Monday, December 8, 2008
We had a party here last night for all the people who worked on the house. Anh and her friend Vanh fixed up a traditional meal of duck and chicken complete with rice, soup and salad. Of course there was plenty of beer on hand.
This has all come around none too soon because I head out of here to go home for the holidays next week. I will be back in The States for a month and am really looking forward to seeing everyone as well as having a good Mexican dinner. I hope the new house is all cleaned and settled by the time I return. All I have to do now is find my socks. I hear it's cold in Colorado right now.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Well as you can see from these pictures, my house is nearly finished. We were going to do something a little more on the outside but I like it the way it is, especially the garage door.
I am constantly impressed with the technology and equipment that is necessary for such a project. The scaffolding used to haul the cement for the roof is an example of what I mean. I really wanted them to leave it in place for an observation deck but the contractor won't part with it.
The shot of the living room looking back toward the stairs is an example of how we have stayed with neutral colors and use splashes of bold color to give ambiance, i.e the red furnishings and doors. I am most fond of the stairway. Since it is such a key element to the design of the house, I decided to go all out and make it a showpiece.
And I must say, it was tempting to not stucco over the brickwork and just have the warm feel of master craftsmen throughout the house. But the cement covering keeps the harmony of the neutral color scheme.This can be seen well in the shot of my bedroom and bathroom wall. The place needs to be tidied up little but does look cozy, don't you agree? Watching it all come together is such a rewarding experience.
I heard it once said that a man who has respect for the law and a fondness of sausage should never watch either being made. This is also true of building a house in Vietnam!
Monday, October 6, 2008
The wet season has begun. Every day, clouds roll in from the mountains in the west and dump rain on the city. The showers can last anywhere from fifteen minutes to several hours. The locals say this has been a mild season so far. We have not experienced any of the major typhoons that often hit Da Nang. The rain does cool things off and it can be almost chilly in the evenings. It feels good to me but many of the locals bundle up like it's freezing. Today is a bright sunny day though. However huge white thunderheads are building in the deep blue sky over the mountains, giving warning that rain will come tonight.
I have found a great little spot on the beach where I can sit under a grass umbrella and watch the surf roll in while eating a bowl of steamed clams and schrimp. Sometimes they also have roasted corn on the cob. I come here often on days when I do not have to work to get away from the noise and clamor of the city. It's peaceful there since not many people come to the beach in the middle of the day. I'm often the only person out there and can't help but feel like I am on my own private island.
Today, I met the old gentleman who lives behind me. He's kind of the celebrity of the neighborhood. He was a decorated officer with the North during the war and showed me a photograph of him standing with General Giap. He invited me into his home for coffee and a cigarette and we tried to share some information about ourselves. Again, the language barrier can be a frustration but not enough to keep us from liking each other.
Friday, September 19, 2008
If you have an interest in visiting Vietnam. Check out the packages I have put together. I don't thing you can beat the price and I am sure you can't beat the experience.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
I have to admit, it's kind of scary. I've built houses before but I've never seen one done like this. I'd jump in and help but I don't have a clue of what to do. So, I just stay out of the way and try to look important.
But I couldn't do this alone. Anh, a lady I have worked with as a guide for many years is going in on the house as a partner with me. She knows how to get the people and the materials together and is doing an amazing job of it. Especially when you consider that she is on the road leading tours for much of the time. Here is a shot of her and her group of Belgians she brought through Da Nang last month. That's Anh standing on the left.
Here are a few shots of the progress and a drawing of what the final is supposed to look like. The second floor is nearly complete and they are ready to pour the concrete for the next level. The house will have two floors plus a room and kitchenette on the third level.
Monday, August 11, 2008
A new house is being built next door to where I’m living. It’s pretty incredible to watch the way things are constructed over here. The largest piece of equipment I’ve seen so far is a wheel barrow. They cleared the land and dug out the foundation with shovels. Cement is delivered in 50K bags and a truck load of rock and sand are piled on the sidewalk. All the concrete is mixed in the middle of the street with shovels then wheel barrowed to the forms. Bricks are brought in on a truck and unloaded by hand. It’s impressive how much gets done in a day in spite of the lack of equipment. It’s like watching a bunch of ants.
The housing market is going great guns over here right now. Inflation is a big worry and many people want to build before prices get out of reach. In my neighborhood (six blocks) there are more than twelve houses being built at the moment. With property values going up an average of 30% a year for the past three years, it’s no wonder.
It’s not only houses that are being built. The entire beach front has been cleaned up and a wide boulevard put in. Major hotels and resorts are rising from the open land in all directions. The amount of change here in
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
School has mellowed a bit since the summer break for the regular schools is about to wrap up and the teachers who have been away on holiday have returned. I have a little more free time now but still have to be at school six days a week. This doesn't give me much time to get out and explore too far so I have been keeping close to home. I have done a couple of interesting things though.
Those of you who spent time in Da Nang will probably remember Monkey Mountain. It's a peninsula that sticks out just to the north of the city. We used it for a radar station during the war. Today, the area is pretty sleepy but they have begun to build several resorts there. I went out there last week for a day just to get out of the city and found a great little hide-a-way that's off the beaten path. In fact, it looks like you are on a dead end to get there. They have some grass covered cabanas and small tables set up on one of the prettiest little beaches I have seen. And they serve great seafood and cold beer. What more could you ask for? There was a small party going on while I was there and they invited me over for a toast. I don't know what we were toasting but I had to be polite and drink a little who knows what with them.
Then a couple of days later, some friends and I (six of us in all) hired a small fishing boat to take us about ten miles up the coast. It was spectacular with the clear blue water and rich green mountains. We didn't catch any fish but Anh had stopped at the market before we left and picked some up for us just in case. We made "Hot Pot" (a seafood soup) right on the boat. There was a full moon that evening and we stayed out lisening to music and eating until after ten o'clock. A terific evening for all of us.
I've been in country for three months now and am getting over the novelty of being here but there are always things that come up that are surprises. Not all of the pleasant but surprises none the less. Da Nang is like any big city, there is the good and the not so good to deal with. But as far as Vietnam goes, Da Nang is the place to be right now. There is so much building and improvement going on all over the city that you can feel the energy.
Several have asked about my neighborhood. Here are a couple of shots of my street. The blue house is my neighbors to the north and the shed is directly across the street from me. There is also a shot looking down my street to the south.
I do want to get out and do some exploration before the wet season begins though. Mr. Luan (see earlier post) has invited me to come to his homeland in the central highlands with him. He has shown me some books he's helped put together about the mountain people and it looks fascinating. Hopefully I will be able to get a couple of days off in a row and go with him. It's in the area around Plieku and Doc To, about half way between Saigon and Da Nang.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
It was a big day on the block today. My next door neighbor’s son is getting married and they threw a big party for him in the street in front of my house. Since it was basically set up on my driveway, I was invited, of course. The street was covered by a metal roof and decorated up as only the Vietnamese can do. By noon, the party was in full swing, complete with a band, karaoke, great food, and an endless supply of beer. I think the main object of the party was to see how much the American could drink because everyone wanted me to join in a toast with them. I would have been very rude for me to decline. Whoa, I did pretty damn well keeping up with them but I’m am glad I didn’t have to drive home.
Friday, June 13, 2008
This is Phan Duc Nhuan, a man I met a couple of weeks ago. He is having a house built in the neighborhood and he heard about me being here. He stopped by to introduce himself and we seemed to hit it off right away, especially when he learned that I served here during the war. He is an intelligent, gentle man who is retired but plays in the local symphony. And he fought on the other side of the wire during the war. Since he doesn’t speak English and I speak no Vietnamese, we have had to limit our conversations through a translator when one is available but we have learned a lot about each other and are becoming good friends with a great respect for one another. It is amazing how many way we are alike though were enemies at onetime. I’ve given him a copy of the book I put together of photographs of Vietnam and he was quite pleased.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Driving here is a real experience. In a city with nearly one million people and ninety five percent on motorbikes, it can be total chaos at rush hour. I have yet to see a stop sign and there are only a few stop lights. They don't really count though.No one stops for them. It's amazing how the traffic weaves through itself with clearances so thin you couldn't slip a credit card between the bikes. Yet there are not many accidents and I have seen no sign of road-rage. Everyone just moves along and allows others to slip in and out around them. You have to be on your toes though. It's common for people to just stop in the middle of the road to chat or look around.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
I am teaching at the AVIEC (Am-Viet International English Center) School in Da Nang. It's nothing fancy but it is air conditioned and kind of funky-fun. I am the only American teacher on campus but they do have one Australian, one Brit, and a guy from Denmark. I am teaching Lower-Intermediate level, which means their English is slightly better than my Vietnamese, and I have 15 students ranging in ages from 14-35. I will be teaching young children (8-12) starting on Sunday. Having never taught to this age group, I am a bit apprehensive but here we go.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Well, I finally moved into my house on Sunday the 25th. One would think it would be easy to move in when all you have can fit into two suitcases. It just isn't so. There are dishes to buy, sheets and bedding, food, hangers, clothes lines, silverware, and towels. Not to mention getting Internet service, trash service, electricity, water, and living as a foreigner permit. When you compound this by not having a clue what the labels say or what the regulations require, or how to ask directions, is gets a little complex. It took two hours just to find thread tape to hook up the washer. And oh yea, I had to buy a couch. Whoa, there's a challenge. I finally got one and it's pretty weird but the least weird I saw out of about fifteen different stores. Then of course there is the delivery problem, a big problem when your house doesn't have an address. Anyway, it's all done now. At least I think it is. I hope it is. I am in and by God, I am going to stay in for a while.
I have, however, been able to meet most of my new neighbors. I guess I am kind of the talk of the block and everyone is curious about the new guy, the FNG. (If you served in Nam, you understand FNG, if not, I can't explain.) My neighbor to my left teaches English out of her house. Her English is better than my Vietnamese but not much. Her husband's friend is the chief of police in my neighborhood and they all came over for a beer the other night. It is good to know these people besides, they are real nice.
I met with another neighbor and went for a swim on China Beach at 5 in the morning. That's the time the locals go to the beach because it's just too damn hot to go in the middle of the day. It's interesting how the beach is completely deserted between 9am - 6pm but looks like Coney Island early in the morning. It's a great way to start the day and I hope to make it part of my routine.
Friday, May 23, 2008
I got a call from the school this afternoon saying they wanted to have a meeting with me at 3:30. At the meeting they informed me they wanted me to teach that afternoon (5:30). Not much notice but I kind of BSed my way through and it seemed to go OK. Not great, but OK. Since I wasn't expecting to teach, I didn't take my camera with me so I don't have any pictures to show of my school or my class. I will try to get some when I teach again on Monday. Hopefully the air conditioner will be working better then. There was some trouble with it this evening and I was sweating like a pig for the first hour. I have 15 students ranging in age from 14 to 27. They are classified as being "low-intermediate" which means they just look at me with blank expressions. I will also be teaching young children on Sunday mornings but told the school I couldn't start until next week since I am moving into my house this Sunday. So much for teaching advanced students beginning on the first of the month! Lesson #1 in Vietnam is expect the unexpected. That was true in 1969 and is true today.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Another place to see while you are in the north is the town of Ba Ca. Every Sunday the locals come down from the hills to what is known as The Lover's Market. It is basically the big day for the tribe people to shop, to barter, and to meet people from the distant villages. The richly colored clothing worn by the local women is a photographer's dream come true.
Ha Long Bay
Of course, no trip to the North would be complete without spending the night on a boat on Ha Long Bay. It is said there are over 3000 islands jutting up out of this bay and is one of the most spectacular places I have seen. A night on one of the 'Junks" is a great way to get away from the noise and congestion and the seafood that is served is outstanding. You can swim off the boat, snorkle, kyak, or just sit on the deck and drink beer if you want.
It is about a three hour ride by car or bus from Hanoi but is worth it. Besides, there is some pretty interesting scenery along the way. I have been to Ha Long many times now and am always in awe whenever I return.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Since my last entry, we took the train north to Hue (pronounced ‘Way’). There are only two other vets with me this trip and I have to admit it is nice with a small group. We are able to do things on the spur of the moment without a lot of logistical problems to deal with.
Hue used to be the imperial city and was also the scene of some of the heaviest fighting during the war. Now, it is a great place to visit with plenty of cultural and historical sites to see. I also like Hue because of the fabulous hotel here. The Morin is one of the oldest hotels in the area and was founded by a Frenchman back in the 30’s. It’s colonial charm and quiet courtyard make it a place where I always try to stay when I am in the area.
Yesterday, we went to the DMZ and visited many of the places where we served during the war. So much has changed since those days that it is difficult if not impossible to recognize. The scars from the war have almost completely healed and areas that were once the site of so much tragedy are now lush and inhabited. It’s hard to imagine the violence and suffering that once took place here. There are places like The Rockpile that will always remain the same in spite of the years that have passed.
Tonight, we have a dinner planned with a gentleman who served on the other side during the war. I enjoy meeting with these men and learning more of what it was like from their perspective. I am always amazed by how much similarity there is between us and how we have grown to have the same hopes and dreams even though we were enemies at one time.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Things have not been going particularly well this week. Three members of my group had to cancel at the last minute because of obligations at work and another member had his flight in the US canceled which caused him to miss his international flight and all the arrangements that were set up for his arrival. He is in country now but won’t be here in Da Nang for another couple of hours.
But most difficult has been getting the news that my step-son Lon took a serious fall rock climbing and is in very bad shape with head and back injuries. It’s not easy being this far away from home during a family crisis. I know there is not much I could do even if I were home but I wish I were there to help at this time. If things get any worse, I will consider returning to the States for a while. It’s a wait and see situation, the kind that I am not too good with.
So far, my trusty guide Anh has been such an enormous help to me. She has helped with getting my house arrangements set up, my travel arrangements organized, and has been teaching me Vietnamese and teaching me to drive a motor bike in this country. She has also introduced me to several of her friends that speak a little English. I will miss her once she returns to Saigon. From then on, I will be on my own. Well, I was looking for adventure and here it is.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
I have now been in Vietnam for a week, a very busy week. After leaving Ho Chi Minh City I flew up to Da Nang and feel like I have gotten a lot done in the past four days. The first major business to deal with was getting the contract on my house finalized. I was able to meet the owner and make a walk-through of the place before paying the rent for the next six months. Not only did that confirm that the house will be mine, it also confirmed that I really am here to stay for a while. Whew! One giant step out of the way.
Since the next day was Vietnam’s Independence Day (April 30, 1975 is when the war was officially over) most businesses were closed so I headed up into the mountains just north of Da Nang and spent the night on Ba Na Mountain. This area was built up as a resort by the French during the 30’s because of the cool climate and spectacular setting. The 1800 meter mountain is covered with dense forest and is often blanketed with clouds in the morning. Absolutely beautiful. Most of the old French manors have been destroyed by both time and war but there are new resorts up there now and the area takes on an atmosphere that reminds me of Disneyland.
This is not the first time I have gotten back into the forest since the war but each time I do, the smell and sounds trigger off memory switches that have lain dormant for so long. The senses become heightened and the adrenaline flows. I have to confess that it is not an all together unpleasant feeling and is perhaps part of why I return to Vietnam.
Returning to Da Nang early the next afternoon, I had to clean up and go to a meeting with the director of the school where I will be teaching. It has been arranged for me to begin work on June 2nd. I still don’t know exactly what my schedule will be but I should find out in a week or so.
hiking, and bought some lobsters from one of the fishermen who cooked them up on the spot for me. Though the island has some pretty primitive guest houses, I opted to stay at the place where they set up small tents on the beach for you. It was like paradise.
Tomorrow, my group of vets is supposed to start arriving and I will be with them for a couple of weeks. We will be traveling around the our old stomping grounds along the DMZ and I probably won’t have a lot of time to add to this blog until the group is over. I really am looking forward to the time with the guys but I am also ready to start settling into my life of living and working abroad.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
It's April 29 and I have been in Saigon for three days now. Tomorrow I head up to Da Nang and meet with the director of my school as well as close the deal on renting my house. My group of vets are arriving on the fourth so I want to have this stuff taken care of before I get busy with the group.
I really haven't done much in Saigon since I am staying at a guesthouse that's a little removed from the main part of the city. I my go into town later this evening to watch the Olympic Flame pass through.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
The past few days have been spent mostly on saying good-byes to family and friends and getting my bags packed. It is not easy to fit a year of needs into two suitcases (two large suitcases). However, I find some satisfaction in knowing that I am shedding all the clutter that I have become buried under. I think of George Carlin's routine on "Stuff".
I will arrive in Saigon on Saturday night a 10:00 pm and spend a couple of days there before flying up to Da Nang on the 29th. The school where I will be teaching is called AVIEC (American Vietnamese International English Center). Though I stil don't have all the details, I will be teaching business professionals who already speak English but want to polish it. I will be teaching Monday through Friday from 5:30 -8:30 pm and am supposed to begin around the first of June. I have an appointment set up to meet with the school on May 2 and also need to sign the lease on my house that day.
Before I begin teaching, I will be meeting up with four American vets who want me to show them around for a couple of weeks. We won't be traveling though the entire country as I normally do but will be spending our time in Da Nang and in Hue. We will get up to the DMZ and other places where we spent time during the war but won't have enough time to get up to Hanoi as a group. It's too bad because I really like Hanoi. If time allows, I will head up there on my own for a few days after the men go home.
Well, it's almost 5:00 in the morning and I had better get started with my day. I wanted to make this entry early because I won't have Internet access this evening and it will probably be a week before I can make my next entry on the blog.
Take a deep breath, Billy. Here we go!
Monday, April 21, 2008
I had a "Going Away" party on Friday afternoon/evening and I was touched by the number of people who showed up. Damn, the place was packed and all seemed to be having a good time. I know I had a good time. There were probably seventy-five people who showed up (I even knew some of them). Really though, it was pretty moving to see so many people who I consider friends all together in one place. Jim came out from New York and Ron flew in from Chicago. Both of these men have made it back to Nam with me in recent years and both of them served as Marines over there during the war. I really appreciated the effort they made to see me off.
It looks like I have a place to live in Da Nang. Anh was very instrumental in pulling this together. Bless you Anh. You have pulled through once again. Though I haven't seen the place in person yet, I did get some photos. It's a two bedroom, three bath (indoor and flushable), furnished, and nicely decorated. And it is less than three blocks from China Beach. I can live with this. Hopefully, some friends and family will come visit while I'm here. There is room but only for four days max.
This view looks through my living room. Yes, this wall comes complete with fountains and a skylight.