Here is the latest message and update from Sally. It is not in journal form yet.
With a sigh of relief, I recieved my passport and visa today.
Most fortunate as I leave for Hanoi on the 2nd. I just love
these last minute little details..
On the plane at last...Hanoi bound. It has been a long way to getting here. I left Texas for New Orleans and Christmas with Sarah and Mitty. Christmas this year was "slim pickins'...plane tickets and eating out were the gifts and that is darn expensive in New Orleans. The girls and I had some good "quality bonding time" before I had to leave.
From there went on to Atlanta to visit with the rest of the family..specifically Mom, but also , brother Jim, sis Ann and assorted nieces and nephews. They fed me fried catfish and put me on the plane. ..boarded Korean Air for Hanoi via Chicago to Seoul (8 hour layover), then Vietnam Air to Hanoi and it was suddenly Sunday. Saturday never happened. That is still strange.
As I was filling out the appropriate forms to enter I discovered the number on the visa permit was different from the # of the visa stamped in my passport. Hope it doesn't matter. My inclination was to point out the discrepancies and decided silence was probably best. Passed right through customs - videos and all. Grabbed a cab and knew for sure I was back in VN "Chicken" is still the favorite road sport. and in the dark it is a real thrill. However, either the driver was more careful or I have been desensitized as my life flashed before my eyes only once, so certain we were in for a head on collision - but hey, an inch is as good as a mile!
Hotel Viet Long is as I left it - sort of run down but now know to appreciate it anyway. I'm in the same room as before - felt strangly at home.
Called Kevin Bowen (Boston group in town) at the Huu Niegh Hotel.
To meet them all for breakfast in the morning. Kim Hoa called.
She still has not recieved the letters or the film...sent ages ago.
Glad I brought some extras.
Breakfast with Kevin, Grace Paley, Lady Borton, and Chymg as well as the publishers from Viking, Cambridge and Curbstone Presses. Interesting folks to talk with. Hope to have more contact with them upon returning to the states.
Returned to the hotel and called my Mom and brother. Jim was to send messages to the vvhp crew and the girls.
I've been trying to call our embassy but no answer (?). Hope they are wired for phones.
This evening I am having cocktails and dinner with Sandy Northrupp and her husband David Lamb. Sandy has been the producer of the Memorial Day Concert Live for PBS the past 8 years. David is the Correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, Hanoi Bureau. Sandy is from Stanford and had run into an alumni group touring so they are coming over for cocktails. A truely American moment in the middle of Hanoi. Then the Vietnam Writer's Assn. has given me many invitations for the poetry reading tonight. They were finished before we were so missed that.
Hate to admit it but this afternoon I "cratered" and took a much needed nap before the evenings activities. Then I walked around the corner to the writer's assn to say hi to Kim Hoa who is the public relations person for the assn. I think her job description must be pages long. She does everything.
The Stanford group of 20 were very interesting people. Enjoyed
talking with them. I do regret missing the poetry reading.
Maybe I'll hear from the ambassador tomorrow.
Jan. 6, Tuesday
This morning I went to Writer's assn. meeting with the publishers of both countries. The agenda of the meeting was to search for compromise on copyrights and to find ways of training interpreters who understand the cultural context and have "soul" in their interpretations.
After afternoon session had a "tour" of publishing office for their magazine. Then were invited to dinner by their ass'n for a "King's Feast" dinner which is traditional for Tet. There were 15 courses ending with green tea and black bean sweet soup. We were entertained by traditional VN band and music. RE: the widows and sons and daughter's trip Finally heard from the embassy folks today. The ambassador's office referred me to Mike Eilend who is in charge of Science and Technology. We couldn't gather the connection there, but after a brief visit we discovered mutual friends - Roger and Norma Donlon..Norma being one of the widows I've intervied. I have an appt. with Mike on Thursday afternoon. meanwhile, he referred me to Bill Boch with Foreign Relations. Bill said I had to be sponsored by a Vietnamese organization. So back to the VN Writer's assn., Women's Union, or Veteran's Assn. The Foreign Press (Mr. Tam) would be involved only if a journalism crew traveled with us as when Mitty and TJ were along on the first trip.
Hanoi is growing!! There are many new modern buildings - high rise!
The Hilton Towers or Hanoi Towers now stands where once was the
Hanoi Hilton. Sandy and I tried to visit the old prison but it opened
in the afternoon. Abject poverty is still at street level and very
evident. The beggars or street women and children are still
here..not as obvious or insistent as t hose had been in Saigon.
Today I fed an old woman and a young girl child. It takes
so little to provide a large nourishing bowl of pho..about a dollar a
bow. The vendors along this block are very friendly to me.
Those who speak English want to visit. Their stories are interesting
though I miss a lot because sometimes they don't know how to say
something in English and goodness knows I can't say anything in
Vietnamese - I try and they laugh! Still it is fun to walk
down the street and have them smile or call out a greeting with a friendly
Wednesday Jan.7, 1998
Was a bit slower this morning on getting out. Made it to Sandy's by taxi. From there we went to the Temple of Literature. I expected to see a building with literature in it. Instead it is a monument temple commemorating Vietnam's earliest doctorates (I wonder if Our Lady of the Lake would do that for us?) The grounds and buildings are ancient and so peaceful with enormous Banyan trees and ponds filled with Lotus blossums. At one pool 3 young boys were fishing. In some of the buildings were items for sale..silver animal shaped boxes, wood carvings of Budda, art work, jewelry and musical instruments. There was a traditional music group performing. After the peace and tranquility of this magical place we returned to the loud confusion of the streets.
Sandy assured me there was order in the confusion..the horns are to be certain ehry are seen. It is safe to walk through the traffic as long as you are seen and see them and keep moving. If you stop it creates havoc. The expectation is that for the next 50 ft things will move and one can judge how to maneuver - no matter that these feet are going by at a common rate of 30-40 mph,
We stopped by a craft shop - wonderful hand made items. the stitchery reminded me of the things from Mexico and Guatamala. From there we waundered in and out of art galleries, so many wonderful examples of VN talent. Colors both strong and muted, motion or total serenity. The ones I particularly enjoyed used strong bright colors and emotions of activities. It was interesting too to see the Vietnamese interpretations of Gaugan's polynesian period - woman wahing hair. some of the works reminded me of the festive whimsical Patrical NIx combined with techniques of Nieman. I itched to bring something home with me, however money and wall space were my deciders - not enough of either.
From there we looked at cameras. Sandy is a professional photographer. The prices here are only slightly better than and the instructions are in everything but english.
I had my first unpleasant encounter with a street vendor. A teenage boy wanted us to buy postcards and such. He became very angry when we did not. He reminded me of the Saigon beggaars only worse. He followed us around yelling "Fuck you", "Bastard American Bitches" and of course giving the international flip off. Since we basically ignored him after telling him "no" he became even angrier. Finally he left. That was seemingly unusual for Hanoi.
We ate lunch at a wonderful little place - it is a training facility for Vietnamese street kids. They spend several months or a year learning fromt he bottom up, the resturant biz. Food was Cheap and delicious. Lunch for 2 was less than $10.
Sandy had a meeting at 1:30 so we parted. I left in search of a hair dryer and found one. hailed a cab and tried to come home...but we got lost..this was a good thing because we came upon the street I had been looking for - the street with the glass and crystal ware. Sandy had explained to me, as I had learned last year, that particular streets have particular stores for things. My street is know for the Pho - soup. This is because at one time - perhaps still - the unions were given different areas to set up shop. Today we had walked along "glove" street, "paint" street, hardware, jewelry, and appliance areas. I was searching for a glass or crystal miniature dragon for mom...So finding glass street was a boon! and only 3 streets over from my hotel. I will go back before I leave.
I got back to the hotel around 4. So hot (who said Hanoi was
chilly this time of year?) and dehydrated all I could muster was
the energy to climb to 3rd floor, gulp a bottle of water and lay
down...I woke up when the telephone rang at 2 a.m. It was
my computer person calling to tell me it would cost $75 to send
the power cord to my laptop and it would arrive in Hanoi the day after
I left or Saigon, just before I left. I think not. I'll
bum the use of a computer from Sandy in Hanoi and Lan in Saigon.
Thursday, Jan. 8
Very hot and Humid!!! Spent most of the morning in the hotel writing. Hotel concierge made my air reservations on vietnam Air to Saigon for Sunday. I know the flight number and departure time but have been unable to understand the arrival time. I hope Lan can figure it out. Poor Lan must be ready to "fire" me. I asked them (concierge) to fax info to Lan and also a list of names and addresses she needed.
I met with Mike Eiland and Ambassador Peterson after lunch. I feel most fortunate they were able to "squeeze" me in as there are 3 congressional delegations in town. They gave me an hour of their time. The ambassador was very interested in my plans to bring a small group of widows and sons and daughters. He commented it was very much in keeping with his plans of Reconciliation. He offered to put in writing the "Blessing" [my word] of our American embassy to the project. Returned to hotel in effort to cool off.
Dinner was once again with the VN writer's Assn. and the publishers. The meal as anticipated was delicious and very long. All during dinner there were toasts to the new year in which the whole table would stand and all glasses had to be touched and then there was gift giving as is the custom. Traditional Vietnamese food included of all things...flan. I felt a bit of San Antonio was there and picture taking. Then as we prepared to leave there were a lot of hugs, handshakes and such as the former enemies said good-bye to new friends. It was a lovely evening, but we ALL waddled out of there.
The Boston bunch and publishers leave for Hue tomorrow. I will
meet up with them in Saigon on Monday.
This has been a marathon week. Yesterday (Jan.12 Tuesday)
we were in Cu
Chi visiting with the widows from before. As Lady Borton had told me, the
2nd time they would welcome me as long lost friends..they did. the first
widow I visited was with the woman I fondly refer to as the "pig lady" but I
was unable to get a permit to spend the night with her. We were both
disappointed. Her daughter Betty was there, (other daughter was in HCMC).
Sarah and Mitty they asked about you and send there greetings and said they
missed you. Betty kissed me on both cheeks and hugged me to take back to
America to you both. Mrs. Le Thi Gom (widow's name) gave us watermelons and
Jackfruit and paper rice (like a very thin transparent tortilla) I accepted
them knowing I couldn't bring it home with me.
From there we went to the farm woman's house (Mrs. Truong Thi Sinh).
daughter and granddaughter were there as well as one of the very old women.
In our conversation I learned the very old woman was only 74..I would have
bet the 90's. Come to find out she is also a mother hero but from both the
French and the American wars. Also, I learned that Mrs. Sinh was also in
prison after her husband was killed. She was beaten as they wanted to know
if she was married to him, a known VC. She lied and said she was married to
a doctor or someone. She was released the next day. She was not able to
allow any one to see her grief because it was dangerous for her and her
family (her 3 month old daughter). Our visit there was brief as she was
going with the old woman to the grave of the old woman's son..yesterday was
the anniversary of his death.
Then we went to the home of Mrs. Lam Thi Giot, the woman who had
husband and her 11 children. She scolded me for not being back in July as I
had said. She was very pleased I had come, made good eye contact, and
smiled a lot...even held my hand. Quiet a change from the first visit to
After all the widows we ate lunch.. delicious. I wish I had
of it. There was a plate of bib lettuce, mint, scallions, and other things
that looked a lot like ordinary garden variety weeds. The plate was
litterally heaped with the greens. then thin slices of pork and pickled
onions and carrots and parsnips or some other root plant and of course the
wonderful watered down, sweetened up version of nuc mon. Put this all on a
piece of paper rice, dip it in the sauce and eat. YUM! This place was
really interesting. It reminded me of a country drug store only they had an
interesting variety of things to sell besides lunch...try snake wine (made
with ten varieties of snake still wound in a gallon jug) I'm told it is for
men only to "help" them. Our car was washed as we ate. and beggar women
came in trying to peddle lottery tickets.
After lunch, we went to the Cu Chi Hospital. I visited
with the director
and one of the doctors. They said they were supported some by their
government, but primarily by the Minninite Initiative and were being trained
on hospital admin and HMO stuff by them. I asked about services, they have
surgery, primary care, pediatrics, and one room for mental health. Of
course I was most interested in mental health and this one room. The really
serious cases are sent to HCMC to one of the hospitals and the others are
managed with meds. Most of the cases are depression. I asked how they
assessed the cases and it was very similiar to our own methods...family
concerns bring them in, family gives info and then interviews with the
patients themselves. I didn't understand the kind of assessment instrument
they used (my translator didn't know the words either).
Then back to HCMC. A most welcome shower and quick nap
before going to the
Poetry reading being held by the JOiner center and the Vietnam Writer's
assn. Most of it was in Vietnamese but the rythym of their words and
inflection in voice was very pleasant. The American readers of course were
in English and translated for the Vietnamese audience.,
This morning, Lan and I went to the War Remnants Museum to meet with
director, Mrs. Nguyen Tuyet Van. We discussed at length the possibilities
of a joint exhibit of the war showing the sorrows and the shames of both
sides as well as poetry and art of both sides. She agrees with me that
people must come to understand that war is an atrosity and that otherwise
decent people do indecent things to each other. We would like to get across
the idea that no one wins, everyone loses, and everyone is hurt and
struggles with the consequences for many years.
Our appointment this afternoon was with a mother hero who was also
of the womens forces during the war. She is in the hospital and is not
expected to live so we had to cancel. She is 80 years old. A very famous
writer who has a story on the home page, Vo Tran Nha, has written a book
about her and because of my interest in the women he has given me a copy.
I am at Lan's right now typing this myself....only Rossie perhaps
truley appreciate this, but Lan is upstairs cooking lunch...Lan tells me she
is a dreadful cook. I'll see.
I don't know for sure what we will do for the remainder of the day...maybe
take a nap.
Tomorrow we check out of the hotel and travel with Mr. Vo Tran Nha
Tre and then to Dong Thap by boat. We will return on Sunday in time to get
me to the airport to catch the midnight flight to Seoul, then Los Angles,
and then San Antonio. I think my flight arrives about 5:30pm via Southwest.
This is the last post until I am home again. Have some wonderful
for the homepage.