, if you have any photographs, please scan them and send them over. Alternatively, send me your pictures and I will be happy to scan them and return the originals to you.  I have a large collection with Anil Advani holding a lot of material on the web as well. This exercise is worth the effort though it should happen at the initiative of the OCA for every passing year. That would make it a phenomenal collection for history as well.

Secondly as the years ago by such archival material leaves a huge gap in identifying  guys in the picture. It becomes harder with each passing year. That is truly sad because there was honour in representing your School and every person and name needs to be remembered for his contribution. It is sad to leave blank names for guys who were once in our midst and we now label them as “unknown” This is likely to happen as some of us also move along and get phased out by the laws of Nature. Any assistance in developing and building this collection at the earliest will eliminate such missing names to the extent possible. Your assistance will be hugely appreciated by all of us.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

Warmly

Vijay

PS Kuttu Singh. You might consider publishing this in The Patina Times that you edit


3 Black Sheep and Me

A fantastic book on legendary School Captain – Hassan Agha (Ibbetson 1947) – who led the school during the dark times of the partition and had to leave BCS due to it. Written by his son, Jason Agha, the book primarily revolves around Hassan’s life and the countless adventures they had as a family, including a devastating tragedy.

A true Cottonian, Hassan showed great fortitude and lived a life with utmost humility and service to others. A very good and emotionally moving read! BCS is mentioned more than a few times, including some photos from school days! The book is available on Amazon

– Abhilekh Singh Virdi

2020 Christmas Letter / Vivek Bhasin

I managed to climb on top of the highest mountain..
the last married pair of swans
one-white one-black
come swinging in from the north; just swooshing past me
I bloody well jump…
just managed
to land on the black
this graceful elegance..
in flight heading south.
I held on to my pants more than his long neck..
and..
Lo and behold I slipped away like a  well untrained skydiver knowing pretty damn well
I was going to fall
with arms flaying
clutching nothingness
my legs dangling
my eyes popping
my hair dishevelled a mess.

….myriad scenes flashed
some laughter
a few solid drives
immaculate chips
a fine line putt
longing desperation
deep blue lakes
sitting on the beach chair
under the rush of fir trees
drinking caffe
med cinnamon rolls…
yet my mind zig-zagged
never stopped..
I talking to my self
forced to anchor
engines on turning gear
this year.

In case June was the moon
yet not t’was too soon
come August this must be now
yet my bag stayed zipped
forlorn vacant with slow desire
September Simla not just yet
November cold dark yet fresh
inhale moss breath
kantarell yellow still sprout
surprise surprise yet annoying wild to the bone smug too
one slow car meanders..
slim long legged lass
on a two wheeler
following the footsteps of Cézanne
disembarked
her cloth clutch
followed her following to the
Sunday market Provence
Lavender sabon
Butter croissants..

Just leave your dreams…
Yes I just left…

…Gasping for breath
inhale exhale I find my fall
turned to glide
I soar high’n higher
settled stable
increased speed I catch
the jet stream on my tail
a smooth ride..
adjusting my arms
straightening my legs
my hair now slicked
my Sunday suit and I
and stolen polish black shoes..

..and then slow descend
graceful swan am I?

I perch at the Main Gate
The Mitre, The Crest and all else is there..
I now remember
dark nights bright lights
our month
First December…
the sun nearly set
at Tara Devi’s height
The Good Shepherd gently fades into the night.

I’ll just hunker down inside the bare opening
of that great chestnut tree
and think back
on this year that’s been.
No no .. no sarcasm..
no tantrums ..
no frustration..
but squeezed juices of patience.

Sometimes even nothing
makes sense
is relaxing for the brain until
we shall .. hence.

Christmas is confusing
family togetherness
going home
coming to you
logs and chimneys
Mulled Vino with almonds raisins
table fares are individualistic
Candles and Stars
will Santa Claus arrive
will the Three Kings divide?
Is it just this time
we will stay away
just today even tomorrow
like lambs bleating astray?

Yet I still stretch my limbs
and stand tall…
soon December’s fall
will end it all..
will we stay confused
like that lady who nearly socked me, keep distance she screams ..
nor dare otherwise
others many
like the owl wise
and deep ravines
a sudden hidden troll
the new way
under branches fall?

I will sit cuddled in that nook of the tree and kill my thoughts
speak what sits on my lips…
this year’s camera of my eyes
recording slow motion..

Let the quietude
comfort you
Let us take our time
I tell you what
I pray to end upheaval corruption cloak and dagger selfishness
greedy land grabbers..
less jumble in the brain..
and pray the deep green forest approaching the Main Gate
always remains.

A Peaceful Christmas..
strain your ears to pick up orchestral melodies of the next year.. it better be better than 2020’s propellor wash ..
🙏❤️🙏

Vivek ( Bonnie ) Bhasin
Christmas 2020
Wishing Swans
those graceful wings
and
The Wide Winged Albatross
that cast her shadow over me
as I sailed through
The Straits of Magellan;
…my canopy.

Kindest Regards and Best Wishes,

Bonnie/Vivek Bhasin