Thursday, May 24, 2012

God, has it really been that long since I last posted on this blog? I must be getting lazy. It's not because I have been doing nothing, because I've actually been doing a lot since then. Just lazy to write, I guess. Anyway, so much has happened that I don't really know where to start.

Lately, I've been busy with tours or friends, or both. I finished up with a tour for four vets I know and one of their sons. We took a couple of war vintage Jeeps up the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the DMZ.It's interesting to see the reactions of men who have not lived a day in the past forty years without having visions of Vietnam come see it again. Most are shocked by how much has changed over the years. Not much remains of the war days. Old battle sites have now become luxury resorts, or industrial parks, or have been consumed by the jungles.  Occasionally you run into a pair of  dog tags or a pair of eyes that remind you of the past. The only thing left to see are the cemeteries and monuments. But still, it does something to your soul to look out over land that you have known so intimately. It still affects me and I've been doing it a long time.

Ken, Roger, Don, and Bill at Con Thien
Just before these Marines arrived, I met Anh in Hanoi with plans to fly to Dien Binh Phu for a couple of nights. It was the anniversary for the battle of Dien Binh Phu and a couple of old NVA vets were flying there for a reunion. They asked if we would like to join them. Wow! What an opportunity! But as luck would have it, the flight was cancelled and we didn't have time to wait for the next flight the following day so we opted to go on an adventure.

Anh had heard stories about the very northern part of Vietnam around the town of Dong Van. She had heard that the area was beautiful and nearly unspoiled by tourism. She was right! Problem is, there is only one way to get there; The Bus From Hell. We had a taxi drop us off outside of the airport and waited for the next bus heading in our direction. Eventually, a mini-bus with room for twenty people stopped. There were more than thirty people on board. With hundred pound bags of rice staked in the aisle and boxes of who knows what stacked to the ceilings, we headed off into the unknown. It was now nearly ten o'clock and we had eight ours of driving before our first stop at Tuyen Quang. This driver wasn't so bad except for the time he steered with his elbows while talking on two cellphones at the same time. This is true!

At five in the morning, we went to the bus station and waited. The first to come along was so crowed that peoples faces were pressed against the windows. Boxes of fruit and vegitables were staked so high on the roof that the center of gravity was about ten feet above the driver. No way was I getting on that bus. The next bus was only half full and just had some plumbing pipe and a couple of motorbikes strapped to the top. The driver didn't seem to mind the fluids running from under the bus. Much better. The  Beatle's song The Long and Winding Road kept running through my mind for the next thirteen hours. Finally, we reached Ha Giang and could have a cold beer while we waited for the bus to take us the last sixty-five kilometers to Dong Van.

Pulling out of town, the bus had to make a stop to pick up some coffins. The fact that they weren't yet assembled gave me little comfort. The assistant driver slapped me on the knee so that I would move it, enabling him to recline his seat into my lap. We wound our way up a beautifully terraced mountainside for about an hour and a half. The assistant driver turned and said it would cost us 200,000 dong ($10.00) each for the ride. We knew it was supposed to be only 100,000 dong so we argued. He told us to pay or get off the bus. We got off the bus. A young man we met at the bus station noticed what was happening and got off with us. The young man caught a ride on a passing motorbike and went off to fetch us a taxi. We were alone in the middle of nowhere. I could see the road vanish into the Karst topography as it wound its way over the distant mountains. The only consolation was that it was magnificent out there. The jagged landscape stretched around us as far as the eye could see in all directions and the sun was beginning to set. The lighting was spectacular. There was a young woman cutting grass to weave into a mat plus several other ladies carrying bundles of grass, there were some children playing, and people working in the fields far below us. Two hours passed, then two and a half. Finally, our ride came and we continued to our destination. We arrived well after nine pm. The taxi cost 700,000 dong ($40.00).

For more photos on this adventure vist my Facebook page

Friday, August 26, 2011

Well, the BIG trip to the US is about to come to an end. Anh flew home last week but I had to stay here for another couple of weeks to take care of some last minute business. I will be heading back home on Sept 4. It's hard to believe that we did and saw so much in the two months that Anh was here.
After our trip to Alaska, we stopped off in Colorado for about a week before flying to Louisville, Kentucky for my Marine reunion. I always enjoy the reunions though they wear me out. It seems like it's non-stop for a week of getting back in touch with some of the most special men in the world. It's kind of interesting though. People ask what we talk about at the reunions. They wonder if we sit around and tell our war stories. Nope. I never heard one war story this year. We talked about our hip replacements, our prostates, and our Social Security checks. Anh was a big hit at the reunion. She had met several of the
 Marines before when they came to Vietnam on tour
 so she wasn't completely new to the party. She was able to talk to a lot of the guys about what it's like in Vietnam today and helped put some of their minds to rest that the war really is over now. We got all gussied up for the big banquet on Saturday night and I must say we were elegant. The Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps was our guest speaker and of course Anh wanted to get a picture of her and the man with all the stars on his shoulders.

While in Louisville, we also had the chance to see our dear friends John and Caroline who live in Bangkok part of the year. They were having an export show in Louisville just before the reunion started. So we got to see the Jim Beam distillery and Churchill Downs together. After the reunion, Anh and I rented a car and drove up to Dayton, Ohio to spend a few days at John and Caroline's farm. It was a wonderful time to relax and enjoy some dear friends. Anh especially loved driving their red "mule" around the farm.

All in all, it has been a wonderful trip. We saw ten states (including Alaska) and was able to introduce Anh to my family. I think she will want to come back again someday soon.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

North to Alaska

 Next stop: Alaska! Our good friend Suel lives in Da Nang in the winter and in Alaska in the summer. Anh and I decided to give him a visit while we were in the neighborhood. This part of our adventure was all a spur of the moment decision. This wasn't in our plan but since we were held up getting Anh's visa at the beginning of the trip, we really have no plan. I figured that if we were ever going to see Alaska together, this was the time to do it. We are so glad we did. The weather was perfect, mid 80's during midday and cooling off to mid 60's at night (what little night there was). It didn't get dark until after midnight.

Suel has a little cabin on the Matanuska Glacier, about a hundred miles outside of Anchorage. He has no running water but does have electricity and had set up a cozy little loft for us that looks out over some of the most beautiful country in the world. We spent most of our time just sitting on the porch talking and laughing and eating. Anh kicked Suel out of his kitchen while she tried her hand at cooking like a mountain woman. She can whip up a mean moose goulash.

We had a great time driving around to meet Suel's neighbors and see how the 'real people' in Alaska live. It was really fun getting to meet some of his friends and visit their homes. Everyone in his neck of the woods has built their own house and some of them are very unique.

 Anh was anxious to see some bear and moose. We didn't see any bear but we did find some moose! We were given some moose and bear sausage to take back to Vietnam with us.


Next on our agenda was to visit Anh's daughter and niece in Phoenix. Our flight from Wichita to Phoenix was canceled and we were re-routed on a later flight with a layover in Chicago. Don't ask why we had to go to Chicago to get to Phoenix. It's another example of logic in flying. But it did give Anh one more state to add to her list of places visited. Arizona was even hotter than Kansas (115) but it wasn't humid so it was almost bearable.

Just seeing Anh and her daughter Na get together for the first time in nearly three years was enough to make the trip a success. It was well after midnight before our plane landed and we were all exhausted but we stayed up and chatted until the wee hours.

Though our stay in Phoenix was short, we did have a great time there. It was especially fun to get to know Anh's neice's daughter, Ashlinn, who liked to dance for us and try to teach me Vietnamese.

After two nights in Phoenix, we hit the road and drove out to El Monte, California to visit Anh's sister and her family. El Monte has a large Vietnamese population and is called "Little Saigon". It was almost like driving in downtown Saigon with all the Vietnamese shops and restaurants on the streets. I was amazed by how patriotic the Vietnamese living there are. Everywhere you looked, there were American flags flying, even inside homes and on automobiles. There is a memorial in El Monte that the Viet community erected to honor both the American and South Vietnamese soldiers.
 We took advantage of our time in Southern California to do a bit of touristy stuff. Anh's daughter and boyfriend drove us to Hollywood so we could walk on the stars of Hollywood Blvd. and then go to Santa Monica to visit the pier.

Anh has some friends in San Diego who she has worked with as a guide. They invited us to spend a few nights with them in their lovely home. KV and her husband Hung both worked for the Southern government during the war and were able to evacuate to the US during the fall of Saigon. They were quite interesting to talk with and I wish we would have had more time together but after three days, it was time to move on.

Friday, July 29, 2011


We've been here in the States together for over a month now and have covered a lot of ground. Since we were delayed in our start, nothing is really being planned and we are winging it. That leads to some complications in logistics but nothing we haven't been able to overcome. So far, it's been a great trip.

It was hot as blazes in Kansas while we were there, officially 112 degrees but the thermometer on the parking lot at the car show we attended read 134. That's hot! It was fun showing Anh the old 'muscle cars' of the sixties in spite of the heat. We also visited Cow Town, a heritage center in Wichita where they have moved many of the old homes and businesses that were in use in the late 1800's to create an authentic look at what the west was like in the old days. They even put on a gunfight on Main Street. Of course, Anh had to share a sasparilla with the gunfighters.

The best part of our time in Kansas was spending time with my mother. Even though mom has been having some health problems, we were still able to have some wonderful times together. Anh really enjoyed working in mom's flower garden and puttering around the house. As an added bonus my sister was able to fly in from North Carolina to spend a few days with us and get to meet Anh.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Back in the USA

After over a month of waiting, we finally made it. I had to return to the States a couple of weeks before Anh's visa came through but she finally got and was able to get to Colorado without any problems. When I saw her coming up the stairway at the airport, the smile on her face made all the waiting worthwhile.I met her with flowers, an American flag, and a big kiss. She looked great in her red top and red hat.

Our first stop was to head to Boulder and drive by my house. We couldn't go inside since I have someone renting the place right now but we were able to see it from the outside. We drove up into the foothills behind my house so that she could see the open space at the base of the Flatirons and look down upon the city. Boulder is beautiful this time of year. They had a lot of snow during the winter and quite a bit of rain in the spring so everything was green and fresh.

The Pearl Street Mall in Boulder is one of my favorite places to hang out. There are plenty of good restaurants and places to have a beer while people watching. We met my good friend Chris and his daughter who had come to Vietnam over Christmas. It kind of felt like old home week to see a lot of the people I haven't seen in over a year. Everyone seemed to like Anh, but why wouldn't they?

We got up early the next day and headed up into the Mountains. There was still a lot of snow in the high country and Anh had never seen snow before. It was a beautiful, sunny day with puffy white clouds and, once we had gotten up into the high country, enough snow to play around in it. We drove over Loveland Pass, the highest all-year road in the US and stood on the Continental divide before driving down the other side to the ski area of Arapahoe Basin. The ski area was still open even though it was late June. We didn't try skiing ourselves because I didn't want any broken legs this early in our trip. 

My son and his family invited us over to their house for a homemade Mexican dinner. It was outstanding. I had forgotten how good real Mexican food can taste. It was also fun to play with my two granddaughters, Cody and Alex. 

Four days after Anh's arrival, we boarded a plane again and flew to Kansas to see my mother. Anh had not met my mother yet and was really looking forward to getting together with her. I think the two of them are going to hit it off great together. It's hotter than hell here, 105 degrees. Much hotter than Vietnam so we are spending most of our time indoors.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Disillusioned American

Anh and I have known each other for more than nine years and have been married for over a year. I am sixty-two years old, US citizen, and a veteran. Anh is fifty, a Vietnamese citizen, and business woman. We own property in Vietnam, have our own house, and Anh has a very successful job as a national tour guide. We want to go back to the US so that Anh can finally meet my family, especially my mother who is currently undergoing chemotherapy. Should be no problem, right? Wrong!

For some undisclosed reason, the US Consulate's office has Anh's visa on hold. We filled out the required forms, we paid the $130 application fee, we flew to Saigon for the interview and were told that she passed but it would be a few days before they could process the visa. That was on May 18, nearly a month ago. When we try to find out what is going on, we find there is no way we can talk with a real person. The telephone number is an automated service that runs you around in circles then hangs up. We have sent three emails to the address given on the website but, we get no response. The consulate's office does not have the decency to let us know what is happening. To go to the office in person is a waste of time and money. They will not let me inside to deal with this matter. They give me a phone number to call. It is the same number that runs in cirlces.
 I find it appalling to be treated this way by my government and resent the lack of cooperation I get when trying to get this matter resolved. Why should there be any question of whether or not I can take my wife to my country to meet my family? We have done nothing wrong. Hell, we don't even want to stay in the US. all we want is a few months over there. But it's like complaining at the airport security check. Say anything and you are shoved aside until it's too late to travel. Knowing this, I have tried to be very polite, to the point of grovelling in my correspondence but have been ignored.
What has happened to my America? Have we become so fearful that we have given up all of our rights and freedoms? Must we be content to be treated like cattle while the man behind the desk sips his coffee and smiles at our discomfort. It's humiliating and shameful. Let's not forget the ideals our country was based upon; the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.