Saturday, November 28, 2009


There's a restaurant in Da Nang completely staffed by deaf kids. It's called The Bread of Life and it's owned by Kathleen and Bob, an American couple from Kansas. They serve real American food and it's favorite place for the expat community to eat. Every Thanksgiving Kathleen puts together a traditional holiday meal complete with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. A bunch of us went there this year and stuffed ourselves. The Vietnamese who joined us thought the food was a little strange but most of them agreed it wasn't bad.

If you are in Da Nang, stop in at The Bread of Life if you are in the mood for a good western meal. Not only is the food great, but you'll be helping the deaf community. It's just a block off the river behind the Green Plaza hotel on Le Hong Phong Street. Oh yea, they serve a mean pizza too. And they deliver.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Birthday Marines

There is a small contingent of Marines living in Vietnam these days, about six that I know of. And as Marines all over the world, those of us who were in town took time out yesterday to celebrate the Marine Corps 234th Birthday and remember our fallen brothers. What better place to do this than on China Beach. The beer was warm, the vodka cheap, and the cake messy but we had a great time.

The party was not restricted to Marines. We had friends and families join us so there was an interesting mix at our little party. The conversations ran from war stories to politics, from family issues to health issues, from life in the US to life in Vietnam. It was a good time for us with a few tears and a lot of laughter.

I want to wish all my Marines out there a Happy Birthday and to all who served, a happy Veterans Day.

Semper Fidelis

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I haven't made any new postings for a while because I've been back in the States for a couple of months. While there, I did some remodeling to my house in Colorado, visited family, and went to the Marine reunion. So, all in all, it was a good trip but I was definitely ready to get back here again. I'm back in Da Nang now and trying to readjust to the time zone and the culture again. It always takes about a week to get back on track.

I missed the big typhoon that blew in through this area last week. I arrived two days after the storm hit and the remnants were still visible when I got here; trees down, power lines down, and a lot of flooding to the south of Da Nang. Though Da Nang did have damage, the brunt of the storm hit about thirty miles south of here. Work crews have been busy cleaning up and I am amazed at how fast they have put things back in order. Other than a little water seepage through a few walls, my house remained in pretty good shape.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Ho Chi Minh Trail

I turned twenty in Vietnam when I was here in 1969 and now, on the first of July of this year, I turned sixty. The picture to the right was taken of me up on the DMZ on my 20th birthday. I'm the guy sitting on the left. My sister sent me a birthday package complete with party hats, whistles, streamers, and a cake. Though the cake was green with mold by the time it got to me, we ate it anyway.

For my 60th birthday, Anh got a couple of friends together and we took a motorbike ride through the jungled mountains along the Laotian boarder on what is now called The Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was a magnificent two-day trip into a part of the country where few tourists venture.The Vietnamese have developed a network of roads through the mountainous areas and have appropriately called it The Ho Chi Minh Trail. Much of it actually is part of the old trail used by the North during the war and it runs through some of the most rugged and remote parts of Vietnam from Hanoi to the Delta in the south.

We took a 500km ride starting from Da Nang and heading west into the mountains. Once we got up close to the Laotian boarder, we headed north to the small town of A Lui in the Ashau Valley about 80 km west of Hue. This was some of the most spectacular scenery I have seen with dense jungle, rushing rivers and low hanging clouds as far as the eye could see.

About every twenty km or so we would pass through a village with straw huts and colorful people. Most of these villages have what is called a rung, a community house where the people gather for social events or official business.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Eggshell and Lacquer

We have a piece of art in the house that I am really fond of. It's a stylized market scene and is about 36"x 24". The image itself is amazingly beautiful with the straw hats and baskets but when you look at how it's made, it is incredible. This is a lacquer and eggshell piece of art. The image is made with dyed eggshells pressed into a fixative then the entire piece is covered with a meticulous lacquer coating. There are several galleries in Saigon that produce this type of art and are very interesting to visit and watch work in progress.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hoa's Place

The twenty five miles of beach that runs south from Da Nang to Hoi An is rapidly vanishing under the jaws of bulldozers and concrete. This paradise lost has been found by foreign investors who are putting up huge resorts and golf courses. But there still remains one island of refuge amidst all the development though it will most likely fall victim to the new growth soon. Hoa's Place sits off the coast highway at the base of Marble Mountain. It's a sleepy little guesthouse and restaurant run by a man named Hoa (pronounced "Wha"). Hoa is a small man in his mid 50's who speaks very good English and puts out a reasonable facsimile of a hamburger. His beer is cold, and the food is pretty damn good.He operates about 12 rooms for rent on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. The rooms are within a two minute walk of the beach and go for under ten bucks a night. Hoa's place is pretty well known and is listed in The Lonely Planet if you want to know more about the facilities.

But it's Hoa that makes the place special. I've gotten to know Hoa over the past four or five months and always enjoy sitting down and having a chat with him over a cool beer.Though he barely stands five feet tall, he has a big heart, especially for American servicemen. Hoa worked with a Marine CAP unit in his home village of Dai Loc during the war days. He was only eleven when the Americans came and was barely fourteen when he would join them on patrols. He has the heart of a Marine and the mouth of a drill instructor. But when you learn your English from a bunch of Marines, what do you expect.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Year One

Last week marked the anniversary of my being in Vietnam for a year. What started out to be a year of new experience and adventure has become a major milestone in my life. I’ve built a new house, found a wonderful lady, made many new friends, and have been able to see the world from a totally new perspective.

Vietnam is a stew, a blend of colors, textures, and smells that fills one’s head with strange flavor of something completely different than anything I have experienced in the past. Even though I have been here many times over the past fifteen years, I see that I have only scratched the surface of this country and its people. Though not knowing the language has been a handicap in many ways, it has also forced me to become an observer. Much of my time is spent watching, watching how things are done, watching the way problems are solved, watching faces. There is a complexity about Vietnam that only those born into it can understand. If I had to come up with a phrase that would describe Vietnam, it would be “discordant harmony”. From the clothing to the music, from the language to the traffic, everything looks and sounds so incompatible but blends with the richness of a stew.

I am attempting to learn the language but it is a frustration, especially with my hearing and at my age. I try to find a way to relate the words to English but they are so different there is nothing to gain a footing on. New words get lost in the babble of unfamiliarity. But even if I become proficient in Vietnamese, I will always be an outsider, a foreigner. That’s the way it is here. To be allowed into the inner sanctity of Vietnam, you must be born here, your parents born here, and your grandparents born here. Even those who have roots in Vietnam are outsiders. Vietnam’s past is so complex and turbulent that it cannot be learned but must be experienced for generations to understand.

Though my neighborhood is only a small fraction of Vietnam, it is a good metaphor of the country and people. There are those on my street from the successful to the very poor. There are educated people, countryside people, people who served with the South and people who fought with the North. There are young children and aging couples. There are Catholics and there are Buddhists. There are those who cling to the traditional ways and those who have flung themselves into the modern age. But in spite of the differences, it makes up a society that is much like the country as a whole.

This time also marks the fortieth anniversary of my coming to Vietnam for the first time. I turned twenty here in 1969 but in many ways I was born here. Most of who I am and what I am today was spawned from those days of war. I spent much of this week reflecting on those days. I guess it is natural to do so for someone in my position. But I have to admit that they are easier to deal with now. The “right or wrong” of the war does not seem so important anymore. What is important is how life is today. And I have to say that life is good for the most part. This is true for both me and for Vietnam.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


We took a trip to Bangkok a couple of weeks ago to visit some American friends who live there. A Vietnamese couple and their daughter also joined us on the trip.I've been to Bangkok before and must say I never really liked it much before but this time it was great. It makes a difference when you're with someone who knows the city. The first day we visited the Kings Palace and saw all the amazing building on the grounds. It's really quite a sight to see with all the opulence.

Since John and Carol are in the import business, they know the shopping districts like no one else so we spent the next couple of days shopping. It was a little more shopping than I am into but we did pick up some nice things for our house.

There is political unrest in Bangkok right now and it was starting to heat up pretty good while we were there though we were able to avoid it. Since we've been back, the situation has gotten much worse and I think we were lucky to get out of there when we did. From what I hear, the airport is a real mess right now.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Friends and Foes

On one of my trips back to Vietnam in 1997, I stopped off in a little place in the city of Hue called The DMZ Bar. What veteran could pass that up without checking it out. Well, the place was a dive with a pool table that filled 75% of the joint and had graffiti all over the walls. It smelled of stale beer and cigarettes. My kind of place. Anyway, there was a board where you could post a business card and I put up one of my Marine cards.

About a year later, I received a letter from a guy who had served with me during the war. He had been to Hue and came across my card. Anyway, we wrote to each other a few times then lost touch. I knew he had been living in Hanoi for a while but I didn't have a current email address for him. Last month I came across one of his old emails on my home computer and did a search on him. Finally, I came up with a new email address for him that worked.

His name is Suel Jones. We didn't actually know each other in '69 but we were with the same company at the same time. We did know some of the same people and definitely remembered some of the same events. We went through some pretty rough times together.

Come to find out, he had recently moved to Da Nang. We were finally able to hook up at a little coffee shop on Bach Dang Street by the river and spent a couple of hours comparing notes about out experiences during the war and about our experience in Vietnam since the war. It's interesting to hear other people's perspectives, especially from someone who has so much in common.

Ong Vo Thanh Tuat is a hero in his country. Achieving the rank of Major in The Peoples Army, Tuat fought in Dien Bien Phu, Khe Sanh, and the Tet Offensive of '68. He's been a journalist for the past thirty years or so and he also happens to be my neighbor.

I have visited him several times and, through Anh as our interpreter, have been able to learn a little about each other. His small home is filled with photographs, citations, books, and writings about his younger days. He's kind man with sparkling eyes and a quick smile. But he is obviously a proud man, proud of his past and of his service to his country. When he learned that I was a verteran, he became very curious about me; why I came to live in Vietnam, what do I think of his country and people, where did I serve during the war.

There are many discussions ahead, I hope. I too am curious, curious about 'the man on the other side of the wire". I want to know from the source what the war was like for them, what was moral like, what were the conditions, what are his thoughts about Giap and Ho Chi Minh, and if he thinks Vietnam has become the country they were fighting for.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Swallow House

There is a building across the road from my house that was recently erected. It stands five stories high, about four meters wide and thirteen meters deep. It's an unpainted concrete structure that has only small windows on the back side making it look much like a grain silo that you would see in the Midwest. Though someone obviously lives on the ground floor, the rest of the building appears to be vacant and unfinished. I thought it strange and couldn't figure out why someone would build such a place. It's too big for a family house and too small for a hotel. I was informed it is a swallow house; a house for swallows to build their nests so they can be harvested and sold. Each morning and evening tens, if not hundreds, of swallows swoop through the sky around the house, creating a delightful dance of sight and sound for the neighborhood. I guess bird's nests for soup bring big dollars in this part of the world. I've hear as much as $800.00 USD per pound.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Much has taken place since my last entry in this blog. I returned to the States for the holidays and spent time with my family. It was sure great to see them though there didn't seem to be enough time to go around. But it was good to see that all are doing well. I have been back in Da Nang for a little over a week now and am starting to get back in the swing of things over here again.

Today is the first day of the Lunar New Year (Tet). It's the year of the water buffalo which is the year I was born in and is the same for Anh. Not sure if that means anything but it sounds good. So Chuc mong nam mui (Happy New Year). Tet is a real big holiday for the Vietnamese. It's like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, etc. all rolled into one big celebration. The streets and shops are packed with people buying flowers and other items for their homes. They are definitely in a holiday mood. I was invited to join some friends for a "special lunch" and, of course the main dish was one of the delecacies of the Viets, dog. This wasn't my first experience with it but it's always a bit of a challenge to sit up to the table. Actually it's not bad but it's the idea of it. I guess it's all a matter of what you're use to.

My house is still not finished but is definitely livable now. All that needs done is some painting and cleaning. However, it's the holiday now and will be for at least another week. No one wants to work over the holiday. Anh and I have been working at getting things cleaned up but some of it is going to have to be done by a professional crew with a floor polisher and other equipment.