My Return to Vietnam - October/November 2003
     

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People from 2001 - 2003

First Days in Saigon

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 Ngoc Son - Children

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 Sapa

 Agent Orange Assistance

 Ha Long Bay

 Hue

Mekong Delta

My Tho Lady

 Saigon

 Vung Tau

 Dalat

Mausoleum of Emperor
Khai Dinh

Cruise on the Perfume River

Tomb of the Emperor
Minh Mang

Tomb of the Emperor
Tu Duc

Miss Alina Ton

The Imperial City
and
The Forbidden Purple City

USARV Long Binh 2003

 

Journal of My Vietnam Trip.
This is the journal of my trip from 19 October thru 15 November 2003

Finally Yow's correct name
Her name is Nguyen Thi Chau and her nickname is Pearl.



 


Journal Contents


October
18 - Saturday - Left Home
19 - Sunday - Arrive Saigon
20 - Monday - Around town
21 - Tuesday - Cu Chi
22 - Wednesday - Ha Noi
23 - Thursday - Bat Trang
24 - Friday - Hanoi and the Train to Sapa
25 - Saturday - Sapa
26 - Sunday - Sapa and Return to Hanoi
27 - Monday - Ha Long Bay
28 - Tuesday - Ha Long Bay and Hanoi
29 - Wednesday - Around Hanoi
30 - Thursday - Train to Hue
31 - Friday - Parfume River
November
1 - Saturday - Back in Saigon
2 - Sunday - Thu Duc - Long Binh
3 - Monday - Museums - Reunification Hall
4 - Tuesday - Stephen and TT
5 - Wednesday - Mekong Delta
6 - Thursday - Around Saigon - Pastry Lady
7 - Friday - Dinner at the Rex
8 - Saturday - Going to school - Finding Ty
9 - Sunday - Hydrofoil to Vung Tau
10 - Monday - Vung Tau - Saigon - Dalat
11 - Tuesday - Dalat
12 - Wednesday - Dalat Tour
13 - Thursday - Last day in Vietnam
14 - Friday - Korea
15 - Saturday - INC LAX PHL


Saturday 18 October

Left home


The Philadelphia flight left on time and was packed, due to two earlier cancellations. It was an Airbus 320. I ended up in a window seat. It was a little disconcerting due to my small touch of claustrophobia. Luckily there was a petite young lady sitting next to me and that made it feel not so cramped.

The flight from Los Angeles to Inchon was on a 747 that was half empty. Every one had two or three seats and had plenty of room to spread out. Our last leg was on another Airbus and we had room to spread out on that one also.



Sunday 19 October

Arrive Saigon


We arrived in Saigon and went easily through customs. As I went out to the pick-up area I saw Miss Dung (Yung) smiling and waving. Soon we found Miss Hue and we were off to the hotel. We checked in and went to Le Loi and Nguyen Hue. It was late and the streets were empty.


Monday 20 October

Around Town


All around Vietnam you find things that make sense to them, but you have to wonder about the thought process. While walking in the park we find that at every entrance there is a bar across the pathway. The bar is 10 - 12 inches off the ground and just waiting to trip someone. We are told that it is to keep motorcycles out of the park. In the US we would call them law suits waiting to happen.


Tuesday 21 October

Cu Chi


Our second day in Vietnam, not counting the 26 minutes of Sunday the 19th.

This trip is very different from the last one. We will see more, travel more, and sample more of Vietnam?s diversity.

Today we went out to Cu Chi. Our guide was Mr Binh. Last time it was Mr Vinh. Mr Binh spoke most of the way to Cu Chi. Giving us a very Socialist diatribe which was word for word the same as Mr Vinh's two years ago. Most of the group went through the tunnels. I did this last time and explained that I had done it once and once is all it took to learn everything I needed to learn about how unsuited I was to life in the tunnel system. We were given samples of the alcohol and Cobra mixture, which I think could cure almost anything, or at least kill almost anything. I have a low tolerance for alcohol but with this I was glad I did not have to drive after one drink which was probably less than a shot. I say probably because I do not know how big a shot is. I picked up a tube of arthritis cream which contains Cobra venom for Maureen and a few Viet Cong scarfs. The young lady selling the Cobra Venom drink has a sister in Omaha NE.

We returned to Saigon and went to the Internet.

Later we went to the hotel, showered and rested. A call came from Ky (Kay), My Nephews intended. She invited Tom and I to dinner. She arrived at 6:30 and we all went to the restaurant together. We met her Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Aunts, Uncle and Nieces. Ky's nieces are two of the most beautiful children you have ever seen. Quite shy at first but a little more relaxed as the meal went on.

Every one ordered and the meal was served, as it is here, family style. Everything everyone ordered is set through out the table and all share. It is a beautiful way to have a meal. Ky is the only one who speaks English so she translated for us. Everything was delicious with many dishes being very different form American flavors. I had fun using the chop sticks and even received a round of applause as I picked up a single grain of rice, in a moment of showing off. Our hosts were graceful and often gave assistance as to which sauce goes with each dish. At the end of the meal a damp wash cloth is served and the Aunts rolled them into bunny rabbets complete with eyes and noses provided with a tooth pick and a dot of sauce, As beautiful as the country and culture are it is the people who make us feel so welcome and a part of things.




Wednesday 22 October
Ha Noi


We woke and walked around the neighborhood of the hotel, in Cholon, There was a market and I took many photos on the street. 9:00 and we went to the airport. We were early and were offered a seat on the earlier flight. It was a 777/200. It looked brand new and was quite wide however it had only 9 seats across. Tom had the window and I had the aisle with an empty between. As we taxied the TV came on and there is a camera in the nose so we could see what the pilot sees. It was a smooth flight of just under 2 hours.

The Ha Noi airport looks new and in no time at all we were out to the cabs and off to Ha Noi and the hotel. I showed the driver the name and address of the hotel that Miss Hue gave me. We were taken to the hotel but the address was not the same. We were told that there were two hotels in Ha Noi with the name Que Nham. This is all right since the same person owns both of them. When we arrived at the second Hotel Que Nham we were greeted by a man who said "full". I gave Hue's name and he said "FULL". I asked if this is the phone number here and he said "FULL". I asked the cab driver to call the number and he called the first Hotel Que Nham who said Hue was registered there. We returned to the first hotel Que Nham and found that she was not registered but was probably at the second. The lady at the first told us that there is no receptionist at the second hotel when it is full and the man there was a security man who can not read. We now have a room at the first and are told that there may be a receptionist there around 8:00 or 9:00. Till then we are going for a walk and look for dinner.

Around 7:00PM we went out for a walk. We looked in many shops and a department store. After a while we found one of the many lakes. It was very Serene. Many couples were in boats on the lake and others sitting around the lake on steps or at small tables. One of the first things I notice is so many motorcycles unattended. This would not happen in Saigon where motorcycles are taken into buildings even in mid day or placed in secure lots.

We arrived back at the hotel around 10:00PM and finally contacted Miss Hue. She will meet us here in the morning and take us to breakfast and the tour company to arrange for the Ha Long and Sapa trips.


Thursday 23 October

Bat Trang


Hue arrived at 7:30 AM and we were off to breakfast and the travel agents to book the Ha Long and Sapa trips. The travel agent was in a small office in a side street.

After that we went out to the town of Bat Trang. The town is about 20km west of Hanoi. It seems that the entire output of the town is pottery. We looked in shop after shop and found all sorts of beautiful pottery. In one shop the top 3 floors were factory. A dozen or so women do all the work from pouring the molds to glazing, painting and firing the work. Most were happy to be photographed. I found a few things that I liked.

Returning to Hanoi Tom noticed that the cab driver was always in a gear much higher than needed. He started off in 3rd and when he slowed he feathered the clutch so that it shook continually. Being a mechanic, Tom is having trouble with that and other things that seem to make no sense. He constantly tries to explain too the driver why he should use a lower gear and the driver, who barely understands Tom's request, simply smiles, nods his head and continues. I told Tom that if he looks for logic here it will make him crazy. He asked if it bothered me and I told him "Not even a little". "Just let it go." He said he would but I do not see it yet.

Back in Hanoi we had dinner and came back to rest up. One of us needs it but I do not want to embarrass Tom by saying which one. I am doing email, but you knew that. Soon we will go to the mausoleum and pay our respects to Uncle Ho, even though he did not want to be preserved but rather cremated and his ashes spread over the country. Being a Socialist state they had him mounted and now he is an icon of the good that those who came after him could not be. In respect for Uncle Ho it is in my will that some of my ashes will be spread in Vietnam. Most of my Vietnamese friends think I was Vietnamese in a previous life anyway.

So. it is off to the shower and a trip around town.

Cathy said Hanoi is a sad town. There is something to that. It is much more subdued. Many businesses close earlier and the business open are less crowded as it gets later.

Late yesterday afternoon I was walking near Truc Bach Lake. Two men were playing a game that looked a lot like checkers. A dozen others circled the men and offered spirited advice.

Nearby a taxi was up on a jack. The right front wheel was off, the grill was out,the alternator was out and disassembled. Two men were looking at the core. A supervisor came by and critiqued the work, smiled and left the mechanics to continue.

Such a relaxed, cooperative society.

Speaking of which. Tom and I are getting along fine though I have noticed some fundamental diferences in personality. Tom has this perverse need to know, with certainty, things like where we will sleep tonight, exactly how to get somewhere, exactly what things will cost, how long will things take, what are we eating, and are we really allowed to go here? He even has a watch and always knows what day it is. God doesn't want us to have all the answers.




Friday 24 October

Around Hanoi - Train to Sapa


Friday we are left to our own devices and Hue is at the conference. Hue left us a list of places to see, in Vietnamese. She underlined the ones that were close. I picked the first one on the list and we went to the Ngoc Son Temple in Hoan Kiem Lake.

It was a beautiful Temple and I took some pictures. Soon school children began to arrive and tour the island and the Temple. They liked having their pictures taken and waved for the movie camera. When I used the viewer and turned the viewing screen to them they could see themselves. The began jumping up and down, waving and asking my name. Their teachers soon lost control and finally gave up for a few moments. Just wait till you see the children of Doan Thi Diem School and in particular Phuong Linh. In heaven there are angles that would kill to be this pretty, I think I have a theme for this trip. The last one was so effected by the Girl in the Gutter that I think this time it will be all the beautiful little girls I am meeting. So beautiful that a thought came into my head. I know my head does not work normally but here it is. When we ever, in the future, think of an entire people as an enemy perhaps we should take time to meet the children, I can not wait to get these pictures posted.

After that we went to the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, but it is closed. It is a massive Socialist building. Many flags and banners. A lot of red and gold. We tour the grounds including the former French Governor Generals mansion. Also on the grounds is the modest home of Ho Chi Minh. It is a small wooden house on stilts by a pond. A beautiful, functional building.

Lastly is the Ho Chi Minh museum, also a massive Socialist building, far larger than it's collection.

Since there is still time left we visited the Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton). It is interesting but as I look at the displays I am aware that for all the information and devices shown I really can have only the most superficial understanding of what prisoners went through there, American and also Vietnamese during the time of the French.

We are back at the hotel, waiting for Miss Hue and we meet Michael Otto. He is from Belgium and we have a nice afternoon discussing all that we find good and bad in the world today. I do so enjoy spirited conversation. Michael has been to Sapa and injured his ankle. Soon he will cut his vacation short and return to Belgium to have his ankle cared for. Michael has two warnings for us. Watch your step in Sapa and buy travel insurance.


Saturday 25 October

Sapa


We awake before dawn and find ourselves 1 hour from Lao Cai. The train pulled in and we disembarked. I was expecting to find a few buses but was surprised to find a sea of buses, minivans, lambrettas and motorcycles, We find ours and begin on our one hour ride to Sapa. The bus climbs steadily on a steep and winding road. Along the way we see the terraced hills, some very steep. Al along the road construction crews are widening the road. We arrive in Sapa and are taken to the Dar Linh Hotel, sometimes spelled Hotel Darling. After checking in. I get a shower and while Tom and Miss Hue rest I go down to the town, The streets are packed with people selling.

Many are the Hmong people. They are shorter than most Vietnamese and it is the women who are in town selling while the men and boys are home working. One of the ladies in the Hotel is a Hmong. She is so sweet and pleasant. We are given a trip to a high lookout but the fog is such that we can not see a thing. I have a lot of pictures and following the "pretty girls" thing Sua, the Hmong girl, is definitely one. She is always smiling. At one point she was standing in the kitchen doorway while I was in the office. I waived and she waived a little and moved from the doorway to the window and closed the shutters. I could see that she was peeking out so I waived again and in a moment her fingers came out between the shutters and waived a little.


Sunday 26 October

Sapa and back to Hanoi


On our second day in Sapa Sua was our guide to a Hmong village. We looked at their crafts and a small cave. One of the children selling was so shy that if I liked at her and smilled for more than a few seconds she would blush and move behind another woman. She finally came out to show 2 purses she had made and I told her I would buy them if I could have her picture with them. She agreed. I did not have correct change so Sua lent me 5,000 VND. Back at the hotel I paid her back and she said I did not have to but she did take it after some coaxing. As we awaited our bills to check out Sua hung around the office and looked in from time to time.

The city of Sapa is a large city, larger than I had expected and is experiencing a building boom to keep up with the tourist trade. I hope the Hmong survive the boom. The city electricity is generated by diesel generators. During the day the generators are shut off to save fuel which is expensive to transport all the way up to Sapa. In the evening when they came up the internet connection was down leaving us with no internet.

All of the people in the hotel are so nice and friendly. The building is beautiful. On one end the rooms look straight out across the town. I check the numbers in case I ever return. There is a column of 4 rooms. The room at the bottom is 105. The room directly above that is 208. The room directly above that is 313 and the one on top of the 3 is 409. These things bother Tom, but me? I love them..

Sua and her friends, the other Hmong girls live in isolated areas and do not get to meeet boys much so they go to the love cafe. This is a Saturday meeting for Hmong only. They not only look for a possible husband but also contacts.

Our bill paid we are on our way down the mountains to Lao Cai to catch the night train to Hanoi. Lao Cai is a stone throw from China. We arrive at the station and have time for dinner. I order a shrimp dish, but Miss Hue says it is not enough to fill me so I must order something else. I order Spring Rolls. This is acceptable to Miss Hue. Dinner is here and Tom, Miss Hue, and I have a large plate of rice, vegetables and meat. I have the 20 Spring Rolls. With water for them and fresh squeezed Orange Juice for me. The bill comes to about $1.50USD.

We go to the train and get our compartments. At 9:00PM the train leaves. The gentle rocking makes sleep easy but I am anxious to get back to Saigon and sleep little.




Monday 27 October

Ha Long Bay


Our train comes in at 4:30AM at the main station in Hanoi. The wings of the station were built by the French, but the center took a direct hit during the American war and was leveled. It is replaced by a large Socialist building. I do not think the Socialists will ever be remembered for their contribution to art or architecture. Miss Hue gets us a cab to our hotel and goes off to hers.

Back at the hotel we get our laundry and bag the new laundry. We get fresh clothes and have a shower and we are ready for Miss Hue to pick us up at 7:00 for the trip to Ha Long Bay. The bread lady comes by and I get a roll for Tom and I. He has found the delights of a fresh baked roll in the morning. The internet is down and no one knows the password so we are out of luck again.

Miss Hue arrives and the bus is there soon. We board and are on our way to Ha Long. Midway in our journey we come to a factory that makes handicrafts and is staffed by people suffering the effects of Agent Orange. As usual I take a lot of pictures. Two girls are working on a piece of cloth and are embroidering a copy of a photo. It is a scene on an Autumn woods and a lake. They are looking at the photo upside down as they embroider upside down and backwards. I was filming and there was one young lady that was deaf and would look up for a moment and then put her face down quickly. She was so adorable.

We continued on our way and arrived in Ha Long.

After lunch we head out into the bay. Our first stop is a cave that was only discovered in 1993. It is large and beautiful. After this stop we sail out into the bay. If you have seen photos of Ha Long Bay you have an idea of it's beauty, however to sail it is another thing. The sharp mountains undercut by the tide and currrent. I have met a young lady named Lan Chau, who is from Taiwan. I noticed her in the line for lunch and the line to the boat. We talk for a while. She is so sweet and so pretty. Her voice is so soft and gentle. After a stop for some swimming we sail across the bay while the sun sets. Lan returns to the cabin and sits across the table from me. We talk for a while. Slowly she drifts off to sleep. She looks so delicate. I consider taking her picture but it seems a violation. Like temporary art there are things so beautiful that they can not be expected to last. They exist only in the moment.




Tuesday 28 October

Ha Long Bay and Hanoi


We have spent the night in a hotel on Cat Ba Island. The island has a large government park, a military base and a strip of hotels and clubs.

I get up early and take a walk along the docks. The sun is just coming up and a few vendors are setting up their stands. The town is quiet. Returning to the hotel others are up and breakfast is being served.

After a short bus ride we are at the boat. Some of the people are on a different tour and are not with us for the return. Lan is not with us. We sail out into the bay, heading for Ha Long city.

The sun is out and the blue green water is so bright. As we sail the fog rolls in and only the outline of the rocks remains. There is a ethereal quality to the bay in the fog. It makes me think things like the legend that you can sail to a place in the bay from which there is no return. A place of refuge.

I find, in life, that for each new thing I learn or understand, there are now two more things that I need to learn or understand. And so it goes, exponentially. The faster I go the farther I fall behind. Racing, as fast as I can, towards nowhere. It's the bay, I'll be ok. Though I am getting the urge to sail off through the canyons alone.

Arriving back at the dock we have lunch, board the buses and we are off. On the way back there is an accident. A car is off the left with 50 feet of skid mark behind him. On the right a man is lying, dead on the road. He is covered with a grass mat, almost. At his head are two jars and incense is burning. A crowd has gathered. The police are in no rush to get him off the room. We are told that it is respectful to leave him for a short while as his soul leaves his body and people pray for him. There is plenty of time and, in Vietnam, no one is in any real rush.

Back at town we do some email and get ready for dinner. Miss Hue arrives and takes us to a nice restaurant by the lake. After an enjoyable dinner we part company. Miss Hue returns to her hotel and we to ours. She is flying back to Saigon in the morning and we are heading down the country by train as well.

I am doing email and web page and Michael has just returned and said his good bays. He is returning to Belgium to have his foot attended to. He is leaving. Vietnam early. It would break my heart to have to do that. He has enjoyed the time we have shared and I mention that it is nice to have an opportunity to talk with others from different places and cultures and find how much we have in common, and how little our differences.

I am now off to see if I can fix my camera.




Wednesday 29 October

Around Hanoi


I slept in today. Getting up at 7:00. We fiddled with the Internet for a while and then went to find a bank that Tom could use. It was on the other side of the park, a 20 block walk. We have been walking a lot. I bought a second suitcase, as I am already collecting stuff. Tom bought a hard side one, for a special need, but I don't want to spoil any surprises. We stopped at a cafe and had a fresh squeezed orange juice.

On our walk we saw a camera shop with a man in the window fixing cameras. I went in but with no Vietnamese and he no English there was not much to discuss. We came back to the hotel and Tom rested while I walked back to the camera shop with the camera. I showed him that it would not focus or shoot and he looked at it. He fiddled and dusted and cleaned and showed that it was mostly dirty contacts between the lens and body. His name is Ngoc Truyen and the charge was only $5.00.

On the way back I was approached by children selling things. Most disappeared after a few blocks. One continued on and on as I kept explaining that there was nothing I needed. After about 10 blocks I was thirsty and I said I could use an Orange juice. She said that was good so we went to a cafe and had an orange juice. Her name is Nguyen Thi Thu. She lives outside Hanoi and her family is poor so she came to Hanoi and lives in a boarding house for 6 months while selling T-shirts and post cards in the street. This is not legal and when the police catch her they take her T-shirts and postcards. A thing that amazes me is that she has email. The world is getting smaller and smaller.

I have just received a letter from Miss Ton who says we should wait at the gate of the station in Hue and she will meet us there tomorrow. I think we will eat, settle our bill and head for the railroad station.




Thursday 30 October

Train to Hue


We made the train with time to spare. Settling into our cabin we meet The tour guide from a group and a member of the group, Ben Hunter from Australia. For dinner he brought a roll and a round box of Gruyere cheese. I mentioned that it reminded me of my childhood because my mother would buy a box from time to time as a treat. He handed me a piece and said "revisit your childhood". I had a piece and did revisit my childhood. It has been a long time since I have had it. It was just one of those nice little things Mom did. The guide had a can of some pork product and we began talking about Spam when Ben related his Grandfather making a product from the scraps of pork when he processed a pig. Ben says that with a pig they use everything but the oink. Ben's Father farmed cattle and sheep. My wife's Father farmed Dairy and a few other crops and animals. Similarities of all those I meet just keep adding up.

The train car we are in is slightly bigger and newer. There is a little more length to the bunks. Leaving I have the corridor window open and am watching Hanoi go by. Out of town I fall asleep fast but wake in the wee hours. On long curves I can see the engine, 10 cars ahead, with it's light cutting through the darkness. As the sun rises I enjoy the scenery passing by.

We pull into the station at Hue and exit the building. We are outside for only a moment and I hear "Henry". Miss Ton is there. Because we have so much luggage she gets us a cab. Her house is a five minute walk from the station. We leave our luggage at her house and walk a few blocks to a moderate priced hotel. It is 25.00USD for the night. The room is really nice and we take it. Miss Ton has called a taxi and we walk back to her house, get our luggage and take it to the hotel.

Next we go to the airlines and buy a ticket for Saigon and arrange a pick up at the hotel for the trip to the airport. Our travel plans set we visit the tombs of Khai Dinh and Tu Duc. The sites are beautiful and we are lucky to be seeing them. After 1975 sites like this and the imperial City were considered politically incorrect. It was only in the early 1990's that it was realized that the sites were important to tourism and they are now being preserved. The tombs are magnificent and contained many buildings. Tu Duc's contained buildings that were used while his descendents were visiting the area of the tombs. One Building by a pond was for his heirs to enjoy fresh air, quiet and to write poetry. Accompanying us was a friend of Miss Ton's, named Miss Phuong. Miss Phuong has returned from Paris, where her family immigrated, however she wanted to come back to Vietnam. I am hoping we will see her tomorrow for our boat ride up the Perfume River.

Then we were off and Miss Ton's brother treated us to a wonderful lunch. After that it was back to the hotel for a shower and a rest.

In the afternoon we visited the Citadel and the Imperial City. Much remains of both, which is a little surprising. Unfortunately much is lost. The loss began when Boa Duc, the last Emperor of Vietnam, stepped down at the end of the second world war. A large section was burned by the French. Still more was lost in the American war, then the Cambodians.

Still the Imperial City is worth a day or more. It is so beautiful.

A nice dinner and we are at the Internet. After which is a good nights rest for the day ahead.


Friday 31 October

Perfume River


We are up at 6.30 and ready for the bus to the boat ride. We will cruise the Perfume river all day for $2.00. The journey begins with a motorcycle ride to the boat. The boat leaves the shore and we are on our way. We cruise up the river, past the Citadel and soon the city was behind us. Many small boats, loaded to the gunnels with sand or gravel are coming towards us. They are so low to the water and the bilge pumps are throwing water over the side. We stop at the two tombs that we saw yesterday and then at another and a number of Pagodas and Temples. After one of the side trips we return to the boat and there is a table set. We have a most enjoyable lunch and have time to talk.

There is a young lady from France. She boarded and was sitting on the front deck. After a while the lady who runs the boat tells her that she must sit inside. There is a sheet of regulations, the old lady points to, and one is that no one is to be on the front deck. The young lady is sweet and pleasant but has a defiant streak. At least a little one. She finally comes in and the old lady is frustrated but relieve. The young lady then comes to the front with a chair and is seated in front of me, just a little in the aisle. The old lady comes and points to the regulation that says "no blocking the aisle". The young lady is not blocking it all that much, certainly less than the old ladies display of carvings that occupy the center 1/3 of the boat. The young lady is digging in her heals and the old lady settles for moving the young lady into the center, which blocks the aisle more, but at last everyone is happy. The old lady had placed the carvings on the floor facing the most gullible looking passenger, which is, of course, me. She would move pieces to the front like an army advancing against me. Or maybe like a chess game so as a piece advanced and she held it up to show me I would look at it and set it farther back. I knew what she was doing and she knew what I was doing but it continued for a while.

The last stop was the Tomb of Minh Mang. The buildings are beautiful and carefully preserved. Work is being done to restore the damage of years of neglect when all these areas were not politically correct. Minh Mang had several temples and a large mound surrounded by and high wall. It was a nice day and just a little breeze. Strolling the grounds gave a brief look into the time when the royal family would come and worship and remember their ancestors.

As we head back to Hue we see the sand and gravel boats. Each has a long pole and a scoop at the end. They are dredging sand or gravel and filling their boats for the trip to Hue.

The bow of the boat is a nice place to take pictures. The door to the cabin is closed and I see my opportunity to go out on the deck. I am taking photos when the French girl notices me. There is eye contact, she looks around at the cabin door, and seeing it is closed she has a look on her face like a child at Christmas. She runs to the front and we are sitting on the outside deck talking when I notice the cabin door open and the old lady frowning. It is a frown like one gives a child that has done wrong but we can not really be angry. I motion to the young lady and say "we are caught". Sheepishly we both return to our seats and look repentant. The old lady smiles and closes the door all but an inch. I know she is watching but she is also lying down to nap. The young lady has come to the front and I go to the back. I slide the door closed very slowly and return to my seat. Shortly the old lady opens the door and is a little surprised that we are both inside, She smiles and I shrug my shoulders as if I could not know how the door got closed.

Back at the dock we are taken to our hotel, Since we packed in the morning our bags are in a room. We retrieve them and our ride arrives to take us to Hue/Phu Bai Airport. The flight is one hour and we are in Saigon. Miss Dung is there to take us to hotel Tin Nghia. My room is open from last year but Mrs. Dao no longer owns the building and it is showing signs of wear. Still it is $14.00 USD and has air conditioning. Our base of operations is established and I have notified everyone that we are here. Hopefully we will begin to see my pen pals.


Saturday 1 November

Back in Saigon


It was a nice quiet Saturday. We are at hotel Tin Nghia, which is now under new ownership. The staff speaks no English and it is a little difficult to communicate with. Tonight I find there is a member of the family that speaks very good English. This will be a help.

This morning we got up and went to the film processing. I had 10 rolls to drop off. Then we went to Ben Thanh Market for some orange juice. A stop at the bank and we are at the Internet. I let everyone know we were back in Saigon and hopefully we will see them soon.

Then it was off to the area where I had an apartment in 1969. There was no one who spoke English. After that we went to the area that was M&M Docks. I had a photo of a young lady named Be who was there in 1968. The photo generated a lot of interest. Everyone wanted to see it. It showed the street before most of the buildings were there. People would look at the picture and run off to get someone else. Every one had an idea of who it was several pointed in one direction but in the end no one really knew for sure. They were all happy to offer a suggestion and in the end I left and they all were smiling and talking amongst themselves. I wonder if she was there, had looked at the picture and said nothing as her past was now politically incorrect.

Walking back we ran into a rain so we took a cab to the room. After a short rest in the air conditioning we went to pick up the photos. The ones I looked at turned out really good. We came to check out email and will finish the photos on our return.

One of the things missing at the new Tin Nghia is a VCR. I had brought some tapes and wanted to tape local TV. A friend is bringing one tonight so we will see if we can do it.

My mailing list got messed up and people were lost. I will try to keep it correct. I had been updating the web site but can not seem to do that at any of the places here in Saigon.


Sunday 2 November

Thu Duc Long Binh


We are hoping some of my friends here will contact us so we can get to meet.

My addresses were messed up and I have not been sending updates to every one all the time. I hope it is fixed now and I have been updating the web site till we returned and now, in Saigon, I can not get it to work.

We awoke early and went to Nguyen Hue to put some film in to process. Then to Ben Thanh Market for some orange juice. We paused at the Internet to check mail. Having taken care of the email we are off to Long Binh.

Miss Dung has arranged for a car.

We drive out towards Long Binh and stop off at Thu Duc. I think I have located a water tower that is in an old picture of the 543rd, "OK Coral". I take a few pictures and we are off to Long Binh. This time we take a ride all through the North end and find USARV headquarters. It is now a Vietnamese military base and we can not get too close but we do get a few pictures. We looked all over the North end but could not find anything that was definitely left from our time. There was a tower that I saw last time and a power grid that might have been left. Our driver got a little nervous when we came so close to the military base through some back roads so we left.

We stopped at the CORA which covers the area of the Southwest corner of Long Binh that had been the southern of the two hills that formed TC Hill.

We drove out to the Ammo Dump which is still laid out to the military roads of 1968. Now instead of ammo the place is filled with factories.

We returned to Saigon and picked up the photos at the processor. Back to the room and I went with Miss Dung to return the VCR that she borrowed from her sister so that I could record some shows. The recorder was all bent up and there were no screws holding on the cover. The inside looked dirty. Unfortunately I plugged the 110V recorder to the same outlet as the 270V Television. There was a loud snap and some smoke. Miss Dung looked so pitiful and just said "Oh, thats bad". I took the recorder and her home and we stopped at a repair shop near her home. The repair man said it needed two fuses and a power supply and he could fix it for $12.00. I paid him and we left to see Miss Dung's house but she had left the keys to her house at our room and we set out looking for her sister to get her key. With no luck we had dinner and went back to our hotel to get her key so she could get into her house.

At some point I decided to go into town and looked for some cash. It was then that I realized that the Travelers Checks were missing. Miss Dung had not left yet and was upset that I was not angry, so she was angry for me and went to the lobby and was lecturing the staff so I went down to stop her and tell her that American Express will handle everything. It is impossible to talk with some one who does not have a common language and does not wish to understand so we waited for the man who speaks English. He arrived and will take us to American Express in the morning. I still have the credit card and Tom put his money in the bank so we are alright. A minor setback.

So here I am at the Internet. Tom is also here and Miss Dung has left, having been convinced that there was nothing to be done till morning.


Monday 3 November

Museums Reunification Hall


We were up and out to breakfast this morning. Then to town and some shops. I had called American Express and reported the checks stolen. They took the information and said I could get them replaced at the United Overseas Bank.

Tom and I had planned to see a few museums but arrived in town at 11:00 which is when almost everything closes for lunch till 1:00. I went back to the room and got my credit card in case there was a problem I could get a cash advance. Returning to the bank everything flowed like clock work and in half an hour I had the checks replaced. Miss Dung reminded me that she had said that the hotel people were bad and I should have taken the checks with me. I will now.

Eventually we got to the Presidential Palace, now Reunification Hall. A lot of the building was closed due to a convention of veterans.

Tom and I went to a few stores and when we returned there was a message for Ky who will stop by tomorrow with something for Trevor. Ky is the only one of my Vietnamese Nieces who will actually become one of my nieces.

We just got email from Ton in Hue who we missed when we left as she was at a wedding that day.

I also got an email from Stephen Thomas who lives here and teaches English. He and his wife have opened a restaurant and hopefully we will see them one evening.

I am now off to Nguyen Hue and Le Loi.


Tuesday 4 November

Ky, Stephen and TT


We were both up rather early so we went out to Ben Thanh market. I got some limes and tomatoes. We had breakfast and went to several stores.

While we were out we stopped at the Internet to check messages. As I was typing Miss Dung came in and snuck up behind me to surprise me then scold me for leaving so early that when she arrived we were gone.

Ky came today and we went out to lunch. We went to a place near the Presidential Palace which is now Reunification Hall. It was a beautiful building with a wood roof. It was very busy and noisy, which made it hard to talk however it was a very enjoyable meal.

After lunch we returned to the hotel then came to the Internet to check mail and start the daily report.

We went to the zoo and though it is better than two years ago it is still quite dirty and the collection is a little shabby.

Our tickets are purchased for a one day tour of the Mekong Delta in the morning.

I have made contact with Stephen Thomas and his wife TT. We went to dinner at their new restaurant. It is a beautiful place. Stephen and TT are two of the most delightful people you could hope to meet. The dinner was great and there was a lot of exciting conversation. It is nice to get input from an American living here and also from TT who is an accomplished writer. We are given the tour including the Micro Brewery. It was a long leisurely dinner and ended with being invited to meet with their students on Saturday morning.

Tomorrow the Mekong Delta.


Wednesday 5 November

Mekong Delta


The Summer breeze returned and we were off to breakfast and the trip to the Mekong Delta.

At Saigon Tourist we boarded the bus. The day is $8.00 and includes transportation 100 km to the Delta, a 5 hour boat ride, visits to 4 sites and a great lunch. I do not know how long these prices can last.

We left Saigon at 7:30 and drove an hour and a half to a rest stop. In the rest stop were tables and chairs, a rest rooms and hammocks. After a rest we continue to the Delta. On arrival we board small boats and sail out across the Mekong. The water is brown and there is much vegetation floating. We are told it is from the flooding in Cambodia. There are many small boats and a few middle size ones. We arrive at our first stop and watch as an old lady is making rice paper. She is the same one that as making it two years ago. There a shop that we also stopped at making popped rice candy and a third making coconut candy. I remembered being there two years earlier and it is a lot like coming home again. On this trip there is a fourth stop at a pottery factory. It is a very large building with a surprisingly small staff. There is pottery everywhere and there are so many different things like flower pots and decorative masks, bricks and tiles for floors and roofs. We are meeting some nice people from many different places. One young lady is from Milwaukee and is living and teaching in Korea. We bought lots of treats to bring home.

On the way home we stopped at the same rest stop that we used two years ago and as we walk through the area there are cages of monkeys. One has a mother and baby. The baby is small enough that he climbs in and out of the cage. As he is near his mother she will grab him and pull him in.

Back in Saigon it is late and we have dinner and return to the hotel.

I don't know what is up for tomorrow, other than I have made contact with another pen pal, Miss Minh, and I will go and meet her then on Friday I am hoping we will have 3 or 4, including Miss Han, and go to dinner at the Rex.

Off to see what today will bring,


Thursday 6 November

Around Saigon - Pastry Lady


What a day this has been, what a rare mood I'm in, why it's almost like.... this sounds familiar.

Many more tourists this time.

It started out to be a slow day but it picked up. We went out to breakfast and the photo shop to get some work done. Back at the hotel Miss Dung had her sisters motor scooter and she and I went for a ride. About 3 blocks from the hotel we ran out of gas so we had to push it to a place where someone was selling gasoline out of bottles at inflated prices. Father told me to be aware of women who rode motorcycles.

Back at the hotel Miss Dung left. She rode off down the wrong side of the street into oncoming traffic. Eventually making her way over to the correct side. Her red hat stood out and I watched as she wove in and out of traffic till at last she was out of site.

Tom and I went to the Vietnam History Museum which is the best one, at lease to my taste. Nothing military but a lot of antiquities and good translations.

On the way back we stop at the tax store. I have some pictures from my last trip. One is a lady who worked in the bakery. She had such a pretty smile. The entire store is redone. It was a grocery on the first floor and many booths in the lobby. Now the escalators work and the fountain is polished and running. The store now looks like a Macy's. The other day I found the bakery and showed the picture. Some recognized and told me she is working from 5:00 on. Today we went in and she had a look of recognition. I think they told her someone had a picture of her. I showed it to her and she was all smiles. We talked for a while and everyone came around to see the picture. Now I have a new one with even a bigger smile.

If you remember the story of Ty, who protected me form women of the evening, I showed her picture and was told she had gone back to Can Tho but would be here in two days.

This evening I met another pen pal and she took me out to dinner. She is a vegetarian so we went to a vegetarian restaurant. Everything was delicious. We had a nice time talking and I returned to Le Loy and Nguyen Hue. There I found Chau, the little girl who sold roses last time, and also to Tom Bury, who sent me a photo of his wife and the little girl one year ago. Chau also knows Ty and said she works around 5:00 so maybe we will see her as well.

I have to write and tell Rich that we will be up to Da Lat this week and we plan to get down to Vung Tau, so Minh please resend your families address.

Time is short but there is still much to do.


Friday 7 November

Dinner at the Rex


Maybe I do think too much. A moment in thought and the moment is gone.... What was I thinking.

I sometimes think the universe is kept in balance by a reciprocal rule that for every joy there is an equal sadness. I have to be careful when too much happiness builds up since the sadness's are piling up somewhere.

It started a quiet day. Some errands and Breakfast. Miss Dung did not join us for breakfast as she went to see her mother and will not be back till Saturday evening in time for the Circus.

Tom had purchased some things, which I can't tell you about so as not to spoil surprises and it was sent to Miss Hue in Saigon. At 11:00 she stopped by and delivered them to Tom. While here she asked about our trip. We have not seen her since Hanoi. I told her we spent 2 days in Hue as she suggested. I had wanted to See Hoi An but was homesick for Saigon so I skipped it. She tells Tom that in my next life I will be Vietnamese. When ever I speak of loving Saigon or Vietnam she asks why and has a smile that is half pride in her country and city and half disbelief. She thinks I am silly. We went to the room and I showed her the 450 photos I have taken so far. She likes them. She invites us to dinner Saturday before the circus.

I rest In the afternoon and Tom has photos at the store for pickup.

At 7:00 Miss Han arrives and we are off to dinner at the Rex. I like to get there once. It is a very nice restaurant and there is a floor show of traditional music and dance. After dinner we go out to the street and meet Chau. I show her the picture of Ty, the little girl who sold coconuts last time I was here. Chau says Ty has gone with a western man. I ask why and Chau shrugs. Her expression suggests less that she does not know and more that she does not wish to speak ill of her friend. We return to our hotel and Han Leaves. I return to Nguyen Hue and find someone who knows Ty. He says he will go get her. I wait and when he returns alone he tells me that she is not home. I arrange to meet her at 6:00 on Thursday. He says she will be here. It does not look good.

A good day is turning bad real fast.

We will see.


Saturday 8 November

Going to School - Finding Ty


The day started with breakfast and a stop at the Internet. We are trying to meet up with Rich but just can not touch base at the same time.

This morning we went to the school that Stephen and TT teach at and sat in on a class. We had to introduce ourselves and the class went on with a discussion of a piece by Socrates, The kids were interested and participated. They were reserved and polite. After class we went to a hospital where the class is volunteering and a school for children of families who can not care for them. These are both places that Stephen and TT volunteer at.

At the school we met Ben who volunteers there. Ben is from Canada and is learning Vietnamese and making contacts for him and his partners who hope to import and export in Vietnam. He has a real love of Vietnam and is enjoying his time there.

After that we take our excess luggage to Ka's house since we will be traveling and we have too much to carry. With Ka's help we are booked in at the guest house that Trevor stayed at while he was here for our return from Dalat and our last day in Vietnam.

I can not wait till Thursday to see Ty. I returned to the area where she used to work and find someone who knows where she is. An old lady says she will go and get her. I wait in the park.

A very strange thing happened. A young Vietnamese man came and sat next to me. He said "Tomorrow is Sunday, what would you be doing if you were home. I said working around the house. He said "How about worship?" I said we would go to church in the morning. He asked which denomination. I said Lutheran. He said he is protestant. He said God will look after us if we ask him. I said I really don't feel like it right now. He asked why and I said a person I care very much about is being hurt. He asked if I wanted him to pray for me and I said I was not in the mood. Just then I looked and Ty was walking across the park. She was all smiles and there was a look of recognition in her eyes. Her farm girl, from the delta, clothes were replaced by a black translucent top and tight black jeans. Her hair was cut short. She sat next to me and we talked. The young man got up and said good by. I was not paying all that much attention to him but I did notice that as he left he said "be careful". It was most unusual.

Ty and I talked of many things. Her touches were those child like, innocent, ones that I remembered. We saw people that we had both known two years ago that were still there in the park. I asked for her address and she took my notebook but did not write in it. I wrote her full name and the town Can Tho. She was surprised that I remembered. She said she did not live there anymore. She lives in Saigon now but moves around. She gave me her cell phone number. We went to dinner at the Lotteria, which sells hamburgers and fried chicken. She picked it. She slips off her shoe and is playing with my foot. We smile about it but I am not sure if it is still one of those innocent touches or something she has learned and I feel uncomfortable with it. After a time I said I guess we should go. She asked where. I said "me to my hotel and you to your home". she agreed and we went to the street and found a cab. I told him the address of the hotel. I told her that I wanted a picture and I had forgotten my camera. As we rode in the cab her little finger touched my hand and I touched hers. We were holding hands and I was not sure where it was going. She laughed that my hand was so much bigger than hers. We arrived at the hotel and I got my camera, came out and took her picture. Afterwards I thought I should not have. We will see how it turns out. She got back in the cab. I paid the driver and I told him to take her where ever she wanted to go. She smiled, we waived and she left.

She is still such a beautiful, innocent child. The thought process that would allow someone to derive pleasure from abusing her is just beyond me.

I went back into the hotel. People were talking to me but I did not take notice and soon I think they stopped. I went to the room and laid down for a while.

Later Hue came and took us out to dinner. It was a nice little place near Nguyen Hue and Le Loi that served Pho.

And so the day is ending.

Ups and downs.

Highs and lows.

I was expecting Miss Dung at 7:00 so we could see the circus. 7:00 came and went an so did 8:00 and 9:00. I would have liked to have seen her but I went to bed. I awoke at 10:30 and went down and stood on the sidewalk. I was there about 10 minutes when Miss Dung arrived on a borrowed motor cycle. She was all smiles and I suggested we go for a ride. I got on and off we went up and down the streets of Saigon. I pointed towards Le Loi and Nguyen Hue but she said "Police, problem". I asked why. She made a gesture with one hand that could have represented a card or plate and said "no have". I am not sure if the cycle was unregistered or she had no license or it was something altogether different. We rode for a while then she put the motor cycle in the garage of some company and asked the watchman to keep an eye on it for a few days.

Miss Dung and I are kindred spirits.


Sunday 9 November

Hydrofoil to Vung Tau


Sunday morning we assemble at the hotel and take a taxi to the Hydrofoil. The Hydrofoil is a 2 hour trip to Vung Tau. It is beautiful on the river. We leave Saigon and travel along the docks. We have many beautiful vistas of Saigon which is disappearing into the distance. Soon the city is behind us and Miss Dung and I go to a deck to watch the river go by.

We arrive in Vung Tau and find a hotel on the beach. After settling in we go take a dip in the South China Sea. The water is warm and a little muddy. Children are scraping the sand for clams and others are playing in the water. The beach is like Wildwood crest. Long and flat and goes into the water slowly so it is nice for children and Miss Dung, who we find can not swim.

After a time she suggests a snack. Debbie can skip to the next paragraph here. Children collect crabs and sell them to a lady on the beach who keeps them in a tank till someone wants some then she cooks them and we sit on the beach eating crabs that were in the water an hour ago. It is a lot of fun sitting there in the sand with the water at our toes.

After a time we go back to the hotel and try the pool. We are all having a good time when Miss Dung finds that there is a point where the pool drops off. After a minor rescue we are all safe and sound in the shallow end.

The hotel is preparing for two wedding parties this evening. There are a lot of decorations.

In the afternoon we go to the market and visit the statue of Christ, overlooking the harbor. We climb the stairs, all 485 of them, and no two alike. They are uneven, high, low, deep, short, but we make it to the top. Back at the bottom Miss Dung is waiting with cold water which I pour on my head and I think of how glad I am that I remembered my medicine this morning.

We have dinner in town in a small restaurant and I am amazed at the amount of food we get for the three of us for $6.00. We walk along the shore and get a cab back to the hotel. Everyone is tired from all the swimming and climbing and I fall asleep fast.


Monday 10 November

Vung Tau - Saigon - Dalat


Monday morning arrives and after a swim in the pool we go for a walk and find a place to get breakfast. Tom has gone back to the hotel. Miss Dung has a bowl of Pho and a plate of greens, which accompanies Pho and I have a roll and an egg. We both have drinks and we spend $1.20. The prices are amazing if you are as little as a block from the hotel, or know where the locals go. On our walk Miss Dung has purchased 6 crabs. I go to the Internet and come back to find the 2 crabs in my room in a bowl, nice and red and some seasoning. Miss Dung has had the kitchen cook them and left them in my room for me. They are delicious.

For less than we would spend on the taxi and hydrofoil Miss Dung has found a cab that will take us back to Saigon in the same time for the same price. It is a nice ride in air conditioning.

We arrive back in Saigon, at the Rex, in time to meet Rich who we have missed again. Maybe in Dalat. So now I am here on De Tham street in the Internet. Tom is downstairs waiting and Miss Dung is off having a sore tooth looked at. 5:30 will be here soon and we will be off to Dalat.

Finished with the Internet, I went to the bus station. The bus was to leave at 5:30. Miss Dung was to be there at 4:00. It was now 5:00 and the ubiquitous Miss Dung was not. I was on the sidewalk watching when she sneaked up behind me. In half an hour the bus is there and we are on it and on our way.

In 3 days Brigadoon disappears into the mist again.

The bus is very modern and comfortable. The seats recline and there is plenty of room. We travel north from Saigon. Past Thu Duc, past Long Binh and on north. The road is busy, a lot of traffic. the sun sets and we stop, after an hour and a half, at a rest area. Many places have bathrooms with toilets that are western but do not have a flush mechanism. Instead after use you go to the cistern and take a bucket of water to flush. Back in the bus we continue north. After another hour we are seeing mountains. There is a full moon and we can see high peaks and a mist moving through the valleys. The roads are less busy now. Mostly large trucks moving like so many Woolly Mammoths slowly and deliberately up and down the hilly roads. I sleep for a while but wake from time to time to see towns that, even here, away from the cities, do not sleep, not completely.


Tuesday 11 November

Dalat


We arrive in Dalat. Unlike Saigon, in Dalat, everyone closes up and goes to bed at night. The hotel rich has suggested is 5 kilometers away so we take a room a few blocks from the bus station. The hotel is nice and clean, After a shower we get some sleep till 5:00 AM.

We are two blocks from city center and the market. We reserve places on the tour tomorrow. We will see Boa Dai's summer palace and other sights. Contact has been made with Rich and we will have dinner tonight or tomorrow night. Today we will walk around town and switch to a less expensive hotel that Tom has found.

As it turns out Rich will be back in Dalat this evening and I have sent him our hotel name. We spend the afternoon seeing the market and Dung and I rent a motorcycle. The traffic here is not as bad as Saigon. Still it has been a third of a century since I have ridden one. All begins well till I get up a narrow street that dead ends. Dung insists that I relinquish control. We turn around and she drives us out of city center and stops to let me drive. After a little slow driving I have the feel and we are off. We see some of the sights and stop often to take pictures. At one point we come to an intersection and I wait till the traffic passes. Now we are on the steep side of the street and slowing. Miss Dung is yelling "outside, outside, OUTSIDE". I have no idea what she means and the cycle slows almost to a stall. I disengage the clutch and press the break. She gets off and points at the front of the shift lever and says outside, then to the back and says inside. She wanted me to downshift.

It is raining softly. After a nice ride we return the bike and go to the hotel to change for dinner.

Rich and I have been trying to get together since I arrived. He says he will meet us at the hotel at 6:30. After a change into some warm dry clothes we go to the lobby and wait for Rich. At 6:30 he and Nga arrive and take us to a lovely restaurant for dinner. It is a wonderful dinner and a lot of good conversation.

Back at the hotel Dung and I walk in the market and return to our rooms.


Wednesday 12 November

Dalat Tour - Back to Saigon


We are up early and go through the market. We are surprised to find, here in Dalat, Washington State Apples and Florida Oranges. The market is filled with stalls of all manner of fruit and vegetable. All fresh many being processed. Lettuce being shredded, carrots being julianed, and many other fruits and vegetables being sliced and diced. There is a woman with a chopping block. She is on the ground with a pile of chickens around her chopping away. The USDA would be horrified but there are no stories of widespread salmonella. Stalls of fish, pork and beef.

We go out for breakfast and down to the tour office to confirm places on the bus to Saigon tonight at 11:00. Our tour guide arrives and takes us to a mini bus for our tour of Dalat. After picking up 2 other couples we are off to the village of the Lat People. One couple is a newly wed Vietnamese couple and the other is Rene Paul and Francoise Monvolsin, who are from the isle of Re in France. Near the village we get stuck in the mud at a bridge under construction. Rene Paul and Francoise came to Dalat just to see the Lat people so the guide says she will take anyone who wishes to walk. We take off our shoes get out and walk though 200 feet of mud, then 3 kilometers down the road, in the rain, when we hear a beep, beep, beep. It is our driver who had paid someone with a truck and chain to pull him through. We pile in and off we go to the village. Once there we meet the most respected man in the village. He speaks Vietnamese, Lat, French and English. He tells us some Lat history and his own personal history. He shows us some instruments and gives us some of his wine which is in a crock and drunk by a long wooden straw. Back in the bus we head back and get stuck again in the same spot. We get out and the others push while I take photos and say words of encouragement. As we stand in the mud and rain I sing "Sunny day, everythings a ok". Rene Paul and Francoise are singing French songs and soon all are singing. Everyone is having a wonderful time. After getting unstuck we are off to other sights. It rains all day but no one cares. In the bus we are all singing, in different languages. I am using the little French I know and we are laughing over miss pronunciations and the fact that we even know these little things. One of the places we stop is a beautiful waterfall, a lake and Temple, and a Pagoda. We have also stopped at the Summer palace of Bao Dai, last emperor of Vietnam. It is very beautiful.

Tom has been talking to the guide and she knows Tom and I are leaving Vietnam in 2 days. Tom asks her why there is so much rain. Our guide says that "Heaven is crying because Henry is leaving Vietnam". She is so sweet. At the end of the tour we drop off the Vietnamese couple, then Francoise and Rene Paul. We exchange addresses and decide that the day could not have been half as much fun if the sun had been out and we had missed getting stuck in the mud. The door of the van closes and I say "I love this country". Our guide asks why I love the country and I tell her that everywhere I go I meet such beautiful people. She says "Maybe you see beauty everywhere because you are so beautiful". I am suddenly aware that I have an ego, and it is over inflated. Vietnamese are so kind and philosophical.

We arrive back at our hotel late and get changed into dry clothes. I call the number that Rich gave us and we get what we think is a wrong number. As it turns out it was the right number, however as I sit here at the Internet Rich, Nga and Dung come in.

Since Rich did not hear from us he went to the hotel where Miss Dung was the only one in her room. I was going to save my email as a draft but sent it by accident. That is why the last one was short and abruptly terminated.

Rich and Nga took us to a gallery where art work was made by stitching on linen. The work was beautiful and we got to see it being made. There is a portrait of the Vietnamese songwriter/poet Son. I ask about it and the young lady is surprised that I know of him.

Dinner was so nice, as last night. However, tonight, the fare was western. A restaurant owned by an American man and his Vietnamese wife. I had Grandmothers pork, mashed potatoes and gravy and vegetables. The food was good and the conversation was as well.

We are now off to the hotel to pack, rest and head for the bus and our return to Saigon.

We arrived at the bus station and waited for our bus to Saigon. We had fun in the terminal. Tom badgers Miss Dung and she has found a way to quiet him.

The bus arrives and we have a nice ride back to Saigon. Miss Dung sleeps almost the whole trip. Tom and I are not so lucky.




Thursday 13 November

Last day in Vietnam


We arrive in Saigon and take a cab to the hotel. We all take a nap for a few hours and Miss Dung is off to the dentist again and to drop things off at home.

We have contacted Ky and her brother will bring our bags to the hotel at 6:30. She has invited us to dinner at 7:00 and Miss Dung will be back at 9:00.

All I have to do is find Chau, the little girl that sells roses at the Rex, and give her $10.00 from Tom Bury and his wife. and probably have another dinner with Miss Dung. Then we are off to the airport at 10:00.

The trip is almost over and was vastly different from the first. This time there were so many opportunities to travel around the country that I did not get to see all my pen pals. We did have the opportunity to meet many new people Vietnamese and other foreigners alike. We met some wonderful people and had a great time.

All I have to do now is find my ticket home. Apparently I lost it or maybe it is in the luggage that I left at Ky's house. Tom thinks I am faking it and just do not want to come home. Perhaps somewhere in my subconscious there may be some truth to that.

Ky showed up with our luggage, which she was nice enough to keep for us, and we went out to dinner with her, her sister, brother and mother. We went to the place Trevor went to when he was here and had his favorite meal. Getting homesick Trevor?

After dinner I went to the Rex and found Chau and gave her the money that Tom Bury had asked me to give her.

Back at the hotel I had my last cold shower in Vietnam and brought my body temperature down to a reasonable point. I am packed and we are ready for the airport. Miss Dung is here and Miss Hue is on her way.

I found my ticket, damn. I have my exit tax in my pocket, I wonder what happens if I loose that. Do I have to stay? Probably not.

Miss Dung is in the terminal smiling and waving, but it is a sad smile. I will miss her so much.




Friday 14 November

Korea


We have arrived in Korea and have a wait of 8 hours till the LAX flight. Due to the fact that I spent everything I have except for 252,000 VND and $12.00 USD, Which may buy a sandwich, and the fact that I could not find a pen pal in Inchon we are not going to see much of the town.

There is a hotel and a shower and massage and, of course, and Internet connection, which is free, thanks to ONSE Telecom.

This time we are heading into the sun and if there is an analogy to be drawn from this I can not imagine what it might be. Leaving Vietnam is leaving the place that I fit in. Everything there just seems right. Hopefully it will be a good Ebay year.


Saturday 15 November

INC LAX PHL


The flight from Inchon to LAX is 9 hours. Interestingly enough the flight from LAX to Inchon was 13 hours. We are hurried along by a tail wing that was 90 to 155 miles per hour. I had an isle seat and the trip was as nice as 9 hours in one seat can be.

We arrive in Los Angeles and go through customs, who really have little interest in anything we are carrying. As we leave LAX International area we leave our bags and at this point we must remove locks. Customs did put ties on the bags after looking through them. We are off to the United Airlines area which is about a mile away. We have a 12 hour layover here so we ask for stand by on the flight that is 8 hours earlier. There is space and we have seats. I go and get a coffee at McDonald's. I have been wanting American coffee for a long time. I get a burger and a coke and we are ready to board.

On board the plane we are told there is a problem with a generator on one of the engines. A device is replaces and we are ready to fire it up. Things are not well. The module does not fix the problem and we are told the entire generator unit must be replaced. We are off loaded and given $8.00 vouchers for lunch. We have a nice lunch and talk to another passenger who is also returning home to Philadelphia. Back at the boarding lounge we are told the plane will be ready at 5:00. There is a couple traveling with us who are playing Gin Rummy on the floor and they are having too much fun to notice that they are inconvenienced. They are such a happy pair. No matter who wins they both are just so happy. It has been a nice part of our trip that we have met so many nice people and it continues here in the US on our way home.

Arriving at Philadelphia we go and collect our bags. We stack them and look for a phone, but as I do I see the van and Susan is waving. The bags loaded we are on our way home.

The trip was wonderful, the only negative was Ty, the coconut girl from last trip. 2 years ago it was Ty who, at 17 made it her mission to keep me safe from the ladies of the evening. Ironically she could not keep herself safe. In the world of the street people the predators rule and the innocent are just not that important. Susan tells me there is nothing I can do to change it and I just have to let it go. She is right but it is not something I will be able to do any time soon.

It is good to be home, but if I had the money, I would be on the next flight out.

See you next trip, next year,