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Very Ngon Homewares

Featured customer - Michele from Toulous

Last year, we received an online order for some of our Indochine B&W cushion covers and a tea towel from a customer in France. Being the interested (nosey?) person that I am, I emailed her back to ask how she discovered us/Very Ngon Homewares. Michele, who lives in Toulouse, revealed a surprising coincidence. A childhood friend of hers had been gifted some of our cushion covers from another friend who is a stewardess. What I found fascinating was that both Michele and her friend had spent their childhood growing up in Saigon during the 1950s through to the mid-70s. With so many happy memories of her life in Vietnam, it is little wonder that when Michele discovered the Saigon-themed cushion covers, she fell in love and wanted to enjoy her own little pieces of Vietnam.

After reaching out, Michele was kind enough to respond to my long list of questions. Here is her story.

Memories of a Saigon childhood:

When she was just 12 months old, Michele flew from France to Saigon to join the rest of her parents and older brother, who had already arrived in 1952. Her life as a child in French Cochinchine (southern Vietnam) is the quintessential childhood fairy tale, experienced in a far-away, exotic land. Living in villas that belonged to her father’s employer, Air France, Michele was surrounded by lush gardens with beautifully scented flowers. On festive occasions, coloured lanterns were used to decorate the yard and were lit during the evenings. She would play with friends and classmates, enjoy receptions organised and hosted by her parents, and would sometimes get caught in the rain during the sudden monsoonal downpours. Spare time was spent swimming and playing sport at Cercle Sportif Saïgonnais (the Saigon Sports Club), while she fondly remembers trips to the seaside at Cap St Jacques (now Vung Tau)…

Those who shared their world with the young Michele were also instrumental in creating memories lifelong memories. From ‘Uncle’ Nam, who worked for Michele’s family and encouraged Michele to discover ‘his’ Saigon, to ‘Aunty’ Ba whose children she would play with, to her cyclo rider who would drop her at school and encourage her to stay away from school at times when he felt it was not safe for her to venture out… Other fond memories include the roving street vendor who passed by their villa. He would serve up hot soup to Michele and her older brother in the evenings, which they would eat on the sidewalk. The aroma

When asked what she remembers about rue Catinat (now Dong Khoi), she said that she loved visiting Chez Givral café with her childhood friend, as they followed their mothers on shopping expeditions along the fashionable high street. Michele also recalls the time she spent at the grand and beautiful Post Office with her mother, sending mail to family back in France. Visits to Ben Thanh market with her mother was also a source of joy.

The war:

While Michele recalls attacks on places she and her family would frequent, as well as the extensive damage to Saigon during the ‘American’ war (as it is known to the Vietnamese), she does not recall ever being scared. Her father would tell her stories during these times and reassure her that nothing bad would happen. In fact, Michele said that on days where attacks were expected, her father would pick her up from school in his car, which was a source of joy for her!

Amazingly, Michelle still remembers the sound of the planes as they made their rotations to bomb the Presidential Palace where the South Vietnam President Diem was located, back in early 1962.

The return:

Michele’s family returned to France in 1975, presumably due to (or at least around) the fall of Saigon. She has since travelled back to Vietnam four times since she departed.

When I asked if she thought her experience as a child had influenced her later life, she could definitely see the impact. Michele stated that everything in her house is reminiscent of Vietnam, from the food to the tropical flowers in her garden, such as hibiscus and bougainvillea. Her festive table settings are always adorned with beautiful Vietnamese embroidered tablecloths, which were passed on from her mother. At the university at which she works, she notes that she is very attentive to her Vietnamese students, one who she helped return to Vietnam to work for the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie. Michele says that even her children are imbued with Vietnam. Her eldest son once travelled to Hanoi to lecture at the Faculty of Medicine as part of a mission.

A life touched:

After living and working in Penang, Malaya (now Malaysia), in the 1950s, my mother had a love affair with Asia. Some 30 years later, our family travelled together and had an Asian vacation in the early 80s. Through both, I inherited mum’s love of the region which, I have no doubt, eventually resulted in me packing up my life and settling in Vietnam. It is therefore of little surprise how much a childhood built on Saigon memories has permeated Michele’s life, then making its way into her son’s life as well. Michele and I are both lucky to have had those opportunities that have taken us to where we are today.

What Michele purchased:

To ‘bring back good memories’, Michele purchased Rue Catinat, Saigon, and Femme Saigonnaise cushion covers, as well as a Saigon Airport Map tea towel as a homage to her father’s work with Air France.

Many thanks for Michele for being so kind to share her story with me. The photos from left to right are 1. Michele and her older brother at Tan Son Nhat Airport; 2. Michele with her Very Ngon Homewares cushion covers; 3. The cushion covers.

These photos have been overlaid on top of an old French postcard image of rue Catinat, Saigon, taken in the early 1900s. This image features on a number of our Indochine B&W products (check link here), including a tea towel, travel pouch, tote bag and the cushion covers.


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