In the first part of The Bureau Podcast’s latest series, host Matt Cowan kicks things off with an in-depth look at how a small group of river pirates hiding out in the “Jungle of Killers” south of 1920s and 1930s Saigon emerged from the swamps to become a fully-fledged government-backed army in the fight for independence from the French.
Led by their charismatic leader with the nickname Three Oceans, the Binh Xuyen quickly developed hero-like status as they stole from the rich and gave to the poor, winning the hearts and minds of the peasantry in the jungles of the Rung Sac – current day Can Gio mangrove forest – on the southern reaches of the city.
In a twist, the host discovers during his research for the podcast, that the Binh Xuyen had put down its roots just 2 kms from where he’s lived and worked in District 7 (a southern neighbourhood of HCMC) for more than a decade.
“It’s an exciting discovery for me,” he says during a moment in the podcast at the spot where he believes Three Oceans and his following established their headquarters 7 kms south of what is now Ho Chi Minh City, “because I’ve lived and worked less than 2 kms from here for the past 11 years and had no idea that such a significant person in Vietnam’s history lived and plied his trade right here on this very spot!”
The podcast also introduces listeners to the difficult terrain that lay south of Saigon and in the nearby city of Cholon at the time and the conditions that this small band of revolutionaries, who started out as petty street criminals and river pirates ambushing sampans and junks transporting produce via the canals back and forth between the Saigon River and the Cholon docks, flourished in.
For anyone with a remote interest in history, crime and the story behind Vietnam’s largest and most colourful city, this podcast series is for you.
Listen to the full episode here: