Last day in Hanoi

Dear folks,
We are on our last morning in Hanoi. I’m sitting here looking out the door at a drizzly morning, with bananas, rice gruel, pineapples, bricks, and food stands, all going by on shoulder poles in baskets.

To bring you up to speed, we have been unable to get online with any regularity for nearly 2 weeks. I don’t know if it is government interference, or just capacity to North America, but we cannot usually connect. Worse by far, sometimes we connect, write something and when we go to send, the whole thing just disappears. Both Barb & I have had humorous, deeply perceptive, and inciteful posts go missing (hey, prove me wrong). It just kills the spirit, and the moment is gone when a significant piece of writing evaporates.

So I’m up early watching the rain. Today we leave for the airport at 10AM. Arrive in Newark at 11:30PM and spend the night there. Bus and train thru NYC to New Haven to meet Orion, and then home; midday Saturday. I’m tired just contemplating it.

We had a wonderful week in Hue, which I think Barb did manage to get one or two things out about. Wonderful city, deep history, both with we Americans, and far beyond. Spooky experience in some ways given my memories of those times, and the evidence on the ground; but deeply reassuring when we got to see the reaction of the Vietnamese, and the regrowth and recovery that has taken place with the latest generation. We just loved biking around the countryside, and Hue is a small city, easy to escape. Small villages are connected by paved paths, sometimes only 1 meter wide. They wind trough the fields and villages for km after km. We would wander, getting lost on top of lost. When it was time to get back just a shrug, and a questioning Hue? would set us right.

Hoi An, from where we just returned, is a brand name tourist destination, and though it has its definite beauties, is our least favorite place. All other places even if touristic, had a life of their own. Hoi An is one of those tourist destinations where the central and consuming business is tourism.
Tourism is always a means of extracting the maximum value from the product: ie send the poor fool home with as little money as possible. In the west this is done with great sophistication: $25 T-shirts, $8 beers, $xxx admission charges, etc. etc. Vietnam is no worse, but it has yet to learn much sophistication about the process. Prices are whatever your clothing, demeanor and actions allow. There is an assumption that this will probably be the only chance any given vendor has to get their piece, so get what you can. Like i said, really no different than our tourist spots, but the crassness and pure visibility of the grabbing grubbyness of the process grates,and becomes deeply burdensome. Too bad. We did have some lovely days, sunny, warm beautiful river, town beach. Nice wonderful rides in the country.

So we have some notes from the times we were incommunicado. I don’t know how much will be sent out when we return. Things are busy at work, and the moment will be gone.

So we’ll be in touch again when we are in CT.
love to all.

Home again, home again…

Good morning!

For some strange reason, we have a good connection this morning in Hanoi! Not that I expected it–we are staying the same hotel we have been in twice before and never had great access; but it was meant to be today, apparently.

Ending our trip independantly was very important for us both. We refreshed and reinvigorated and kept our own timetables. This meant napping in the midday and early afternoons; waiting for the intense heat to pass us by. Both Hoi An and Hue were hot–Hoi An was hottest, partly because of a weather system that was passing over that part of the country.

We met many Australians and a few Americans in Hoi An. It was their favorite spot in country. Most had been to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), and the Mekong, some also Hanoi, HaLong Bay, and SaPa. Those are the places most people visit. I must say, irritating as it became to have a guide and driver with you so much of the time, they accomplished their mission, which was to remove us from the tourist trail. While I might travel a little differently next time, I would not revert to the usual tourist hot spots. Hoi An was kind of like visiting Provincetown in the middle of the summer; except here everyone knows who is local and who is not. No hiding.

Opposite magnetic poles attract and identical poles repel. We were attracted to the old town in the early morning, when it was cooler and few tourists were out and about. By late morning and early afternoon, we were repelled by the hoardes and the behavior change in the otherwise gentle Vietnamese. In the afternoons, we left town, renting bicycles, riding the rice paddies and tiny villages filled with people who rarely see tourists. They were always pleased to see us, talking to us, sometimes getting on their bikes and riding with us, practicing English. Whenever we stopped for a beer or a watermelon slice in a tiny yard with 2 tables and 4 chairs, everyone in the neighborhood came to talk. Whichever house we selected to stop at became a momentary celebrity and the host (usually a lady) spent the entire visit beaming. One sidewalk dinner place and several small restaurants in Hoi An earned our repeat business because they treated us fairly by not jacking the prices up and serving good healthy food. Most sidewalk vendors serves a single dish, only a few offer more. But it works well and as long as that is what you want, everyone is happy. Our particular favorite in Hoi An served a rice noodle with greens and beef soup, and tableside she offered a kind of steamed sausage wrapped banana leaf that you unwrapped and put in the bowl. When you were done, she counted how many you had unwrapped and charged you for the soup accordingly. Each sausage was 2,000 dong (12 cents) and the soup with beef, greens and noodles was 10,000 dong (65 cents). If you wanted a beer, water or a coke, she walked across the street to a vendor and bought them for you and charged you 6,000-10,000 dong depending on what you wanted. That same vendor charged us 12,000 for the same items, we know because we went there once!

Hoi An was a shoppers delight. Capitalism in all its forms was practiced and we were able to shop, much as we tire of such activity. We brought back some beautiful handcrafts we have not seen in other places and had to buy a large satchel to bring it all home in.

The Chinese buildings, temples, and assembly halls in the old town were exquisite. Carved wooden dragons, phoenixes, turtles, and other important symbols of the afterlife were incredible. Many homes have been restored and are 200 years old.

This region of the country was home to the Cham (aka Chaum or Champa) culture. Not dissimilar to the Angkor people in Cambodia and Thailand, they worship many of the Hindu gods, in particular Uma and Shiva and Ganesh. But they blend these religious beliefs with Buddhism and the amalgam makes for some interesting ancient sites. Whereas the Angkor people lasted for about 300 years, the Cham people were dominant for more than 700 years. They carved enormous stone temples fully decorated with gods and goddesses throughout the region. There are at least 50 fully developed sites, at least as dramatic as Angkor Wat. Many were damaged during the war, but the French had begun extracting some of the best examples early in the 1900s and putting them in a museum, the Cham Museum in DaNang. This is a good thing, because the Vietnamese people have little respect for these things and happly removed artifacts and make the carved stones into walls to contain their pigs and as cornerstones for the cement homes. The Americans bombed only a small part of the largest site, My Son, and when the French petitioned Nixon to stop, he did. But most of the best work was long pillaged, although there is lots of partial stone work still standing.

Yesterday, on our way to Danang, we visited the Cham museum and enjoyed it. The carvings are exquisite, but we can well appreciate why the French removed as many as possible from their original locations to protect them. Many western countries have taken criticism in recent years because they rob artifacts and put them in museums. However, we can still see them today and perhaps when they can be appropriately protected, they will be returned to their country of origin. In the Cham Museum, there were many signs saying DO NOT TOUCH THE OBJECTS in both English and French. I never did see the sign in Vietnamese. The museum was full of Vietnamese and they touch every part of the statues, climb on them, put their hats on them, etc. No one ever makes the slightest attempt to stop such activities and the most interesting ones are black from finger oils. We were glad to have visited the museum, but I do wonder how long these works will hold up under such rigorous handling.

I would like to mention that we have indeed taken many, many photos. More than 1000. Once we discovered that people were anxious to have their photos taken, we used the camera whenever it made sense. They will be randomly floating across my screensaver for time immemorial and we will also put them in the special Brassco photo gallery where some of our other photos currently are displayed. This is not a site that is connected to the Brassco’s regular website, so if you want the address, just let us know. Currently, we are displaying photos from the Vanayana Mountain School, a wonderful pre-school in South Africa; Orion and Marian’s wedding, Orion and Marian’s honeymoon, and ultrasound photos of Orion and Marian’s about to born son.

Last but not least, it is interesting the choices governments make. My experiences are limited but they are all I have with which to make comparisons. Several people have asked about why there is no safe drinking water anywhere and whether that is due to Dioxin (Agent Orange) contamination. No, I don’t think Agent Orange has anything to do with it. Yes there was contamination from defoliants, and there are many who exhibit physical deformities. But the water situation (I think) is unrelated.

Countries have to make choices. This is particularly true as they attempt to modernise and become more developed. Some choose to electrify first. Some choose to educate. Some choose to make safe drinking water available to all. Some don’t choose, but instead do some things some places and other things in other places. Resources are limited always and these choices, whether deliberate or by default are never easy. Botswana has an interesting goverment and one we learned quite a bit about while there. They made very specific choices and had an extra advantage. The president of Botswana was president for about 30 years, so any programs he instituted had time to develop fully. He chose to make water that was safe for drinking available everywhere. Botswana is a country with the Chobe River and possibly only one other, possibly no other (I can’t quite remember). To provide safe water was a daunting task and he did it successfully. His next priority was education and many, many children go to school. What was sacrificed in their modernisation efforts was electrification and sewer.

Vietnam chose electrification and education over water and sewer. It may be that in order to provide safe water in this country, electrification is necessary. It may that wells (as were dug in Botswana and Madagascar, for that matter) cannot be dug here and water may need to be pumped from big reservoirs. It may be that the groundwater has been brackish and polluted due to centuries of agriculture and population and that clean water is an unaffordable concept. I don’t know what the future plans are but it seems to me that long before safe drinking water will come from a tap, people will need to be taught not to throw everything they don’t want on the ground, and taught to dig pits for latrines instead of burning waste or allowing human and animal waste to run into the agriculture irrigation system. They are masters at irrigation, and I suppose that the water quality is far less important when compared to the need to feed their population. No matter where you go, you see bamboo water pipes running adjacent to streams and for miles and miles, eventually ending in a cement ditch and diverted from this rice paddy to that one. Masters at water control. It is a wonder.

My comments are not to imply that the water is not clean. It is not safe to drink but it is generally clean. A bathtub full looks crystal clear, no sediment, no cloudiness. Vietnamese people are immaculate. They wash their clothes in streams that are certainly not crystal clear, but they wear long white silk garments that are spotless and brilliantly white.

This trip has been one of the more wonderful experiences in my life. I could not be happier at this moment. Normally, after 6 weeks of travel (sometimes sooner), I am ready to come home. That is not true today. I am in many places at once, work, home, and here; but I could stay longer. That is a first. I am so grateful that my life is such that I can do these things.

See you all soon, this is the end of my Vietnam diaries I expect.

Our Trip to Alaska

As our regular customers know, Horton Brasses closes each August for 3 weeks vacation. Some of us travel; most of us are pretty local, enjoying families and Connecticut beaches and New England in general. Toby and I have a lust for travel and this year it was Alaska or bust.

This year’s trip was unusual, in that Toby left on July 19 with his parents in our RV. We had a 29 foot RV that slept 4 comfortably. He and his parents drove to Alaska, stopping along the way at various places in Canada, enjoying the ride along the way. On August 3rd I met up with them in Anchorage. I flew into town, as I could not leave the Brassco until we officially closed.

Read more abour our trip to Alaska and see our photos.

August in Madagascar

In August of 2001, Toby and I went to Madagascar. Madagascar is the 4th largest island on earth, and is located off the east coast of Africa. First settled 2000 years ago by Indonesians, today it is a mix of many tribes. The country is 1000 miles long and 300 miles wide, and has all types of terrain: mountains, plains, dry and arid areas, and rainforest. This is a photo of the capital city, Antananarivo, but widely called Tana (TAH nah).

Read more and see our photos.

Building a house in Botswana

Welcome to our trip to Botswana!

Why Botswana? Well, Botswana is one of the countries in Africa where Habitat for Humanity International works. We have always felt that Habitat for Humanity does good work, and we have supported them financially. We have, however, never volunteered our time. Most of our time in Africa was spent with the Habitat group and we built a house in the village of Kasane.

See our photos from the trip, and read more about the trip.

food and cooking


Here we are, still in Hue. The food is exceptional. According to the guidebooks, Hue is a trendsetter for Vietnamese cuisine and they do have their own style. We have eaten at a number of local establishments, there is usually an English menu translation so it makes ordering easier. The north, of course, had no English menus.

Toby had wonderful eels last night, I didn’t try them but he loved them. Small ones about 8″ long and as thick as your little finger. Mixed with seaweed. The restaurant suggested we come back and try the big eel dish which they said was even better, as big as your arm and stewed with tomatos. One night we had the most tender squid I ever could have imagined. Not at all rubbery, and cooked with pineapple and onions! Unbelievably delicious and not a combination I would ever have tried.

In the north, the kitchens were a detached or semi-detached building. Sometimes a three sided leanto like structure. If it had 4 sides, the smoke escaped through the roof if thatched, the places where it joined the sides if corrugated, and the windows. I don’t know if I have explained, but the term window means an opening in the wall. There is no glass, generally, but sometimes there are shutters because it can get cold. The hotels usually have glass in the rooms or shutters, as at night there is insect penetration, but homes rarely do. Mosquito nets are how you prevent insect bites at night in most places. Only a newly built home in the north might have glass. Doors are open all day long, much as in Africa. Life is lived outside.

Here in the south, however, heat is an issue and many stores, restaurants and buildings are air conditioned. As a result, there is glass in the windows. Still they are open every day, as are the doors but when the heat is intense, the A/C is on and I am sure things are closed up.

One thing that is new in the south is they have indoor kitchens. Instead of cooking over a wood or coal fire on the floor (even hotels in the north do this), they have a stove with a gas burner or two. And a counter or a table at some kind of normal height. Cooking is not done in a squat, sitting on the heals position, at least in town. In towns in the north or the country, cooking is often done outside on the sidewalk. They buy disks made of pressed coal dust mixed with something to keep it together. Each disc is about 8″ in diameter and about 8″ high and filled with round holes. They go in a specially shaped hibachi style cooker. Two are used each day, one after the other. It is not unusual to be walking on the sidewalk and run across a completely untended cooker, burning hot and what one would call dangerous here. Most people do not walk on the sidewalk anyway because that is where motorbikes park and also outdoor cafes occupy the entire sidewalk, plus there are big holes leading to some kinds of underground drainage that you could fall in.

It seems like there might be slightly less smoke in the air but I am not sure of this.

Transport: Here there are about 30 motorbikes for every car. about 10 trucks for every car and about 50 bicycles for every car. The few cars there are are often driven by government officials or NGO’s. All government officials have blue license plates. NGO’s have black plates with a red NG on it. The Army has red plates. Everyone else has white plates and the first 2 numbers designate what province they are from. Government officials and NGO’s drive huge, gas guzzling SUV’s and the government officials drive them very, very fast. Generally other people, NGO’s and the Army never reach a speed of more than 60kmp. (40mph). Those blue plated cars come at you at probably 90Kmp. It is rather scary.

Most places we have been where motorbikes are the primary method of transport are very loud. There can be lots of unmuffled ones and the sounds of their engines echo off the cement buildings. Here all motorbikes are limited to 125cc and are seriously muffled. This is universal no matter where you go and it makes motorbikes quiet. A joy, in fact, compared to other spots we have been.

While there are mini-shrines and pagodas and temples in the north, it was only fairly recently that the government stopped discouraging religious practices. There are still some that are discouraged but here in the south, many (possibly most) families have one or several mini-shrines in their yards. Incense is burned and people pray. We have seen more Buddhist monks here, we only saw 4 once in Hanoi, but here there are more. Not like in Thailand, but more nonetheless.

There are more birds here, we can hear them in the trees and also in the trees outside the hotel windows, there are many bats. They are all flitting from tree to tree, eating some kind of fruit. Wildlife may be more plentiful here.

Yesterday we went to one of the tombs in the country, we rented bikes for the first time on our own. It was fine and we had a great time. I think we will go to the ocean tomorrow on motorbikes with our new friends.

See some of you soon, I will be glad to come home as much fun as it has been to come here,


Boy do I love to travel – toby rant

I was laying in bed the other night, listening to motorbikes clearing the way with their horns, and just revelling in how much i love to be on the road travelling.

General rant:
We get asked by a fair number of people: why vietnam? or why whatever? but the real truth is we (OK, I, I’ll let Barb speak for herself) just love to be out and travelling. You’ve heard the relevant quotes I’m sure, about it being the voyage, not the arrival, etc. I love being outside my comfort zone, I love being on the steep end of the learning curve, I really love having my assumptions, and perspective challanged.

I worry, because many things I comment on are ways of looking at things that I find different or curious. I hope this doesn’t lead to thinking that I am judging or comparing the merits of another way of looking at the world. I’m really just a kid, amazed at the workings of the world, and I love coming to the realization that once again, my assumptions about what is right, or normal are only the narrowness of my own vision.

Guide book nazis:

Guide books are really important. Without them we could get stranded somewhere without food or lodging at a really awkward time. But it sure is curious how important it is to step outside them. We had a fun lesson the other night.

We wanted to eat well. Hue is a cosmopolitan city, young Vietnamese here are stylish, are very worldly, and have pretty good taste in entertainment and food; so here we can get a wide variety of food, many vietnamese styles of cooking as well as varied asian, and european cuisine.

Looked in the guidebook and there’s several suggestions. It mentioned some places being popular, so go early. We had been internetting, so it wasn’t. Walked by two of the places mentioned, and there wasn’t a seat in the house. Full of pretty much exclusively european (yeh that includes aussies, go figure) faces. We walk 50 yards around a corner, and there’s this beautiful restaurant, linen tablecloths, neat as a pin, and one large vietnamese family in the whole place. No menu posted, which is too bad, we do like reading menus. We’ve gotten a bit more comfortable with just walking in, asking to look at a menu and not necessarily staying. Here we stayed.

Upshot is we had a world class meal, worthy of at least one star in the Michelin guide. We ordered the menu, 5 small courses or so. Finishing up with the most tender, tasty, and succulent calamari I have ever had, cooked with pineapple, and onion in a unbelievable fish sauce. Very expensive for our average budget here: $10.00 total.

Small world. The next day we were riding our bikes past Hue university, and there was volleyball going on. Stopped in to watch. Ran into the waitress from the restaurant, a French student from Na Trang. Greeted like we were family.

Cable & Satallite TV:

Good hotels ($10 and up) usually have satallite TV, with cable running to each room. There’s a fun little quirk that takes some getting used to.
It’s not cable like we are used to. There’s the satallite dish, of couse, and a tuner in the lobby. Trick is that whatever the tuner in the lobby is set to is what you get on the satallite. Other that that channel, you are just getting local TV which is VTV1,2, &3. Real trick is that if the clerk in the lobby gets bored with what’s on, they will just switch the channel; and suddenly you aren’t watching the last 10 minutes of a good soccer game, you are watching an Arnold movie on Cinemax. If things are really poor, they may start surfing channels. I think if it were a good movie I could holler down to the lobby, and get the channel I wanted, if I knew how to communicate that message.

Who needs TV anyways.

REpost #2

Further digressions from Toby, rehashing thoughts lost in the ether once already:

Market economies:

Once before we travelled to a former Communist country, the Czech republic, and it was interesting to note the transitions required.
Now we are in a communist country, with “free market oriented” policy, and it is indeed interesting. We in north america take it for granted like drinkable water, but there’s a lot of underlying assumptions in our economy that are difficult lessons.

Supply and retailing:

In vietnam, you will be totally frustrated in finding an item for sale, only to find a dozen shops all together, all with pretty much the same items.

There’s a barber street, with 6 or even 20 barbers all set up under umbrellas with portable cases with their equipment. Everyone on town knows where to go for a haircut, and you are sure to find an available barber in a short time.

Same for hats, ceramic tile, grave markers, you name it. And in the right area, you will find nothing else. Walking down the street of tin knockers, fabricating amazing things, from roof vents, to doors, using the entire road for cutting larger sheets, was an auditory experience beyond belief. It was really neat, soldering, cutting shaping, metal work of every kind all up and down the street.

Same general idea goes for production. There is a stretch on Highway 5, the large divided highway from Halong bay to Hanoi where all the thick-soy-sauce-with-sticky-rice-sauce in the entire country is made. The stretch of road actually has been renamed after the seasoning (sorry name not here). So for maybe 2km the house numbers go from 1 Thuoc Duc to 340 or something Thuoc Duc; maybe 150 to 300 placeson both sides of the road all producing particular family recipes of this sauce. In containers from 1 oz. to what looks like 5 gallon jugs. There’s a couple of stores in Hanoi that send out a truck to stock this stuff, but most Vietnamese just wait until a friend, or friend of a friend, goes down this stretch of highway, and then they stock up.
There’s a wonderful sticky rice snack that is mixed with peanuts, and cooked up in a piece of green bamboo. THis must be eaten fresh. And the only place its available in the entire country is on a stretch of road on a back highway way off in a corner of the northeast. And when you go down that stretch, there’s 30-40 different thatched shelters with a charcoal fire making them. Both our guide and driver loved this snack, we liked it, but the idea of it being available anywhere else but the natural place it’s made seems to appear strange to them. No enterprising rice-bamboo maker has set up a stand in thickly settled Haiphong, or anything, and the idea is most definitely “foreign”.

Market efficiency:

Barb stopped into an art gallery and picked out a few of maybe a dozen different hand painted cards. Water colors, oils, embossed copper, all beautiful. She pulled out stack after stack of cards, picked a few and just heaped them up as she picked them out, returned the stack to the display case, handing the pile over to the friendly and warm clerk when she was done.

  1. We sorted the cards into the correct 12 piles according to artist, style and size.
  2. Each item was entered into a receipt book, detailed description, quantity.
  3. Barb got the receipt book and the quantities were checked.
  4. Barb was given the price, and she and the clerk agreed on the extended price of each.
  5. Barb piles everything into a bag.
  6. Each page of the receipt was tallied. Barb made the mistake of carrying over the total from page 1 to page
  7. Two separate sales are required.
  8. Payment made, change returned.
  9. Everything comes out of the bag and is sorted again into the correct 12 piles.
  10. The clerk goes into the display case and painstakingly finds one of each of the cards we had bought, making a pile with one of each. This is to determine which artist had their work sold, and would now be paid for their work.
  11. She neatly repacks the bag.

Elapsed time: nearly 20 minutes from when we actually started to pay.
Cards: avg.of around 50 cents for hand painted work.
Don’t think this will scale well for full market ecomomy.
All teething problems.


Be warnedthat this is a second attempt to frame the thoughts that were lost with a defective keyboard mentioned in a priormessage.

First, I want to follow up on my depressing air quality missive. I got a reply from our foreman, who was at Bin Hoa airbase in 1969, and he told me that then, the air in vietnam was clearer and bluer, that the air at home. Thank goodness for the clean air efforts of the last 35 years, and let’s hope to hell the environmental laws aren’t weakened like some would wish.

There’s a fair number of cats here. They all are skinny as a rail like tropical cats all seem to be. They look like close cousins to Siamese cats except that they have a normal variety of catlike pattern, tabby, calico, whatever. In the countryside they are utility animals, rice protectors if you will. We got puzzlingly smiling responses when we asked what the cat’s name was of a few people; the notion of naming a cat, or calling it anything but cat is amusing and definitely viewed as strange. There never seemsto be any kind of overpopulation of cats, I think that kitten mortality and limited food resources take care of that.
We did actually run into a cat that had been bought when we were on an outlying island in Bai Tu Long Bay. This was an all black cat, and I was told that it was “very expensive”. It is common knowledge that there is some organ in black cats (this didn’t translate very well, so I don’t know what organ) that is the best medicine for serious eye problems. This cat, mind you is 7 years old. Probably the only cat around who’s age is actually known. Unbenownst to the cat, it is waiting for someone in the family to have an eye problem, and then….
I don’t know what will happen if there are no problems, do you let the cat just get old and decrepit, or harvest it?

Beating a (nearly) dead horse

Greetings to one and all,

I had rather hoped that my war posts had ended but they have not. Sorry to those who are sick and tired of the subject, just delete this email!

Our last day in Hanoi was spent at the Women’s Museum. I had tried to go to that during our first few days, but it was closed. It was extremely interesting to me, but also eye-opening, to say the least. The museum had a variety of exhibits (4 floors), there were photos of famous Vietnamese women who were scientists, economists, teachers, athletes, and so forth. The Communist Party has worked hard to document and pay tribute to achievement, as you would expect. There also was a floor dedicated to hand crafts, some very remarkable bamboo weaving and silk weaving, fabric arts, and that sort of thing. There was a floor dedicated to the ethnic minority women–full mannequins in traditional costumes. Many we had not seen before, many were from the south and so we have not run into them. Also I learned that there are ethnic Viet minorities, ethnic Cong minorities, two groups I have not seen mentioned at all anywhere. There are some minority groups who are nearly extinct and because they generally do not intermarry, will soon be so. One group has a mere 400 people left in a single village, near SaPa. We met a British tourist who had trekked there. The majority of the Vietnamese people are from the Kinh group, and that is what we refer to as Vietnamese today. I would be very curious to know how the Viet people and the Cong people fit into these populations, as linguistically, I would have expected the Vietnamese people to be of Viet origin. These things are nearly impossible to discover here at least.

But the real crux of the women’s museum was dedicated to the women who served during the Indochine War (French) and the American wars. Whew! Yes lots of propaganda. Aren’t all nations adicted to it? But truly chilling exhibits, so much so that I had to skip a few. The museum was nearly deserted when we arrived but when we were well into that particular floor, at least 50 students arrived, mid teens. Also several Vietnamese tour groups. They swarmed the floor and I sure did feel uncomfortable. No one made me feel that way, it is just that we are Americans and this floor was documenting the horrors of war. And frankly the horrors of war are universal. The photos of women capturing downed pilots in the north and of American GI’s tromping through the MeKong Delta were just as horrifying as images of captured women soldiers. The fake ID badges north Vietnamese spies used in US bases were chilling, the letters from young soldiers to their mothers in the north epitomized sadness. I hope to forget some of these images someday soon.

And to add to this assault of emotion, we have now arrived in the south. We are south of the DMZ in Hue. Hue is the site of a major battle during TET and images you may have of hand to and combat in the Citadel are from Hue. Hue is an ancient city and dynasties were centered here. At one point, it was the captital of Vietnam.

The south is very, very different than the north. Clearly many, many people here were supporters of the Americans and just as soldiers in the north wanted to talk to us, soldiers from the south do too. We have been ‘adopted’ by two men, one 53 and the other 64. Both have numerous family members in the US. We had coffee with them and they took us to a quieter hotel on their motorbikes. Sunday, they will pick us up and take us into the Hue countryside. The older man was a south Vietnamese Army soldier but not an officer and so was not imprisoned after the war. He has a pretty nasty injury (which I have seen, everyone wants to show us their injuries) just above his ankle. He is deeply indebted to the American army doctors, as when he was injured during TET in Hue, he was taken to the airbase (now the airport used by Vietnam Airlines that we arrived at). Doctors there did an outstanding job and there is no doubt that had he not seen our docs, he would have lost part of his leg. He also told me about a Vietnamese woman who was pregnant and had run to the base for protection during the assault, and how she was hemorraging. She and he arrived at roughly the same time and he found a doctor to help her. He was overwhelmed at the dignity and privacy the doctors afforded her and they saved her unborn infant. The younger man, the man who ‘found’ us has a brother who was a major in the south Vietnamese army. He was imprisoned for 8 years after the war, as were many officers. Once released, he was permitted to apply to leave and he did. He now is retired and lives in San Francisco. His two sisters married Americans some years after the war and left the country in the mid 80’s. One lives only a few blocks from the Twin Towers and saw it all on 9/11. The other lives in Seattle. I am sure as we get to know them, we will learn the other side.

Both men said that there were very hard times after ’75 but that things are pretty good now. Neither has ever been to the north and were very curious what it was like! For some reason that surprised me, but I think people who were from the south with American sympathies may not travel much.

Enough, enough!
Tam Biet,