The Saigon Post
July 30, 1971
A VIETNAMIZED YANKEE
The crowd at Maxim's liked the young American tenor with the neatly trimmed mustache. The applause following his western ballad wasn't the indifferent, polite kind. When he did the North Vietnamese folk song, QUA CAO GIA BAY (about two lovers crossing a bridge in the wind) the audience spontaneously accompanied him with rhythmic clapping. First time I saw that at Maxim's.
His way with the Vietnamese sounded oddly authentic. Whence came such an American?
The answer is that Ted Dutton was born in Dalat in 1947. He's spent most of his life in Vietnam, except when he attended Claremont Men's College in California, earning a degree in political science. His parents are with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and have lived in Saigon since 1939. They have a daughter, 18, and another son, 15. Nowadasy their oldest son, Ted, teaches accounting by day (at the PX) and sings by night (Maxim's, Vietnamese TV occasionally, and sometimes at the Viet-My "when I feel like it.")
Beneath his reserved, smiling exterior there's a hotbed of opinion on Vietnam, the French, the Americans and "those privileged Vietnamese who have their tickets to Paris ready."
In the States he's had five years of voice lessons in art songs and arias. He did a lot of church singing and once appeared in Verdi's opera 'A Masked Ball,' given by the Riverside Opera Association, "but that was only a bit part." I first saw him several months ago at Maxim's where he appeared as the dashing American Naval lieutenant in an adaptation of Puccini's 'Madame Butterfly' which Lynn Skzynear and myself collaborated on.
When asked about Vietnam's future, he refers to his Californoa college days.
"I was an eternal optimist. But I was also disturbed at how close-minded the students and faculty were. If I didn't agree with them they turned me off. We disagreed about the validity of the VC as a truly South Vietnamese movement. They were always calling Ho Chi Minh a potential Southeast Asian Tito. My reading indicated he was a hard=line Bolshevik. My main difference with them stemmed from my growing up here. I had virulent anti-French feelings. I felt that even Ho Chi Minh had bought a French intellectual bill of goods."
Dutton's voice comes closest to anger when he talks about the French infuence here and the French-ified Vietnamese bourgeoisie. The French, though not racist like the English, tended to destroy Vietnamese identity by stressing the superiority of French culture.
"I think the Vietnamese identity is something precious and should not be destroyed."
Today wealthy Vietnamese sent their children to France and remained here only for profit. Their tickets were ready for Paris. There were children here who spke and thought in French without really knowing their own language. Their parents were fence-sitters, waiting to see what the future brings."
"As long as these people remain in influence, I don't see how Vietnam can assert itself."
Americans are always saying to him, "Oh, you were here when Saigon was the Pearl of the Orient!" He admits that Saigon used to be a beautiful city "but I'd rather see it as it is now if the Vietnamese could be their own masters."
The French bult roads and railroads etc, but it was all done out of a passion to exploit.
As for the Americans, "I've always believed that despite their mistakes they came in here with fundamentally pure, though ill-informed intentions."
The Vietnamese had a grudging respect for the French but "hated them passionately."
"A Vietnamese once told me that the French were good with words, but evil in their hearts. The Americans were untactful with words, but well-meaning."
Dutton is awaiting the appearance of a great leader who will save the country.
"You need a man who has an absolute will to stay in Vietnam, who says we will survive. Vietnamese are gamblers, but the fence-sitters are not ready to gamble on Vietnam right now....Americans aren;t tactful or subtle enough to support a Vietnamese leader without destroying his validity as a revolutionary and patriot....The fundamental weakness of the Americans is their inability to navigate in the real world of power politics."
Unless a very good offer to sing abroad came along, Dutton plans to stay.
"I'd rather stay here than go back to the States to pursue a musical career. This is my home. I feel relaxed here."
But in October he'll lose his accounting job because of cut backs in the PX. He'll also be in danger of losing his US citizenship unless he can work for another US corporation or government agency.
Meanwhile, he expects to re-appear on Vietnamese TV soon, doing a song by well known Hoang Thi Tho, Maxim's stage director. As for romantic or marital pans, "Vietnamese are always asking me if I prefer Vietnamese or American girls. I say I'll follow my heart."
He believes that a modern day Tran Hung Dao or Le Loi will appear and lead the country. But what if the worst happens?
"In that case, maybe I'll go to New Caledonia and join the Vietnamese settlement there."
dan cameron rodill