My Return to Vietnam
February/March 2006
Henry M Bechtold
     

Home Page


Guest Book



2006 Trip

Journal of our recent trip February March 2006

Vung Tau

Wedding reception of Trevor and Ky

Chau Chuot and Dylan at Dam Sen

Tay Ninh

Cu Chi

Dalat 

Da Nang

Nha Trang

Hue 

Tu Duc's Tomb

Imperial City

Around Saigon

Suoi Tien Park

Vietnamese Navy Headquarters

Bien Hoa

Mekong Delta

USARV Headquarters

Ba Son Ship Yard

MACV Hue

 

Journal of My Vietnam Trip.
This is the journal of our 2006 trip to Vietnam. My wife, Susan and Grandson, Dylan came for the first two weeks and I stayed another 2 weeks.

There are a few days still not filled in and a few things still not reported but I will have to work on that when I can get organized.




 


Journal Contents


February
11 - Saturday - Beginning the trip
12 - Sunday - Arrival
13 - Monday - Vung Tau
14 - Tuesday - Reception
15 - Wednesday - Tay Ninh and the Cao Dai Temple - Cu Chi
16 - Thursday - Water Park with Chau and Chout
17 - Friday - Zoo, History Museum and off to Dalat
18 - Saturday - Dalat
19 - Sunday - Arrive Danang
20 - Monday - Danang - Hue
21 - Tuesday - Cruising the Perfume River
22 - Wednesday - Return to Saigon
23 - Thursday - Rex Hotel
24 - Friday - Susan and Dylan leave
25 - Saturday - Multi Lingual Waitress
26 - Sunday - Good Bye to Chris and meeting old friends
27 - Monday - Miss Dung and the motorcycle
28 - Tuesday - Lotus School
March
1 - Wednesday - Cholon - A young Lady
2 - Thursday - Notre Dame - Main Post Office
3 - Friday - Old Haunts
4 - Saturday -
5 - Sunday - Long Bien - Bien Hoa
6 - Monday -
7 - Tuesday - My Tho
8 - Wednesday - Can Tho
9 - Thursday - Miss Dung - Chau's House
10 - Friday - Water Park - Cathy
11 - Saturday - Hein
12 - Sunday - Going home

Saturday
11 February
Beginning the trip



Not much sleep. The flight is at 7:00 AM and the airline wants us there 2 hours early. It is an hour from my sisters house to the airport so we must be there at 3:00 AM. The ride is a nice one and we arrive in plenty of time.

Customs goes well and we are ready for the plane. We have coffee or breakfast and discuss the trip. Everyone is excited.

The flight is uneventful, except for its length. The longest leg is San Francisco to Hong Kong, just over 13 hours. It is hard to be comfortable on such a long trip. The plane is a 747 and there is room to get up and walk around from time to time. There are a few good movies which help the time pass faster.
Return to Index

Sunday
12 February
Arrival



We arrive at 10:15 PM, a little ahead of schedule. Customs is easy and we exit the terminal. Outside we are met by Trevor and Ky, My Nephew and his wife, Chris, Trevor's Brother, Ky's mother and her brother. There is a van waiting to take us to the hotel. They have select a nice one and the rate is only $12.00 per night. At that price we will keep the room even when we go to Vung Tau and not have to take everything with us. It is late when we arrive and everyone is ready for bed.

Miss Dung has also met us and her argumentative nature has not endeared her to the rest of the family. We talk for a while and I go to a late dinner with Chris, Trevor Ky and Carol and Don, my sister and brother-in -law. After dinner it is back to the room where Susan and Dylan are already asleep. I drop off pretty quickly.
Return to Index

Monday
13 February
Vung Tau



Our first day here we were off to Vung Tau. We go to breakfast at Sa Sa Cafe on De Tham Street. After breakfast and we are off to the foot of Nguyen Hue which is the Saigon River. There is a dock where the Hydrofoil leaves for Vung Tau almost hourly. Our tickets purchased and we sit along the river taking in all the scenery. Time has come to board the ship, we enter and take our seats.

The ride down is a beautiful one. There is so much to see. The scenery along the banks of the river and the river it's self is filled with all sorts of boats and activity. Cargo boats of all sizes. Fishing boats with nets out, also those tending stationary fish traps.

From the Hydrofoil we have a short drive to the Cap St Jacques Hotel. I have stayed there before. It is a nice new hotel with a great view of the South China Sea. Especially nice at Sunset and sunrise. We check in and are off to the beach. The water is nice and the beach is clean. After swimming for a while we go to the pool and after a nice lunch we are off to the mountain at the tip of Vung Tau and climbed up the 815 steps to the statue of Christ. Back at the hotel Dylan and I took a nice walk and returned. It was getting late and Dylan goes to bed really tired. I went off to try to track down a friend and had a nice time in Vung Tau city visiting with old friends.

On the way back to the hotel traffic was blocked. A rather long dragon was running around in a temple. He then ran out to the street and climbed a 30 foot pole erected in he middle of the street and held up by a group of men holding lines to the pole. After a time of ranting and posturing the dragon came down and everyone went their way.
Return to Index

Tuesday
14 February
Reception



In the morning we had breakfast and took the hydrofoil back to Saigon. On the way we passed a rather large passenger ship which docked in Saigon.

We were early for the party so we shopped for a while. After visiting a few stores we stopped for ice cream. A great treat, through out Vietnam, is the cold cloth served before the meal. In the Ice Cream parlor there was a mist that fell from above to cool the customers.

At 7:00 PM we went to the reception for my Nephew and his wife, Ky. The bride wore a beautiful white dress. They walked to the stage and a series of tubes sent bright shiny confetti into the air to rain down sparkling. Many family members got up and sang with the band. The food came and came. Before one course was done another was here. However at 9:00 PM everyone went home and the party was over. It was beautiful and we all had a wonderful time.

After dinner I went to meet a friend from Dalat and give him some comforts from home, not that there is much, from the US, that he misses. We had a real nice chat over a fruit plate and we will be getting together on the 16th for dinner here in Saigon South. Saigon South is an area to the South of Saigon which used to be a sparsely populated area, mostly swamp, below district 7. It is now laid out to be a very large area of apartments, single homes, amusement park, colleges, and businesses. All you would need to be a complete, self sufficient city on it’s own.

There is still much to do and tomorrow we are off to Tay Ninh and the Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi.


Wednesday
15 February
Tay Ninh and the Cao Dai Temple - Cu Chi



We went out to Tay Ninh and the Cao Dai temple. As always it was a very nice trip. For the first time we arrived early and a service had not yet begun so we were allowed to walk through the lower level of the temple. It was Nice to get a closer look at the entire temple and the alters. I was not sure if we could walk in the center areas or near the alter but there were monks there to invite us in and point out places to stand for a better picture.

There was a down side though. The insurgence of tourists causing problems. Especially those tourists who have no manners. In the temple we used to hear the chanting and the voices of 6 or 8 young ladies singing in the balcony drifted through the entire building. This time there was much talking and even calling out to others who were not close. People pushed in front of the nuns who were worshiping and there was a great lack of respect for the worshipers.

After the Temple we stopped for a great lunch in Tay Ninh and drove to the Cu Chi Tunnels. We saw the video, toured the grounds. Dylan went down an entrance hole and pulled the cover in over him. I got a great shot. He said it was not claustrophobic but he said he felt uneasy, in the darkness, once he had pulled the cover on. He kept the cover on long enough that none of us thought it bothered him. Then we went to the range and Dylan got to fire an AK-47. It was very loud to those of us nearby and he said it was loud to him even with the hearing protection.

Lastly it was off to the tunnels and Dylan, myself and one other made it through the entire length of the tunnel without coming up. There were 3 exits, for those who wished to get out of the tunnel. Susan did not like crawling through the tunnels but, to her credit, did go to the first exit and was rewarded by the experience. As we crawl through I have to think of the VC who crawled through these tunnels 38 years ago. I had to think how the tunnels were smaller than the one we were in and how it was dark for them and the ground was shaking from bombs. I do not think I would have crawled through them back then.

It was late when we returned and everyone ate and went to bed, except for me. I went to town and looked up a few people. Two in particular were Chau and Chout. Chau was the little rose girl, from previous trips, but she now sells lottery tickets. I located her and her sister and made arraignments to take them to the water park.

Back to the hotel and to bed.


Thursday
16 February
Water Park with Chau and Chout



In the morning Nhut arrives with the girls. We go to breakfast on De Tham street. Susan likes De Tham street. I mention to Nhut that we had wanted to have a van but were told that we need 24 hours notice to get one with and a driver. Nhut said if we want a van just wait here 20 minutes and off he went. We finished breakfast and are leaving the restaurant. Nhut is outside with a 12 passenger Mercedes van, with a driver and air conditioning. Nhut is a good man to have around town.

We are off to the water park. Choit said she had never been there before and we had to buy both of the girls bathing suits since they had none. Dylan and the girls played so nicely in the pools and on the slides. We had planned to do a little shopping but thought we would stay at the park as long as possible. To see them all laughing and playing was so beautiful. I wish it could have lasted forever.

After the park we dropped Susan off at the hotel because she wanted to rest and get cleaned up for dinner. The rest of us went to buy ice cream in a nice little parlor on Le Loi between Ben Thanh and the Rex. The restaurant had an outside area with a mist being sprayed in the air to cool off.

After the Ice Cream we went to Ben Thanh Market and, since there was a little time did some shopping. Tom and Rene Bury had sent some money for the girls so we let them pick out some clothes.

In the evening we went to dinner in Saigon South at a restaurant owned by friends. It was a nice get together and I am always amazed at the amount of food, wonderful food, one can get here for so little. Then it was back to the hotel for everyone in our group while Nhut and I took the girls home. I returned to wandered around Le Loi and Nguyen Hue for a while and returned to the hotel.


Friday
17 February
Zoo, History Museum and off to Dalat



This morning we got up and went to breakfast at De Tham Street, Bought our tickets for DaLat tonight and headed the Zoo and the History Museum.

Just a note for those who do not know. Susan is my wife and Dylan is our grandson (12).

We went to the Vietnam History Museum. It has a Nice collection from Vietnam's past. There were many Buddhas and a lot of pottery and China. Two years ago there was a large collection from the Cham Island Shipwreck. However there was very little of that now. Interesting.

The Zoo was very nice also. In 2001 it was dirty and the animals were in dirty cages and dirty water. In 2003 it was much better and now there is a lot of new construction. Everything is clean now and the animals look in very good shape. There is very little betwên us and the animals at the Zoo. At the Elephants there was only a low railing between them and us. A lady was selling sticks of sugar cane. I bought a few and Dylan went to the Elephants, held out a stick and the Elephant came and took it out of his hand. Dylan said he had held onto the stick and the Elephant gave a yank and pulled it away. Back at the hotel. Sue is resting up for the trip to Dalat and Dylan is doing homework. I go out for a while.

After a lunch on De Tham Street we caught the 4:30 bus to Dalat. I like the bus. It is 6 hours of bouncing up and down over winding roads through the mountains. However the up side is that you meet interesting people and you stop at out of the way places where no one speaks English. This trip we met. a man who introduced himself as a Christian and showed us his Khan Thanh which I am sure is a Bible. He showed us some music and if I could read music we probably would have recognized some familiarities. Instead we sang a few hymns from which he picked out a few words but nothing clicked so we just sang on, through the darkness, waking up passenger. We exchanged cards and found that he was a Sr Pastor in a church in Da Lat. Too bad tomorrow isn't Sunday.

A down side to the ride is that to say Susan did not like the bus would be an understatement of Epoch proportions.

We arrived in Dalat to find a class trip checking in to our Hotel. Things are hectic, however we find our room and have a nice nights sleep.


Saturday
18 February
Dalat



The tour agency here has a number of tours but you can also tell them what you want to see and get a guide and a car and be off to what you wish to see and do. We took a tour which included the Crazy House and actually met the crazy lady. The crazy lady, who likes the name, is the daughter of a Vietnamese woman and a Russian father. She is an architect and an artist, and probably a romantic. The house looks like an attraction at Disney world. All free form concrete that wanders all over the property.

We stopped at Bao Dai's (Last emperor of Vietnam) summer palace and liked it. We come to find that it was one of three summer palaces he owned in Dalat. The other two are in disrepair and being converted to government offices. During his reign the city of Dalat was a place that could only be visited with the permission of the Emperor.

We went out to Tuyen Lam Lake. The lake is reached by car or by the lift which goes from the Eastern side of the city to the lake. There is Tuyen Lam Meditation Monastery by the lake and it is so beautiful. We visited the temple there. While there Dylan was quite noticed. Being rather hansom and having blond hair and blue eyes, all the ladies, young and old thought him quite beautiful. A group of women wanted a photo with him in the temple. He kneeled and held his hands together and one by one all the young ladies came and kneeled with him to have their photo taken. I was very proud of the way he handled himself. All the young ladies left feeling happy.

After that it was down to the boat and off to Elephant Island. There Dylan and I rode the Elephant through the woods. It was a really neat experience. It was a ride of about 20 minutes through the woods. At one point the Elephant wanted to go down to the lake. The man directing him wanted him to stay on the trail. The Elephant finally followed direction but not with out protest. We were hoping the Elephant would go down into the lake. Still it was a very nice ride.

Our tour finished we returned to the office of the tour group and ran into the bus load of ladies who were at the temple. They saw Dylan and began to smile and wave. They all came over and one gave Dylan a key chain with a crocheted strawberry on the end. Believe it or not we were still able to get Dylan's head back into the car. Actually Dylan was very good and made all the girls happy. Once again we were very proud of his thoughtfulness and the girls went away happy.

In Dalat construction of hotels is going full speed ahead. 3 new ones in the main street and 4 more in view of the main street.

Up the hill from the tour company is an internet café. We stopped in and had some ice cream and soda while I sent of a letter to tell everyone what we were up to. We take the time to go to the market for a while and to a store which sells art made by stitching colored thread on silk. The work is very beautiful and very detailed.

It is near dinner time and we are off to Rich and Nga’s house. It is a beautiful little house and both rich and Nga are happy there. Nga used to teach however her ebaY business is so good she has stopped teaching. She has two girls working for her and plans to hire a third.

They took us to dinner at a very nice restaurant. Rich told us something fascinating about Da Lat. In the 30's a group of French, who were wealthy, were concerned by the German interference in France and thought France might be lost so they all moved to Da Lat and built villas. A row of them is still above the town center. All abandoned and they may be sold off to individuals soon. Also things are loosening up and non Vietnamese might be able to buy property soon.

After a lovely meal and much good conversation we returned to their home and the car for Nha Trang arrives just as we do. The ride down to Nha Trang was uneventful and Susan liked it much better than the bus. We checked into a lovely hotel on the Beach in Nha Trang but is already bed time and we are all tired from a busy day.


Sunday
19 February
Arrive Danang



Nha Trang looks very nice and the beach looks very clean. It is a beautiful beach, however this is a stop over for us and we are up with just enough time to go down to the buffet breakfast. It is on the first floor, outside with a roof over part of it and the rest is a large area with chairs and tables. The buffet has pancakes and eggs and omelets. There is much fruit and pastries. It was a very relaxing breakfast.

After breakfast we check out and we are off to the airport for the flight to Danang. The ride to the airport is a long one. We are actually back tracking the trip of last night for a while. The Nha Trang airport is actually the old US Airfield at the north end of Cam Ranh Bay. The airfield has a terminal and a small restaurant/gift shop across the parking lot. There is a small control tower and a few small buildings. The area which was once a city is gone. As we take off we can see roads, laid out like city blocks and some slabs from long gone buildings. The airfield sits in the center of this waste land. It is interesting how development, in some places, like Saigon, is crowding out the old. However in other areas, especially rural ones, there is much that we left at the end of the war which has been completely destroyed, leaving only foundations and outlines, even though the land is still not being used. We have seen some buildings that are being used.

The flight replaced the train which was scrapped after the incident with the bus. The ride from the hotel to the airport was 45 min and I worried that we were going to the wrong place. Our plane was a prop which also won points with Susan who prefers them to jets because of their gentler takeoffs and smother flights.

Arriving in Da Nang we settle in to our hotel. The My Khe hotel is on China Beach. Our room has a sitting room and a bedroom. The room is very airy and has a large porch all around to give us shade. We change and are off to the beach. It is warm and sunny and the water is beautiful. A really nice clean beach. We spend the morning in the ocean and after lunch a nice young lady we have been talking to on the beach has offered to take us to some stores we need to visit. Her sister in law and she drive while Dylan and I ride behind, we have a fun time. We buy film, More athletes foot medicine, airline tickets from Hue back to Saigon and a bus ticket to Hue. I remember the bus incident from 2 days ago but this is only 2 hours and it is all on a smooth level road.

In the afternoon we have time to swim again.

One of those incredible things has happened. We met a young lady, named Ty, on the beach and we are talking. I told her that it was Dylan's birthday and she says we should do something to celebrate it. I ask her where she and her friends go and she tells me she is 28 and goes to disco but thinks it is to old for Dylan. She suggests that we go to a restaurant and asks Dylan's birth date and spelling of his name. We agree on 6:00 and we go our seperate ways. At 6:00 we go downstairs and her sister-in-law is there with her husband and son to take us to the restaurant.

We arrive and are seated when the lady from the beach, Ty, has the waiter bring out a cake with Dylan's name, birthday, and "Happy Birthday". There is a breeze on the deck and the candles can not be lit. We go inside and light them but the breeze finds us and as we all sing Happy Birthday the breeze gets the better of the candles and helps Dylan blow them out. Ty and her sister-in-law give Dylan gifts that their father, a sculpturer has carved of Marble from Marble Mountain. One is a rooster because Dylan was born in the year of the rooster and the other is a Dauphin, probably because of the way Dylan was swimming during the day.

Ty wanted to do something for Dylan's birthday because she never had one since they were poor while she was growing up. Tomorrow I will visit her father in his studio and see his works.


Monday
20 February
Danang - Hue



Danang was warm and the beach beautiful. It rained after we went to bed last night and was over well before we got up in the morning. A most cooperative climate.

Susan and Dylan went swimming and I went up to Marble Mountain to see Ty's Father's shop. It was very interesting and I enjoyed it. We saw an Eagle in the shop at the hotel and one at the shop at Marble Mountain. She said that I could have it for $140.00 and Dylan really liked it. However $140 is out of my reach now. There was a second brown marble one which was $50.00. I asked the difference and she told me it was the marble.

I returned and went in the water with Susan and Dylan. Later we had lunch, packed, and checked out. We got a cab to the travel agency where the bus would be stopping. There was an Ice cream parlor so we all had some and talked with other travelers who were also waiting for the bus. There was a young man from Oregon and a lady from Australia who was on her way North to Lao Cai. Tom and I passed through Lao Cai in 2003 when we went up tp Sapa.

While waiting at the bus station Dylan and I walked around and in a little shop found the same Eagle he had liked for $5.00? We both asked at the same time, $5.00. I even got out one hundred thousand VND note and said $5.00 and the man looked at the 100,000 VND note ($6.50) and said "I will get you change". So Dylan has his eagle. This was white marble speckled with black. Now we have the same eagle for $140.00, $50.00 and $5.00. We have all learned a lesson about, tourists area gift shops.

We took the bus up to Hue. It was a 3 hour trip and the road was smooth and flat except the Hy Van Pass, which was not all that bad.

In Hue we went to the Ngoc Huong Hotel. Susan is napping and Dylan and I went to get her a Coke. Dylan and I took a walk around town and found street vendors making all kind of things fried in a wok. First was vegies and meat. Second was pastry. One of the pastries was fried bananas in batter. We bought ourselves a sampling of street things which we took back and ate in the room.

It was an interesting day. We went from swimming at China Beach, in the morning to strolling along the Perfume River on a warm evening with just enough breeze to take the heat off and make it a very nice end to the day.

While out we made reservations on the boat to cruse the Perfume River tomorrow.


Tuesday
21 February
Cruising on the Perfume River



The hotel is just half a block from Le Loi street. In Hue, Le Loi street runs along the south bank of the perfume river. The best hotels are there. The Saigon Morin, the Riverside and others. Also the University of Hue is along Le Loi.

Breakfast this morning was a buffet on the top floor of the hotel. Looking out over the city and the Perfume River. Lots of good things and some interesting things like cold french fries. We are watering down the coffee but it is still strong for me. Dylan found a coffee sauce which he liked on Bananas. There were spring rolls, and other good things.

I had wanted to cruise the perfume river and show Dylan and Susan the tombs and temples. We got the boat and went up stopping at a few temples, that were close to the river, however at the top of the river tour we visited Minh Mang's tomb and then got a car back to the city stopping at Khai Dinh's and Tu Duc's tomb. If you are ever in Hue, Minh Mang and Tu Duc's tombs are a must. At Tu Duc’s there is a place to dress as an emperor or empress but Dylan did not wish to. The purpose of the car, half way, was so Susan did not have to ride a motor cycle from the boat to the tombs.

After the cruise and a short rest we wandered the town, then off to dinner at the Saigon Morin. Very colonial and a bit elitist. In the central courtyard is a buffet with everything. It reminds me of Howard Carter peering into Tut's tomb and saying "I see wonderful things". There were all manner of shrimp and spring rolls. Smoked mackerel, Beef wrapped in decorative fat, soups, salads and so many deserts. The reason I loose weight in Vietnam is because I don't eat at places like this. Actually can not afford to eat at places like this.

After dinner Susan returns to the hotel and Dylan and I go to see what is around. We walk along the perfume river and see all the street vendors. Then back to bed.


Wednesday
22 February
Return to Saigon



Breakfast is once again a buffet in the roof top restaurant of the Hotel. After that we go to the Citadel. The Citadel is the complex which includes the Imperial City and the Forbidden Purple City. There is also a large fortress in front of the Imperial city which is refereed to as the Citadel.

We arrive and go through the Noon gate. The main entrance to the Imperial city. This is a building which was for entering the Imperial City but also as a place for ceremonies. The Emperor would sit above the crowds and watch over things. It was here that the Last Emperor, Bao Dai abdicated on August 25, 1945. In the front center of the Imperial City was the Forbiden Purple City which contained the quarters of the Emperor, the Empress, the Imperial Family and staff. In the center of this Purple City was the compound of the Emperor and a compound for the Empress. These two compounds are gone. The Japanese, then the French and then the Americans did a lot of damage. There is a lot of restoration work being done. Two years ago we were told that buildings that were gone would not be replaced however now there is talk they will be. The restoration work done is very nice but much still needs to be done. Several buildings including the Noon Gate have a lot of bracing holding parts of the roof up and holding the building straight. The good news is that the western third of the Purple City is in remarkably good shape. The Grand Queen Mothers compound is being restored and the Queen Mothers is in very nice shape. Her compound contains her Temple and quarters for her staff. There are meeting rooms and gardens that go on and on yet are all contained within the walls of her compound which is contained within the imperial city. The craftsmanship is beautiful and there is a model of what the city looked like when it was the seat of power for Vietnam.

We tried to go into the actual Citadel which is in front of the city along the river but it was completely blocked off for some reason, this day.

At lunch time we went and had a nice lunch in the Century Riverside Hotel. After that Susan sat in the park while Dylan and I wandered around the town. I am pretty sure that I found the old MACV compound that Andreas asked about and it is being used by the military or police now so no photos are allowed. Because of this I only got a few good photos. In front of the building is a restaurant which I noticed had a back door so I went in and stepped out the back door, snapped a picture and was back in before anyone noticed. I got another from the gate while the officer was not looking and one from across the street. I spoke to some men outside the gate and wrote "MACV US Army 1968". They smiled and pointed at the building so I think I have it. About this time a man, who had a very serious look, came out of the compound, so I decided to be on my way.

We are all sitting around the Hotel. I am doing some internet stuff and Susan and Dylan are just relaxing. We are waiting for a car to the airport and a flight back to Saigon. A day of rest and shopping and Susan and Dylan are off to home.

The flight from Hue to Saigon was uneventful and only 1 hour and 45 minutes. We arrived and went to the Rex. Susan was very happy with the room. It is a very nice room and we are all tired from the day. All seemed well till I found that we only had the room for one night and I really did not want to move again.


Thursday
23 February
Rex



In the morning I went to reservations and a very nice lady told me to come back at 10:00 and she would know if there were checkouts and we could stay. I went out and took film to be developed and saw a few friends then returned to meet Susan and Dylan in the tax store. We shopped for a while and then went back to the hotel for lunch. Chris Don and Carol were in the Rex for lunch and we talked for a while. Then we were off to the complimentary lunch. It was the lunch or the massage and those can get out of hand even now, especially for those of us who like touching anyway.

Lunch was, once again, too much food but we sampled many yummy things. Today Dylan was beginning to show signs of wanting his normal fare but still he was pretty good at trying things that are a little different. After lunch Dylan did some homework and Susan rested. I went out to see people again and came back to tell Dylan that there is a pool on the roof. He finished what he was working and we went to the pool for a while. We had fun and I noticed what a good place it was to get some photos of the city.

Before dinner I went to get the photos and looked at a nice little bookstore. Upstairs was a room where children could purchase plaster objects and paint them. There were also books that mothers could read to children and several mothers were helping their children with painting or reading to them.

Tonight we got together for a good night dinner. It was a lot of fun and a lot more food. After everyone is gone I will be back to my usual Vietnamese diet and may undo a little of the damage I have done.

I had hoped to have a few friends join us but they all had other commitments or we missed one another in the lobby and various restaurants in the Rex.

After the dinner we leave a 3:00 wake up call so we can leave for the airport by 4:00.

And so to bed....


Friday
24 February
Susan and Dylan leave



I did not get much sleep. I was worried that we would wake up an hour after the plane left. This would not be a problem for me but for Susan it would have been.

We got our wake up call and were ready and off to the airport by 4. The flight was 6:04 and they asked us to be there 2 hours early. We were there 1 1/2 hours early so we only had to stand around for one hour before things began to happen. Everything went well and Susan, Dylan and the others all went off to the lounge.

Chris and I went off to the Rex and were too early for breakfast so we went to the room and fell asleep for over an hour. We awoke and went up for the free breakfast. There was one table left and I got a juice and set it at a place and went off to get my breakfast. Upon returning a beautiful young Japanese lady was looking at the table and I motioned her to have a seat. She did. She brightened the table and the morning like the fresh flowers that were there, only much more so.

After breakfast we went to check the email, another free-be of the Rex. A real treat since their systems worked well and fast. The key pads had all their letters and the surroundings were very nice.

Before leaving the Rex we looked at the casino upstairs. A lot of slot machines but not much else.

We went to the hotel where we all started out and Chris had a nap while I went out to find Miss Nhi, or at least her address on the internet or in California. She was the one who had rescued me in 2001 when I ended up in Vung Tau without a valid visa and no where to spend the night. She had come to the USA and was in California. She had married and had a daughter but we lost touch. I found our contact in Vung Tau and he lead me to a contact in Saigon. Is this all beginning to sound a little like a spy novel. Our first meeting in Vung Tau, in 2001 also sounded like that.

I returned to the hotel and had a rest and went to De Tham street. I did some email and then was off to Ben Thanh market for some supplies and off to the Tax Store for a few things that Dylan wanted. Then back to the hotel to mêt Chris.

Chris and I were in front of the hotel and a motor cycle came out of the alley. On the back was a beautiful little girl. She saw me and smiled so I waved. As they pulled out across the close lanes she waived. They pulled into the lanes moving left and she turned and waived again so I raised my hand high and as they moved through the intersection she was still waiving so I raised both hands and waived. They moved into traffic and as she disappeared in the mob I could see her little hands. Children are so beautiful.

Chris and I were off to dinner. We just went out of the hotel and walked and ended up on De Tham Street. As we entered the street we heard a call of hello from a bar and looked in. The only westerner I know here, who might be on De Tham Street was Bruce and I squinted to see. The man continued beckoning so we went in. It was not Bruce. It was a wonderfully friendly man named Eamonn who is an expat from Ireland. He teaches English and has businesses here. We had a beer and talked of Ireland, business opportunities in Vietnam and finally he told us of a very nice restaurant called La Canteena just a left, right and second alley up on the right by the temple. To show that no knowledge is wasted I told Eamonn that we had a country store near us named Sandy's and that Sandy would make us memorize little sayings that he had hung around the store. I remembered one, "Some ha meat that cannot eat. And some that could eat that want it. But we ha meat and we can eat, so let the Lord be thanked". We talked of Irish and Scottish similarities and bad mouthed the British a little, even though the bar was owned by a Britt. Eamonn assured us that anything we said about the Brittish, he would tell the owner when he was there so we needn't feel as though we were talking behind his back.

La Canteena was a really nice restaurant which served Irish, Mexican and Vietnamese fare. I had the meat pie and it was almost as good as Sandy's from Pineville, Pennsylvania, thought Sandy's is no longer there.

Yesterday I had a hoagie on the street that did not agree with me and after dinner I was not feeling good. I was going to go back to SaSa Cafe but felt real bad so a cab stopped and I got in and decided it better to go back to the hotel and lay down. Just then Miss Dung showed up and got in the cab. I had been hoping to see her but not right then. Back at the hotel I laid down as the man from the hotel was fixing the cable connection to the TV and Miss Dung was suggesting cures for upset stomachs. Shortly the TV was fixed, Miss Dung had given up trying to heal me and accepted it when I told her I needed some quite so I could lay down and die and she left. I fell asleep and by morning I was feeling much better.

Dylan and Susan should be well on their way. Probably over Japan and heading for Chicago.


Saturday
25 February
Multi Lingual Waitress



Chris and I went out for breakfast and ended up just off De Tham street again. We were on the third floor of a nice coffee shop and Chris had a nice breakfast while I sipped a Coke. We had a nice time chatting. I see Chris every few years when he is in from Japan and we seldom have time to talk much. Chris is a wonderful conversationalist and we had a nice time.

After breakfast I am off to the internet and he is off banking. We will have dinner later.

It was a quiet day and I am pretty sure I will not die. I am also pretty sure I will not have another hoagie from across the street.

I just heard from Susan that she and Dylan are home. Dylan spoke of returning but I think Susan liked the trip and is glad she came but she may have seen enough of Vietnam for a while. We will see how things go.

Chris and I had a nice dinner in a small Italian restaurant off De Tham street. We had a nice time flirting with the waitresses. One in particular was a fascinating person. She spoke Vietnamese, Cambodian, French, English and Japanese. Chris spoke to her in Japanese and she really enjoyed it. She is the only one in the restaurant who speaks French and the owner is French and speaks only French, This puts her in a good position however she is leaving for a job where she will use her languages more.

After dinner I went back to the internet and home to bed.


Sunday
26 February
Good Bye to Chris and meeting old friends



In the morning Chris and I went to breakfast and he was off to the airport.

It was nice to have had this time with Chris. Chris is my nephew, who lives in Japan. We usually have time to talk when he is in the US for Christmas or some other visit and there are so many people that everyone has a few minutes with everyone else. This was real nice.

I went looking for a friend, Han. I could not get her on the phone and she no longer has internet at home. I arrived at a good time Han and her boyfriend were there. Han is now working in advertising and her boyfriend is a technician at a TV station. Han's father was there. He was the accountant at Hotel Tan Nghia but is now teaching Math. I also met Han's mother who is a grade school teacher. We talked for a while and then Han's father drove me around to some places.

After that I rested for a while and went to see Tam for dinner. Tam lives in the North of Saigon. She has a lovely home. There are orchids everywhere. It is like living in a garden. I met her mother this time and had just enough Vietnamese to ask after her mothers health. Tam is a vegetarian and took me to a wonderful place in Saigon that had a wonderful vegetarian buffet. I wish they gave recipes. Near the end of the meal Tam told me that she was expecting a friend. Her phone rang and she answered and looked around the room. Across the room I noticed a woman with a cell phone and it was she. Miss Ngoc, Ngoc is Vietnamese for Jade. Have you ever noticed that there are people who enter a room and the room is brighter for their presence. This was Miss Ngoc. Tam and Ngoc are English teachers. We sat and talked then Miss Ngoc went to the buffet. She returned and was eating. I must have been staring because she looked shy and Tam said "she can not eat if you look at her". I thought that was a shame because she was so nice to look at. We had a nice meal and some nice conversation. We parted company after dinner and as they rode off I went around the square and to the internet.


Monday
27 February
Miss Dung and the motorcycle



The day started with Miss Dung arriving and telling about her motor cycle. Something about it being "no good", something about the police and we will go find it later. She can be a bit of a mystery. As it turns out there were two problems. It looks like she lost her national ID and had to get a temporary ID to replace it. That done we are on our way to unravel the mystery of the motorcycle. We arrived at a garage and she brought it out. She attempted to start it but it would not start. We pushed it to a shop and went to breakfast. When we returned the mechanic told her it would be more work than he had thought. So she took it home. A tow is an interesting thing here. A man on a cycle rode next to her rear wheel and put his foot on her exhaust pipe and rode home pushing her. She was a little uneasy being pushed and spoke to him harshly a few times. One time his flip flop popped off and she went ahead taking some time to notice that he was not there. We all thought it quite funny but she did not.

She left the cycle at the shop near her house and we rode on to her home. It was small but nice. She lives with her sister, her brother-in-law and Toan, her son. We saw the house and the neighborhood and then she took me to a temple where 37 elderly are cared for by the monks. The 37 have various infirmities and no family to care for them. It was sad but also nice to see that they were cared for.

Miss Dung took me back to the hotel. We talked for a while and fell asleep watching TV. A short nap and she was off. I returned to center city for a few things. I got Jack's motor cycle model.

In the evening I went to the area of Cholon near the hotel where there are few tourists and prices are more reasonable. I got some CD's. Two years ago I could look through the CD's and just pick out the ones with women’s photos on the cover and I would have a nice collection of beautiful, gentle, music. Now I have to look through all the US influenced Rap and other angry music. The cute is being contaminated. There was an ice cream store and I got a dixie cup. There was one very interesting store. It was a bakery. As you entered you were handed a tray and tongs. There were bins of every sort of pastry. Things stuffed with filling and things rolled with filling. I would tell you what all the good stuff was but I neither speak or read the language. At the corner of one display was a young lady writing on a cake with a small pastry bag full of orange icing. She wrote as fast as most of us write with pen and paper but the writing was very nice and even.

I returned to the hotel and went to bed.


Tuesday
28 February
Lotus School



This morning I went to the Tax store to buy a small back pack for Mekong, Tay Ninh, and Long Binh. I got a few other things I needed.

I also stopped at the Lotus School to talk about teaching here. Tam, in the US, had recommended it. The long and short of it is that if I get the new job and have 3 or 4 months off each year all I have to do is show up and if there is a vacancy I will then get my visa extended and all will be well. They asked for my resume which I keep on my web site and I told them I could also send one along. We exchanged cards and that was done.

I was near De Tham street and in the mood for shrimp spring rolls. While eating there the usual group of street vendors showed up and we had some fun. One little girl was selling books and I needed to find some Vietnamese words to continue a discussion. She wanted $6.50 USD and I wanted to pay 30 cents. I went up to 60 cents and she came down to $3.25. She was holding her hand out with 5 fingers out (50,000VND). She did this a few times so I put out my hand with 2 fingers and said "scissors cut paper". She laughed and did it again. Then she smilled and said "we do for book, I win you pay 50,000, you win you pay 20,000". We agreed on 5 times and I won the first, but lost the next 4. She laughed and I gave her the $3.25. She ran off down the street holding up the 50,000 VND note like a banner telling everyone she had won. Later she came back and wanted to sell me another book but I told her some one had taken all my money. She was very happy with her victory. So was I.


Wednesday
1 March
Cholon - Young Lady


I went to the market in Cholon this morning. It is far enough from the center of things that there were very few tourists and prices were much better. Walking back there were several Temples that were fascinating.

There were also some beautiful children. I have photos of one little girl who asked nothing but smiled and waived.

In the afternoon I went to De Tham which is crowded with toiurists but it was a good place to try to locate Ty. I did not find her but there was a young lady selling cigarettes. Her name is Be Hai. I told her I do not smoke so she said "where are we going" I said "I am going over to the park to see if a friend shows up. We went into the park and sat and talked. She is 18 but looks 10. She is very small for her age and I think she had cerebral palsy. She moves with some difficulty, and yet she is so graceful. She has the most beautiful face and such pretty eyes. She asked if I had eaten and I said I did a while ago. I asked did she and she said no. I asked if she was hungry and she said yes so I asked if she wanted to go to dinner. We went to Kim Cafe and I had a watermelon shake and she had a pork chop, rice, vegetables and tea. I was hoping to meet someone so I went to see, from time to time. She was so delightful.

Later I went to Nguyen Hue and Le Loi. 6 blocks from the opera house the music was too loud. At the opera house the music was causing people to cover their ears. I stayed for a while but had to retreat.


Thursday
2 March
Museums



Today I went to all those places that I have been to or seen but not paid a lot of attention to. I went to Notre Dame and went inside to see the part of the church I do not usually see. I also went to the Main Post Office. This is a really imposing building just across the street from Notre Dame. The main floor is a huge room with a 3 story vaulted ceiling. There are tellers around the perimeter of the room and behind each is a large pair of doors that open to a room beyond. It is a beautiful building that is very French Colonial.

I visited the train station. At the entrance there is a steam locomotive. on display. The locomotive is displayed on an up slope to be more dramatic.

Also today I found a few of the people who I have been following for the last trips.

Still I have not located Ty. A lot of people know her and I have heard she is in the Mekong Delta, that she was there but would be back in 3 days, that she was in a town across the river and that she was in prison. Three people have said she will be here in one to three days.

I sat in the park and talked with Hoa and her family. Hoa sold in the park and is doing well. I think she will continue to do so. She asked if I see Lloyd in the US and I told her that we live on opposite sides of the country and have never met in person. I told her that it is more likely that we will meet in Vietnam on some future trip.

Enough for now. We will see what tomorrow brings.


Friday
3 March
Old Haunts



I spent yesterday going to places that I used to go when I was in the service. I stopped by the bar we used to hang out at when we were in Saigon. It has been closed and shut up the last two times I was here. Now it is a fan shop. I am sometimes surprised how little inventory it takes to open a store here and have a good living from it.

Other shops however are fascinating. There was shop on the way home from the market in Cholon that had 2 plastic mold injecting machines and a child at each taking out the moldings and trimming them with a pair of scissors and throwing them in a bag.

Another shop had a large lathe, which filled most of the 10 foot storefront. A man was turning crankshafts for 4 cylinder engines.

The Saigon Port building, where I stayed on my first trip back in 1969 has finally been painted. For 35 years it was three colors, looking like they kept running out of paint. Now it is all yellow. It has not changed much in all that time.

Down by M & M docks things also have not changed much. I sat in a small restaurant and sipped a coke while talking to the owner and two of her friends. It was a fun couple of hours. It is really nice to stop and talk with people. Though the language is a small problem it is not so insurmountable.

One place I have never been is Mogambo. It is named for the movie with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. The owners are an American expat and his Vietnamese wife. They serve American and Mexican dishes using US and Australian beef. The hamburger was great, a real taste of home.

I am having no luck finding Ty but we will see what happens.

I met a Vietnamese man on the street yesterday. He is from Boston. It is interesting how many Vietnamese expats there are here now a days.

Saturday morning and I am off to some museums. The Ho Chi Minh City Museum is nice. It used to be the Museum of the Revolution. The name has changed but it is still the museum of the revolution. A few more museums and a stop to see Hoa the search for Ty is going. Lunch at KFC or as they say here Ga Ran Kentucky. So I guess it is not KFC but rather GRK.

Miss Hue took me to dinner. She had been very busy and not feeling well but is better. We went to a nice little place near the hotel. I am seeing something really neat around here. A window with a basin about the size of a rain gutter and at the top of the window a tube putting water on the glass which gives the effect of rain or a water fall. It has a nice effect.

There are 89 bus routes around the city so I guess I should make an effort to figure out how they work. I even found a map of them but with 89 routes the map is a bit complex. I guess I just have to get on and see what happens.

I have people to see tomorrow but I think I will get out of the city Next week.


Saturday
4 March






Sunday
5 March
Long Binh



After several days of just wandering around the city I ventured out to Long Bien and Bien Hoa today. A car is $50USD for the day but using a tactic of Miss Dung I asked a cab driver if he would take me to several places on Long Binh and Bien Hoa for $20USD. We first went to Long Binh to photo the building that was once USARV. Westmorland's headquarters on the South side of Long Binh in some large buildings shaped like a big "H". I found them from the south side and got a few shots through the woods. This driver did not seem worried as the one last year. In fact he knew that the place was police instead of army although that is a rather unclear distinction here. The compound is about 1/4 of the former Long Binh. Then we went around to the North and came at the hill from the industrial park. ln the park were buildings with the flag of the country of the business and a flag of Vietnam side by side. This time I noticed several with a US flag and a Vietnamese flag side by side. We came down a hill that would have been East and a little North of TC Hill and there was USARV. I got a few shots and hopefully clearer than the ones from last trip.

We went over to Bien Hoa to take some photos of the area that Van had mentioned from his youth. I think we found the correct market but will have to wait till I get home to show Van. It was a little hard to find the Bien Hoa market since Bien Hoa, like the rest of Vietnam has grown so much. Bien Hoa was, in 1968 a small town to the South and West of Bien Hoa airbase. Now Bien Hoa is part of a town that covers all of the area that was once Long Binh and everything around the airbase and the area around what was Bien Hoa.

I have many wonderful shots of us crossing two bridges that were railroad/automobile bridges. Bridges that were one lane but two way with no signal. You just waited till no one was coming and crossed the bridge.

We came back from Bien Hoa a different way than we had gone so I missed a photo of the area across from the Southwest corner of Long Binh. There was a factory with a tower with the lettering VIMCO. What ever the building was we had called it the Rice Mill, not the infamous one in Saigon. The front of the factory was replaced by a modern section which is a truck distributorship.

The Bien Hoa/Long Binh area still needs a lot more exploring next time.

Miss Dung stopped by last night with her son in tow. They stayed long enough to say hello and good bye.

I have signed up for a trip to My Tho and Can Tho for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Usually about this time I begin to feel a panic that I will not finish what I want to do as time runs down. This trip I feel ok with the fact I will be leaving and what does not get done will get done next time.

So much is changing though and I hope it does not all get torn down to make room for all the new hotels and apartment houses that dot the landscape and block out the skyline of Saigon, and it is Saigon. Has been, still is, will continue to be.

The city is so alive. So many nice people. On the dark side I was attacked by a band of adorable little children bearing post cards and roses. They roam the streets in packs and once they single you out they attack in shifts like wolves. Sending in a few for the initial attack then when they have weakened you others come in for the kill. Rich told me I have a big red "X" on my back and everyone knows it. I think he is right.

Well off to see what the night holds.


Monday
6 March






Tuesday
7 March
My Tho



As usual I went to the Mekong Delta on a one day tour but this time I took 2 days. It was a nice time and this time instead of a bus to My Tho we went to the Saigon River, here in Saigon, and took a boat.

On the way we had to stop at a Canh Sat(police) checkpoint on the river. Being Socialists they want to know where everyone is all the time and why they are going where they are going. Our guide was in there a long time and when he came out he said they wanted a case of beer so he had to arrange, with his company, to have the next boat drop it off. Often the corruption is blatant. On our way again.

In our group are a French couple, a German couple 5 Swedes and me. Our guide is doing a card trick and one of the Swedes shows him a card trick which baffles our guide, it is really neat and looks convincing.

We arrive in My Tho but do not dock. Instead we head out across the river. We pass an island with a temple on it. The temple is to the coconut religion. A Frenchman, in 1937 found himself with nothing to do so he started the religion. The worshiped the coconut and ate and drank only coconut. The religion probably would have survived except that the Frenchman thought people could only properly worship in the nude. The government came and stripped the temple of alters and everything else and now only the building remains.

We are told that at low tide the Mekong is about 4 meters deep and at high tide it is 6 meters deep. I think this may be a little off since the evidence of the tide showed only about a one meter difference. Close enough.

There were so many boats on the river. Large freighters, oil barges, sand and gravel barges and tour boats all over.

As with the one day tour we stopped at a factory, rather small, cottage industry, that made coconut candy. Same as last times but a diferent building and a diferent location. We got samples and bought a few for home. These were a real favorite last time so I stocked up. There was also a 6 foot python that we all played with for a while.

We stopped for lunch, also at a new place, but the same fish, fried and mounted in a rack that made it look as though it was swimming. I had not mentioned last time but it is an elephant ear fish. In the area were pools filled with the fish so all they had to do was dip a net in and fry them up. After lunch a walk or bike ride and back in the boat.

We arrive at a place where we transfer to very small boats. 10 foot by 30 inches with a woman on the bow and a man at the tiller they took us through a narrow canal to a place where we had some native fruits and heard some traditional Delta music. There were two men with stringed instruments and some ladies singing. At one point there were 6 singers and one of them and I had this great eye contact. The more I smiled at her, the more she smilled at me till at last she could not sing. She tried looking away but kept looking back. Finally she could not sing at all. Then she began to giggle and as she did, so did I. We were both giggling so I looked away and so did she but as I looked back she did also and it began again. The song ended and she hurried to sit down but she was so close that each time she looked over she began to laugh again. I have a wonderful photo of her.

Back in the larger boat and we are off to Can Tho. We arrive and check into the hotel. We will meet for dinner at 6:30 so I went down the alley behind the hotel and found a small stand where a group of ladies are talking and eating. I managed just enough Vietnamese to have a chair pulled out and invited to sit and chat. Of course what little I know was pretty much over buy that time. I could pick out a word here and there and it made things interesting. They were trying to fix me up with a woman who was widowed or divorced and they were all having a lot of fun with it.

6:30 and back to the hotel and we are off to dinner. We have a friendly little group. One of the Sweeds, Richard, is particularly outgoing and they are all a lot of fun.

The dinner is good and we have fun talking. After dinner we return to the hotel but Richard says he has made it a practice to not go to bed before 10:00. We end up in the hotel bar having a nice chat. It never ceases to amaze me how alike people are and how little our differences. 10:00 and we are off to bed. We will be up with a knock on the door at 6:30.


Wednesday
8 March
Can Tho



The knock must have been very light because I awoke at 7:00, got a shower and went down to breakfast. I finished just as our guide was passing us off to the next guide. The French and German couples were on the 3 day so they went one way and we went the other.

Back on the boat and we go down to the floating market. The river is clogged with boats. Each has a pole up with samples of what they are selling. Some boats are quite large and some much smaller. The larger boats are at anchor but the smaller ones are wandering around some buying and some selling. There are also many boats that are floating restaurants and snack bars. Everyone is so friendly. We approach a boat and notice the French and German couples standing on the roof. Everyone waves. We anchor by a large boat filled with Pineapples and we are told that half will get off into a smaller boat. This proves a great thing since you get a whole diferent feel down at the water level.

After wandering around the market for a while we are back at the boat and the other half come on the smaller boat as we leave it. The three Swedes are on the small boat now and I see something humorous about people traveling half way around the world to float around the market on boats taking photos of one another. I say "Look tourists", pointing my camera at the Swedes and Richard immediately points his at me. So each of us now has a photo of the other photoing back. On the smaller boat was a very adorable little girl with a piggy bank so we but a few coins in.

Next was the tour of the rice factory however the factory is closed because of National Ladies Day. I guess the ladies do most of the work so the factory was closed. Next was a fruit farm, The pineapple here is so delicious because it is ripe and so sweet. Some of the other fruit here does not have a lot of flavor and I think our perception of those fruits are based on a lot of added sugar.

About a 3 hour ride, by bus and we are back in Saigon. We say good by and are on our seperate ways.

Now I am off to Nguyen Hue and Le Loi to see what is happening.


Thursday
9 March



The ubiquitous Miss Dung, who has been such a help in years past has been conspicuous by her absence. We have been having differences. She had said how hard she works and I should see so this morning I went to her home and found her sitting in the shade selling watermelons from her storefront home. It seems her sister or her or both, I am not sure of who, had purchased a load of watermelons and now they had to be sold before they spoiled. I hung around for a while then went to town for a few things and returned to the hotel.

After lunch I went to the stores in the few blocks just west of the hotel. The bathing suit that we bought Chout had straps that were a little too long and it sagged a little in the front and embarrassed her. I walked around and found most of the shops in the street across from the hotel were machine shops. Most are 10 by 20 foot with break presses or drills and lathes. On a side street I found a shop with glasses. I had broken mine a few days ago. I found a pair or 225 reading glasses and I can see much better. I also found some more VCD's of Thanh Thao and My Tam, Two of my favorites. I also found some favorites from the 60's sung by a lady with such a clear, gentle voice. Just like the 60's were. At least like a I remember them. Finally on the last street I stopped in each fashion store with no luck. Then near the end of the block sat a man at an old Singer. I showed him the straps and how much I wanted removed and he did it in a moment for 10,000 (65 cents). I feel a sense of accomplishment.

Later in the evening I went to the place where Chau and Chout live. It was a lot longer trip than I was expecting. It is down in District 7 which used to be all swamp and is now a part of Saigon South, a massive building program, much of it aimed at all the foreigners who are moving there with their families. I met Mr Lum and Chout was there. I also met the neighborhood. We had a real nice time chatting but my input was rather hampered by my lack of the language. Most I meet do appreciate the attempt to learn and the little I do know. It was a fun time. People are so welcoming here. Even the man on the cycle who took me there hung around and talked with everyone. After a while we called Nhut. No one in this neighborhood has a phone so we went to a public phone and called him. He arrived and I asked if we could take the girls to the water park again tomorrow. He asked if I still had the bathing suits that we bought them and I said yes. I even told him how I had the straps on Chout's shortened. All agreed and I went back to the hotel with the man on the motorcycle.

This was a really slow day but tomorrow will be really great.


Friday
10 March
Water Park - Cathy



Friday was one of those days that I have from time to time. No matter how bad a bad gets I know that every once in a while a day like Friday will come along and it will be so perfect.

I slept a little late and no sooner did I get up, get ready and go downstairs than Nhut arrived with the girls and Mr Lum.

Nhut is a guide in Saigon who can find what ever you need. A few weeks ago when we took the girls to the water park I was hoping to get a van but was told that 24 hours notice was required to get a van with an English speaking driver. While having lunch I told Nhut that we had wanted to have a van but did not think of it yesterday. Nhut said "If you want a van wait here 15 minutes" and he was off. We finished lunch and the 15 minutes was up. As we went out there was Nhut with a 9 passenger Mercedes van, air conditioned, with a driver. Nhut is very helpful. He also lives near the girls and looks in on them from time to time. Having been to their home I think there is a good sense of community there. Still I would like to see them in school.

So Nhut, Mr Lum, Chau, Chout and I were off to the park near Thu Duc, out on route 1, North of Saigon. As we crossed the bridge at what was once Newport we pulled over and Nhut got out helmets for he and I. He said it was law out here on hte highway and for the first time I noticed that everyone on the road had a helmet. Mr Lum put one on and gave one to Chau. Since Chuot is so small and helmets are not readily available for children we are told that the Police look the other way if small children do not have them on.

When we pulled into the amusement park the girls were very excited. Chau said she had been to this park once with her Mother but that was long ago. We went in and proceeded to the water park section. Getting our suits on was interesting. There is a mens side and a ladies side but since it was early everyone used the mens side. The adults used the stall showers but the kids just got in the door and changed. I think all were anxious to get in the water.

The water was cool and very refreshing. The water was not chlorinated but rather tasted as if it was salinated. Chau and Chout went down the tube slide. The three of us went up but the lifeguard looked at how small Chout was and how small I was not and suggested Chau and I go. It was probably a good decision since Chau and I went quite fast and really climbed the walls pretty high on the turns. We spent a lot of time in the smaller pool getting squirted by a variety of water jets and floating around. Chout was happy with the shortened straps that held her bathing suite up better.

We had lunch pool side and returned to the water after lunch. After a while playing we dried off and changed into our clothes. We went out of the water park section and into the rest of the park. It is a big park. We walked around to where the Alligators were. They were in a large divided lake with walk ways and pavilions through it. There was a place where you could get a pole with a line and a piece of meat on it. Then you dangle it in front of an alligator and wait for him to snap at it. They snap quite quickly and both the girls were surprised when they first has a strike.

Another section had a zoo and inside was a stage set up for a monkey show. While we waited we went through the zoo looking at all the animals. There were many bears and here the cages are close enough that you can reach in and touch them. I figured that since they spend their life on concrete their claws can not be too sharp and they can not swing their arm too hard since they are reaching through the cage. I was right but as he smacked my hand I realized that, in retrospect, this was probably not a good idea.

The monkey show was ready to start so we went back and shortly they came out. The monkey rode around the stage and stopped next to me. He got off his bike and sat on the rail next to me. He held my arm and looked me in the eye. I was hoping he would not bite me. Instead he kissed me on the cheek. He came back several times and sat by me and the girls had a chance to pet him while he was there. When he was done I noticed that where he had touched my arm it smelled really bad. After I smelled it and made a face Chau smelled it and made a face as well. There were three monkeys that had some good tricks and the children liked them as did most of the adults.

After the show we went back into the zoo. There was a building which was a fish tank about 10 by 40 feet. It was fun to see the fish swim so freely. We saw Tigers and came to a section with rides. There was a building and we were behind it. We heard talking comming from it and walked to a door. We peaked in and heard the talking much louder. I did not know what they were saying but when we got around to the front Chout did not want to go in. I did not know why until we were in and it turned out to be a haunted house. Chau was holding my hand. She was not too afraid. She kept smiling but she did pull me ahead a little faster than I was walking and did try to keep me on the far side of the walkway from the exhibits.

Next we went into a giant turtle. There was a door and an elevator that said we were going down 6 floors. Then a side door opened and we found ourselves in another haunted house. We did not know this was a haunted house and had convinced Chout to come with us. Once again Chau was pulling and Chout was holding my other hand with both of hers and burying her face into my side. This house had a floor that shifted from time to time. We emerged with Chau smiling at Chout and, I think, poking fun at her for being afraid. Chout took it all in stride.

There were some amusement rides but the big ones were not open yet. They did go on a few. We even went on a small Ferris Wheel but the really big one was not open. Both of them liked the view from the top but Chau was not too happy about the swinging of the car.

We have Ice Cream and that makes both of them happy.

There was a temple, one of several at the park, and we entered. It was large and beautiful with everything gilded and the ceiling of the domes painted with historic figures. Without being told the girls both stopped to pray at each of the places reserved for that in the temple.

I do not know if I ever mentioned it but Chau has such small and gentle hands that if we walk and hold hands for any length of time I get a little cramping from holding her hand but not to tight. As I hold her hand I am aware of how large and strong my hand is compared to hers.

The time has come to leave and as we pass a souvenir store I ask if they want anything. Chau picks a radio and Chout picks a digital watch. I am a little concerned about the quality of things so cheap but the girl behind the counter opens each, sets the time on Chout's watch and puts a battery in Chau's radio and lets her listen to it. Both are happy and we leave.

The ride back to Saigon is a good one and, at the hotel, we say good bye and I tell them I will see them next year.

In the hotel I am ready to go get a cold shower and a nap however I find the elevator not working due to a power failure. I walk up the 6 flights to find, of course, the air conditioning also does not work. The ladies who clean the hotel are all sitting at the top of the 6th floor talking. We exchange pleasantries and they ask me to sit. We spend some time talking and singing. I ask if they can sing and two point at the third. She is shy and does not want to sing. I start the song "Mot lan via mai mai". They immediately recognize the song but the one does not want to sing. Every once in a while I start the song and the two others giggle but the third still is shy. We talk for a while then I get my cold shower and am off to the internet.

I have just met two fascinating individuals through my web site. One was born, of Irish parents, in Saigon. They came to Vietnam and built a rubber plantation. Much of his family were killed and he and others left Vietnam. The plantation was near Tay Ninh and has been divided since. He visited but felt unwelcome. He found my site looking for photos of old Vietnam.

The other man also found my site looking for old photos. He is now in Saigon. He went to the US in 1975 and came back 12 years ago. I will visit him Saturday.

As if the day had not been perfect enough I have made contact with Cathy. She arrived at 6:00 and I asked if she would like to go to dinner. She had no preference where so we went to the Rex. We had the buffet on the roof and sat in a beautiful evening breeze. The night was perfect and the sounds of the city could be heard coming up from the streets. The food was great, the company was great and we talked of many things. Thuy, who came with her in 2001, could not be here as she was preparing for graduation from Medical school. She will be an intern soon and has 2 more years of speciality training. Thuy's parents are both doctors.

After dinner we walk in the park and stop by the opera house to see what is there. The opera house now has plays. One of the things I will have to see next trip. We go back to the area of my hotel and stop for some ice cream. It is after 11:00 and Cathy has work and school tomorrow so she is off. And I am off to bed. The girls tired me out more than I thought.


Saturday
11 March
Hein



Up early and Hue is here to take me to breakfast. We pass her university, The University of Natural Science and go to a small restaurant. We have Pho, which is good anytime. I leave tomorrow and she wanted to have breakfast before I leave. We have a nice talk and she is off. I go to town for a few last moment things.

I have called Hien, the man I met on the internet, through my site, and am off for a visit. He has a publishing business and does advertising work as well. We have a very nice chat. He has given me a copy of his magazine and I can not wait to read it. It is bi lingual. He liked my web site and has asked me to write something for his magazine. It should be interesting. He is fascinating and we talked of many things from Ho Chi Minh to modern day Vietnam, and all manner of places and things. I told him I will see him next year and he said he would be here and hopes to see me.

Back to the hotel for a little rest and off to the internet. I think I will go to town one last time and I am ready to go. As ready as I will ever be. As always I have learned many new things. I learned "Hon toi o Viet nam". My soul lives in Vietnam.

I made it back to town for a few more things. A few shirts and hats and I am set. I still have some money left so I went to the park and gave it to the children. I have enough to get out of the country, not that I really want to get out. I lost my ticket. I usually do. I think it is a subconscious thing. I assumed they would let me out anyway.

I went to De Tham street and had a last order of Spring Rolls. I have been buying CD's of several of my favorites, especially Thanh Thao. I really like her singing and so does Raven. They joke about it at the Sa Sa Cafe. Tonight I went in and the young man, whose job it is to steer people in, looked sad. I asked what is wrong and he said Thanh Thao is dead. I knew he was joking but he kept it up. He said she died today. The waitresses were in on it also. If you are a fan the gơd news is that she is alive and well and still singing.

Back at the hotel I was afraid to sleep as I thought I would wake up at 7:00. So I watched TV and kept the air conditioner and light on all night. It worked. I dozed but was awake at 3:30 and got ready.


Sunday
12 March
Going home



I got up, got dressed and went downstairs. Everyone was asleep so I woke them and they called a cab.

I walked out into the street and it was very empty. It had cooled off after sunset and it was unusually quiet. The cab arrived and we were off to the airport. It was a fairly long drive with little traffic. Usually at this time of my trip I am anxious about all the things I missed and all the people I did not see. This time I was very at peace. I will get to the things I missed this time on the next trip.

At the airport everything went without a hitch except that my visa had expired. I had to go to customs and it was taken care of with little effort.

A short wait and we are off to Hong Kong. It is a 2 hour flight with breakfast and we are here.

There is a woman carrying a toddler, dragging a suitcase, holding a bag and looking for her stroller. I find her stroller and carry the suitcase to the terminal. The toddler sleeps through everything. It is so easy, at that age, to find your way through the paper work and all the questions. Our plane will leave in an hour. I am on my way. Everything is coming together.

Yes, still on the way. It is a long trip.

I arrived at O'Hare after a long but not bad trip. Some good movies to divert us and I did not sleep last night so that was helpful in napping. Or was it the night before last that I did not sleep. It gets confusing when you fly one direction or the other and then there is the international date line. Maybe it was tomorrow night that I did not sleep.

I arrived with 43 dollars Hong Kong, 56,000 Dong Vietnamese and $60.00 USD. This is a record for me. I usually get back with less than a dollar.

Starbucks is not my favorite but there is no Wawa in the airport so I have a Starbucks decaf and it is really good. I may take a coffee maker next trip. I have a few hours then I leave at 4:00 for Philadelphia.

Did I say I had a flight at 4:00. Not quite. They tell us that Philadelphia is solid clouds and they want us to wait so they will not have planes stacked up and circling. We are now delayed for 3 hours. The really bad news, though, is that we must be away from the dock at 5:00. This means that we have to go out to an area somewhere beyond the farthest parking lot and sit for 2 hours. This is a 737, no movie and a much smaller plane. I have an aisle seat, which is good since I do have and ever so slight touch of claustrophobia.

Every one is a little annoyed but taking it rather well. After an hour or so I notice that the lady across from me is frustrated. I tell her I saw this movie where some rugby players on a plane in the Andes survive by eating the ones that did not. We both have a laugh over it.

I am thinking that I got on the a plane 25 hours ago and until 2 hours ago I had thought that I would be getting home at some time in the future.

Finally we are allowed to leave and it is less than two hours and we are looking down at the lights of Philadelphia. On the ground we are off to baggage claim. Susan is waiting. My bags have arrived safe and sound with a treasure trove of goodies for Susan and the kids.

At home I unpack into the living room and show the neat things I have found for Raven, my granddaughter.

Some dresses and a few Ao Dai, the national dress of Vietnam. I also found her a safety helmet, in pink ,which I think she will like, It has a small sun visor.

The trip was wonderful, as always. I am hoping that maybe next year Calvin and Holly might decide to come along.

There were so many up and so few downs this trip. I have met some new people and also had time to spend with old friends. There were only 3 that I did not get to see. All my friends in Vietnam work such long hours and then go to school on top of that. In the park some of the kids I have been seeing for 5 years were still there, as was one police officer who has become familiar. Susan and Dylan got to see a lot of Vietnam and both enjoyed the trip. Dylan is already talking about what he wants to do next trip.

There are a few places that I did not get to. I still want to see Hoi An, when I can spend a few days. I want to visit a rubber plantation and also to spend a few days in Tay Ninh so I can get out to the mountain. I would like to see Dien Bien Phu before it is turned into a theme park.

The only real negative was that I never found Miss Ty. I had heard she was married and living in My Tho. If so I hope she is happy, however I also heard she was everywhere else and not happy. Still this is life. Ups and downs.

The absolute most positive was the time spent with Chau (Yow).and Chout. They are such beautiful children. I hope we get them into school but it is not looking good. However, having visited their home, I see it is a nice one and clean and that there is a real sense of community, and they are not alone there by any means. Chout has a continual smile. Chau, the girl I first met selling roses in front of the Rex, sometimes has a pensive, far away look and when I look at her and catch her at it she will smile. Not an ear to ear smile like Chout but a subtle, gentle smile. There are times that I just have to touch her face and when I do she smiles and in that moment I know what it feels like to touch God.

Till next year,

Take care,

Henry

Just a note. In searching for Ty I passed out many cards and a week after arriving home I received an email from her, she is well and happy. We are in contact again and I will see her next trip.

Another note. Chau and Chuot are in school. Chuot is loving it. Chau has been on the streets longer. She is now 14 and not really as happy as Chuot about going to school. Still I hope it will help her in life.