Search This Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Bunker Fortifications on Hai Van Mountain

French bunker atop the pass at Hai Van (Sea Clouds). The view from here is one of the most beautiful in all of Vietnam. The trip up the mountain through the winding 2 lane is worth the extra time it takes to get to Hue city. Beware of the vendors atop this pass. They'll steal you blind if you don't watch. The most treacherous part of the trip lies before you get to the summit on the DaNang side of the mountain. The scenic beaches below, which are some of the most pristine in Asia are home to a leper colony, I didn't worry my Uncle Sam was feeding me anti leperosy medication back in the day! The ever twisting "S" curves are very dangerous because of the ever present fog on the mountain. I saw 2 accidents along the way. On the other side of the mountain lies Hue City and Lang Co Beach and it's resorts....awesome.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Heavenly Temples

These pagodas and temples greet you on your climb to the heavens on Marble Mountain and I can only imagine the work it took to build them in this remote place. The insides are just as beautiful with shrines to Buddha and incense burning all the time. I didn't see many monks or nuns so these may not be working temples but the were magnificent. The architecture screams Chinese.

Marble Mountain and the steps to Hell!

Marble Mountain if the heat doesn't kill you the climb will. It's not Everest it only feels like it when you get to the top. The steps are not nice clean even steps....they're the steps to hell. Broken, uneven, sharp edges jutting out some high some low and they never the publishers clearing house envelopes they just keep coming. We had plenty of places to take breaks along the trail and I huffed and puffed my way to the top in record time...not! It is very beautiful and the scenery is lush and the view from the top is spectacular. Bich shouldn't have worn white but she should have known better, never where white on safari or mountain climbing expeditions. We had a nice break at the bottom when I bought some marble trinkets from the locals. They guaranteed me they were of the best quality and that their own brother had carved them. $20us I got it for $18 on sale...special today.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Covered Bridge on Tran Phu Street

This is a good view of the Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An. Quite the tourist attraction in town and it is very nice...15th century or something. Glad it survived all the wars in this country's history. Everyone wants a picture of it or from it or in it.

Hoi An Newspaper Club

This used to be a newspaper's club for it's reporters and staff. It's a very quaint building in Hoi An. Wonderful old buildings here. It's along the river that spills into the bay. I had a great lunch at one of the local places and went on quite a bathroom adventure. There are many bathroom adventures in Nam. Food adventures as well. Somehow you never really know what you're eating even when you're eating it. Most of the time it is good I must say, just different than you're used to. Things slow down in Hoi An at lunch and the dinner hour. Most of the locals are taking a break from the heat and the tourists are having their's too.

Bich from Cafe Linh Da Nang

Here is Bich (pronounced Bick) at the famous covered bridge in Hoi An. We had a great time there and the weather was also nice which made the drive and touring much more pleasant. I had met Bich at the Cafe Linh just across the street from the Hotel Saigon Tourane on my 1st return trip with the Global Humanitarian dental tour. She is a hostess and tour guide and translater and just about everything. She was so much fun to be with. Had funny stories and knows just about every ex pat in Da Nang. She challenged my friend Tom who is Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) but he is Chinese Vietnamese, anyway, she challenged him to a game of pool and Tom being a very good pool player as are most of the Vietnamese I know...(Alex) sandbagged her for the first few balls. She was getting cocky and spouted off that "losers have to strip". That's when Tom turned on the skill and ran the table. She was dumbfounded and started to reneg on the stripping part and he said...."well how much would it cost me anyway" and she said...."You don't have THAT much money". We all had a good laugh and she then proceeded to make me look like crap, not having played much pool myself. She was even more mad when Tom started speaking in Vietnamese to her because I told her he was Chinese and I wasn't lying....but I did kind of not tell all the truth, since she had been bragging to her girl friends that" these guys couldn't play and she was gonna win all their money and quick!"

Monday, December 26, 2005

Thu Vi Ohm "Interesting Oldman"

This very interesting older gentleman did not want his picture taken but I didn't know that till after I took it. He waved me off with very little fanfare. My guide Bich on this trip was very informative about Hoi An and about most of the shops and reataurants in town. I bought some very beautiful lanterns there and had a wonderful grilled shrimp and pho lunch. I wouldn't recommend going to Hoi An unless you're ready to shop and fight the crowds. It's colorful enough but not for my taste, too commercial with everyone trying to sell something. The food was excellent I must say and the buildings were turn of the century French. All I wnted to do was get out of there and go to Marble Mountain, till I got there and saw the steps. My goodness the steps. You have to be an Olympic class athlete to scale those babies!!!! I also saw a very interesting Buddist nun on this trip and Bich told me they take no money but you can buy them a meal.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Woman with" don gahn"

The standard mode of carrying anything in Vietnam is the shoulder yoke or "don gahn". Notice the mask, long sleeves and gloves. Many of the women prefer not to be exposed to the sun and it's darkening rays. The paler the skin the better, if your dark it denotes an outdoor job of menial labor and thus a "lower" class. There's many street vendors who carry their wares along the avenues of Vietnam this way. is a very entertaining site that details the many and varied street food vendors of HCMC. The Noodle Dude as I refer to him is so knowlegable about every back alley noodle hawker in the city.

Evening on the beach at Quy Nhon

As the sun starts to set the Viet people gravitate to the beach and the water. The fishing fleet in the background is about to go out for the evening and alittle night fishing with's a beautiful sight with their laterns lit out on the bay. Then they haul it home in time for the morning rush at the fish market ..xe oms loaded down with the catch of the day headed to restaurants and peoples homes. Many children play soccer on the beach or volley ball or just play tag. This night it had just rained and it was abit cooler than usual but it was still a very beautiful evening.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Phuong"Kellie" Tran from Tarentum and Quy Nhon

My good friend Kellie who taught me so much about the Vietnamese people and how to speak just enough to get me in trouble. I diverted my tour from Nha Trang to Quy Nhon so I could visit her and her family. Her brother was in an accident so she and her mother went back to see that he was Ok, it just worked out that I was going to be in their area and with a little change of plans and a train ticket to Dieu Tri which is just outside of town I was able to visit and meet her extended family and friends and have a wonderful visit with Phuong (which is Kellie's Vietnamese name). She took me to a wonderful seafood restaurant where you throw your seafood shells on the floor...interesting custom and we ate way too much. Later we went for tea at an outdoor cafe where they serve pumpkin seeds and some other roasted seeds as an appetizer. In the evening she had to take me for what she called Vietnamese Pizza. It's more of a crepe called "ban xeo" and was delicious, filled with boiled eggs vegetables and meats or seafood of choice. There was thich cay (dog) on most of the menus and found many places expounding the virtues of the 7 different ways of cooking. I didn't sample that particular delicacy but I tried alot of different things I never tasted before. My new found favorite was grilled squid...soooo good. Along the way I met many of Kellie's childhood friends and some of her family and they were so nice to me. They wouldn't let me pay for anything (a Viet custom) I was told and was treated like royalty. The beaches in Quy Nhon were magnificent and the surrounding mountains added to the overview of this exotic country. Notice Kellie sticks out like a sore thumb in her native country, she's now Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) and looked at in a different manner, all Viet Kieu are millionaires and have all forgotten their humble beginnings. That's what I'm told is the collective opinion of the most native Viets. I was in Quy Nhon once before on my way to Pleiku and had a layover and the hospitality of the 101st Airmobile. I accually stayed and slept in the bed of my friend from home Lee "Rusty" Leuice who was out on a mission at the time "hence the available bunk" and drank afew beers with his hootch mates before departing for Tuy Hoa the next morning and abit of a dressing down from the CO there for not being in the proper uniform and not having the regulation haircut......what were they gonna do to me....send me to Vietnam for cryin' out loud?

Cyclo......You want ride?

Cyclos are a dying breed in Vietnam much like the Lambrettas of the 60's and 70's. I asked our guides what happened to all the "xe lams" that were in Vietnam, there were hundreds of thousands at one time. He told me they were Italian and that they couldn't get parts for them anymore. I saw a few on my recent travels when I visited Quy Nhon. They all seemed to be painted this awful deep royal blue. We used to ride them into town when I was stationed in Pleiku and when we had too much to drink we would goad our drivers into racing and we'd jump from lambretta to lambretta like we were chariot racers in the coloseum....we were young and quite stupid and had little regard for ours or anyones else's saftey. Older and wiser now I probably wouldn't venture a ride in one of those contraptions, part scooter part van or apple cart and away you go.......smelling the terrible exhaust and swallowing road dust all the way to your destination....which most times was a bar or house of ill repute for an afternoons leisure.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Blue boats on the South China Sea

These boats were in the river close to the bay in Nha Trang. We were returning from the Temples and heading to the mineral springs and mud baths located near Dat's home. He weaved his way through the traffic with little or no problems and miraculously we ended up at the springs which for 45,000 dong or 3 dolloars you could relax in chest high heated mineral mud. I met a Spanish scuba instructor there along with his American lady friend who was on vacation and we had a very nice chat in the mud. He quizzed me on his nationality and if I could recognize it from his accent and I couldn't. He'd been in country for 3 months living in a month by month hotel on the beach and with maid service, breakfast and laundry it cost him a mere $300.00us a month. What a life.....go for it Raul. As I pondered how long it would take me to learn how to scuba, get an instructor license hell with it...I'm too old!

Uncle Ho

This beautiful piece was on display at the art exhibition. I thought it was very unique with it's mosaic quilt like style. Not that I like the subject matter or anything but the style was quite odd.

View from a Temple

This beautiful beach scene is from one of the Temples located along the coast North of Nha Trang. There was an Art Exhibition going on at the Temple also and had some lovely art work from national artists on display. Further up the coast there's some building of luxary condos, hotle and more restaurants if you can believe it. The mountains along the coast road were spectacular as was most of the scenery during my travels in Nam. Going south to Dong Ba Thin and Ba Noi it was soooo pretty to drive Hwy 1 and imagine how it would have been for me to be able to visit while I was here in 1971. The highway was less developed then but the water and coastline had to have been the same. Almost every turn inthe road was more colorful than the last and there were many pulloffs and scenic overlooks to view the bays from atop the mountains. I hope to retun again in 2006 and make another visit to this area to see how it has changed in just a year, there's so much building going on in Vietnam .

Instant karma's gonna getcha

Here I am at a Buddhist Temple offering prayers of peace to all who suffered in the Vietnam War. This site was very picturesque.
They have temple guides that are orphans and they hit you up for "donations". The large white Buddha outside is dedicated to the 5 monks and 2 nuns that burned themselves alive to protest the war. It's quite a place and a fair hike to the top of the monument and of course there's someone to sell you some water or pop once you're there. My driver Dat wouldn't invoke bad karma by shying me away from the obvious rip off tour guides but I could see he wasn't pleased with how they were being just a bit over the top implying good luck and good karma for the person that donates the most that day and how lucky they are to have been chosen to guide us.

Keeping it pretty in Nha Trang

How beautiful is this beach?The mountains real close to the coast make the scenery here at Nha Trang breathtaking. The lady in the picture is watering the grass and tidying up the beach area. There's a full cadre of workers to do these jobs, from sweeping the streets to raking the beach. All along this beach area there's plenty of things to see and do. Get a foot massage or have some grilled shrimp. Hopefully you won't get pushed too much for these things. I met many Viet tourists on the beach and on the streets along this beach and they were so friendly, most likely they don't get to see many westerners where they live so it's a novelty and especially when they see an American. they're always interested to try their English language skills on you and interact with you. The teenagers are so funny, when one speaks or initiates conversation....then they all jump in and talk and tease you and want to know where you're from. Knowing alittle Vietnamese I would often tease them back and say I was from Ba Noi or Thamh Tan or some little town and they would all laugh and say "sao" which means "not true" "you lie". That was alot of fun.

School girl walking

This girl was off to school along the Blvd in front of my hotel. She wouldn't venture a smile so I suspect she was told to be wary of foreigners and most definitely American tourists with cameras and all the evil it portends. The tour bus across the street was waiting to pickup Aussie folks on their way to DaNang and Hoi An. I had met them at breakfast and was told to meet them at their hotel in DaNang but I forgot the name 2 minutes later and never did meet them. Their guide was from the north and had lived in England for awhile. I was on my way to try to find my long time friend Ho Moc San.


This fellow was outside my hotel taking pictures of tourists. Lots of Viets come to Nha Trang to go to the beach and sample the delicious seafood. So I turned the tables on this guy and took his pic-chaw. This avenue along the beach in Nha Trang is very popular...especially in the morning about 4:30 or 5:00. It's filled with people doing their daily exercises and jogging and having alittle chat with their friends before the start of their day. Everyone is friendly and smiling and looking forward to making their daily allowance to sustain themselves. The weather was wonderful and even if I had to travel on the back of a scooter all day it was still nice. I stayed at the Yasaka Hotel in the middle of the strip and it was very nice. Outdoor breakfast buffet every morning (weather permitting) and my only complaint was the "BOOM BOOM BOOM" of the Disco on the ground floor. I couldn't get close enough to investigate because it was just too loud. Fake smoke was pouring out of the door also, the better to disquise oneself from prying eyes.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Dat, an honest driver and all around good guy!

My driver Dat was a God send on my visit to Nha Trang. I ran him ragged looking for my friend Ho but to no avail we didn't find him. We did find 2 other Vietnamese who had worked on our base at Dong Ba Thin but they didn't know Ho either but they were so appreciative that any American would come back looking for an old friend (ban cul). I have to say some of these ex South Vietnamese soldiers faced some harrowing times in the reeducation camps in the north. Glad to see that things are changing for the better and that the past is being forgotten and most Viets are looking to the future. I visited Dat's home and met his lovely wife and 2 children. They were so poor in material things but were very content and happy with their lot in life. I think there's a message in there somewhere. His little boy (1 1/2 year old) was alittle sick with an ear infection or pink eye...or both but all they had was tylenol to give him...very sad. Their modest home consisted of a hot plate, a tv, wardrobe, and a bed....the ever present electric meter was the first thing you saw as you entered the home. The local communist doctrine is also blasted into the neighborhood by speakers out in the street, each little neighborhood is sectioned off and numbered and our local wards and precincts for voting.

CoCo Verte restaurant in Nha Trang

My driver in Nha Trang took me to this little bistro on a back street. The food was delicious and I ate there afew times. Coco Verte was the name and the fellow who owned it spoke English, Russian, French and Vietnamese...quite a feat I must say and he would lapse into anyone of them at any time depending on the customer. The seafood was tremendous, I sampled the squid and shrimp and the spring rolls were to die for. The staff of young girls were very pleasant although they spoke little or no english and my driver Dat (pronounced Dax) was my main mode of communication throughout my visit in Nha Trang. I was there to revisit my old Army base just south of town, roughly 30 miles or so. My quest was to try and locate an old friend Ho Moc San...a Vietnamese friend I worked with while at Dong Ba Thin in 1971. He was a mechanic, tire changer and jack of all trades around our motorpool and I had the priviledge of knowing him during my tour of duty in the Nam. We spent lots of lunch hours getting to know each other and about 3 days a week or so I would either pick him up in the morning or drive him home at night depending if he had to work over which was the case most of the time.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Friendly Otto and his Vietnamese GF Phuong

I met this couple in the lobby of the Saigon Railway station. I was checking the schedule to my first stop which was Nha Trang and I heard a voice in labored English ask where I was going? As with most travelers in a foreign country I was happy to hear someone speak my language and an obvious westerner as well. Otto I found out was from Belgium, not Germany as I thought at first but we got along quite well, he had visited VN 3 years prior and had met a girl here and now comes back yearly to visit and stay with her folks just north of Nha Trang. Later on the platform I saw them working the conductor trying to get an upgrade from their hard seats to something alittle better. Being that the tour company booked me a complete sleeping car consisting of 4 beds I invited them to stay with me. Much to the chagrin of the conductor who was in line to make a hefty bonus from the "rich westerner". So Otto and his girl friend climbed aboard and we made small talk all the way to Nha Trang which took about 10 hours and only a few minor delays due to opposing trains coming from the North. The conductor asked me for his help in translating some of the technical words for "water heater" and "thermostat" and made some friends along the way. The Vietnamese trains have both Vietnamese "squat" toilets and "western toilets" on each of the sleeping cars.....but....and it's a big but.....the western toilets never seem to be unlocked. So you're relegated to using the common squat toilet which you can see the tracks passing by beneath your feet as you do your business.....or try to do it as in my case. The stainless steel footprints that you stand on and try to aim for daylight is to the untrained like shooting at moving targets and not being in the airforce and never having had bombadeer training.....well you get the picture....not a pretty sight. The food provided on the trains is edible in the broadest definition of the term but I wouldn't recommend it. The snacks they sell from the cart are much more palatable.....I also wouldn't recommend buying out the whole sleeping room because half of the fun of travel is the people you meet and why stay locked in your room and miss the best part of the trip...the people. Alas the conductor came back and wrangled out another $10 dollars US from my friend Otto because my ticket was only good till Nha Trang and he was going further, also he had his xe om on the train and that would be extra also...leave it to the Vietnamese so industrious.

The rooftop bar of the Rex

Alovely view from the rooftop bar of the Rex Hotel. I recently stayed there on my last trip to Vietnam in September of 2005. No wonder the CIA and all the news people flocked to this place during the war. It's spectacular and when the lights of the Party headquarters are lit up it's even more beautiful. The rooms are dated but the staff is very attentive. Breakfast buffet was a cut above the other hotels I've stayed in but the location is great, near the center of District 1. The Ben Thranh market is 2 blocks away as is Unification Palace and Nortre Dame Cathedral. Some excellent shopping is to be had here and I did pick up afew things for my daughter and my girl friend Cindylou.......purses and shoes it's a womans heaven. Some excellent dining awaits you too and don't forget the food stalls at the Ben Thranh Market after dark......excellent. There's always someone trying to sell you something along the streets of HCMC but they're not too pushy and a cordial "Khong moun" (I don't want) is usually all it takes to shoo them away. I passed a little hotel on my way to the market that I want to stay in on my next trip to VN, it's called the Hai Nam, it looked so quaint and casual.

Thailand Allied Cemetery

Check out how well maintained the cemetery is. The Allied Cemetery is home to British, Australian and Dutch soldiers that built the infamous "Death Railway" through Burma and Thailand. If you saw the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai" then you know alittle about the history of this place. One thing that caught my eye was the age of the dead, most were between late 20's and early 40's. Not the 19 year olds that you would think. That was true of most of our Allied troops. No Americans are interred here, they have all been taken home to the US. It's a shame that the relatives of these brave men can only imagine where they're buried and have no place to go to mourn their passing.

"Bridge on the River Kwai Redoux"

This is the famous "Bridge on the River Kwai" of movie fame. We did a day trip out of Bangkok to see a few sites and the bridge and the Allied cemetery were the most interesting to me. British, Aussie and Dutch troops are buried there and it's most impressive. Well kept and maintained, not a blade of grass out of place. There's a cottage industry that's sprung up from the bridge and the cemetery and alot of tourist come to see it. They have a bit of a re enactment each night with a laser show and bombs going off. Alittle cheesey but if it keeps attention on the plight of the POW's from WWII and what they went through I guess it's OK! I was more than disappointed with Thailand on a whole and probably will never go back. I had heard many wonderful things about Thailand but it came up short for me. Too many people 12 million in Bangkok, too much traffic, and way too much squalor.

Friday, December 16, 2005

This is a typical street scene in HCMC. On our way to a tour I spotted these girls having abit of a chat during lunch. The Vietnamese I find are so friendly and very much at ease in social situations. None of the arguing and getting in your face about anything. After I snapped this picture the girls all waved at me and smiled, being extremely gracious to this nosey American intruding on their daily ritual of coffee and chatting. Like I said before most Viets have some kind of store on their ground floor but this one seems a bit more formal, just crammed full of merchandise. The sidewalks become part of the business too so there's no where to walk. Their xe oms (scooters) are all parked on the sidewalk and many of the people cook or repair things or go about their daily business using the public thourofare. It's quite charming but a bit of a nuisance at times when you're trying to navigate the streets. Which requires a whole different Blog to address the calamities that await the uninitiated walker in most of the cities in Nam.

This was my guide around Ha Noi, her name was My and she was so helpful to me and I had to make her take some money from me for guiding me all day. She worked in a Chinese restaurant along Dien Bien Phu street. I befriended her employer and he insisted she show me around the sights. Her English was much better than my Vietnamese and we got along well. She had a bit of trouble using my camera but we got it worked out and all in all had a great time, the weather was beautiful also which made it so much nicer to tour. On our return the employers daughter asked me to help her with her English paper she was writing for college and it was about milk consumption in the rural provinces. They use sweetened and flavored milk to try to get the people to drink more milk.

Hoa Lo or Hanoi Hilton

I'm standing outside the infamous Hoa Lo prison better known as the Hanoi Hilton. John McCain and others were interred here for many years as POW's. before the North Vietnamese used this prison the French used it as a prison to house and torture Viet Minh prisoners. It's located near the Old Quarter in Ha Noi and also very near the tomb of Uncle Ho. I didn't go into the Tomb on my visit but I did browse the grounds of the museum near it and found it very pleasant with it's gardens and park like setting. Most of the facility is torn down now but the entrance and some of the cells and offices remain. It made way for a real Ha Noi Hilton built on the sight with offices and other buildings. I was hussled for a cyclo ride outside the gates and the driver not knowing I spoke a little Vietnamese was pleading with my guide not to out him and make me pay the inflated fare because he had a family and all to support but I chastised him in Vietnamese and he was surprised and embarrassed but I ended up paying him the higher rate because it was alot further than I thought to get to the Old Quarter from there and it was up hill too! My beautiful guide was so embarrassed to ride with me in the same cyclo she kept hiding, hoping she wouldn't see anyone she knew. All Vietnamese presume any females with Americans are prostitutes. She took me around town at the bequest of her employer. A restaurant owner I befreinded, and she wouldn't take any money for her efforts. 5 hours of guiding and translating for me and I finally persuaded her to take $10.00 dollars.

Here's a bus load of little urchins well in need of extended dental care from the EMW Dental team. These children were bused in from a more northern village. They had first been transported by boat down river and picked up by bus and brought to Hoa Lien School. At the time of this "our" first dental outreach the clinic had only a few portable chairs to work with and had to rely on using the childrens desks to operate from. A few towels put down to comfort their backs and away they go. First stop, triage, then after determining what needed done the kids were sorted into extraction and filling lines. Next stop "the numb shop". Novacain injections were used to dull the pain, and I can only remember a few wincing. Most of these children would just hop up and take it. Considering that this might be the only dental care they ever recieve, and it's free, their parents were more than anxious to have the work done and some even used a little gentle persuasion to coax the wee ones along. It wasn't pretty let me tell you.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Here I am at the Presidental Palace of Thieu, notice the green "Bat phone" used by him and president Johnson. The sign does say not to touch the artifacts but since I served I felt I had the right to pose for my picture. The office is down in the basement much like Hitler's Bunker and just as nasty. He had a cot and a kitchen down there too and a secret passage out, for when the "going gets tough, the tough get going". There were all kinds of secret battle field plans on the map behind me and it had all the troop movements and strengths. It was all for nothing because without the full weight of the US military behind him the country crumbled like week old cake. Now with Doi Moi in place and the country headed towards economic prosperity and not to utter distruction that the hardliners were driving it, things are pretty good for the average Vietnamese.

These two lil cuties were greeters outside the airport when we arrived and we had some fun with them asking when our wedding would be and whether we would be living with her parents or mine..... they were good sports about it and laughed and covered their teeth which is a common practice with the Vietnamese. No one is supposed to be able to "count your teeth" some superstition or bad luck karma deal.......How cute could they be? Off to Unification Palace or the old Presidential Palace which ever you prefer to call it. They have one of the Soviet tanks that was supposedly there when they knocked down the gates back in 75. It was a nice visit and I did get to sit in the chair that Thieu made all his decisions from despite the sign saying not to touch any of the artifacts. The view from the front porch was spectacular looking down that grand boulevard.

Dee Jeff and Andy upon our arrival at Ton Son Nhut airport in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, but everyone still refers to it as Saigon. We had to wait for our driver. We were supposed to fly straight into DaNang but had a pleasant diversion do to not having a direct flight into DN that day, not enough people to fill a plane I suspect. We did a few hours of sight seeing around town visiting Notre Dame Cathedral, Unification Palace, and we toured a lacquer factory that had the most beautiful things for sale "go figure". See Kim in the background doing the necessary cell phone thing with the tour company. She was the best and I can't say enough about how she kept all our itinerary straight and never any problems with our accommodations or flight schedules. That was an amazing feat of coordinating. Details details the devil is in the details.........We later flew into DaNang that day and went straight to the Hotel Saigon Tourane which was a very good choice because it was near everything. Tom had to take me out that night to buy some clothes because mine were really getting ripe by then, I had since chucked my gutchies and was going "commando" all the way from HCMC. That was an adventure...I ended up with the worst pair of bell bottoms you had ever seen since "Woodstock", and some other odds and ends that are in my basement now gathering dust.....would they want that at the Good Will store?????....I don't think so........
This smiling girl was also outside our hotel the Saigon Tourane every morning about the crack of dawn selling the local news paper. She didn't speak any english but would try to sell me a vietnamese newspaper. That wasn't going to I would give her the standard "Xin Chao em" and off she would go to her next stop.....which was 2 doors down at the DaNang Hotel and ply her trade there. Very industrious people, every house has a store on the ground floor selling something and alittle of everything be it toiletries or candy and smokes, pop and some have gas stations signified by having little bottles filled with gasoline setting out on the curb. a litre at a time, no fancy Sunoco stations here.....just the basics baby!

This lil guy was outside our hotel, he shined all the shoes for the hotel, which by the way was complimentary, and did a great job as well. I was told he made about .50 cents a day. Very diligent and always smiling, as are most of the Vietnamese people I ran into.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Russian Bear is on the loose

Dr. Christina and our resident "Russian Bear " Vitaly who by the way is from the former USSR, out on a walk about during the extra long lunch the kids get. I wondered why they had such long lunch breaks and I was told it's because they have to travel so far to get home and back to school. Most of these children had not ever been in contact with any westerners and were by nature very curious. Mostly they just wanted to get close and engage us in some "english". "Hello" "What's your name" "How old are you"? They were so damn cute! Look at the face of the lil boy as he peers into the camera held by Dr. Barry. I called him chubby boy and he was a gem....always smiling and teasing us. Some of the same children that I came in contact with during the dental outreach I also saw during my return trip this year and they couldn't wait to say hi and pull at my sleeve for attention. The spirit of children is truly the wealth of this country.

Hoa Lien School Dental Outreach

Dr. Barry and Nurse Hien ham it up for the camera during clinic work, I have it on good authority Barry is the same "Dr. Barry " from the TV Show "Friends". He was the role model for the character and just as nice as could be along with his beautiful wife Barb who shared the load along with the rest of us. She's a noted LA LA Land phychologist I believe or phychiatrist. I don't know the difference but she was always smiling and made life a lot easier with her quick observations and wit. All in all a fun bunch to be with and I'd go to war with them any day!!!! Hien was a trusted co worker who was always interested in improving her english language skills. Constantly writing down new words and idioms to further belittle us with our rudimentary Vietnamese skills that were just enough to get "me" especially in trouble by not knowing the proper address for the formal or informal. Always quick with a smile and a laugh she was so nice to be with and she further endeared herself to me while on my last trip introduced me to the Vietnamese "Dragon Dance". A season where the children dance and compete for prestige as the "thu nhat" or first place winner. What a wonderful girl and hard worker, I'm sure she'll do well with the EMW Dental

This pretty view is from the area known as China Beach. Not the original China Beach but near the same body of water. We passed this every morning on our way to the school and watched the mist rise off the water. Thought it was one of the most beautiful sites I witnessed on my trip. The fishermen would congregate around this sunken ship because of the structure, I'm sure it attracted lots of small fish.

These are the wonderful teachers that worked with the students that were our charges for the week of dental outreach. The national dress or ao dai worn by the teachers is very formal and most of the older school girls wear a version of it also. Many of the hotel staff also wear them in matching colors........very pretty!

I was taken by surprise upon the invitation to speak at teacher day at Hoa Lien school, I had donated a sound system to the school for their use and I guess the principal felt obliged to honor me with the presentation. I had been working doing the clean up of the clinic and was well prepared , you can tell by how dressed up I was, when asked to address the teachers and staff. They have nothing of a mother's day so teacher day is the closest thing to it and the country goes all out with flowers and gifts and was really very nice.

Here's some of the crew taking it easy during alittle break Kim,(seated) Dee (on her elbow) Mary (front). What a wonderful group of people that came on this trip. See nurse Nga in the background, a tireless worker doing the necessary job of sanitation and sterilization.

This is Phuong, another little waif we helped out on a return visit to Nam. She is a sickly girl that has abit of a heart problem. Shy as can be and was so excited to learn about being helped with her school tuition that she ran home before we could find out where she lived to deliver her packet of incidentals. We'll catch up with her next year and see how she's doing. Most of my friends have voiced approval of helping one or more of these kids at the Hoa Lien school.

Here's Trinh and her parents upon my return visit this year and none the less for wear for my little friend. She lives a very simple life, notice no windows which is very common for the downstairs of some rural Vietnamese homes. Their boundless hospitality was overwhelming. They have next to nothing but were more than willing to share anything they had with me. Trinh makes her way to school on a bicycle about 4km each way and home for lunch everyday. Her bike is double her size but she navigates the backroads of the country side with ease. Notice my ever present Marlboros, I no longer smoke but use it as an ice breaker since most Vietnamese males smoke. Her father cuts trees in the forest for weeks at a time and returns to pay his bills and see his children as do many men in rural communities.

Trinh was such a special little girl. She was shy and had a toothless grin that was quite charming. Her friends dared her on many occassions to talk to the BIG LOUD AMERCANS that were there at the clinic but she would come just so close and scamper off to watch from a distance. On returning this year to revisit my little friend I found her much the same way but alittle older and alittle less shy.
This picture says it all as far as I'm concerned. We had so much fun and we were rewarded many times over with simple smiles and laughter that no amount of money could ever buy. These children are so special in so many ways that I can't seem to put it in to words. Hopefully the government continues to allow volunteers to come to Vietnam and do good work for these very needy children from some of the poorest areas of rural Vietnam. More work needs to be done and if everyone helps just one child in some way it's a start.

Kim and I having abit of fun with the kids at Hoa Lien school, singing "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and just being an all around goof off so that the kids wouldn't see how much they really touched my heart and awed us with their spirit and unfailing enthusiasm. A special little girl Trinh was so adorable she inspired me to return the following year and do a little something for her and her family. I'll be going back again in 2006 to continue my goodwill mission with the people of Vietnam.
The girl to the right of Kim is someone we affectionately called Miss Toothpaste. She was a rep from Colgate and helped in teaching the kids oral hygiene and proper brushing technique.
Don't mind me I was playing with these kids acting like I had my teeth done and was crying like a baby.....they loved it and thought I was "Dinky Dao" crazy!