March 17, Monday
Woke up at 4AM - called Mitty at the station. She called back immediately. They are still having trouble with Press Visa. She gave me the name and number of the person in Hanoi press office. I gave it to Kim Moi and Chung to take care of. Talked to Bill McBride - he is working on maps for me to locate site of Bill's death. Apparently many people are helping with the search. What a wonderful feeling to know that so many people care enough to take the time and make the effort.
Had breadfast at soup kitchen again - this time a different one.What a funny experience. They had no room for us - so they took us= upstairs to their bedroom. Where there were little tables and stools. GOOD soup! Chicken noodle soup is the "breakfast of champions" here in Hanoi. At 9AM we went to the VN Writers' Association and met with some "big potatoes" as Larry calls them. The Minister of Culture (for the nation). We sat in formal arrangement and drank tea, listened to them welcome us, talked about the importance of literature in bringing our countries together. The Writers' Assn announced they will assist me in my efforts.The Min. of Culture declared it important research. I read them one of the poems I had written this morning:
PHO TUE TINH (it will be translated and printed in their paper and a magazine)
My room has a balcony on the corner of Pho Tue Tink at first I saw only gray confusion in the rushing din.Then, on the back of the Rising Dragon It's energy infused itself in meThis Energy: the color of Pho Tue Tinh A flash of yellow with large black dots child's pigtails tied in ribbons of red peasant's baskets and vendor's stands all orange and green and yellow. This hurley-burley energy; I'm drawn to the street belowt oothless peasant selling ugly oranges I want her picture instead 4 American quarters to capture beauty intangible: This Vietnam
THE ARRIVAL: on the first experience of being in Vietnam
Exhausted; tired of sitting jolting relief; tarmac grabbing wheels Vietnam at last Green; green rice paddies people; peasants in water bent harvesting rice picture perfect; cone hats and buffalo Drivers; cars, trucks, cyclos, bikes - motored and pedaled like being caught in converging flooded rivers Hanoi; People walking, pedaling, motors, horns, and cars drivers whizzing by; My God Exciting; would be terrifying but no malice
Then lunch - a nood shop again. This time we had Bar-b-qued chicken and spring rolls with nuoc mam and a plate of skinny noodles with beef - it was so good..the best yet (and I thought I would lose weight in Vietnam). After lunch it was off to see the oldest Pagoda in Hanoi and walked along West Lake where John McCain was shot down and rescued by the local militia. Meanwhile - I was struck by "La Tourista" as we say in Texas. My brother would say I had the "green apple high steps". A relief to be back to the hotel. After a short rest and appropriate meds I decided I best not go to tour the paper, the dinner, or the concert. At this time it remains a good judgement call.
Lee Swenson and Maxine Kong Kingston (Warrior Woman; China Men are her two books) joined our group today. Lee was and still is an anti-war activist. They are both from Berkley, Ca. Maxine's husband will join us in HCMC.
March 18 Tuesday
Early morning, long day! We left for a village near Haiphong. The novelist Le Leu grew up in the village - his most famous novel is based on a legend of the area. I would tell you the name of his book, but the Vietnamese language still isn't sticking in my mind. The village was having a festival celebrating the legend. We had to stop at every "City Hall" for tea and introductions with the local "big Potatoes" and photo ops. We made it to the village where we were treated like VIPs from another planet. Many of the villagers had never seen Americans..especially with blondish hair and blue eyes. They were childlike in their curiosity, stroking my hair and pointing to my eyes. More green tea, then another room with food - rice and bean cakes and sticky rice, then back to the other room for more tea and introductions.
Then we visited the pagoda. back to the festival. The dragons danced and paraded, legends were told, the costumes were wonderfully colorful. The children wanted their picture taken - so brilliant me, I thought it would be fun to take polaroids and give it to them..I looked like the pied piper of the village. We left the festival and went to LeLeu's family home (he lives in Hanoi) to pay hommage at his family alter. The part of the house for the altar looked new; the living quarters were dilapidated. on the way back to Hanoi we "visited"the Red River, saw the brick kilns and a charcoal kiln. NOTHING is automated. Also had 2 flats on the way home. Later in the evening LeLeu's family treated us to dinner. Delicious!! at another soup kitchen that had the other goodies.
March 19, Wednesday
We met in the VN Writer's Association bldg all morning. More tea and introductions. They were very interested in my project. So interested that as of this afternoon the difficult press officer called to tell me how happy they are to help with the project, that it is important...Mitty and T.J. get their press visas. Tonight several of us went to the water puppet show. It was fun but I am glad to call it a day. OH, almost forgot. this afternoon one of the VN writers made an appointment to talk with me. He was interviewing me for his newspaper. In the course of our conversation I learned he was one of 3 sons. The oldest brother was killed during the French war. His younger brother died when American B-52's bombed near the DMZ. He is still saddened by this as his younger brother's body was never recovered. Thinking of Dennis Koho, I asked how other's responded to him as the brother - he gestured as in a dismissal. I told him I had a friend who had also lost a brother and people dismissed his grief also. He told me he had hated Americans until he wen tto America. He realized we are good people like the Vietnamese. We decidedthat Vietnam and America are places, not events.
Out of the meeting this morning the Assn wants to visit America on regular basis - they want to meet families who have lost someone in the Vietnam war.
March 20, Thur.
The delegation visited another province and village today. I remained in Hanoi to meet with Mr. Nguyen Tranh Tam (means "sincere heart")Tea and the usual polite introduction talk. Then to business. He made it very clear that nothing would happen without him or a representative of the foreign press office. The press visas were being readied but he was part of the package! And all for just $300 a day discounted from $500. He also told me I shouldn't use a private tour guide - meaning Lan of course. I told him she is my friend and she will travel with me. He said he had to make all the arrangements and permits. Still and all - I think he is a good man and does indeed have a good heart. Larry's son Preston also stayed in Hanoi - He and I took a death defying cyclo ride - aside from the traffic, what made it so hazzardous wasthe chain kept coming off at the most inopportune times! Still, Hanoi is awonderous place. Dirty, but still amazing
Friday March 21
This is our last day in Hanoi. Larry calls it grab day. We are having a big dinner tonight with the "Big Potatoes" at some resort hotel. But first we have to meet with them again this morning. They were pleased that foreign press is cooperating. We spent the afternoon sight seeing and just generally shopping around. At the dinner we were given gifts, hugs, and kisses. A really nicegroup of people.
Saturday March 22
Flew out of Hanoi early this morning. The hotel staff gave me a bag of instant coffee sua (coffee white). We arrived in DaNang about noon then took the bus to Hue (I know, we back tracked..seems some very big potatoe wanted to go to DaNang instead of Hue..so that's what we did) The bus ride was interesting. The scenery is beautiful. The road was Highway 1 and was one switch back after another as we made our way through the mountains tothe other side. Incredibly beautiful country. We passed through the area the Marines were choppered in on the March to Hue. Since being here we've seen moments of sunlight - mostly just grey drizzle. People in Hue and in Hanoi think it is cold. We were met by friends of Larry, Kevin and Chung. One is folksinger, the other 2 are famous Vietnamese poets. I'm learning that poetry is quiet the thing here in VN.
We were taken on a night tour of Hue. The citadel wasall lit up like Christmas, then we went to an area that was concrete andraised many steps. The upper flat area was marked in concentric circles.When we stood in the center circle the slightest whisper was magnified. Thekings believed the ancestors could be heard there. Then we ate dinner atthe castle. Apparently in the back yard of the citadel. I don't know whatbright and brilliant person told me I would loose wieght here - but no weighis that happening.Grateful to go to bed. long, long. day.
March 23 Sunday
I tried once again to fax the journal to Bill but at $6 a page decided to try fed Ex...HA Met again with VN Writers and creative arts "big Potatoes" this morning.Introductions and more green tea. I was promised widows. So far, generally speaking, my project has been surprisingly embraced. After lunch - sort of needed a little nap. Then off to City Hall - more tea and intros, again open to project. While embracing the project they appear to be very surprised that a widow from America cares about the stories of their widows.Then dinner - I'm just a disaster with chop sticks. As long as there are spring rolls and nuoc mam, I'll do fine, the rest of it just leaves a trail from the bowl to edge of the table and tracks down my chin on on down my blouse. If I'm lucky, I eventually get some in my mouth.
After dinner our folk song friend arranged a boat ride on the Perfume River. He had his performers there and it was wonderful. After they performed we lit candles in little paper boats and set them in the river. This is supposed to bring happiness and families together. Most of all it was pretty. By the end of these days I am so sleepy.
March 24 Monday
Larry referred to this morning as "grab day" - last chance to buy souveniers in Hue. I was down stairs by 8AM and found 2 women from the Hue Women's Union waiting for me. One was 40ish and the other turned out to be75. The 75 y.o. lost her husband in '54 during the French war, they had no children, so she returned to Hue until 1969. At that time she joined the Liberation Women's Union and lived in the jungle near Phu Bai until Saigon was liberated in 1975. Then she became head of the local Women's union and moved up to province and then the region in her women's union. After she retired she had little means of support and her family is quiet poor. But she adopted orphans and did knitting. Because of a difficult and hard life,she has no relics of her husband who died and was buried in the jungle. I took poloroids to give to her and her friend. I will see them again in July.
After the women left the hostess of the hotel took me to the bank to exchange some travelers checks. She took me on her motor bike...the ride of my life. Scary, but what a hoot. I loved it! We checked out and took the train back to DaNang. Tomorrow we flyto HCMC. But tonight we are staying at China Beach! It is beautiful here. Also on the train ride we went ove Hai Van Pass. Beauty beyond description. We will tour DaNang tomorrow and leave late in the afternoon. This country is so beautiful I hate to see what will happen to it when the big corps move in. This is also a concern of the Minister of Culture an dMinister of Foreign Relations. Dancing on the horizon is "big foreignbucks", but these people do not want to lose their country or their culture.
You should see my bath room. Most efficient, fairly large room tiled with a drain in the floor, toilet, and a sink. The shower head is onthe wall near the drain - no bath , no shower stall - no bathtub rings here.
March 25 Tuesday
Not a lot to see in DaNang, old American Marine airfield. Went on to Hoi An. What a beautiful place. Toured temples and old houses. I find it amazing that anything that old still stands and is so beautiful. Drove alng the river and watched boats being unloaded. I liked watching the small boats where the person stands up to row. It must take forever to learn the right balance and rythym.
We toured the Cham museum..amazing old statues (stone) of different gods and goddesses. After a bit of souvenier shoppin we left for the air port. Ourflight was an hour late. Arrived in HCMC. Larry insisted we have a drinkat the Rex hotel rooftop bar. I called Lan. She joined us. After the drink we returned to our hotel..Saigon Hotel..and worked out plan to get Mr. Tam (foreign press) to cooperate with us.
Wed March 26
Bless Mitty, she had faxed him a letter full of compliments and thank yous and affirming my trust in him. Then I called him and discussed the schedule and again brought up Lan. He talked with her. The he said if my program looked good, he looked good. All in same, same boat!! So, all is well in that department. Mr. Tam will use Lan's schedule and she can go with us. Lan and I went to her apt. so I could type my journal in and get it sent. I got so sleepy I couldn't hold my eyes open. So laid down for 15minutes. 2 hours later I woke up. So much for being productive. Took Taxi back to hotel to get ready for "last supper" with travel buddies. We ate upstairs in the hotel...steak and potatoes, soup, salad (which we can't eat) and fresh papaya with lime juice. Not exactly from the Barn Door (ed note: the Barn Door is a restraurant in San Antonio, TX..Sally's home town) but good enough. After supper I negotiated with the hotel to let me stay there fo rdiscounted rate and to also include room for cameraman and daughters...much to my surprise they agreed.
To bed. I stay so sleepy here.
Thur. March 27
Kim Hoi left at 6AM this mornig. I had breakfast with her and said goodbye to my new friend. Then I had to call the banks in San Antonio (we are 12 hours ahead so 4:30AM is a good time to call.) My bag with the exposed film and bothcheck books, and asthma medicine disappeared somewhere between the airportt nothing of extreme value. I can get pictures from the others and no one can cash an American check with out an appropriate passport. I hate losing the bag, but it can be replaced. I'm at Lan's right now. We are going to do a little sightseeingt his afternoon. Then call it a day early. I'll finish today's entry when I send again.