Category Archives: Vietnam

Hello from Bill

Hello – it’s Bill here, sitting at the pool of the Metropole on a Sunday afternoon with Paige.

Stephen and Kim put us through hell physically, so a rest before three more weeks at high altitude is good.

Hot Toc - barber

Hot Toc – barber

The photo of me is at the Hot Toc, getting cleaned up for my birthday. Happy Birthday Scott and Kim.

Today I read in the local news that two tigers are terrorizing a village outside Hanoi. 150 elephants are becoming a problem out of Buon Mi Thout. We saw 12 one meter turtles being loaded in a truck down on the Mekong river and people are growing natural medicines right in their villages, because of the terrible snake problem in the jungle.

In Burma, smugglers who take Burmese cobras (not pythons) or illegal teakwood to China (near Dali. Preston-remember Mom wouldn’t let us go?) will take you back on their moto to Katha for $175. one way. This one hundred miles of no road through mountains, rivers and jungles. Why would people want to? Sneak into Burma because of the quality of life? Opium?

At any rate Amelia, it sounds like the WWF has been doing it’s job. However, in Pakistan it is hot, and the corrupt power authority can only supply power for 2 hours in some places. The new PM reacted immediately, ordering bureaucrats to avoid wearing socks. So there is not as much progress on the political front. Think it’s a universal problem?

We’ve been reminiscing about some of the special birthdays I’ve had…..21st and 22nd in Vietnam, later Malta, Baja, two in Chiina, one in Taiwan, San Cristobal de las Casas, Monte Carlo for the F1 gran prix and 60 days in Italy for my 60th……I’m pretty lucky.

So tomorrow we fly to Cheng Du PRC under our phony itinerary to begin the sneak into Tibet. This may be the best birthday yet. Well, of course it is. It’s time for a pink gin at the bamboo bar at the Metropole in Hanoi. That’s a tip of the hat to Robert Ruarke, who couldn’t get out of Africa long enough to visit here. But Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, George Orwell and Ho Chi Minh did so maybe I can conjure up the ghosts and have a talk,

It is my present intent to write again….when there is fodder for the keyboard. It maybe 13 November-Paige’s birthday.

Bill

Train from Danang to Hue

All aboard

All aboard

Soft seats

Soft seats

Hard seat

Hard seat

4 travelers and only 3 soft seats with air con. Bill takes the hard seat with no air.

It’s only a 3 hour trip – what can go wrong? It’s our lucky day.

The soft seats are last in the car. Kim and Stephen take 2 seats together. My seat is filled with a 75 lb. 75 year old Vietnamese women in pjs, knees scrunched up to her belly. I show her my ticket and she slides half way over to the next seat – not bothering to move the travel bags which also occupy her seat.
2 women sit in the 6 inches of unoccupied space between the wall and the back of our seats.
Half way through eating a Ritz cracker my seat mate starts throwing up. Yummy! Her napkin fills, spilling vomit on the floor next to my feet. I offer a plastic bag – Kim offers wipes. The plastic bag is immediately used but the wipes are stored for later.
My seat mate leans over to try to clean the floor and Kim spots a cricket on her back. I brush it away only the have it hop back on her leg. Kim starts shrieking.
Crickets and ...

Crickets

We look to the floor to recon the damage. Under her tiny brown feet there is a card board box poked full of holes and with crickets escaping! Crickets everywhere! Kim’s eyes are huge – she is petrified.
What is really in the box? The conductor passes and I point to the box – a flurry of activity follows.
The conductor quickly removes the box and puts it in a cabinet behind our seats – returns to get a second (unknown) box from under my feet and attempts to get a third box from under Kim’s. She hops out of her seat, eyes big as saucers and tells the conductor not to touch the box until she moves.
Now scared, the conductor leaves the box under her seat! What to do? Kim sat on her feet until there was no feeling left in her legs.
Kim escaping the crickets

Kim escaping the crickets

The boxes caused concern amongst the conductors – one by one they stopped by the cabinet to take a peek. Curious, I tried to join them only to be turned away.
Things settled down. The boxes always in our subconscious.
A Vietnamese woman picked up her 6″ tall plastic stool, placed it next to Kim’s seat and started speaking in rapid fire Vietnamese. Quick to bore with Kim’s limited Vietnamese she leaned over my arm rest hoping I had more to say. Taking out my cell, I taught her to play Angry Birds instead.
Is Bill having this much fun?
What was in the box? I say a snake.

The Catalyst for our Trip

In February 2008 we were in Hanoi for TET (New Years) and ran into the director of the Vietnam Veterans of America Association. We received an introduction to the Da Nang Association for Victims of Agent Orange (DAVA) after asking about volunteer opportunities.

They are, for a lack of a better term, a day care center for children. Thousands of children have been born with birth defects since the country was blanketed with the defoliate Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam war (known as the American war in Vietnam), contaminating the drinking water.

Over the past several years DAVA has opened 3 centers to help alleviate the 24 hour care these children require thus, allowing their families time to work.

Last fall we fulfilled a promise to fundraise for DAVA and with the generous help of our family and friends raised $5,000. Initially, the money was going to be wired to Vietnam but the decision for a personal delivery quickly evolved.

With an extended invitation to all the donors – which Stephen and Kim took us up on (their first time ever leaving the USA) we headed to DAVA’s newest countryside center.

Of the 150 children served by DAVA – center #3 houses 60. These kids were virtually lifeless when they started going – some did not sit up or communicate. After a one year effort they now; dance, sing, sew, make incense, arts/crafts and manage a garden. The best dancers are deaf/mute and have learned to dance to the rhythm of the music by sign language and following a routine – break dancing is their favorite!

The children’s parents insists the center is conducting magic. After a 12 hour day they now return home to help the parents around the house – a miraculous transformation.

A joyous receiving line and several performances later we all danced Gangnam Style. It was a huge celebration. The kids were beaming from ear to ear. There was a distinct dance crew while the rest of the children stayed in their seats to watch, swaying with the music and when the swaying wasn’t enough they popped out of their seats to dance.

Kim and Stephen handed out bracelets that Kim made! Bill, of course, had to pretend he was one of the children. He sat at a desk, crouched down and put up his hand to receive a bracelet. Not sure who thought that was the funniest – Kim or the kids.

We learned that children in Vietnam make the peace sign when their photo is being taken for one of two reasons. First it is their sign of Victory and the number two in Vietnamese sounds like the word hi in English.

We got right down to the kids level and played, played, played. Toured the sewing room where the older kids were sewing clothing to wear and sell – the art table where they were making nylon and wire flower arrangements and the incense building room where they were bagging the incense they made earlier in the day.

Sad to be pulled away – it was time to leave – the center had closed 30 minutes earlier.

That night we entertained the director, her twin 14 year old daughters, 3 staff members and our interpreter for dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Danang River which is owned and run by a girl from the Netherlands. They were so kind in giving us heartfelt gifts, all 10 pounds of them!! We laughed and exchanged “Country” tales.

The Vietnamese gather on the sidewalks in the evening to escape the heat. While weaving through a small field of gathers on the way back to the hotel a 73 year old woman (we later learned) looked up at Bill and said “Hi”. It turns out that she and her husband fled to America after 1975 because he had been an officer in the South Vietnamese army. After he died she return to Vietnam and was just anxious to speak English.

The donation will help everyday operational costs and build a new room for the center. Look out friends we’ll be after your wallets again. Perhaps you’ll join us next time.