The anecdotes Than related to me over the following week, snippets of information shared over the breakfast table, were often related with guffaws of laughter, as if he was telling me his favourite jokes.
Possibly it was a precaution. The walls might have long ears. The state was never far away. But possibly it was also a form of emotional defence. He had triumphed over formidable odds. He was a survivor – and there was a price to be paid for that.
‘When I was a boy, the French were in charge. I worked with my father, he sold and repaired bicycles and scooters. The scooters were Italian, but some Japanese motor bikes were appearing.’
Than had happy memories of his childhood.
‘Sure, we knew there was trouble. Out in the countryside, where the villagers lived, it was dangerous especially at nights. But we never went out there. We lived in Saigon. Why would we go to the countryside? To look at stupid rice paddies!’