6 August - Life is an adventure
7 - Arrival in Saigon
8 - Ben Thanh Rat, Bank
8 - Dinner with Hue and the Cyclo
9 - Meeting Thuy - My first penpal in Vietnam
10 - Unrelated thoughts
11 - Long Binh
12 - Beer in dirty glasses - and pretty little girls with flowers
12 - More unrelated thoughts
13 - Quiet day
14 - Tay Ninh, Cao Dai, Cu Chi and Sarah
15 - A little more Tay Ninh
15 - Raining
16 - Market and Snails
16 - Phil Nguyen and Mr. Bay
17 - Wedding and Vung Tau
18 - Return to Saigon
19 - The docks, the past and a sweet young lady
20 - Shopping with Hue
21 - Mekong Delta Pier and Luca
22 - Empty Head
23 - Meeting Cathy
24 - Bien Hoa, Dung and the sick nephew
26 - Long Binh, Dung and Thu Duc
27 - Singing and Immigration
28 - The American
29 - Tham Singing
30 - Meeting Loan, Dinner at the Rex Hotel
1 September - Saigon, Taipei and Philadelphia
6 August 2001
Life is an adventure
I have been looking forward to this trip for 3 years now, ever since it became evident that I had to do this. For three years the excitement has been building. Then two weeks ago it just disappeared and was replaced with a feeling of peace. Then as Susan, Dylan and I drove to the station there was such a pressure. I do not know where it came from, but it stayed with me on the train and at the airport. Then It became founded. The storm caused a delay and we took off 1 hour 40 minutes late. Since my lay over in San Francisco was 1 hour 29 minutes this means I would arrive 11 minutes after it leaves. I said a short prayer and spoke to the stewardess, both worked, Half way through the flight the stewardess stopped by and said that the pilot had told her that by the time we get to San Francisco we will have made up all but 20 minutes. The stewardess moved my bags to a crew storage area in the front and as we were descending she said I should come up and sit in an empty seat in the front row so all I had to do was jump up grab my bags and I was gone. I made the connection with plenty of time to spare. I remember someone saying, "I rely on the kindness of strangers to fulfill my needs". Sometimes it is so.
The second leg of my trip was on Cathay Pacific Airways. Cathay Pacific had a lot of recent movies and a lot of good nature and history programs. I saw more TV than I have seen in the last month. I also know why I do not sit and watch a lot of television. I saw Cinderella in Cantonese. Here is a fascinating bit of trivia. "Bibity, bobity, boo is spelled and pronounced the same in English and Cantonese.
I arrived in Hong Kong with time to spare. However when I went to the last leg of my journey I find that my Visa has expired. The Embassy who said they would make it out for 6 months accidentally made it out for 5 months and I did not notice. The first man I dealt with wanted me to go back to the US and get it re-issued. Fortunately his superior was a woman. Women are so much easier to deal with. She told him to get me the address of the Consul General in Hong Kong. She even came through immigrations with me, found a place to get some Hong Kong dollars. She took me to get my ticket confirmed for Tuesday, and directed me to the cabs. The cab takes me $350.00 dollars into Hong Kong to an area that tourists do not get to. It is ok they are Hong Kong dollars so it is not like real money. Arriving at the VNCG they are sympathetic and say they will put a rush on and have it by Thursday. I tell them this is not possible. We negotiate a special extra rush fee of $500.00 and they say it will be done by 5:00. This is still Hong Kong dollars. As I said this is not the tourist section of Hong Kong. It is also not where the movers and shakers of Hong Kong live. I decide to get a Coke at McDonalds and wander around the 30 or so blocks around the Consulate. Next I start looking for internet access to get a letter off to Hue who is now waiting at the airport in Saigon. 3 blocks from the Consulate is a restaurant with 4 PC's in the window. I go in and ask and the cashier says they are free. I get off a quick letter and write this first journal entry in my book. I am now out of ink, and since I am not buying anything, in the restaurant, I go up a few streets to a stationary store up an alley. I am now sitting across the alley from the store and several restaurants. The alley smells great. People are passing by. Isn't life great? Sitting here in this alley, on the other side of the world, watching people I would never have known. Most look, some smile none stare. This part of the city is dingy and worn but it is clean. As Dickens would say "In the next street but two" there are stands of produce, meat and fish. Also the Hong Kong version of the Reading Terminal Market, complete with tiled stalls. All over meat is being hacked and cut and hung to decorate the stands. Out on the street are fish stands. There are Styrofoam coolers and a circulating pump with hoses like so many octopi keeping the fish alive. This is a city that has no concept of a setback. Buildings rise 15 stories from the narrow streets and in some streets they are even cantilevered over the sidewalk. The streets wind and climb the hills leaving the city to look like so many canyons. The streets curve so that it is unusual to see a street straight for more than a few blocks. A little old lady has just hobbled down the street. She stops and smiles. Says hi, I say hello. She points at my pad and asks, probably "what I am doing". I say "just taking notes". She smiles and is off. In these 30 or 40 blocks I have not seen another westerner. It is almost 1:00 now. I think around 3:00 I will go back and annoy the VNCG enough that he will speed up the visa. Besides his office is overly air conditioned.
I guess we have a draw on this. I want 3:00 and he wants 5:00. He gives it to me just after 4:00. With my visa in hand, and thanking everyone enough to make them all smile, but not so much so that my insincerity shows through, I am off to find a cab. First thing to do is get my boarding pass. that done and my seat assured for tomorrow I am off to pass Hong Kong airport security. Back in the terminal I send a reassuring letter off to Hue, have an orange juice, a real squeezed drink, and I am off to the shower. They have a shower here for $65.00, Hong Kong again, but the way I feel I do not think it would stop me if it was $65.00 US. I am now clean, had a nice salad, some more OJ and a bottle of water. Having written this I am off to gate 1, which is where my flight to Saigon leaves from in about 6 hours.
Did I mention that the lady at the Vietnamese counter, who was so helpful, was really pretty and after some work she ended the day smiling. As did I.
7 August 2001
My Arrival in Saigon
I have finally arrived. I got in this morning and luckily Hue found me. I expected it to be like Philadelphia International with a few people waiting for friends. Instead there were hundreds of people waiting. We left Ton Son Nhut Airport and in 10 minutes we find a large truck, broken down in the middle of the road. There is a crew of men under it. It is up on blocks and the transmission is out in the street, in a puddle of oil and the men are working on it. Traffic moves around the truck and no one seems annoyed.
Since I was a day late my hotel was not held and Hue had to find a different hotel. She apologizes because this one is $12.60 US a day while the other one was $10.00 US a day and it was nicer. I am not sure what nicer could be since this is a great room. Nicer than most in the US I have stayed at. Tiled floors and the bath is all tile. Two Queen size beds and a beautiful dark wood wardrobe. Two chairs and a table. Television, VCR and refrigerator, and air conditioning.
Tin Nghia . . . . . This hotel has been sold and is no longer recommended.
60 Nguyen Cu Trinh Street
Ho Chi Minh City
This is just great. I have been out wandering the city. I am finding things I remember and things I had forgotten. There are also things I would have liked to see in 1967 thru 1968 and 1969 but did not know where they were.
Little has changed for those who live here, except the Internet. I am in an establishment, which sells access to the Internet. There are 10 PC's and it is approximately 60 cents an hour.
I was out till 10:00 just wandering the streets. This is such a beautiful city. The culture and the people are wonderful. The poverty is obvious just as it was 32 year ago, but even the poor are beautiful.
I went down to the Le Loi and Nguyen Hue. This is the center of old Saigon and as far as I am concerned it is the absolute center of the universe. I took my tape recorder and recorded the traffic and the people going by. One of the people was a lady of the evening who came by and asked where I was from and told me that she was lonely. She asked me if I wished to "go around". I said "no thank you". We talked a little and she left. Later I saw her, on Le Loi, walking next to a man, probably giving her sales pitch, and hurrying to keep up with him in her clogs with 4 inch heals. As I watched I felt such a sense of sadness
8 August 2001
Ben Thanh Rat, Bank
I was up at 5 but not out till 7. I went down to Ben Thanh market. It is a huge building with hundreds of booths. Most are about 5 X 6 but many are 4 X 4. Once again, as in Hong Kong, it is a lot like reading terminal market complete with tiled stalls. There are many goods grouped together by types. The fish market with live fish, crabs, eels and shrimp. Women are filleting fish and when they are done they scrape the bones. The meat section with hangers full of beef and pork and other things I do not recognize. There is a food court with every thing you can imagine cooking at once. The smell is so good. In the center of the meat section a rat about 10 inches long scurries across the floor. Most pay no attention. A nicely dressed woman coming towards me and I see it at the same time. We look up and there is eye contact and we at once shrug it off, smile, and continue on our ways. On the way back I stop for my two staples here. An orangena and some e-mail. While I was out Thuy stopped by and left a note and address. I will be seeing her and truc tomorrow at Truc's store. Truc was the one who found Thuy for me. Back at the hotel and another cold shower. I have been thinking of just getting a piece of ice in the morning and putting it in my hat. Then I am off to Khanh Hoi. After some wandering I find the Saigon Port Building. It was not changed much in 32 years. It is pale blue, just as it was then. I do not think they have even painted it in all this time. If you read my story "I never even knew her name", that is where it happened, or didn't happen depending on how you look at it. A little girl followed me all over Khanh Hoi, with a bowl of questionable peanuts she was selling. After 10 blocks I bought the peanuts, I did not really want them but I support Junior Achievement. She measures out the peanuts with a dirty old cup but has nothing to put them in. Two bystanders rush to help her by giving her a bag and helping measure them out and checking that I gave her the right amount of money and that she put it away. I really do not like boiled peanuts. It was nice to see the community interaction.
Back at the hotel Hue picked me up and we went to the bank to cash a travelers check. She hired a cyclo to take me and she rode her motor cycle with her niece on the back. The driver got lost and told me this is where she said he should go and I should get out and pay him. I said I have no money, we were going to the bank to get some. Hue has the money. He said where is your wife (Hue). I was going to say my wife is in Pipersville but he would not have seen the humor. He said where is she. I said she is where she told you to go. He said this is where she said. I said if this is where she said she would be here. The interesting part of this exchange is that he is speaking Vietnamese and does not understand English and I am speaking English and do not understand Vietnamese. The funny thing is that the conversation seems to be making sense. I tell him to go back to the hotel because that is where Hue will be. He is upset. We get back and Hue is there. She gave him the wrong address. It is all ironed out and we go back to the bank. I may open an account. The interest rate interest rate is 14.50 percent on 1 year CD's. After I got the money she said count it. I skimmed it and went to put it away. She frowned and took it and counted it. Then gave the cashier back 1,000,000 VND and asked the cashier to give me smaller bills to be more convenient. She counted those also and made sure I put them away.
8 August 2001
Dinner with Hue and the Cyclo
During this trip to the bank I am learning more of the traffic procedures. We are in a bicycle/rickshaw combination called a cyclo. When the driver wishes to turn left from the right lane he simply moves left. I hear honking but he is in front and they may not hit him, this is the rule. Since he does not acknowledge them they do not exist in our reality. There is something very Zen about this. At one point we move into the left lane and there is the sound of a very large truck horn. I help the driver by also not acknowledging the truck and it works. The truck is quiet, it does not exist in our reality. We ride around and see the old presidential palace, which is now reunification hall. There is the Cathedral and a lot of really old French buildings. Some restored and some needing it badly, The Ford and Prudential buildings tower over the city.
We have dinner in a nice little restaurant. We are seated at a table that is covered with bowls. A large one of fresh cut seasonings. There are chopped peppers, bread sticks, chili, limes and a Soya paste. The soup is great however everyone else eats all the meat, vegetables and noodles and leaves the soup, which is really delicious. Hue's niece is watching the television and not eating. Hue scolds her. I wonder, when children in Asia do not eat, where do their parents tell them little children are starving. I should have asked.
After dinner she asks if I am going back to the hotel. I say I will go down by the waterfront and then back. She tells the driver and says goodnight. At the water front is a floating restaurant shaped like a fish. It is where the one was during the war but I am told it is new. The driver who is all of 80 pounds and older than I has been peddling hard for a while. I tell him to stop and suggest that we switch places since the rest of the ride is uphill. He agrees and we change. As we approach an intersection he is pointing at my bottom and since it is not on fire I figure it is nothing important. The intersection is my first test as a cyclo driver. As I prepare to slow I press backwards and realize that the peddles are direct drive and there are no coaster breaks. It is now apparent that he was pointing at the break, which is a loop by the seat. I pull it and we slow. I enter the uncontrolled intersection and look at the cars and motor cycles to the left. I see a break and let a few past then move in front of the slower ones and turn to the right to ignore the traffic to the left. Seeing the ones to the right all have plenty of room to slowdown or turn I pull out in front of the first car, a police car, and immediately look to the left to ignore him now. It works. As we ride my passenger is having a wonderful time. Every one slows down to talk to him and laugh. It is like Chris said about the escalator in Japan. The people here think things are so funny when out of place. He has given me a wrong direction to get back to the hotel. I turn down a small alley to get back on course. There are two westerners walking in the alley as if they own it. The old man yells at them and they move. As we pass he dismisses them with a wave of his hand. We arrive back at the hotel and everyone comes out. We have attracted a crowd. I can not understand how much he wants. Everyone from the hotel talks to him. He wants 100,000 VND, which is about $6.70 USD. I think this is ok for and afternoon of peddling. Everyone form the hotel thinks this is too much. They tell me he says that my wife told him 100,000 VND. I tell them she is not my wife, she is a friend. They say, "Cathy is not your wife?" I say no but it is Hue that talked to him. They ask, "is Hue your wife? I say no, a friend. Just then someone comes out of the hotel and says there is a message from Thuy, and, of course they ask, "is Thuy your wife"? Once again I say, "no, a friend, Susan is my wife". They ask, "Where is Susan?" I tell them she is in the United States. They all look at one another.
That evening the man from the hotel is coming down as I am at my door. He asks "Are you here alone"? He is looking past me into the room. I allow the door to fall open and say "Yes, just me all alone". He smiles and continues down the steps. I think he has it all straightened out now.
9 August 2001
My first penpal in Vietnam
This started out to be a beautiful day. I have Thuy's address at Truc's gift shop and I am up early to go and see her. Thuy is my first pen pal in Vietnam. I found her by writing to Lutheran Hour Ministries Vietnam and asking for a pen pal. Truc has a gift shop of religious items, which is a front for Lutheran Hour Ministries Vietnam. Religion is tolerated here and little is done to regulate what goes on in a church. However outside the building religion is discouraged. One can not hand out brochures. Truc translates and prints these and other things, which he moves through an underground network. He is excited about his work and I have a copy of one of his brochures. I hope to get back to see him again. Today Thuy is out as her mother is sick. Truc takes me to her house. Thuy is the sweetest person. She does not write or speak much English. She says her English is not good enough. Truc says she is very shy. She works in his gift shop and for Lutheran Hour Ministries Vietnam. Truc has to get back to work so he leaves us and arranges for someone with a motorcycle to take me where I wish to go. Thuy and I have a wonderful visit though we understand little of what each other is saying. My ride shows up and it is Thuy's brother-in-law. He speaks a little English and interprets somewhat for Thuy's mother. She has something wrong in her chest but that is as close as Thuy or her brother-in-law can explain due to their lack of English and my absence of Vietnamese. Thuy's mother is frail but very bright. It is time to go and before I leave Thuy asks if we may pray for her mother and I will lead. I know they understand little of what I say but it does not matter her mother thanks me and so does Thuy and her brother-in-law. This is just amazing. Thuy's brother in law brings me back to the hotel.
Hue is there and she has found me a car for hire to go out to Long Binh on Saturday. She also has a brochure of tours that I may be interested in. Then she asks if there is anyone I wish to take to Long Binh on Saturday and I say would you like to go. She is so happy to be asked. After all she has done for me here.
After she leaves I go out to walk down along the river and stop at the Ho Chi Minh Museum. It is interesting but a little sparse and few of the things are translated into English. Next I walk along the river. I see a tractor trailer just like I drove. Now it is painted blue. I end up at the zoo. It is in bad repair and many cages are empty. It smells terrible. There is a stone bound canal running all through it that was beautiful at one time but is an open sewer now. Most animals are not looking too bad and the cages are pretty good except the otters that live on an island surrounded by a moat of sewer water. People through peanuts into the water and the otters dive for them stirring up the bottom sediment. It has been drizzling while I was out and being wet I have picked up the smell of the city. Which, in some places, is not real good. The city is much cleaner than Philadelphia though.
Back at the hotel, another shower and I fall asleep for a while. I am awakened by the phone. It is Hue. She has finalized the car for Saturday and says she will see me at 7:30 and we will ride to the car together. There is a band playing in the street next door.
10 August 2001
A slow day today. I got up and went to Lutheran Hour Ministry Vietnam and saw the operation. It is amazing that they translate, design and print these brochures in such a sparse environment. I visited for a while and then went into town. I saw the museum of the revolution and the war remnants, formerly the war crimes, museum. The latter is our side as they remember it. I went in and there was an F5, a Huey, and about 8 canons and tanks. I drove most of them but I didn't mention it. I wandered to the market and got a few things I needed. It was a nice quiet day. People are generally friendly. Cyclo drivers are a nuisance. Museums all cost about $1.00 US. They have restrooms that are pretty clean. An interesting thing about the rest rooms here is that there is a common cup for anyone to use. Other than that there are really no public restrooms. This leaves a large group of people, including those who live on the streets, to use the street. In some areas this gets real unpleasant. In poorer neighborhoods they use the corners of the storefronts when the security doors are down. Many are rusted away in the corners from 50 years of this. Another common place is along walls that are high and run the length of a block. It is interesting that these places are usually government, military, or homes and business of the well to do. I am not sure if this is a coincidence or a political statement. I went to the big market today again and got oranges, a few tomatoes and something I remember that looks like a big grapefruit with real think skin. It is interesting that I have only had two meals since I have been here and I have not been tempted even though so many things smell and look so good. There are very few foreigners here and almost none outside of the few streets near the big hotels. Foreigners seldom make eye contact and never say hello. Locals almost always do, especially children. The little ones get so excited when you say hello and wave.
Tomorrow Hue is coming early and we are off to Long Binh. She got a car for half a day. One last thing. I was just in a store and found fish sauce. The bottle I got in San Diego was full of sediment, which is a sign it was not a first pressing. This stuff is so clear. I will tell you about long Binh after we get back tomorrow.
11 August 2001
It was a nice day to go out to Long Binh. Hue arrived at 7:30 and the hired car and driver arrived shortly there after. Hue found out from someone that I wasn't eating so we had to go out to breakfast on the way out. Breakfast was really delicious, but it was a lot like supper. It was a mix of vegetables, meat, noodles and a shrimp. It came with several side dishes of limes, hot peppers and herbs. When asked what I wanted to drink I said OJ they had none so I said milk. Shortly I thought that a bad choice especially if it was not real fresh. I am amazed how even out of town in a little place the food is so fresh. The milk came in a glass with ice and, I think, a half-cup of sugar.
We continued out past Thu Duc. When we were in Thu Duc in 1968 it was a long way from Saigon but now there is no break in buildiing. I recognized a number of landmarks but did not see our base. I imagine it was torn down, as the buildings were wood and almost everything here is made of concrete to prevent rot. I think I recognized part of Philco Ford, which was next to us. I did recognize the intersection just up from us. I recognized other landmarks but even between Thu Duc and Long Binh, a stretch of about 15 miles there are now wall to wall buildings where there were once rice paddies. The barge site where our fuel came in is still there and is a receiving site, covered with large trees cut and ready for the mill.
Before I came I wrote to Cathy, who is still not my wife, and asked her if she knew of Long Binh. She went out to look and said it is a supermarket and an industrial park. I wondered if anything remailed of the base. When we arrived at the south edge of Long Binh, where the road to Vung Tau went out there was a super market to rival any of the new super stores around us. It also contained a department store like Walmart. Beyond it was the first of the industrial park which now covers all of long binh. I did not see anything that remained. Even our area, TC Hill was graded to be more level. The Sugar mill across the street was still there but almost nothing of Long Binh remains. I wish I had time to tell you all about our driver, but suffice to say, I think he has a New Jersey license. He constantly drove in the center of the two lanes, constantly honking at people who were not really in our way. He would slow to 5 miles an hour leaving the car in 4th gear and it was making that noise that transmissions do when being abused. He was so funny but he did get us safely home.
On arrival home I told the people at the hotel I would be there till the 30th. If I go to Vung Tau we will probably only go for the day. Most trips are day trips even Tay Ninh. I had a cut that was getting bad and one problem with being among people who do not speak the language I do is that they know some words, but not antiseptic. Then I remembered what Listerine was invented for. I washed the cut and put some on and in an hour it was less red and not so hot. I am now off to the bank to cash a money order to pay the extended rent.
12 August 2001
Beer in dirty glasses
and pretty little girls with flowers
First off I forgot to mention that on the way back from Long Binh Hue stopped at a "Tourist Park". It is really for Vietnamese when they are being tourists. As you approach you see two 80 foot high Elephant Tusks, probably not real, and a 20 foot bullfrog with a gold coin in his mouth. You enter up 30 marble steps and then at the peak you descend 30 marble steps. The park is very large and so like and yet unalike an America amusement park. There are a lot of rides but geared more to young children. There is a roller coaster. The park is more like amusements set in a Botanical garden. There are a lot of trees and landscaped areas. In the US this would be a theme park but it is just the culture here. There are a lot of things from history like the Truong Sisters and there are a lot of Buddahs. There is a zoo and a large lake where performances are being put on. There are dragons everywhere. A Dragon is the symbol of the country. We took the tram around and I just loved the place. I will have to go back again.
Maybe God does these things just to make me think. Just after I figured out the Listerine and used it I was in a store and I felt there was nothing to loose and there were a lot of things that looked like medicine. So I said "antiseptic" and the man said "ointment" and laid several tubs on the counter. Then he said "spray" and got out more. So I have it now if I need it. I have never heard of this so maybe someone like Carol, who is a nurse, can tell me for sure if it is. It is Benzylparaben 1%.
I am finding more similarities to Japan from things Chris has told us. Music in advertising and in background is cutesy. I think women who are hired to work in stores and as cashiers are hired on the basis of how cutesy they are. Cashiers always sit down and always in pairs or three. The third is a bagger and the second encourages the first and sometimes just duplicates her work. If you buy a soda you can not get out of the store with out a bag and a straw. Another thing is following the rules but instead of finding it funny if you do not they get upset. I went into a store and the check out line in front of the door was not being used. As I started through the supervisor said NO! and pointed to the end of the store where there was an in turnstyle. I went down there and another supervisor said NO! and pointed at the bottle of water I had. Even in the post office there are two girls at each station. I bought stamps and proceeded to put them on the cards since no one was in the storefront. The girl said sit down. There is a place with chairs and a table. I went to the table and started putting the stamps on. Again she said sit. Just like the English woman with the dog training siT! accent the T.
I thought Tom, who was here, might like a bottle of 33 beer. They now have 333 but no 33. I guess they stopped making it. I looked at the different kinds. An old man was explaining which were made in Saigon. Around here in the back streets where refrigeration is not so common they drink their beer in a big glass with a big chunk of ice in it. While explaining the finer points of Saigon beer the old man hands me his cup. It is an old plastic cup that is worn and dirty and there is a big chunk of ice in it. Surprisingly the beer is pretty good.
Last night I was on Nguyen Hue and as I passed the Rex there was a beautiful little girl, named Chau, with a basket of roses. She was dressed nice and clean and had such a pretty smile. She also had a beautiful pout that she used quite expertly. I did not want to waste money on the flower since she was apparently being cared for. Then I thought that parents who care for their children while sending them out to beg should be rewarded for that care so I bought one. I walked for a while and back past her. She was sitting eating dinner with her flowers and she smiled as I past and said hello. I wanted her picture. When I got my camera out she put her roses in front of her face. Then she ran behind me and hid. Moving each time I moved. I put the camera over my head and took a picture down towards her. At this she gave up and suggested that I could take her picture if I bought another flower. They are 67 cents each. I do and she smiles and I get a good picture. She did want me to buy the last one so she could go home. I left her with the one.
The problem with carrying the rose on the street is that every other kid knows your easy. A little boy was selling then and not having the luck of the little girl. I bought one of his. A second little girl saw this and came over. She too had a real good pout. She walked along pouting, saying buy and tapping the rose on my wrist. I tapped my roses against her wrist and she smiled just a little and then, realizing that she had given herself away, began to pout again. She followed me then got on her bike and rode ahead to park it and run back to me. She followed me for a while and I pointed and told her she better go back and get her bike. She did not want to loose a possible sale but thought she better think of her bike. She ran back and around the corner. I went back to the corner to see that she found her bike and she had so I continued. In no time she was up with me again and as she saw my surprise she smiled. I said I have too many roses. There were some street vendors in a group and they said something to her. One lady held out her hand and smiled. I gave a rose to each of the ladies and they all laughed about it and made such a fuss thanking me. The little girl said "now you have no roses". She smiled and I bought two. She smiled and thanked me. She got on her bike and rode down the street. She came around and as she passed me she said "Thank you, I will see you tomorrow". It is a city of 7 million people but somehow I think she will
12 August 2001
some more unrelated thoughts
Cyclo drivers and the men who have motorcycles and for hire are such a nuisance. If I could find some one who silk screens T shirts I would get one that says....
I like walking
I don't want a ride
I don't want a girl
Leave me alone
The cute is getting out of control. I got home this afternoon and the beds had been changed, The sheets and blankets are teddy bears running around on clouds picking stars and climbing ladders to the moon. They changed both beds even though the one is used only as a desk and I have had everything spread out all over it. My towel is now two young dinosaurs playing together.
I went by one store that sold luggage and Cobras in wine. Not sure of the connection.
The old US Embassy is gone but the new is on the same site. The new one is actually a Consulate, as the Embassy is in Hanoi. It must be only one story. The wall is high so it is not possible to see it. The old ambassador's home is still there and intact.
If you are in need of loosing weight this place is not good for your ego. I think I have lost some but an XXXXL does not fit me.
I toured the presidential palace today. It is now reunification hall. It was nice to see. Last time I was here I was never invited. As I went through there was a little girl who seemed to appear each time I turned around. She always had a look of cautious curiosity. Near the end of the tour I walked towards with the camera in my hand and the side towards her. As I got close I turned it real slowly. She watched all this then when it was perpendicular to her face I pressed the trigger. It flashed and I looked surprise. She smiled and ran out of the room. After that I saw her with her mother.
A lot of people encourage their children to wave at strangers. Most do not care. A few pull their children away. I am not sure if that is because they don't want then to be in the way or because they don't want them around westerners.
13 August 2001
A quiet day
It was a quiet day today. I got up went to the bank and paid my room through the end of my stay.
I didn't set out to get something specifically but sometimes I see something that is just someone. I was looking for t shirts. I can not find any printed on a Hains or BVD so I hope they are of good quality.
A lot of things are cheaper in the store than on the street. It is taking a while getting used to the currency. Paying 100,000 VND dollars for something and in reality it is $6.70 US. It is also interesting how cheap some things are. You can get a good sandwich for 18 cents. There was a real nice carved ship that was 2 feet long and two-foot sails. The sails were beautifully stitched and it was $17.00 US. A lot of nice things. I am being good however and not getting a lot of stuff.
In the store I am noticing many things from home and some quite different. They have Welch's grape juice and Spam. I saw some nice strawberry soap I was going to get as a souvenir but it was made in Germany. I have only found sterilized milk from Tasmania. The Orange juice is also called 100% OJ but I think it is also sterilized.
An interesting thing here is that every time a woman hands you something it is with two hands and a bow. I stop at the store next to the internet service and when I pass and do not go in I get a bow and a smile. Tomorrow I will arrange some trips out to Tay Ninh and maybe to the Mekong delta. They are so cheap.
14 August 2001
Tay Ninh, Cao Dai, Cu Chi, and Sarah
The last time I went to Tay Ninh the day started with the bottom of my bed being banged up and down and a sergeant yelling "you're going to Tay Ninh". It was 4:00 AM, dark out and after two hours of sleep I was almost at the point of having a second wind. Almost, not quite. It was better today. I got up, got a shower and wandered over to Saigon Tourist for the bus trip out to Tay Ninh and Cu Chi. The trip is $4.00 US. A real bargain. So many things here are so cheap. We leave Saigon and hit the road. West out of Saigon and it seems that the city just will not end. It is built up all the way to Cu Chi. Beyond Cu Chi it is still built up till we are well on our way to Tay Ninh before we start to see rice paddies and a few rubber trees. The road is paved all the way now but it is under construction all the way from Saigon to just south of Tay Ninh. This is the new trans Asian highway that will connect Saigon and Phnom Pen, Cambodia.
Something never change. Everywhere you go someone has a can of soda or some little thing for sale. As we neared Tay Ninh I saw the Black Lady. The mountain sitting there on the horizon like a big, dark green gumdrop. It stood there all by its self. Our trip went to the Cao Dai temple. Cao Dai is a sect only in Vietnam and only in this region. It is a combination of many religions including Buddhism Catholicism and a little of Hindu and others. The temple is one place that I never got to see while driving to Tay Ninh. Tay Ninh was someplace to pull in, drop a trailer, pick up and empty, stage and be gone.
Along the route were many of the thatch homes like ones that we saw 32 years ago. There were also a lot of changes. We went through town and past the busy central market.
On the way home we stopped at Cu Chi and went through the displays about the tunnels and booby traps. I thought their enthusiasm about the traps and our inability to win the war was a little much. They speak of the Viet Cong as freedom fighters like we would of General Washington and his men at Valley Forge. I wonder if British tourists are put off when we explain our revolution. It makes me think. Most things make me think. I have been told that I think too much. I don't know if that is so, or if I need to do anything about it. I will have to think about that. The display was interesting. At one point we were walking through the woods and came on an M41 tank that had hit a mine and was sitting just as it was left, I wanted to tell them that I drove one of those but I thought that that would be a little antagonistic.
And so it was on this beautiful day that I found myself crawling through a Viet Cong Tunnel 10 feet underground. As the tunnel went down another level I was preparing to take a picture. I was waiting for the woman ahead of me to descend since taking a picture from this angle would be considered, by most, to be a little impolite. As she descended she looked up and said "Will you take my picture" I said "yes", click. I knew she meant with her camera so I took her camera and took another picture. This is Sarah. As we descended she noticed my breathing and asked if I was all right. I said yes. I just have a little trouble with closed in places. Especially if they are getting darker and narrower and deeper. She was sympathetic and said "it is getting wider up here". The tunnel gives you 3 opportunities to come up but I have passed them all and am heading for the end. We emerge. Her dress is in bad shape, from crawling on the sandy clay floor of the tunnel, but my heart is beating easier now that I am in the fresh air and daylight again. We agree that you had to want something really bad to crawl through that for 5 hours to get to a destination, especially when it was narrower, lower, and when the ground was shaking from bombs.
I am last on the bus and the only seat open is the back one with Sarah, who is from Redding, UK. She has been away from home for about a year. Working in India in a brewery, then in Cambodia and now in Vietnam. She thinks it is time to think of going home. We discuss Home, Vietnam, the futility of war, a perfect world and web sites. She used to be Methodist but is now confused. We discuss comparative religion, sanctification by grace, transfiguration, and the possibility that plants have feelings. We agree, that in the end, we will know all the answers... or not.
We are back in Saigon and get off the bus. I tell her that it was really nice to have met her. She says it was nice to have met me also and that she really enjoyed our little chat. We say good bye but find our selves going the same direction. At the corner we turn left. As I cross the street I look back and she is continuing. We smile. I will never see her again for the rest of my life. Is this a great city or what?
I already have my 4 obligatory roses and given one away. I think I am going to sit across the traffic circle from the Rex Hotel and watch the world go by for a while.
15 August 2001
A little more Tay Ninh
I did this once it the past and now again. I sent of an email and forgot the 98 so the mail went to Carol Manson in Florida. She was nice enough to reply and tell me that I might wish to re-send this one.
The music here is interesting. It is often loud and fast but never angry or hateful. Nothing here like hard rock or acid rock, no tecno. The music is good. There is a group that look like Asian back street boys and one of the songs on their new album is "can't take my eyes off of you" sung to much the same beat as it was in the USA in the late 60's.
A little more about the trip, yesterday. The tour was run by Saigon Tourist, which is run by a man who left Vietnam after the fall and lived near Huntingdon Beach in Orange County, California for 20 years. The tour cost $4.00 USD. There were 16 of us which means he took in $64.00 USD. With this he provided a bus for the trip and a driver. Also there was a guide named Mr. Vinh, who was in New York and Philadelphia after college and while working with Coast Guard. He is my age and looks forward to retiring to the country. Some of the interesting things we saw while driving were the water buffalo in their wallows resting. We passed the Double Johnson Company. I wonder if this is J and J. Even well past Cu Chi there were, every once in a while, large industrial complexes. We also passed the "Kiss Me" toilet paper factory.
Mr. Vinh tells us that at the end of high school every student takes several days of tests. If you do not do well you go in the army for two years. If you are female your option after a bad test is to get married. For those who do well there is college and a bright future. That is where Cathy is this week, in Hanoi taking tests for a scholarship to a college in Japan. This is a city of 7 million and 2 million motor bikes. Population is a problem. Next to Mr. Vinh's house is a loud speaker that begins every morning at 5:00 Am. It says "good morning Vietnam, how many children do you have, if you have two it is enough, please stop.
The Cao Dai religion is a combination of Buddhist, Catholic and a little of several others. We arrive at the temple during noon prayers. Prayers are at 6:00AM, noon, evening and midnight. We are ushered in and upstairs to a balcony that runs around the one large room. At the top of the stairs is a string group and 10 girls singing. The sound is beautiful. As we move out to the balcony the music carries through the room. The room is so bright with colors that, I am told, are repainted yearly. It is interesting that Sarah said she felt very uncomfortable as if we were intruding. I felt that since they invited us in it was informative and interesting. At one point we can not continue along the balcony. We find later that this is because we may not pass the head priest. He does not wish to see anyone, as this will distract him from prayer. When he leaves the building lesser priests go before him to see that no one passes in front of him. The temple is in a complex that is so beautiful. There are many buildings and gardens.
Back on the bus and on to Cu Chi. The bus is a small one. There are two seats in each row behind the driver and one seat on the other side. The two seats have a fold down seat attached which gives us 4 seats across and no aisle. Shortly we arrive at a restaurant and have lunch. I have spring rolls. The meal is great. A dozen spring rolls with sauce. A bowl of rice with a little carrot, onion and pepper sauce and a bottle of ice water for $2.00 US. The day before I had a smoked pork sandwich with tomato, cucumber, fish sauce on an 8-inch roll for 14 cents.
I see a number of M52A2 tractor-trailers just as we drove. Some painted some still olive drab. Another vehicle we see often is a trailer from a 2 1/2 ton truck or from a 3/4 ton truck and some from, probably from Chinese or Russian trucks hooked to a walk behind garden tractor to make a sort of 3 wheel tractor trailer. These are often pilled very high.
An extra here at the internet access is ice water which was just distributed.
I just got some tomatoes and this morning they had strawberries. I did not ask the price, maybe tomorrow.
15 August 2001
I really have nothing new to say at the moment but it is raining so I ducked into this internet access place and for 67 cents I can be dry for an hour and hopefully it will have slowed down a little by then. I forgot my raincoat again.
As I sit here, trying to be busy till the storm subsides a little, the young lady next to me introduces herself. Her name is Dung. Her parents are in the United States, in Orange County, California. She wants to practice her English as she will be going to the United States soon. She says her English sucks. I mention to her that sucks is really not a good expression. She does not ask why, which is ok since I do not wish to explain it to her.
How are things at home? How is the weather? What is going on?
It looks like the rain is letting up a little so I will be off.
16 August 2001
Market and Snails
I have just found spell checker here so if I remember to use it things should be more readable. Between my bad spelling and bad typing I sometimes go back to proof and I am not sure what I wrote.
I am at a different Internet place. This one is above a restaurant and they serve meals here at the terminal. At the other one they do provide cold water. I am loosing weight. The pants that were tight are not and the belt that was three holes from the end is now at the end. I also lost my watch and glasses. I think the glasses are in the tunnels at Cu Chi and the watch may be in my room which is getting messier as time goes by. I replaced the watch with a $3.00 swatch which is probably not a swatch. It seems a lot of things here come from China who does not recognize international patents and trade marks. I am told many of the Honda motorbikes are not really Hondas and the way to tell is that they fall apart in a year. I am seeing some familiar names. Zest is $2.00 here, Herbal Essence is $3.00, Spam is $2.00, and they do not know what is in it either. Randy and I have thrown out motorbikes that were better than some here. I have seen some real old ones and some that were held together by surface rust and wishful thinking. Just as in the past this is a culture that throws out very little. I stopped by a motorbike repair shop and watched then braze a new fitting on an old muffler. I have seen a few of the old Mercedes that were here and so plentiful when we were here last. They are real classics.
I was in the market this morning and watched as things played out in a microcosm of life. A woman is selling snails. Two have escaped and I wanted to yell "RUN, RUN!" She is unconcerned. In 10 or 15 minutes she will get it and put them back in the tub with the others. In another place a small fish has jumped from the tub and is struggling towards the drain and water. In the drain there is a rat who will eat him just as he reaches what he perceives to be freedom. After this it will be difficult to come home and go back to work. Last night I found one of the most overlooked and most exquisite pleasures in life. Whole milk. Till now all I found was sterilized milk. It is not too bad but has a taste that is not the sweetness of whole milk. I found it in a little place where tourists hang out. I bought it and found it was frozen in a block. Taking it home I put it in the refrigerator and nursed it back to health. I shook it and it tasted so sweet and creamy. The sterilized milk came from Tasmania. Sarah says that is good because Tasmanian milk has one of the lowest percentages of puss in the world. I did not know that people recorded such things. I told her it must be like hot dogs. She did not know that, in the US, hot dogs have a maximum allowable amount of rodent droppings and insect parts.
I wish I had something better to end this with..... But I don't. Sorry.
16 August 2001
Phil Nguyen and Mr Bay
It started out a slow day but did not stay so for long. I was on my way to the market and watched a young man run out of a store with 4 pair of shoes in his hands. He jumped on a waiting motorbike and was off with a crowd from the store in hot pursuit. Coming back to my hotel I met Phil (phuoc) Nguyen from Cleveland Ohio. He is back in Vietnam where he and his brother own restaurants and hotels. He says this is the time to invest. A hotel can be built for $5,000 US per room. They are looking to develop in an area 6 hours south of Saigon on the coast. Vung tau is getting too expensive for land and he thinks this is where it will happen next. He is so excited about it. He invited me to dinner tonight at 6:30.
Back in town I was walking along and a man started talking to me. He is a high school teacher here and he wanted to practice his English. We talked as we walked to his lady friends house. She spoke no English but seemed very pleasant. We went to a friend of his who built a house and since it was in a commercial area he built a bar on the front of the building and now has a business. We talked for some time and the long and short of it is I am going to Vung Tau to his uncle's daughters wedding tomorrow. I would have thought this was his cousin but maybe it is just a word he does not have yet.
Back at the hotel I ran into Phil again and had a nap. I knew I should not have had that beer as hot as it was today. It put me to sleep. The phone rang and it was Phil. A car came for us and I met his brother and their friend and driver who was one and the same. We were taken to a real nice restaurant and ushered upstairs to a private room. We had 4 kinds of shrimp and squid. I am doing
real well with chopsticks but my corner of the table was a bit messier than anyone else's. The were real helpful with pointers and from time to time I would be picking something up and I would notice they would be watching and holding their breath as if to assist my concentration. It was a real nice meal and we went back to the hotel. They were going to rest and I came here to be with you. They said if I get back in time we can go clubbing and do some karoke. I kind of want to be back and yet karoke is just not me. I think I impressed them by eating the squid without flinching or even missing my end of the conversation. Phil is a salesman. His brother and their friend were quieter but that was also partially due to the language barrier. Now I am off to town again to sit in the rain across from the Rex hotel and feel good for a while before bedtime. I have to get up early tomorrow for the trip to Vung Tau and the wedding.
I hope to see Nhi while I am there.
17 August 2001
Wedding and Vung Tau
There are days when you start out and you just don't know where the day is going to end up.
My day started out waking up early. It was 5:30 and I got up, showered and went out for a walk. I stopped and got a roll for breakfast. I arrived back at the hotel in more than enough time to be picked up for the wedding. 8:45 came and went and I was passing the time with Tham, the day woman at the desk. She knows English better from reading it than hearing it and I know very little Vietnamese, so we were having some fun and learning from a phrase book I had picked up. It was a real nice time I will have to spend more time in the lobby. Around 9:45 Mr. Bay arrived with his lady friend. I felt just a little uneasy but I thought it was just because he looked so stereotypically Viet Cong. We were off to the bus station, which is not the one tourists go to. All in all it was very nice. We were on the bus and seated. The trip begins and a young man passes out cold washcloths and ice water. Things went well up to Long Binh then down the Vung Tau cut off. Everything is so built up all along the road. We rode a little over half way to Vung Tau and got off the bus.
All over this country men on motor scooters and motorbikes hang around waiting to take someone somewhere for a fee. There were three such at that stop. Mr. Bay, who has an argumentative nature, carried on an intense conversation and at some length they said they would take us to the wedding. We rode 12 kilometers out to the middle of nowhere and then a few more kilos to a place that is not yet even on the waiting list to be called nowhere. Where ever we stopped someone would give us directions or miss directions as the case may be. Finally we ended up in a town and decided to call and find out where we were. The problem was that there was no telephone in this town. There was a small school at the main intersection. Since there are few outsiders here school let out so all the beautiful little children could come out and see me. I said hello, as did they. I took a few pictures and they all giggled and ran back to the school. I took a picture of a neat old truck and one of those combinations of a tractor and trailer. Finally someone came by who actually knew the family and we were off. Another few Kilos then a few more on a dirt road and then another on a path. Down the path we went off into the coffee bushes and to a house. A very nice house. From there, there was not even a path. We followed a ribbon through the coffee bushes and eventually heard the wedding celebration. Soon we were at a house. Next to it was a canopy with tables under it. Each table was piled with food of all sorts. There was such a neat bunch of people. There was the groom dressed in white and the bride dressed in bright red. They were a beautiful couple. As they come to our table Mr. Bay informs me it is custom to give a gift. He recommends 1 or 2 hundred thousand. I gave them 200,000 VND, which is about $13.40 US. Pictures were being taken and I got out my camera. It was so much fun. There were those who were bashful and those who were not. Everyone was having such a good time. I was a whiz with the chopsticks but no one was impressed because I do not think most of them had any exposure to knife and forks. There were the elders and the grand children. It was just the most beautiful day. Everyone wanted to be in a picture with me. And as before, aside from Mr. Bay, no one spoke English. There were toasts and a lot of glass tapping. I was informed that at each toast it was expected that all would drink at least half a glass. I could not do this since my limit is 1 beer and on a hot day, which it was, it is not that much. Each time a glass was more than 1 inch down it was filled. The saving grace is that cold beer here comes from dropping a big piece of ice in a glass and pouring beer over it. In effect we were all drinking near beer. As fast as the ice melted I was drinking a lot of water. The point came that I realized that I was impaired and there was that 18 - 21 Kilo ride back to the highway. I was a little dizzy. Fortunately I did not have to drive. Unfortunately my driver was a lot worse than I was. We arrived at the highway and a bus came by in 10 or 15 minutes. We are off to Vung Tau.
Arriving there we get a cab and go to a small, and a little shabby, hotel. Mr. Bay is making plans. His favorite words, in English, are "do you want to pay for this". My concern is how much he can run up and did he convince the hotel people I was paying. Then the surprise. I can not rent a room without my passport. I show them the copy but I made that at home with the expired visa.
It is probably nice to have friends in high places but sometimes it is just nice to have friends in out of the way places. I call the number that Mr. Truc gave me for Nhi and it is her old number, which is disconnected. I also have Thuy's brother's phone number but get his wife who does not speak English. I ask Mr. Bay to call. He does and says that my friend's brother will be here in 1/2 hour. Mr. Bay and his friend go off to swim. He wants a few pictures on the beach. I take his and his friend. I can not understand her words but she wants a picture of her and me. He does not. He wants one of him and me. After that I ask for one of her and me. Two can play at this. He takes the camera and begrudgingly takes a picture very crooked. She and I look at one another and she talks to him rather sternly. He takes another almost straight. I go back and wait for Thuy's brother and Mr. Bay asks me to get him when he arrives. Thuy's brother arrives and Mr. Bay talks to him and tells me that He, his friend and Thuy's brother and I will go to his house and find my friend (Nhi). I say no, just Thuy's brother and I will go, as I do not wish to impose on them. Check. He has the receptionist write the phone number and gives it to me. He says to call and tell him where I get a room so that he will know I am safe. I take the card and later tell Nhi I do not trust this man. No one is to give him Nhi's address or number nor Thuy's brother's information, the hotel where I am or any other information beyond I am safe. And Mate.
Nhi arrives at Thuy's brother's house and is so excited to see me. She has not had e-mail for several months and now that Thuy is in Saigon did not get the word that I was in Vietnam. She is such a bright person and speaks English so well. Soon all the problems are ironed out. She tells me that she has a hotel, which they have used, who will take me without the proper visa. By they I think she means this underground Christian network. I am just hopping that there is a lock on the door and a shower, cold will be just fine. A few minutes cab ride and we arrive at the Rex. The Rex has been the place to stay for a long time. She takes me inside and talks with the receptionist. He hands me a room key. She asks how long I wish to stay. I tell her that, since she is working tomorrow and Sunday, I will only stay the night. She says, "Then you will go home how". I say "by bus". She says the hydrofoil is quicker. I say fine. I will go early. We arrange a wake up call and she instructs them to put me in a cab and tell the driver to take me to the hydrofoil in the morning. She tells me to just check out and all will be taken care of. I said just pay for the room? She says no, just check out, it will all be taken care of. I thank her and the staff. She will be in Saigon next week and says she will stop in on the days she has time. One of the things she will be in Saigon for is her visa. She is coming to America. She says "I will see you in Saigon". I tell her that sounds like something people would say in a movie. I tell her "I will see you in Saigon". She smiles, goes out to the waiting cab and disappears into the night.
And so it is that at the end of this day I find myself on the top floor of the Rex Hotel, ocean side, looking out over Vung Tau beach and the South China Sea. Looking at all the night-lights along the shore and thinking that sometimes things work out just right. Sometimes they really do.
18 August 2001
Return to Saigon
This is a half-day report.
I am back in Saigon. I awoke this morning around 5:00. It was still pretty dark but I could see the beach and ocean were full of people. I went out for a walk around the town. I got a roll for breakfast. There is a large market there like there is in every town here in Vietnam. It was fun to walk around in it. After a time I noticed it was near 6:30 and my wake up call would be coming soon. I went back and got things together. Down at the desk I gave the man my key and he got out the bill. He looked at it and said, "Miss Nhi has taken care of everything". Then added "I see I am to call you a cab and send you to the Hydrofoil". We drive to one side of town where the ferry ticket office is and buy the ticket, Then to the other side of town where the ferry arrives and departs, and where they do not sell tickets. It works for them.
Coming back on the ferry was a 1 hour 20 minute trip. We passed a lot of tropical vegetation. There were isolated villages and even a few huts that were quite far apart. There were places that were extracting sand and gravel and loading it on to ships. Many fishing boats and many large ships. As we neared Saigon I begin to recognize the docks that are as busy as they were in 1968. The trip was quiet and smooth. There were a lot of nice people on the ferry. It is fun talking to people when you have no language in common. I think I will have a nap and go into town to get a film developed and send Mr. Bay his pictures.
After returning this morning I took a nap. Later I went down town and got the film form the wedding processed so I can give Mr. Bay a copy. After picking up the processed film I went to the square in the center of town and sat to look at it. Two young ladies who sat down on the bench were looking at the pictures. Soon there was a group and everyone was talking about them. It was fun. It started to drizzle so I went into the market. The area where the meat is butchered was now empty and clean so I put the pictures out and made one album for Mr. Bay. Once again people came over and started looking and discussing the wedding. I got something I wanted to get for Tania and just wandered the rest of the afternoon. It rained just enough to cool things off a little.
Cathy wrote and said her tests are done and she did well in English but is not sure how she did in the math tests. She will find out in Feb 2002, but she thinks she will pass. She went to Ha Lon bay and took a 6-hour boat ride. She said that Ha Lon and Ha Noi are sad towns. She is going out to Sapa tomorrow and will be back in Saigon on the 22nd.
Tham, the day lady in the hotel, is doing homework at the desk. She is studying computers but is now working on chemistry. After the cruise up the Saigon River this morning I now know I have to do the Mekong tour. At least the 2-day cruise.
19 August 2001
The Docks, the past and a sweet young lady
I can't believe my time here is about half up. Just as well, the money is also about half up to.
Today I went down along the docks. I found the place we used to hang out. It was a restaurant/bar/house of ill repute, called Tan Cang. It was number 58 and was across from K docks. The signs are gone but it is the same place. Around the corner is the Saigon Port Building. I stayed there for a month when I went back in 1969. It looks much as it did then. A large part of K docks looks just as it did then. At the north end of the docks is a large building that was there from the time of the French. It is now the Ho Chi Minh museum. Just south of that, where we used to stage, just inside the gate, is a 5-story glass office building of the Saigon Port.
I walked down to M&M docks. In 1968 I only drove there. It is a fair walk. Down from K docks over a little bridge a curve to the left and then to the right and straight on till the road goes right. At this point there is a road on the left that goes 2 blocks to the entrance into M&M docks. We always liked this run. M&M docks was smaller and we had to stage outside. This gave us access to a little group of buildings that had grown around the dock traffic. It is much more built up all along but the building may still be there. It was getting late. I will have to go back there earlier in the day with my pen pal and see what we can see. It was an interesting time 32 years ago when I was young and dumb, Sometimes I was so dumb that I am amazed I survived it.
Some things change, some never do. I was walking down Nguyen Hue a few days ago, looking in the shop windows. All at once I was aware that I was holding hands with someone. Being the curious type I looked around and here was a pretty young lady. She was a nice young lady. I could tell because over in the street and a few feet behind us was her mother on her motor scooter. She was probably watching to see that her daughter did not meet the wrong sort. The girl had a limited vocabulary. Most of it would not come up in every day conversation. We walked and talked but after 3 blocks I could see that she was looking for more in this relationship than I was. I told her that I was married and that I was sorry. The girl went back to her mother. Just in case my wife reads this I don't mean I am sorry that I am married.
One thing that has changed is that a few moments ago I went into a restaurant, told the manager what I wanted and was ushered up the back stairs. Where once I would have found a series of small rooms there is now a room filled with computers. All over the city and the suburbs there are Internet access rooms.
Tomorrow I am off to the Mekong delta for the one-day tour, by boat. I will let you know how it turns out.
There are a small amount of foreigners here and few are Americans. When I inquired about the motorbike rentals I was told that my Pennsylvania drivers license was good. The government looks favorably on the US once again. The Australians have taught the socialists something about capitalism and everyone knows that when it comes to foreign investment it is the Americans who you should court.
20 August 2001
Shopping with Hue
Last night I gave Mr. Bay his pictures and he told me how he and been pick pocketed in Vung Tau and had no money till the bank opened on Monday. I gave him 100,000 or $6.70 USD. This way I will not have to deal with him again.
Last night Hue called and said she would take me shopping. Hue has been so helpful in this trip. From finding my hotel to providing information about banks and tours. She takes care of me just like Mom. When she arrived she asked if I had breakfast. I said no. She said why. I said I don't like breakfast. She said Ok, lets go to breakfast. So, of course, we went to breakfast. She said what do you want. I said something small. We went to a booth in the food court. It was not a small breakfast. There was fresh rice paper rolled around nuts and things. Then several kinds of lunch meat. A really great hot sauce. Lots of bean sprouts and leafy things. I have a minor chop stick problem and drop something. She has the wet rag and napkins out.
It is funny that I know my way around the main market better than she does. What she knows is how to pay 45,000 for the item marked 90,000. We are looking at things, but I can not mention what because it will spoil Susan's surprise, and I have picked out what I like. Hue begins talking to the man in the stall. The discussion remains civil but is getting faster and louder. Finally Hue grabs the item from my hand and throws it back on the pile and turns her back on the man and walks away, leaving me standing there with nothing to say. The scene repeats it's self. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not, but it is always done.
Later and alone I bought some more tomatoes and oranges to keep in the fridge. I also bought 2 new pair of glasses since I lost both of mine. The good news is that I found my watch. I was moving things on the other bed and there it was. I wonder what else is over there.
Back at the hotel Tham and I are working on our English/Vietnamese. Tham is Catholic. I said I am Lutheran. I said we are both Christian. She says she is Catholic, not Christian. We discuss Father Son and Holy Spirit. We try Latin, but her church does not use Latin. I try a family tree of the trinity. Still nothing. When Nhi arrives we will get it straight.
My wash returned just in time so I have cloths and I think I will go to the Mekong delta Tomorrow. I will take the one day trip and be back in time for Nhi, who will arrive on Tuesday, and Cathy, who will arrive on Wednesday. It looks like a good week. A little over halfway through the vacation and not halfway through the money. If I win the lottery I am going to take vacations like this on alternate months.
21 August 2001
Mekong Delta Tour - Pier and Luca
Yesterday I went on the tour of the Mekong Delta. The tour is with Saigon Tourist. They have a tour to the delta for 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 days. If you take the 4 or 5 day trip you may stay in their hotel there for additional days at no extra charge. I took the one-day trip. We left around 8:00 and drove 3 hours down to My Tho. The drive was beautiful with all the palms, coconut trees and dense vegetation. I saw a lot more rice paddies yesterday than on the trip to Tay Ninh. Once again I am surprised how the city of Saigon has spread out. We drove an hour before we were out of the Saigon sprawl. All along the way each little town was built up more as well. In My Tho we got on a boat and went down the river to a place that makes rice paper. An old lady was pouring the rice paste on an up side down pan and lifting it off when it cooked. We were told she can make 1200 papers a day. I did not serve in the Delta. The only experience I had there was that we drove to My Tho once. We have all heard stories of what the guys who served there went through and to see this vegetation and the swamps gives me a much greater appreciation of their experience. It was hot and sloppy for us and we were on pathways made for tourists.
We traveled through a canal and stopped at a place that made popped rice, A cross between Puffed Rice and Rice Crispies. The rice goes in a hot pan and mixed with sand. The sand causes the rice to heat faster and more uniformly. This is sifted to get out the sand. Next it is mixed with a hot mixture of sugar cane and ginger. It is rolled out on a table and I guess you see where this is going. Cut into squares and wrapped and you have rice crispy treats, more or less. They took us to a place at the end of the tour and gave us samples and Tea. The group today was myself, 6 Britts and 4 Italians, who were actually two pair that did not know one another. The man at the Saigon Tourist office asked if I was traveling alone. I said yes. He said I should find someone to travel with. I am learning that though it is just me I am never alone unless I want to be. The one pair of Italians were living in Hong Kong. These two were having as much fun as was possible and every time we were served tea they would ask if there was beer. The second pair was more reserved and serious. One spoke almost no English. In a conversation where all 5 of us were talking someone would translate the English for him and the Italian for me. There is so much I did understand, as did the non-English speaking Italian, just because of common words and the fact we were all pointing and gesturing. The English speaking Italian of the reserved pair had a wonderful accent that reminded me of inspector Clouseau. Like Clouseau he has a gentle innocent nature. His name was Pier Paolo Pieiucci. He was so interested in everything and just naturally included everyone in discussions. His hobby was photography and he had a Nikon with a number of lenses. At lunch his friend, the non-English speaking one, would not use his chop sticks and the others were giving him a hard time in Italian till finally he did give them a try.
After lunch we went for a walk and talked of many things. Classical music, opera, the condition of the world and travel. I think it is easy to make an Italian happy just by telling him your favorite opera and what it is that causes you to like it so much. We ended up near a hut away from everything. A woman came out and offered us something to drink. I saw some multi colored chicks and I pointed at them as I thought that Pier might like a picture of them. At this woman ran in the house and returned with food. We just ate but did not want to offend her. Pier began taking pictures of her and her children and she was happy. Pier later asked why I loved Vietnam so much. I told him that every one I meet is just like her. Walk down a road and people will come out and see if you need anything. Pier has given me his card and his email and asks me to send him the pictures I took of our little group. A card is a must when you travel. I wish I had thought if that. Next time. Two of the Britts are really nice also.
We also visited a place that made coconut candy. I got lots of samples for Dylan, and everyone. We travel a maze of rivers and canals and end up on the mainland again. We are told that the bus will be here in 5 minutes. 5 minutes is the longest named time in Vietnam. If some one tells you something will happen in 3 minutes it probably will but if they say 5 minutes that means that they do not know when it will be here but you should expect it soon. Half an hour later the bus arrives. It is beginning to get dark. We are an hour late getting to Saigon then have a flat in front of a place that fixes truck and bus tires. We are all a little suspicious. A Vietnamese man who looks a lot like Kurt Russell changes the tire. As the wheel is being disassembled I take a picture. Everyone finds it funny.
There were a number of monuments to the fallen freedom fighters, but little of our past remains there. We tended to build with wood a lot, which does not last here very well. I did see many 2 1/2 ton and 5 ton US Army trucks still in service. This is rather interesting 32 years later. I think the life expectancy of our trucks was under a year. An interesting tid bit. No one here understands the concept of down shifting. They will slow to 5 miles an hour and then start up again in 3rd or 4th.
22 August 2001
I came in to write this morning. I had several e-mails arrive. I read my mail and everything seemed to neutralize everything else. Now my head is empty and I have nothing to write. I will go out and see if I can fill it up again.
23 August 2001
I have been a little remiss in my writing. I have had 2 days of what ever it was that I could not even begin to put to paper. So I won't try. It will have to wait till later when I can give it more than my poor typing, bad spelling and dyslexic grammar.
Today, on the other hand, was really nice, except for the bad part. A new friend whose name is pronounced dyoung, but spelled Dung stopped by and suggested breakfast. On the way her purse was stolen. Some little kid came up behind us and cut the strap and ran off. She dropped a package she was carrying and did not even realize, at first, that her purse was missing. By time she did the kid was across the street and down an alley. We went to the police station and filed a report. Not much is really going to be done with it though. Dung is really resilient. She took me to meet her sister and nephew and took us all to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere that had a lake and pavilions built around it. We had lunch there and did some fishing. It was real nice and she felt a little less bad about the purse after that.
Back to the hotel and a note that Cathy had called. I called her back and she and a friend came over. Cathy is really pleasant, as is her friend. She writes better English that she speaks or understands. This is not uncommon. At the hotel the women that work there will often not understand me and ask me to write it down. Then they understand. Cathy, her friend and I went to the restaurant across the street and had drinks. Since Cathy and her friend are 18 the drinks were orange juices. We talked for a while and I asked if there was something she would like to do. She suggested a dinner cruise on the Saigon River. Cathy said her friend had a commitment so she said she would be back around 6:00 and we would go to dinner. Promptly at 6:00 she arrived with another friend and we were off to the docks. The boat was nice and real clean. We arrived early and were seated right at the bow. We had time to talk before dinner. The boat left and we ordered. I had a real nice fried Sea Bass. She and her friend had the lite meal, soup and ice cream. The cruise was nice and leisurely. There was a nice breeze. In the distance there was lightning but we had no rain. Cathy talks just a bubbly and happy as she writes. She tells of her journey to Hanoi and the places she that visited. She will make a good tour guide. After dinner we return to the hotel and she and her friend say their good byes and are off. I am still wondering what has happened to Nhi. Tomorrow I will go up to Lutheran Hour Ministries Vietnam and see if they have heard from her.
24 August 2001
Bien Hoa, Dung and the sick nephew
The days have mellowed a little. I was up early, as usual, and off to check the email. There was a nice one from Susan. I met Dung and we had breakfast. She wanted to go to Bien Hoa and since I had seen it only a little in 1967 - 69 we were off. She found a car and driver for $20 but she told him we would only pay $13 and he said all right. The old man who drove the car was a little shaky and drove so slow. Finally around Newport he could not get it out of first and since Bien Hoa was too far to drive in first gear we left him and found two motorcycles to take us to Dung's sisters house. Dung's sister and nephew decided to join us on the trip and she found a taxi who would turn off his meter and take us for the same $13 as the old man. Everyone got ready and we were off. After a short while Dung's sister and the driver were exchanging some panicky words and the driver pulled over just in time for Dung's nephew to throw up out the window. People passing got out of the way and frowned. We drove for a few miles with his head out the window and him dozing off only to be awakened by Dung or his mother to see if he was sleeping. We arrived in Bien Hoa and looked around. I got a coke and gave the nephew some. After a while Dung suggested we go out to a lake she remembered from when she lived there years ago. The lake was an old quarry. We arrived and as we were getting out of the car the nephew threw up again. I suggested we find some water and wash the clothes and him and he will feel better. We took him to the lake and I suggested we throw him in. Dung thought it was funny, her nephew thought it was funny but her sister did not. They undressed him and washed him and his cloths. He appeared to be feeling better so they gave him some beef jerky and ice water. Well, he was clean for
a while. Dung's sister went to the ladies room and took off her blouse since she had a T-shirt and bib overalls, and put the blouse on the nephew.
There was a boat that went around the lake and we went out on it. The water in the lake was real nice and there were a lot of lily pads. No sooner had the nephew finished the beef jerky than he threw up again. They cleaned him up on the boat. After returning to dock Dung suggested lunch. There was a little roadside restaurant across the street. It was a hot humid day but there is one constant through out the world. Coca-Cola. I had one with a lot of ice and watched the show. Dung and her sister had gotten some remedy from the local equivalent of the CVS and gave it to him. Then they began to feed him something gelatinous that was off white with black specks in it and a soda that tasted like stale grapes.
I do not know if grapes can go stale but if they could they would taste just like this. He ate half the bowl and throws up again. I suggest that if we stop feeding him he might stop throwing up. Dung and her sister agree. Then the fish soup arrives and they make him eat a big bowl of it. We watch him for a while and he seems to be keeping it down. We get back in the cab and drive for about 10 minutes and his head is out the window again. Finally he goes to sleep and we get back to the sister's house. We pay the taxi and we all go our separate ways.
Dung gets me a motorcycle and tells him to take me to Bien Tranh Market and only charge me 10,000 VND. On the way we pass the zoo and I remember, last night, Cathy mentioned that the history museum by the zoo is a real good one. It was great with many pieces of pottery including much from the "Hoi An" shipwreck near Cham Island in Quang Nam province. I recently bought 4 bowls from this shipwreck and it is exciting to have 15th century pieces that are in a museum. I really like the bowls, which came originally from the Red River area in North Vietnam and were lost shortly after they were made. The museum also housed many wooden and bronze pieces as well and a lot of statuary. I would like to go back again and look some more. Back at the hotel I am ready to go to email and the two evening women at the desk are working on English homework so we have a nice time discussing English and Vietnamese. We make up sentences and just have a nice time. I don't remember what brought it up but I got both of them to sing for my tape recorder. The morning woman would not do that this morning.
Tomorrow I think I will go out to Thu Duc and Long Bien to take some pictures.
26 August 2001
Long Binh, Dung and Thu Duc
I have just come back from Thu Duc and Long Binh. I was hoping to get out there again and take some pictures. I will get them up on a site and let you know the address when I get home and have it put together. As I said the road out has changed some. Remember the road out of Saigon. There was a canal that was black. I have a picture of it from 1968 and it looks like a mirror. The canal is now brown so I guess it is cleaning up. After the canal was a water tower shaped like a rocket ship. It is still there and is now painted as a Pepsi advertisement.
My first stop was Newport. I got some nice pictures, looking along the dock, from up on the bridge. It looks a lot like it did then. Across the river used to be swamp and jungle. Now it is homes and businesses. The road is all built up on each side almost all the way from Saigon to Long Binh.
My next stop was Thu Duc. The 543rd lt. truck was there. We were with them for a time. Next door was Philco Ford who had those aqua civilian trucks. Just north of us was Equipment inc. who had the lighter duty black trucks. I looked for any trace of these and could find nothing. I thought the Philco Ford building might have remained but I could not see anything. I spent and hour there, maybe I should have allowed a day for each spot.
Next was the Di An cutoff. I remember when this was completed we could bypass Saigon and get to Tay Ninh faster. It is still there and recognizable, however some concrete islands have been added in the road. The Di An cut off was in the middle of nowhere now it is lined by businesses.
On to the river and bridge just south of Long Binh. This is where the fuel barges used to come in.
It is still there but is now covered by logs. It looks like there is a saw mill there.
On to long Binh and the big surprise. The Vung Tau cutoff at the south end of Long Binh is now a major traffic circle. On the corner of what was once Long Binh is now a CORA. It is a Walmart like store and it is huge. Next is a gateway to the Bien Hoa 2 economic zone. As I enter the road has a small hill then a slightly larger and then drops off. This is what is left of TC Hill. TC Hill was really two hills. the first was where the dispensary was the second had a large mess hall and the swimming pool. Now directly on top of the second is C P Group, a joint venture company which looks like it has something to do with meat packing. I walked up the road on the opposite side taking pictures then down our side. There was a building across from us called VIDICO, which we always called the sugar mill. It now has a large addition and is called Bien Hoa Joint Venture Sugar company. Where the hill slopes down at the end of TC Hill is where the 572 motor pool was in late 1967. Our motor pool sloped down till it ended at a fence that separated us from Pacific Architects and Engineers. Up at the north end is a power station and I wonder if it is from us. There is a tower and I know we had one there but I do not remember if this is it. It looks a lot like the Eiffel tower. At this point it began to rain so we looked around in CORA for a while and hoped that it would clear. It did not clear much so we returned. I think there might be a building or two left up at the north end as there were some masonry buildings up there but I spent so little time up there that I did not recognize any.
We hired a car and left early, thank goodness. The driver was ancient and had trouble hearing and understanding abstract concepts like "stop before the bridge". He would fumble with the gearshift till we were on the bridge then drive 300 feet past the end and ask if this was good. He was driving what was left of an old Peugeot. He eventually got us where we were going so I should not complain. We hired him earlier in the week and he broke down before Newport.
A few days ago I got to meet another of my pen pals, Cathy. We had a nice time talking and went to dinner on a boat that sailed down and up the Saigon River. Dinner for 3 and the cruise was less than $10.00. This is an inexpensive place. Last night she invited me to dinner and it was really nice. It was she, her brother, Mother, Father and a friend of the family named Yen. Her father cooked and did a wonderful job of it. Only Cathy speaks English, she hopes to be a tour guide one-day. She has such a pleasant and out going personality that I am sure she will be a good one. We had spring rolls and fried fish. Then a fish stew. Every once in a while I could pick up a word or a thread of the conversation.
I picked up on "Yan can cook" one of Cathy's Father's favorite shows. She then began to explain what they said and I said "Yan can cook". Cathy's Father's name is pronounced Scham, so I said "Scham can cook". I think they were happy that we could communicate though I spoke no Vietnamese. Her mother said they were sorry that they did not speak English and I said I was sorry that I could not speak Vietnamese, which made them all happy. It was just such a nice time. Cathy and I had time to talk after dinner and her brother, who spoke a little joined us from time to time. They were impressed with how well I used chopsticks and laughed. Cathy said they laughed because she could not use them. Cathy had grown up with knife and fork. She tried using them and we all had a nice time. I told her that if I had more time here in Vietnam she could teach me Vietnamese and I could teach her to use chopsticks. Her family liked that idea. Her whole family and their friend are such nice people. She came with me in the cab back to the hotel and her brother picked her up and took her home.
And so another day ends here in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Getting close to ETS which was Army talk for Estimated Time of Separation, which is when we go home.
27 August 2001
Singing and Immigration
The days are winding down and I have done the things I wanted. Next time I will get the open ticket for the bus from Saigon to Dalat, Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi. Then on to Ha Long, Sapa and Dien Bien Phu. Well, that is next time.
Something came up with Hue and we are having dinner on Wednesday instead of tonight.
Last night I went down and convinced Tran to sing for the recorder. This has been so much fun. The Tape recorder was a last minute decision. I was going to record the traffic outside the window so
I could play it back at home. Then it just came up one day that one of the women was singing and I recorded it.
Mr. Bay calls from time to time. He called last night while Tran was deciding what to sing. I had gone out in front of the hotel and when I came back in she thought it was so funny that she told Mr. Bay that I was out and I really was outside. This vacation has been such an emotional exercise. Tham and
I discuss it from time to time. It is amazing how much can be communicated with a limited common vocabulary and an English-Vietnamese and Vietnamese-English dictionary. Tham and I are having dinner Thursday. I can not believe how excited she is about it. It will be my last night and I think we will go to the Rex.
I just spent an hour in Vietnamese immigration to get my exit visa. Almost all signs were in Vietnamese. It was difficult finding anything. It is tough dealing with a bureaucracy when the language is not your first or even a close second. I finally found a man who spoke English pretty well. After looking at my passport he smiled and told me that I did not need and exit visa. He said, "I may stay till Sept 7th and I may leave when ever I wish".
I do not expect much excitement these last few days. It is all winding up in a nice orderly way. Except Dung, but that is another story.
28 August 2001
After breakfast I went back to the hotel. I had put off visiting the child I sponsor till it was almost too late. I called today and the only day the woman is open will be Thursday. She will hire a car and will pick me up at the hotel Thursday morning at 7:30. I am glad I did not wait another day. Tomorrow night is dinner at Hue's and I will meet her sister and brother-in-law and the family.
Last night I could not sleep so at midnight I went downstairs and found Tran, the night shift girl, outside picking the pebbles out of the planter. The owner of the hotel thought they looked dirty so she was picking them all out, washing them and putting them back. I joined her and we had a nice time with the stones and talking. She is the only one who I do not have recorded yet. She said that she could not think of a song, but that she would do it tomorrow night. At this point we both smiled at one another because she was hoping I would forget and I thought that is what she was thinking. I will be down tonight. It is now 1:00 and time for bed.
Just before I left the hotel, in the morning, I was talking to Tham. We were discussing Dung and other things, in life, that are happy and sad at the same time. When we talk I write and Tham reads. Like others I have met, she reads English better than hearing it. After a while she got out a songbook and said this is a happy song. I asked if I could record it and she said yes. I went and got the recorder and just as before I had to start it then go over to the door and look out. She is so shy. She has no concept of how beautiful she is. She sings and at the end she says, "it is bad". I said, "no, it is beautiful". She says that she only sings because I like to hear her sing. She wanted to hear it so I played it back. I think she liked it but was a little embarrassed. I told her that I will go home and play it and the house will be filled with a gentle beauty. She also plays piano. Wait till you hear all of them, and I have about 20 rolls of film.
Now I am going to send myself all the addresses that I have accumulated, just in case I loose them. Then it is off to downtown to get some film developed.
29 August 2001
The American I met a few days ago told me of some places around town. Yesterday I went to see these places that I had not been to, or knew existed. There is a cafe in the government owned office building called the Gourmet Cafe. I had a roast beef sandwich, French fries, potatoe soup, and coke for $3.00.
The Windsor Hotel also manages restaurants around the city. They are all beautiful, and inexpensive. The American also told me of a restaurant called Mogambos, which has American dishes and is also very reasonable. I also looked around the Rex Hotel. It is such a beautiful building. The rooms are from $70 to $495 per night. There are some real nice restaurants there, including the roof garden. Down at the river is another nice hotel called the Majestic. It also has a top floor restaurant with a view along the river. Next to the indoor restaurant is an outdoor one. There is no wall between so if it rains those inside will have the rain falling just across the room. It is one of the interesting features of the architecture here that there is never a cold season. Many places exist that we would have indoors but here it is all right to have them open. In the Internet access place there is a stairway in the middle of the building. Over the stairway there is no roof. If it is raining you walk through the restaurant downstairs and into the stairway where it is raining then on into the kitchen where it is dry again. It is really interesting.
I got more pictures developed and the one of the little girl is there. I wish I had taken more but the one I have is the one I would like best. I now have two large suitcases to get all my things home. I bought many things because they are all so cheap. All the women at the hotel have given me something as well. This last week it has rained most nights and a little during two days. The rainy season is here. I am now off to who knows where.
30 August 2001
Meeting Loan, Dinner at the Rex Hotel
The other day Tran and I were discussing things that make us happy and sad, and how sometimes it is the same thing that causes us joy and sorrow. This was such a day. At 6:00 AM the phone rang. Tham said that Mr. Bay had stopped by and was waiting at the cafe next door. I did not have to be ready to go today till 8:00 so I took my time getting a shower and falling back to sleep for another half hour and then went downstairs. By this time Mr. Bay had gone.
I sat in the lobby and waited for child welfare to arrive. For those who do not know I have sponsored a child through Pearl S Buck Foundation for some years. I contacted them and arranged a visit. I was a little nervous about it. At 8:00 a van arrived and a man and lady came out. I went out and introduced myself. These two worked in Saigon for PSB International, and for child welfare. They were very nice and we had a good time discussing Vietnam, the war, veterans and many other things. We arrived at the home of the case worker who handles the child I support. From there we proceeded to the commune where Loan lives. There at the clinic we met the representative of the peoples committee, which manages the project. We then proceeded down a long dirt road. After a time we came to her house. There were a dozen children and the man from PSBI asked if I knew which one was Loan. I said yes and pointed her out. She was so happy that I knew her. We went into the house and had some tea and talked to the family. There was Loan, a sister, brother, mother, father and a grandfather. The house was mostly thatch with a tin roof. It was a nice house but the grandfather pointed out that the roof leaked in a heavy rain. I told him, so does mine. Odd thing to have in common. I was told that PSBI had lent the family the money they needed to build a latrine. They had also tiled the floor so that it would not be mud when the rains came. The family lives in an area of bamboo and makes baskets for a living. The father had bought a 3-wheel bicycle to deliver the baskets to market. Everyone in the family and community works to get baskets made. I forgot to mention that Loan is the most beautiful and friendly child. She is top in her class and won a trip to Saigon Water Park for her grades. The entire community was there and I took many pictures. There were many beautiful faces. We spent about two hours and talked of many things. On the way back to the to the van Loan walked with me and held my hand, I think of the $25.00 a month to sponsor her and I am amazed that they can do so much. They were all so excited that I would care about them. This was a high point of the trip. At the van Loan said good bye. I said I will see you in a few years. She liked that.
Back at the Hotel Dung stopped by and wanted to take me to town to buy a few last minute things. In town the rain began so we had lunch. By time we were done the rain had stopped and the sun was out again. We went back to the hotel and I went to the bank. I have only one thing to buy and I will get that in the morning when Dung takes me to town again. At 6:00 I get ready for dinner and go down to the lobby to wait for Tham and Tran. In the lobby is the manager, who I have seen before. With him is his daughter. She has been learning English and has no one to talk English with. We have a nice time chatting till at last Tham arrives. I was going to take Tham but we were talking and I mentioned how Tran was sad because she had not seen her family for a while. We noticed that she wanted to go and could not and I wanted to stay and I can not. We agreed life is not always fair. Tham suggested that We ask Tran along to dinner to cheer her up. Tham had arrived early but Tran was 20 minutes late. When she arrived she did not look happy. We find that her Aunt has died and she will be getting to go home after all. She still wants to go to dinner. We go to the Rex. As we get out of the cab the little girl who sells roses is there. She asks if I will buy two roses. I tell her I already have two flowers. There is a restaurant on the roof. During dinner there is traditional music and folk dancing. The room is beautiful and so are my guests. I have the grilled lobster, and for desert the orange surprise. I love these Vietnam Dollars. The bill is $750,000 VND, $50.84 US. The girls think this is a lot. It is after all, it is 1/4 of the average annual income for Vietnam. It is raining again and we return to the hotel.
At the hotel Dung arrives and wants to take me to dinner. We go to a Thai place she likes. Needless to say I can not eat too much. Then back to the hotel and now I am here at the e-mail. All in all it was a very nice day. Now it will be back to the hotel and I will have time to talk to Tran. She says she will be leaving for home tomorrow. Her family is in Can Tho. This is probably my last letter from Vietnam. A committee is coming to take me to the airport at 11:30 AM. Everything is packed.
1 September 2001
Saigon, Taipei, Philadelphia
I am up early and out. Dung has borrowed a motor scooter and has been my chauffeur these last few days. After breakfast we go in search of a street vendor whom I have been getting my shirts from but she is not there.
Back to the hotel, Hue and Cathy arrive. To this point none of my pen pals have met one another. Hue has made labels for my suitcases and is sticking them on. She is such a mom. Cathy is getting to know Dung. Loan is at the counter this morning. She says that she is sad that I am leaving. I have written the words to "We'll meet again" and after a practice run I am using my pen as a bouncing ball and we are singing "We'll met again, don't know where, don't know when, but I know we'll meet again, some sunny day". Hue and Cathy have been my pen pals for some time. I have just met Dung since I have been here. Hue and Cathy are so happy because we have had this time to meet and had some good times together. Dung is sad and almost in tears. Dung and I take a cab and Hue and Cathy take their motor cycles. We arrive at the airport with time to spare. I find my place and after some good bye's I go in. Hue says that if I have any trouble I should come out and they will be here for a while. As I go in Hue and Cathy are smiling and waving, Dung is almost in tears and waving frantically.
As I check in I am told that my plane from Taipei to San Francisco has been canceled. I am told that all will be taken care of in Taipei. Tan Son Nhut is not a modern airport. To get the plane we go down stairs and take the bus to the plane, which is about 50 feet from the door. I am taking pictures out the window as inconspicuously as possible. I am probable taking them only because we were told it is not allowed. I have a problem with authority, sometimes. Boarding the plane the man next to me is wearing a leg brace and slips getting on the bus. I catch his arm and he does not fall. As I look at him the only thought in my mind is "I hope he is not Japanese". Chris will understand that one. We are on the plane and I take a few more pictures. We taxi out to the runway and after a few incoming flights we are moving down the runway. The feelings of joy at going home and the loss of not being able to stay are so strong.
Arriving in Taipei we enter the terminal. Over the door is a sign. "Drug trafficking is punishable by death in the Republic of China". Not even a "Have a nice day". Inside I am at a counter with a beautiful Chinese woman with a pretty and innocent smile. Her glasses make her look so cute. She arranges a hotel and gets me a seat on tomorrows flight. Also a connecting flight to Philadelphia from San Francisco. She is all smiles. Then I ask for the free ticket. She says "free ticket?" I said "yes" for the interruption of the flight. She says "we do not do that". I said "yes you do". This was a confirmed ticket
I was promised no interuption. Her smile turns from innocence to worldly and I think it meant, "you got us". Instead of the free ticket, that I was hoping to use when I come back, she said I think I can get you on another flight tonight. I went to the area of the gift shops and met some of the other travelers and chatted for a while. About an hour before the flight I returned, picked up my ticket and boarding pass and I was off to the gate.
In the plane I was next to a young couple from Boston, or Bahston, to be more correct. We were all reading and he noticed I was reading the Castle by Kafka. He said he had wanted to read it but had not and asked how it was. I told him it was dreadful. It was nothing but descriptions of people that I really did not want to know, I was hoping that at some point it would all tie together, and I was on the 5th page of a paragraph. We discussed our vacations, they had been in Bangkok.
In Los Angeles was my last great surprise. In my entire travel no one has wanted to look in my suitcase. They asked what was in it but no one wanted to look. I wondered if, some where in the nether world beneath the airports legions of gnomes with drug sniffing dogs were checking luggage. Or was the baggage area filled with profilers, or has the world become so much better that luggage searching is no longer necessary, not.
The last leg of my flight is in a seat by the emergency exit. This is nice because these seats have extra leg room.
In Philadelphia I get my bags, call Susan who asks, "who is this". I tell her that it is her husband. The train ride is more than transportation. It is resolution, it is reassurance, and it is coming home.