Friday, August 3, 2012

Making Peace with Viet Nam

For those who have not seen or heard of it I highly recommend the video series "Making Peace with Viet  Nam."   This should get you to the site:

Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam
Hen gap lai

Monday, May 21, 2012

One month after

   Upon returning and settling into my life in western NY I noticed that nothing had changed.  Everything looked the same, the people at my fitness center were the same, the shopping was the same, things people bitch about was the same.
   I am not the same.  The eyes I see with, the ears I hear with, the mind I understand with are all different.  During my experience in Viet Nam what I have seen, heard, and known has brought me to a very different reference point in life.  I am not sure what, or where that point is, and I do know it is not the same as before I left.  Like Susan Herrmann told me, "Once you know something you can't "unknow" it."  Now when I listen to the conversations around me, I am listening from that other reference point.  Mostly I just listen and when the opportunity presents itself I add my thoughts to the conversation.  The thoughts from my current reference point are not always understood or welcomed.  What I know is that experiencing time in countries outside of the US brings a worldview which cannot be achieved by any other means.
   For me, spending time with the Children of the Dragon and the Fairy in the City by the Han River has held up a mirror to who I am.  It has shown me how I participated in the ugliness of war and how I have chosen to embrace the beauty, poetry, and culture of Viet Nam and her people.  I learned so much during that four months that when people ask me about it sometimes it comes out as one cultural/political/historical whole that is all rooted together.  Sometimes so much of it comes out that I surprise myself and assume that I am overwhelming the listener.
   Channeling all of this into specific speeches and poetry might be a good summer project, or I could go ride my motorcycle and continue to savor it all.  Yeah I think that is what I will do, allow it to all simmer a bit more before ladling it out.
   During this week of May 21th I have the great opportunity to reconnect with Thao as she starts her summer internship here in Rochester.  She is staying with us for a few days until her room mate sorts out the apartment arrangements.  Thao is from Ha Noi and is the person who suggested the whole Viet Nam trip to begin with.  So it is fitting that we reconnect at this time.  Ain't life funny.
Next vacation have some laughs in beautiful Viet Nam
Hen gap lai

Sunday, April 29, 2012


  I was very interested in the rice crop while in Viet Nam. We arrived as it was planted and it was being harvested as we left. I saw the drying process and I now understand why it is important to rinse your rice before you cook it. After harvesting they spread the rice out along the side of the hyway to dry in the sun. The use what they have ya' know. They use wooden rakes to spread it while standing in it in bare feet. I saw the tire tracks from tour busses and motorbikes in the drying rice, so now I rinse my rice before cooking. With our new rice cooker we have hot rice available any time of the day.

     My hope over the next few weeks is to experiment with the rice cooker to make sticky rice and try some of the recipes that the book suggests, some of which can easily be converted to vegetarian if they are not already. We also want to shop in the Asian market and hope to find what we need to make some of the Vietnamese dishes we like.
Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam
Hen gap lai

Sunday, April 22, 2012


    After more than 24 hours of traveling I arrived in Rochester NY.  I was very thankful for my earplugs because the last flight had a trio of screaming babies on board.  For those of you that love are welcome to that experience.
    My expectation of my arrival in Rochester was that I would meet Bernie, and possibly Jonathan, and we would grab my luggage and quietly head home.  That is not exactly how it went.  First of all an explanation and a bit of personal history.
    In 1969 I returned from Viet Nam having been sent there by the US government as part of an invading military force.  The American War in Viet Nam was being protested all across the US and wearing a military dress uniform was an unwise thing to do while traveling.  Upon entering the US at Travis AFB I changed into civilian clothes and several hours later quietly met my wife Kathy and daughter Lori at the Philadelphia airport.  My mom and Dad had a huge sign in the front yard welcoming me home and there was a celebration there.  It was unpopular and unwise to have a big welcome at the airport.  Fast forward to 2012.
    I was walking through the Rochester airport anticipating a quiet welcome by my wife Bernie.  As I said what I got was something completely different.  First I spotted the banner.  The Chili American Legion has a 20 ft long 3ft high Welcome Home banner that we use for welcoming home today's servicemen and women.  I thought, "Oh they are welcoming home some of our military.  I should probably ease on by and not get in the way."  Then Bernie popped out of the crowed and yelled "You're early!"  At that point I was confused, and apparently early.  Bernie grabbed me and said something like, "this is for you."  Then I started recognizing one person after another.  It very slowly dawned on me that this airport welcome home was for me!  I went from confusion to disbelief to, well I did not know my  face could grin that big.  I remember thinking, "what do I do?  I don't know what to do."  Then my granddaughter came up to me with her sign and I hugged her and said hello.  Somebody handed me something and wanted a picture taken then I just started greeting people.
When the news people wanted the interview with the cameras my thought (after traveling over twenty hours) was that I needed to be coherent and say something intelligent.  I got the welcome home that I and other veterans of the American War in Viet Nam did not get in 1969 and it was exceedingly sweet.
    On this visit I was a guest of the people of Viet Nam.  During the community service aspect of my time there  I continuously reminded myself that it is not about me.  It is about the people I came here to be of service to.  When I was welcomed home I thought, "okay now it's about me."  On a deeper level, however, I realize It is about all of us.  It is about wanting, as Matthew said, "To do it right."  It is about all of us getting to have a small piece of healing from a war that even today horribly affects the lives of the people of two countries a half a world away from each other. 
    In 1969 I was taught how to hate and how to look at human beings as non-human.  In 2012 my life has come around to wanting to know how we are all alike even across different cultures.  I wanted to touch the lives of the people of Viet Nam and I wanted to be touched by them.....mission accomplished.
    Now I have been welcomed home and yes, it was done right, and there are pictures.

"This is for you!!"

"Jaci tell Pop Pop Welcome Home."

"I didn't get the script I don't know what I'm suppose to do."

    There are so many things about this trip and this program that are life altering.  As Victor said, "Every day in Viet Nam there was something new. Every day I learned something."  Yeah Vic, me too bro.
Next vacation learn something new in beautiful Viet Nam.
Hen gap lai

One more, one more...

    On this trip when taking pictures with Vietnamese friends it is normal to hear the words, "one more, one more."  So one more time some parting words and pictures from Viet Nam and the City by the Han River.  Above you see Victor and Tri as we said chao tam biet (goodbye) Sunday morning April 15th.  Tri is a Da Nang resident who loves to meet new American students, make new friends, and help them feel at home in his city.  Tri is a lot of fun to hang out with and is one of the many friends I will miss in Viet Nam.

     Vietnamese women are beautiful and Nhu is a perfect example.  She is also brilliant, funny, and full of mischief.  She has a command of English to the point where she can say something perfectly innocent and yet loaded with double meaning, on purpose.  If Nhu and Tri are around then you have the makings for a great party.

    No these two are not a couple, but they are very much fun to hang out with.  Nhu loved the idea of learning a little bit of sign language.

     If I have got my data right Viet Nam is the 5th largest rice producing country in the world.  On our trip south the harvest was in full swing and the farmers were very busy.  Farther south some of the fields already had their second crop planted.  Rice, it is not just for breakfast any more.


     On US interstates there are rest stops.  On the NY State thruway and the Pennsylvania turnpike there are service areas.  Well Viet Nam is no different...okay well maybe a little different.  This is a road side rest stop on AH1.  Here you can get food drinks and grab a nap in a hammock in the cool shade of the trees.  We don't have hammocks at US rest stops.  What's up with that?

     Above you see a group of Cham Musicians in Nha Trang.  The Champa Kingdom was in south central Viet Nam until they were assimilated by the Viet.  The Champ people are now one of Viet Nam's ethnic groups and the only people to name a kingdom after a flower, the Campa which you see in bloom just above.

     It was apparently too early in the morning for the Harley dealer to be open but on motorbike ally in Ho Chi Minh city there it was.  I did spot two of them in HCMC traffic...they tend to stand out among the little motorbikes.  Last but not least below is a video of traffic in HCMC.  It made me really appreciate Da Nang traffic.

     This video was taken about 9:15 in the morning about two blocks from our hotel.  I wanted to include it just to give you a parting glimpse of the busyness of Ho Chi Minh city compared to an early entry of traffic in Da Nang
    I will continue entries to this blog as the return/reentry to the US and the culture shock of coming home becomes reality.
Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam...but do not drive a motorbike.
Hen gap lai

Friday, April 20, 2012

A word about Footwear

     One of my observations on this trip has been the various forms of Vietnamese footwear.  I will share some examples below.

Vietnamese walking shoes.

Vietnamese running shoes

Vietnamese motorcycle boots

Vietnamese work boots

Vietnamese combat boots

Vietnamese cowboy boots

Vietnamese dancing shoes

Vietnamese dress shoes

Last but not least, Vietnamese shower shoes.

      I am kidding...sort of.  The major difference between this and reality is that Vietnamese men and women with money love nice dress shoes.  For everybody else this is fairly accurate.
Next Vacation get some shoes in beautiful Viet Nam
Hen gap lai

Thursday, April 19, 2012

75, 80, 85, 90, 2 Dam

    With temperatures passing the mid 90s it is time for me to get outta here!  But you know where the worlds longest cable car over water is?   You guessed it Viet Nam!!  In Nha Trang there is an amusement park/resort  located on an island two miles off we go again with the heights thing!  What is it with Viet Nam and cable cars!!??  I asked My Hoa if there are any more in Viet Nam and she said yes!  In the mountains north of Ha Noi there are more cable cars but they are not the record holding type.  The amusment park was interesting, the food was good and the real treat was the mud bath the following day.  Wait; did he say mud bath?  Yup.  This goes on the "list of things I never thought I would do," just ahead of, ride a horse in Viet Nam.  As you may imagine this trip to Ho Chi Minh is waaay different than our trip to Ha Noi. 
    In Nha Trang there was the park, the Champa temples and the mud bath.  In Da Lat there was horseback riding lovely cool temperatures and the night market.  Then in Ho Chi Minh it was back to the 2 DAM HOT weather, the Cu Chi tunnels and the War Museums.  The Cu Chi tunnels are amazing!  During both the French and American wars when everything on the surface was bombed, strafed, and sprayed with deadly chemicals, the Vietnamese dug in....way in.  It is amazing what people will do when they want freedom and independence, you know; Valley Forge, Henry Knox, the Cu Chi Tunnels.  Things that make ya' say hmmm.

       In sharp contrast to the tunnels we visited the Sai Gon regime presidential palace, now called the Reunification Palace with all of its lavish comfort.  One might say it is obscene by comparison.

    I will be processing this trip for a very long time.  It is my believe that a study abroad program in a non-European country, somehow should be mandatory to get a four year degree.  It would be an incredible eyeopener to a young college student like, say, Victor.  I know that because he has told me it is a life changing experience for him.  Me?  Nha didn't affect me at all....yeah right.
Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam
Hen gap lai

Exit Dinner

     Friday April 13th was our exit diner with the Friendship Union and program staff.  The Friendship Union is the organization that has made this study abroad program in Viet Nam possible for the last thirteen years.  Our program staff are Friendship Union employees.  The Friendship Union is actually known as the Da Nang Union of Friendship Organizations (UFO).  Before I continue with this thought I would like to remind my US friends that the mind is like a parachute; neither one works unless it’s open.  UFO is a member agency of the Viet Nam Fatherland Front and thereby closely affiliated with the Communist Party.  I have had very nice conversations with both Chairman An of the Front and Chairman Truong of UFO, both men are respected Party members.  I have come to see this as no different than talking with political party officials in the US.  The idea of building a friendship between our two countries starts with friendships between people like Victor and I and all of the friends we have made here.  Making the connection with Chairman An and Chairman Truong was a special treat for me because of the current positive view I have of Viet Nam; which is different than my view of 44 years ago. 
UFO Chairman Truong and me at the exit dinner
Victor Jubie and me at the exit dinner.  I will always remember Jubie's Coffee Shop.

     So, back to our exit dinner; Victor and I along with our program staff and Chairman Truong, Vuong and Jubie had a fun dinner together.  Victor and I were presented with some very nice commutative plates to remember our time here.  We had a nice time and after the dinner I had a nice chat with Chairman Truong.  There were several pictures taken (one more, one more) and then it was back to the house, packing and pondering the emotional aspects of leaving friends in Viet Nam, reentry into US culture, and seeing friends and family at home….oh yeah and the therapeutic aspects of riding my motorcycle.  In my experience here our friends in Viet Nam are in touch with their emotions, even when they say they are not.  Although it is time to go and be at home in the US, it is hard to leave; my emotions and both sadness and joy.
     So now it is on to Nha Trang, Da Lat, Ho Chi Minh, and home.  This has been an amazing adventure, both the outer and the inner.  I have satisfied the questions I have had about Viet Nam.  Now the only question I have is how do I arrange to come back to visit my friends; the Children of the Dragon and the Fairy?  How will you arrange to visit them?
Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam.
Hen gap lai

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The right light

    Every photographer will tell you the most important thing is the right light.  On my last day in the City by the Han River I arrived at the beach at 5AM.  I had to experience the sunrise here before leaving some of the most beautiful beaches in the world (don't tell anyone that, apparently it's a secret).  While I was there I took a series of pictures with my dinky phone camera.  Except for my comments at the end this is the 'show'  part of "show and tell"  Enjoy.

            Yes, that pale figure in the center is the Lady Buddha.

     I don't know if the light was right or not.  Please understand these pictures did nothing to capture the 'drop dead gorgeous, take your breath away' beautiful sunrise over the East Sea in the City by the Han River (sigh) and now it is time to leave.
Next vacation catch the sunrise in beautiful Viet Nam
Hen gap lai