Bill from Saigon – Rest in Peace

I will be returning to Saigon again in about three weeks. I’m already looking forward to the fabulous fresh fruits such as the pitaya, watching the early risers engaging in group exercise in the park, seeing my friends in the Vietnamese Association of Community Colleges, and dodging my way through the crazy hustle and bustle of the bikes, scooters, cars, and trucks on each and every road. However, I am so sad to say that I can no longer look forward to once again seeing my friend, Bill from Saigon.

Bill passed away on either August 25 or 26 during his sleep. The best information I have been able to find indicates that he had been sick with pneumonia and he just became too weak and died. He was cremated a short time after.

I had been planning to see Bill again when I returned. He was always such fun to talk to. A very kind and gentle man. I started talking to him one day in March 2007 in the crazy Ben Thanh market where he sold postcards almost every day. I was so taken with him that first time that I shot some video of him with a cheesy little digital camera that I had with me that day. The video quality isn’t great, but that video turned Bill into something of a folk hero in his own country. It was re-posted on several dozen Vietnamese blogs and websites and has been viewed almost 160,000 times on YouTube (now over 625,000 times as of 2/26/13).

When I visited him again in early October 2007 he was shocked to find that he was becoming famous throughout his country because of the video that I shot of him. He was shocked, but also very proud that his fellow Vietnamese thought so highly of him, especially the young people.

On that trip in October I made a new friend in Vietnam. Her name is Chau and she is a student in Singapore and has also recently studied in the U.S. in Oklahoma City. Chau is a very intelligent and engaging young person. She was so taken by Bill’s video that she too wanted to meet him. She took that meeting and turned it into a news article about Bill. That article was published in both Vietnamese and in English by one of the local newspapers in Saigon. She also took the top photo in this post of me and Bill.

Bill’s real name was Tran Son Hung. The first video I shot of him explains how he came to be known as Bill and how he learned English and developed an American accent by watching American movies. After the first video was posted (I later published three more video responses from footage taken in October) he was visited by many people from all over the world who had seen his video and wanted to meet Bill from Saigon, or just Bill Saigon as some of them called him. He would proudly show the printout from YouTube as shown above. A couple of other people have also posted videos of their meetings with Bill in the marketplace.

This post really doesn’t do justice to the quality of person that Bill was. I miss him greatly even though we only spent a little more than an hour together during my two visits with him. Bill’s signature saying was a (slightly altered) quote from Helen Keller: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor touched, but are felt in the heart.” Then he’d end that with a hearty “G’day mate!” since he had many Australian friends who would visit him. Bill was the best, and he touched my heart.

Rest in peace my hero on the mountain.