Monday, December 31, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.31.10

Lazy day.  Ran a few errands early but kicked back in the afternoon before heading to the Da Nang University English language department New Year's Eve party.  January 1 is not a traditional Vietnamese holiday but the English speakers will mark the occasion, at least until 21:00. We are back at the hotel by 21:30.

The evening was yet another adventure and magic moment.  Tuyet arranged for a taxi that took us to a restaurant/ballroom south of the center city.  The party was quite the affair with spouses, children, a large buffet, karaoke and dancing.  Most of the activity was in Vietnamese but it wasn't too hard to figure out what was going on.  The staff--all female--we've worked with looked very different in cocktail dresses.  At 20:00 Maggie and I marked the new year's arrival at the international date line.  Now it's just two hours away here in Da Nang.  Another 15 hours until the new year in Olympia.

It's hard not to compare this New Year's Eve in Vietnam with my first.  At the end of 2010 I am happy and energized, the company of someone I love very much, enjoying Vietnamese hospitality, and looking forward to the new year.  Forty years ago as the new year arrived I was alone, depressed, afraid of Vietnamese, and facing the very real possibility that I would not live to see another new year.  I have no guarantee now that I will see another new year but I begin this one with joy and hope.   

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Fiction Reads

Unlike my non-fiction selections, three of the most interesting and novels I read in 2012 were actually published during the year.  My taste in fiction runs in many directions but my list shows that history tends to grab my attention.  So does a laugh out loud story.

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, Stephen L. Carter, (2012) 
A counterfactual tale of political intrigue well told.  Abraham Lincoln survives the assassination attempt only face impeachment two years later.  The narrative centers on Lincoln’s defense team including the story of an unlikely but believable strong, female African-American law intern engaging the white oligarchy.  Carter recreates 19th century Washington—its sights and its feels—as well as the parry and thrust of the impeachment proceedings.  Mostly fast paced, sometimes burdened by detail and procedure, the story is clever and engaging. 

HHhH, Laurent Binet, (2009, translation 2012) 
“Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”—HHhH for short in German—recounts the life and assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, number 2 in the SS and known variously as “the most dangerous man in the Third Reich”, “The Beast” and “Butcher of Prague”.  HHhH is a tense action story that builds toward the climax the reader knows will come.  At the same time, it is a reflection on the art of writing.  HHhH is delivered in short bursts—257 sections, some only a sentence or two, few span more than a page—the pacing moves all three stories, Heydrich, the assassins and the writer, to their inevitable intersection.

Enchantments, Kathryn Harrison (2012)
Grigory Rasputin’s 18 year-old daughter, Masha, becomes the companion of Tsarevitch Alexi after her father is murdered in the final days of the Romanov autocracy.  Masha is a child who grows up quickly and gives a good account of life in the Tsar’s household after his is forced to abdicate and then held prisoner at Tsarskoye Selo in the year before the Bolsheviks killed the entire family.  Masha escapes through a marriage arranged by her father—a loveless affair that had the benefit of enabling her escape to France.  Her final escape is to the circus where her Siberian experience riding horses earns her a spot in a performing troupe that brings her to the US where she also stars as a wild animal trainer until she is mauled by a bear in Peru, Indiana in 1935.

The Sojourn, Andrew Krivak (2011)
An infant tossed from a Colorado railroad trestle by a mother and older child trapped in the path of an oncoming locomotive in the opening scene grabs the reader’s attention right off and Krivak’s sustained narrative holds it.  The tossed infant is rescued to become Jozef Vinich whose father returns to his native Austria-Hungary in the decade before World War I.  Jozef leans to learn the hard life of a shepherd and acquires survival skills that will see him through the war that engulfs his home in his 15th year.  Krivak evokes all of the skill, horror and sheer chance that is the soldier’s life.  Most of all, Krivak honors the endurance of the combat soldier.  The Sojourn is well and beautifully written with a sense of place that gives the story a truthful depth. 

My New American Life, Francine Prose, 2011
Illegal Albanian immigrant to the US, 26 year-old Lula, lives in the in the New Jersey suburbs as somewhat of a nanny in an estranged family.  Her well-meaning, well-off liberal employer has an old friend who is the dean of immigration lawyers in New York who has all but secured legal residency for Lula.  The household is strange.  Sullen teenager, Zeke, and his ascetic father, both abandoned by mother/wife Ginger are as strange to Albanian Lula as she is to them.  Along the way, the reader meets her Albanian “cousins”, the lawyer Don, his associate and enough incidental characters to move the plot along smoothly.  Francine Prose weaves a good story, tells it well, and is fun to read.


Vietnam Journal 12.30.10

Spent the morning evaluating students for placement in the English language program.  Most were employees of the Da Nang city government with engineering and architectural degrees.  Each had three minutes to answer my questions about themselves and their work.  Most had very limited proficiency despite their professional accomplishments.  I felt badly about giving them low ratings--many had studied English for years--but they simply lacked the ability to communicate with me in English.  A generous score would have been no favor.  As always, I listened carefully, trying to filter out all of the background noise.  I found that it was usually apparent pretty soon into the interview how each student spoke English. My initial impression might go up or down slightly as the conversation progressed but never dramatically.  According to Tuyet, students may study English for years but have little opportunity to speak it and are unable to develop proficiency.

Notes from the student interviews

Maggie and I taught our last classes this evening.  Although it is very hard work, am sorry to see the classes end.  I am so energized and happy speaking to and working with the students I don't mind the effort.  But all things must pass and so too will this adventure.  But the memory will never end.  More importantly this experience will forever change my perception of Vietnam.  Tonight, with the thrilling excitement of class, seems to completely blot out the memory of war, of the fear, of the spookiness that has always been Vietnam to me.  That's a profound change.  I now see and experience Vietnam as a place of peace and very friendly people.  For that reason I can confidently say that the trip has accomplished all that I hoped for.

And it's not over.  We still have seven full days left, including Ha Noi, so there is much to anticipate.  Even when the trip ends, I can look forward to returning to life in Olympia, seeing friends and simply understanding all that I have seen and done during 25 days in Vietnam.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Non-Fiction

Among the books I read in 2012 these four--none of which were published in 2012--were the most interesting non-fiction works.  

The Beauty and the Sorrow:  An Intimate History of the First World War, Peter Englund (2011)
This is war up close as seen in the detail of diaries from all sides and ranks, officer and enlisted, reluctant conscript and enthusiastic patriot, cynic and idealist.  Also a Scottish nurse, a Venezuelan cavalryman and a 12 year old German girl.  The detail is combined with extensive research on the war’s social and economic impact, military operations, weapons and tactics to give the reader a granular account of an event that of far eclipses its many individuals.  It is this detail that allows a reader to experience the First World War as an individual.  At that level, the story is timeless.

The Essays of E.B. White, E.B. White (1977)
White is the master of the essay form and a master of style as well.  This collection spans 40 years mid 20th century life, culture and society in settings diverse as rural New England, New York City and Florida.  The essays seem at first glance gentle--largely due to White’s economical writing and ability to cradle serious thought into seemingly mundane events—but the gentleness masks a sharp edge that cuts to the heart of the matter.  White is in turn serious, humorous and always understanding. 

Rainbow Bridge to Monument Valley:  Making the Modern Old West, Thomas J. Harvey (2011)
A thoughtful history of how the modern old west was created in the Colorado Plateau along the Arizona-Utah border.  The narrative traces how successive occupants wove the landscape into their spiritual and national identities.  First came Navajos who found Rainbow Bridge on the land they inhabited and recognized the great arch as a key to their own emergence stories.  Zane Gray sought authenticity for his novels.  John Ford extolled American myths in the backdrop of Monument Valley.  Environmentalists fought to preserve unspoiled places even as modern tourism changed those places forever.  Throughout all these changes Navajos remain, living in two worlds. 

With All Disrespect, Calvin Trillin (1985)
This collection of Calvin Trillin’s “Uncivil Liberties” column for The Nation covers the years 1982 through most of 1984.  The columns are is just as funny now as when Trillin first wrote them.  When he is on target, as in his 1984 column on Ronald Reagan’s “disengagement” from the affairs of his office, Trillin is laugh-out-loud-funny.  Even when he isn’t that funny, his columns are suffused with a wry and clever humor that encourages readers to think after they’ve chuckled.   I don’t know how they would appeal to readers who do not have direct memories of those early Reagan years.  With that memory Trillin’s essays tell me that things haven’t changed much.  The dollar figures are higher but the human foibles and peccadilloes are unchanged. 

Vietam Journal 12.29.12

Today's theme is "from My Quang to pizza".  We began by joining Tuyet and Tien for a My Quang brunch.  My Quang is a local specialty:  noodles with peanuts, spices served with various meats.  We had river fish.  My students asked me last week if I'd had it.  Now I can say yes and that it is very good. 

After brunch we bought a replacement camera and shopped for a thank you silk scarf for the friend who drove us to the airport to begin this trip.  At that point we were "adopted" by a young man named Anh who guided us to a nearby optical shop where Maggie ordered a new pair of glasses for $25.  We had to wait an hour for the glasses so we went with Anh to a restaurant for a soda. 

Along the way he told us his story.  He speaks English well because he learned from his parents--that was his only education he received because his father worked for the Americans during the what the Vietnamese call the American War.  As the child of a collaborator, he has no education or opportunity.  He makes his living selling postcards to  American tourists.  For all that, he called himself lucky.  No American would ever think those circumstances were lucky.

Maggie and I each did one class this evening.  I worked with Ms. Hanh's class for the third time.  I talked about Washington State, and what people do in Olympia on weekends.  Then Ms. Hanh divided the class into groups and asked each to tell me about  the relative importance of time.  They expressed themselves well and displayed a very thoughtful appreciation for the value of time over money.

After class we came back to the neighborhood around our hotel for pizza at the French restaurant Nha Leo.  It's run by a French expatriate married to a Vietnamese.  The pizza was excellent--thin crust topped with a zesty sauce and vegetables.  Dessert was a freshly baked chocolat foundant a la mode, still warm from the oven.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.28.10

07:35  Slept pretty well.  My gut doesn't feel nearly as bad as yesterday.  I hammered it last night with  anti-diarrheal antibiotics we brought with us.  Maybe it will be better today.  Still not enthusiastic about food just yet.  This is a time for comfort food but that will be hard to come by in Da Nang.

Afternoon:  Talked with an afternoon class at the new Da Nang University campus south and west of the center city.  The class was for interpreters.  The initial format was for me to speak and the instructor would ask students to tell her in Vietnamese what I told them.  Then pairs of students presented a narrative to me, one in Vietnamese and the other in English.  They told me about famous places in Vietnam, Vietnamese food, Valentine's Day in Vietnam, changing weather patterns and how Vietnamese families are changing.  They all did well but I understood the later narratives better.  Maybe I got used to their accents  Or maybe the later pairs were just better.

17:28  Waiting for evening class in the teachers' lounge.  A Chinese period (1600s?) soap opera is playing on the TV in the corner.  Very elaborate costumes with dialogue dubbed in Vietnamese.  Aside from the setting (grand palaces) and the costumes, it has the look of any US soap opera; something about the quality of the image on this screen in Vietnam looks just like "Days of Our Lives" or "The Guiding Light".

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.27.10

This is the week for travel challenges, I guess.  Yesterday, the lost camera.  Today my gut is tied in knots.  I made it through one class tonight and but did not have the energy for a second class.  So here I am, in bed at 20:00.  That's about all I can say for the day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.26.10

Today was a lot of  fun until we realized that we left our camera in a taxi as we hurriedly bailed out to catch the evening bus to Da Nang.  We'd spent an otherwise fund day traveling with our guide, Mr. Tich, to Hoi An, about an hour and a half south of Da Nang. The loss put a real damper on the day and is an abrupt change from the wonderful experiences of the past week. 

Before that event, we found English language books at Randy's Book Exchange (one reason we came) toured the Old City that dates back over 300 years to when Japanese and Chinese traders established their trading bases there.  Hoi An was the major port in southeast Asia until ships became too large and trade moved to deeper water in Da Nang.  On this day after Christmas the Old City was alive with trade:  tourists and the many shops that cater to them.

We traveled from Da Nang to Hoi An by local bus.  Mr. Tich handled all the arrangements.  The bus was packed with people, some building materials and a bicycle.  The three of us wedged into maybe two seats in the back of the bus.  The trip back was similar--less additional cargo but certainly full.  We discovered the missing camera en route to Da Nang.  Mr. Tich called the taxi company with no definite results.  He will try again tomorrow.  Maybe whoever finds it will turn it in. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.25.10

Christmas Eve was the Dorinly Cafe' grand opening.  Maggie and I attended.  We were the only non-Vietnamese. The opening featured a nmber of fine singers and muscians, including the owner's wife who also played piano, his younger brother, a back up keyboard player and guitarist who was especially good.  The owner even sang a song dedicated to us.  Pretty damn amazing in a country where I am a complete stranger. 

Christmas day in Da Nang looks pretty mch like any other day.  Maggie and I had breakfast with Chuck [initial contact] and Tuyet [university language instructor], a long leisurely morning in a small restaurant located in a side alley off Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street not far from the university.  It was the kind of alley I would hesitate to enter on my own but the restaurant was, in fact, quite pleasant.  We talked of many things:  English and Vietnamese language, travel plans, experiences in Vietnam and America.  After about three hours, we left with Tuyet to have her acupuncturist look at Maggie's painful shoulder.  He could not help but the trip took us down another side alley that we would not otherwise enter.

Made it to the Bread of Life restaurant, the place to go in Da Nang for western (mostly) food, where they serve American, Australian or English traditional Christmas menus.  Shared a table with a Marine Vietnam vet who is now married to a Vietnamese woman and has two young children. On the way over we crossed the Song Ha Bridge on foot during its rush hour closure.  Below us families were out on the riverbank plaza.  There were kids tooling about in small electric cars, an inflatable fishing pond and food vendors. 

After dinner we walked along the promenade that parallels Bach Dang Street.  Lots of people were out as well, enjoying the lights and warm evenning.  We saw a long line of people waiting to photograph themselves in a Christmas booth  In contrast, construcion workes were on the job a a near by  building site.  So here we have the contrast of thr two Vietnams:  one is a modern, trendy society, the other a third world country where hard work is the inevitable lot in life.

Our walk revealed to us the light show under the Song Ha Bridge:  the piers light up with different colors and in sync with lights on the suspension cables.  We had seen the cable lights previously but that was only half of the show.  All pretty cool.  In all, a good day out with Maggie.

All so much better than Christmas in Vietnam 1970.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.23.10

We are done with classes for the week.  Normally, class would be held Friday night but tomorrow is Christmas Eve and classes are canceled.  We have three completely free days.  I think tomorrow will be filled with errands downtown and tomorrow evening we are invited to the Cafe' Dorinly for an evening of music.  The invitation came when Maggie and I stopped in for an iced Sai Gon coffee out while walking in the neighborhood of our hotel.  The owner speaks English and joined us for a conversation during which he told us that the cafe' is brand new and that we are his first foreign guests.  Christmas Eve will be the grand opening. 

We spent the afternoon with Xuan Tich, one of the instructors at the university who also doubles as a tour guide.  Our tour began as a practical one--find a bookstore that sells English language books and find an inexpensive cell phone to use in Vietnam.  We were successful in the latter endeavor, less so on the former.  Once the practical stuff was out of the way we went to the Pham Lap Pagoda in the foothills of Nui Son Tra.  The pagoda is the site of a massive (67 meter) statue of Buddha,  Mr. Tich explained some of the Buddhist iconography and traditions.  He said Pham Lap is the best pagoda in Da Nang.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.22.10

Today we learned that the Song Ha bridge closes at 4:30 to all but motorbike traffic so our taxi ride to the university ended up costing 150 VND instead of 50 VND ($7.50 vs S2.50).  We got a good tour of the northern part of the Son Tra Peninsula and crossed the Thuan Phouc Bridge which spans the mouth of the Song Ha River where it empties into Da Nang Bay.  The bridge is a spectacular twin tower suspension bridge.  I can see it in the distance from my hotel room.

Classes tonight were fun.  One class was the beginner level class that I worked with Monday night.  Tonight we played Truth or Dare, a game where groups chose cards with challenges that hey had to express in English.  Once again the students were shy and soft-spoken.  The second class was mostly question and answer where it seemed like I did a lot of talking but I did manage to get students to ask questions.  This is my third night and like the two previous nights I am brain dead tired.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.21.10

Early morning in Da Nang.  The city is beginning to awaken.  From y hotel window, I see workers at a neary construction site eating breakfast.  A few bicycles ar on the street.  No motorbikes just yet.  The din of the workday has not yet begun but hints are in the air.  I hear an occasional shout.  Soon there will be many more.

The construction site I see is a nine story high-rise.  The workers wear shorts and sandals mainly--no hard hats, steel-toed boots or other protective gear.  A few wear face masks, the same masks I see many motorbike drivers wearing.  The construction site has chickens.

I am becoming somewhat proficient at crossing streets in traffic.  It is a leap of faith in that I step into whatever (usually small) opening I find in the lane nearest me,and walk toward the other curb, letting the traffic flow around me.  It always works but it challenges everything I learned about crossing streets as a child.  A few intersections have traffic and pedestrian signals, which make crossing less nerve-wracking, but even these can produce surprises.  Marked crossings are abundant but largely ignored.

Walking on the sidewalk is no guarantee against traffic either..  Pedestrians must watch for motorbikes coming across walkways and into building.  Less visible are the motorbikes rolling out of buildings to the street.  Most sidewalks are clogged with parked motorbikes, food carts, gypsy entrepreneurs and other obstacles so pedestrians often step in to the street to get around them.  Takes some getting used too.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.20.10

Back at the hotel now after three hours of conversing with English language students at Da Nang University.  It is hard work!  Maggie and I spoke to separate classes so we are both pretty tired.  But it was also a lot of fun.  My first session was with about 20freshman/intermediate students, all very shy and soft spoken.  I probably talked too much at first but after a while we got a bit of conversation going, mainly about Christmas.  My second session was with three higher level students;  Moon who works for a trading company, Chan who is an economics major university student and My who is a 16 year old secondary student.  That session was a bit easier but still challenging.  Between the students' accents, soft voices, poor acoustics and my bad hearing I had to work very hard to understand what they were saying.  I'll be doing this all week.

When we came out of the university Le Daun Street was all lit up with decorations for the holidays, very bright and very festive.  Except for the dark, it could have been mid-day--all of the shops were open, sidewalks were crammed with parked motorbikes and people.  Even the street corner mechanic with his air compressor and gasoline in a liquor bottle was still at work. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.19.10

More impressions of HCMC:  Smoggy gray air blankets the city, not surprising given all of the vehicles spewing exhaust.  Along with the exhaust is the constant din of motors and horns.  Just walking around the block last night was overload.

Driving into the city yesterday we saw numerous high rises, easily the equal of anything in the US, under construction or newly completed.  We also saw billboards advertising luxury condos for rent and another advertising the American School of HCMC.  Somehow this just doesn't seem quite right for a nation that forced the US to abandon its attempt to save South Vietnam from the Communism.  The difference is probably more the result of changing world economics and the "ultimate triumph" of capitalism that forces even Communists to accept the New World Order.

Note:  later in the day we arrived in Da Nang and ate lunch at the bar fight restaurant.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.18.10

In Ho Chi Minh City for one night on way to Da Nang.  Drove in from Cat Thien.  Took about four hours, last two were in what I would have to describe as the most horrendous traffic I've ever experienced:  Bumper-to-bumper in a sea of motorbikes.  That was just getting to the city limits!  In HCMC traffic is a steady stream the moves largely on its own with out the benefit of traffic signals in most intersections.  Turning left requires a certain amount of steely determination.  For all that, though, accidents seem rare.

I'm learning that Vietnam moves by motorbike.  Sure, there are many lorries and large transports, including the occasional Freightliner 18-wheeler, but much travels on the back, front ad sides of motorbikes.  Sometimes the driver is barely visible.  Other times I marvel at the size of the lad.  One went by this evening piled high with cases of beer.  Maggie wondered how the springs could handle the weight.  Most of the bikes are two-wheelers but there are plenty of three-wheel combinations.  In Vung Tau we saw a three-wheeler loaded with construction workers pulling a cement mixer followed by another with more workers and tools.

From the looks of HCMC, Communism is more idea than practice.  I see the symbols and iconography--portraits of Ho Chi Min, the hammer and sickle and posters celebrating the victory of workers and peasants--but they seemto be a mere backdrop to a go-go capitalism that rivals Hong Kong under the British.  Everywhere I look in HCMC I see enterprise and plenty of decadence.  Seems like the south only surrendered its political identity in 1975, not its entrepreneurial spirit.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.17.10

Almost noon now.  Maggie and I spent the morning on a guided biological tour.  Walking through the jungle with a young woman named Duyen who was very knowledgeable about Cat Thien's flora and fauna.  This is about as close to the jungle I remember from the war as I am likely to see on this trip.  It sure looked familiar.  I could easily see myself crashing through that underbrush if I let myself dwell on that particular thought.  Mostly though, I stayed in the present--on tour in a national park.  I put the war aside.  That is one reason I came  here.

Yesterday's drive up took us maybe within sight of my former AO.  I saw ridges to the east that may have been the "goddamn motherfucking mountains" where my battalion operated.  Close enough

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.16.10

Forty years ago on this day I landed in Vietnam not certain that I would leave alive.  This time around the only uncertainty that I face is the challenge of finding my way around a country where I do not speak the language.  There is always the possibility that something adverse might happen--life is filled with uncertainty and risk even outside of combat--but these possibilities are of my own making and in pursuit of my own goals, not the whims of politicians and their egos.  I don't expect to have another 40 years to reflect on this trip but in the normal course of events I can expect a to have some years going forward.
We made it to Cat Thien National Park.  The hotel arranged a car and driver who picked us up around 1300.  We drove north from Vung Tau through Bia Bao and Long Kanh and then across a number of back roads to Route 20.  Got in around 1730.  The park entrance is on the Dong Nai River; access is by ferry.  We are now reasonably comfortable in a very basic room (with A/C!!) after a dinner of fried catfish.

The ride up was almost overwhelming in the sheer number of sights.  People everywhere--all busily going about some sort of activity.  Lots and lots of school children in white shirts and red scarves.  Monuments to the victory of the revolution.  Posters of workers, soldiers and peasants.  Many images of Ho Chi Minh.  Construction everywhere, of all sizes and always the traffic:  motorbikes, bicycles, cars, busses, lorries.  Our driver, who spoke no English but was personable and friendly nonetheless, simply wove in and out of it all, even as the road and clearances narrowed in the last kilometers to the park entrance.  Saw people drying rice and tobacco along the roadside, sometimes on the road.  Saw cornstalks in some places and large piles of yellow-orange corn.  New houses,old houses.  A surprising number of Catholic churches.  Rubber plantations.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.15.10

Today's excursion too us to Back Beach where we wandered along Thuy Van Street which parallels the beach.  I'm pretty certain that we passed or were near the site of the First Cavalry R&R center that I visited several times in 1971.  The long expanse of beach punctuated by the prominent peak at the southernmost point of the Vung Tau peninsula looked very familiar.  These days, however, the beach is line with beach clubs of all sorts from the very fancy Imperial Hotel which boasts its own pedestrian overpass across Thuy Van Street to the much scruffier Surf Bar which consists of thatched buildings set in a grove of evergreens with very fine foliage.  We stopped for a soda at the latter and found the shade and breeze a refreshing relief from the heat.

We turned off Thuy Van Street to Le Hong Phong, a broad four-lane road with a planted median.  It led to a large traffic circle which is the site of a monument--a tall, rectangular spire topped by a star.  The area around the circle included many upscale buildings, including a fancy pagoda-style structure that displayed the national flag very prominently.  Farther down Le Hong Phong we found the post office and mailed a post card.  The clerks were all female and wore ao dai's , the traditional Vietnamese female grament.  The woman who served me cancelled my stamp with a hammer-like rubber stamp.

Our route took us through the "Home Depot" section of town where building supplies are widely available, often spilling out on to the sidewalks.  We also saw a lot of motorbike sales and repair, much of which also takes place on the sidewalk.  Everyone here seems very, very busy.

Later on, we stopped for a soda at a small storefront where we had to wake the proprietor who was asleep in a hammock.  Back at our hotel for dinner, I head a "fuck you" lizard.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.14.10

Vung Tau is a mix of some new and mostly old structures.  Faded, peeling paint is ubiquitous.  Sidewalks are uneven but walkable.  Traffic is on the move constantly but not intensely so.  I can easily cross the street here, much more so than in Ho Chi Minh City.  In the time I've been sitting here I've seen two pushcart food vendors pass by. Combined with all the commercial activity I see in the shops, it hardly looks like what I would expect in a Communist country.  I recall from 1971 that I did not expect the south's enterprise to be destroyed by a Communist victory.  I'm sure southerners had to stay low for a while but if present impressions are any indication they've figured out the new system quite well.

Today I feel pretty comfortable walking around.  Yesterday Maggie and I walked near the hotel and I felt very obvious and uneasy--all the warnings about petty crime I read in the guidebook and maybe some residual from 40 years ago left me feeling threatened.  Today it is less so and will likely diminish by the time we leave in January.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.13.10

19:20 (7:20 pm*):  The end of a very, very long day.  I figure 31 hours since we left Olympia.  In that time we traveled to the other side of the planet, made it through Vietnam immigration and customs, found a taxi across Ho Chi Minh City to the ferry dock, booked passage on a hydrofoil to Vung Tau, found another taxi to our hotel and checked in. 

Coming to Vung Tau instead of staying in HCMC was a good idea.  Just the ride across the city was enough for me.  Traffic is insane--an American used to rules of the road would not stand a chance.  Traffic is about half and half cars and motorbikes.  The latter flow in, out and around cars and trucks.  Somehow it all works.  We did not see any accidents despite some awfully close encounters.

The hydrofoil ride down the Sai Gon River was about 90 minutes to 2 hours and uneventful, with only a two stops to reverse engines to untangle vegetation from the propeller.  The water is greenish brown.  The shoreline in and immediately south HCMC is very industrial with lots of barges of all sorts.  The activity gradually ebbs until the riverbanks are thick with mangrove.
*From this point on all time will be presented in the 24 hour format used in Vietnam. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Vietnam Journal 12.12.10

12:40 am on a Sunday morning as we load Eva Air Flight 25 in Seattle bound for Taipei with a connection to Ho Chi Minh City.  Friend Cynthia drove us from Olympia in the rain which is still pouring.  A Northwest send off!  Day was busy but not hectic as Maggie and I made final preparations and then it was--it is--time to go.  Big plane filling up, mostly Chinese and other Asians.  We're heading to their part of the world now.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Vietnam Journal Ahead

Beginning 12.12.12* I will post excerpts from my 2010 trip to Vietnam.  It's a cheap way to get some content for a blog that I haven't quite figured out what to do with.  The past few posts are emblematic of my attempt to come up with something interesting to fill this space which remains my most visible and energetic attempt to market At the Speed of Foot.

As it has evolved this blog has been about  outdoor activity, travel, writing and (occasionally) books.  If I were a hard core marketer, I would zero in on Appalachian Trail themes to draw that market.  I'm not above that sort of thing if the topic interests me but am not inclined to write to a specific market.  For the next month, expect to hear about Vietnam.

Posting those excerpts will give me a chance to reprocess some of that information and experience.  That alone may generate some new content.

* A coincidental date but it's cool to write it that day