It would take many decades to piece together enough of the past for the Tiger and the Bear to share a story about their growing up years. Until they met in Saigon late in 1966, they lived separate lives, thousands of miles apart. After 44 years of marriage, however, they are now looking back for clues for how and why they became soulmates. This brief tale is a paltry attempt to provide some of these clues. It might also become the most personal account that the narrator and writer has ever attempted.
They say that opposites attract; on the other hand, some say that to be attacted to one another person you should have many things in common. Footloose Forester believes that some elements of truth in both ideas are not only valid, but both are essential in any meaningful relationship.
For Tiger Thu, the feisty and strong-willed wife of an iconoclastic and opinionated Footloose Forester, who she sometimes calls an old bear, the steel in her spine was forged as she grew up during the Japanese occupation of her homeland in SE Asia.
Tiger at age 24, Bear at age 29
She doesn't remember much of those days as a toddler along the north bank of the Mekong River near Stung Treng, Cambodia. However, she does recall her grandmother hiding her behind the banyan tree when Japanese soldiers were in the area. Her grandparents didn't know what the soldiers might do, so didn't want to take any chances.
Thu went to a local school, and learned the Cambodian language, in addition to her native Vietnamese, which she spoke at home. Because her beloved grandpa didn't speak Cambodian, Thu used to read the local newspaper to him, probably doing the translations along the way. Since the written script used in Cambodian is entirely different from the semi-romanized script used in Vietnamese, the chore was doubly difficult. She also understood some Lao, as well. The family had an uncle and a few young cousins who lived across the border in Laos; and they went there to visit on a few occassions. Children usually find ways to communicate.
In later years, Tiger Thu went with her mother to live in Loc Ninh, Viet Nam. As an only child of her mother, Thu and her mom left grandpa's family farm in Cambodia and settled for a number of years in a rural area north of Saigon. That is where she went for her high school years. It was a semi-religious school run by Catholic nuns, although most of the students came from Bhuddist families. The no-name high school was so modest that it had no sports teams, no band, and not even a lunch room. And if some kids did bring a lunch, they usually ate it on the way, or shared it with other kids who didn't have any lunch. Thu said that all of the kids shared; probably because each of them knew what it was like to be poor. Oh, yes; there were no school buses, either. Thu and her friends walked about five miles each way.
The adolescent years were a time of trials and struggling. Thu contributed within the extended family circle in ways she might have forgotten, but she recalled enough to allow the Footloose Forester to lock away some of the stories for later years. One of those stories was about giving what she had to an aunt in need of cataract operations in both eyes, lest she go blind. Thu gave what she had, but it was only enough for an operation on one eye. Soon afterward she set off for Saigon to seek a better paying job than her work as an assistant in her mom's modest tailor shop. And that was where she met the Footloose Forester.
He had recently completed his assignment as a Peace Corps Volunteer forester in Pakistan. Rather than taking a booked flight back to the USA, one routinely set up by the Peace Corps administrators in Lahore when volunteers finished their service, he chose to set off on his own--in the oppositie direction from which he had come. His goal was to complete the circle of the globe, but with a few detours on the way. The detour to Saigon was a big one; also a delay of over two years in returning to the USA. And it was the beginning of the journey of true soul mates who are enjoying their 45th year of honeymoon, "On the road....again!"