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.