Day 3: Vung Vieng Fishing Village


Alex should be quiet even in Vietnam. A man who loves nature and animals more than people—a classic American outdoors childhood.


Coming to Vietnam, Alex remembers the smoke from napalm and Deborah remembers the oil wells on fire.


There is less to write about today—ironic because I just calculated that I need to write 9 pages a day to mostly fill this book, which is my goal. I figure if I make myself fill the pages with something, who knows what gems I might uncover from within my subconscious.


So, I suppose I should start in the morning. Usually, a good place to begin talking about the day. I woke up before my alarm at 5:45 AM. From there I cleaned up and went down to breakfast. The people here are interesting. They are forcefully helpful. I feel judged constantly, yet everyone is kind. Kind, but instructive. In the car, my town guide was quizzing me on my language skills. Trying to assess my French and Vietnamese. Of course, I am no expert in either language. Never professed to be. But he was determined, so I tried to oblige only to meet criticism. Deserved, but still. No American would ever put you on the spot like that and then judge you.


The town guide and I talked a lot about Vietnam—the war that is. He asked if American veterans “behaved” now that they were home. I didn’t know how to answer that. Culturally I can’t—“behaving” has no definition in American society. True freedom really is foreign here. I think the American ideal of democratic freedom would be hard to implement here.

This idea of “behaving” is incorporated into their religious beliefs. Your next life is determined by your actions toward others. It’s so strange to conceive their religion because it’s so grounded in this life. Power, money, influence, and good fortune are all related to your behavior in this life as well as the last. I don’t know if I could even communicate the ideal of one life followed by heaven or hell. It would be so foreign.

St. Francis said that we are strangers making our way through this world. I feel that is a good description of the Christian ideology. Buddhists, from Duc’s description, seem like they are residents of this earth.


Their spirit worship is very interesting. They believe that spirits stay on this earth forever and worship their ancestors. I must remember to ask Duc about ghosts, evil spirits, and how spirits linger if they are reincarnated. I should also read up on some Confucian philosophy.


Back to our talk about the Vietnam War. He thought the Ken Burns show was a fair representation of the war. He mentioned the war crimes of vets—the shooting of innocent people and the burning of houses. He said that Americans used to say they were Canadian or Australian but they don’t anymore. He said the Vietnamese people are influenced by Buddhism, so forgive and forget. He said Vietnamese American relations are improving and he is very happy to see peace returning.


I wonder if his views are consistent across Vietnam, or if they will vary as I get into the South. I understand there are more Catholics in the South still. Duc seems to have little to no exposure to Catholicism, which surprised me. It probably shouldn’t have as Buddhists have always been the majority in Vietnam, but it did.


I confess I am more interested in learning about the tribal people. Hanoi and Halong Bay have been interesting, but I am anxious to get into the countryside and hopefully away from other tourists. They are lovely people, but I find them difficult as a whole.


Sailing along the bay is enjoyable. It’s peaceful here in my room as the turquoise water slips by. I can’t help but think with pain, however, of how this is where the war became a reality. Of course, we were here before the Tonkin incident, but it was here where the war really began. Here in these peaceful turquoise waters with the islands drifting away into the mist, some kid fucked up communication and a twitchy officer gave LBJ what he needed to commit us to war. If I didn’t know it happened, I wouldn’t have thought a place so serene could be the birthplace of a war so long and bloody.


I doubt many people on this boat even know the war got ramped here. In fact, most people on this cruise are happily oblivious that horrendous violence was the norm in this part of the world for 20 years only 40 years ago. Maybe that’s a good thing.


I find myself asking if remembering the war is such a good thing. Maybe I should just forgive and forget. But then, I think of Iraq. I know we are liable to repeat mistakes and so we must remember. We have to do better. How? I’m not sure. Life is so complicated.

Looking out over the bay at Vietnam, my heart bleeds for the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers who lost their youth here. All those men and women were transported to a foreign land. They were told they were fighting evil like their forefathers, some believing it, others hating what they had to do and all giving everything for the man beside them. So tragic. All the Vietnamese both fighting for family, country, and pride. Sacrificing so much. Now they are united, which is a step in the right direction. And the French are gone. But I can’t help but think that the growing pains are far from over. As the country matures, will they be able to maintain this? I don’t know.

 

SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE


· 4 TBL SUGAR

· 4 TBL RICE VINEGAR

· 4 TBL FISH SAUCE

· 8 TBL WATER

· 2 TBL GARLIC/PEPPER

· 1 TBL FRESH LIME JUICE


MIX SUGAR AND HOT WATER. LET COOL. ADD OTHER INGREDIENTS.


SPRING ROLLS


· BOILED/SLICED CARROTS

· MINT/BASIL/CORRIANDER

· RICE NOODLES COOKED

· SHRIMPS

· LETTUCE

· PORK/COOKED AND SLICED

· RICE PAPER


LAY RICE PAPER ON WET CLOTH. PUT A SMALL AMOUNT OF LETTUCE ON TOP. THEN ADD RICE NOODLES (NOT TOO MUCH). THEN ADD SHRIMP FACE DOWN 2 INCHES IN FRONT. ADD CARROTS, HERBS, AND PORK. BRING EDGES OF ROLL IN TOWARD MIDDLE (~1/3). ROLL CAREFULLY.

 

Look at me using space with recipes. I really didn’t want to forget and I have a half hour before the “gala dinner” is served.


I don’t belong here. Everything is so posh and everyone speaks French. At first, I thought it was cool. I’m the lone American on board. But alas, I’m also the only English speaker on board as well. People keep asking “Are you okay?” Aggressively helpful Vietnamese people that is. Yes, I’m fine.


I don’t mean to be cranky. I’m sure they are being nice, but I just want to be left alone.


 

I’m alone now. I’m on the sun deck while everyone else is making spring rolls. It’s so peaceful. The cruise boats are all anchored. Their lights reflecting on the water.

A crescent moon is the only light in the sky. So quiet. I remember in Egypt there was always Arab music playing. Here there is western music downstairs and I can hear some of the beat and digitized noise. I can also hear a fan of some sort. Part of the mechanics of the ship. But other than that it is pure silence.


A crew member just came up to play on his phone. I heard the ding and the creak of the gate as he came up. The breeze up here is lovely. I expected it to be hotter but so far the weather has been lovely—except for the horrible smog in Hanoi. Ugh! That stuff settles everywhere. It clogs your hair, your pores, and your eyes. They would tell me the sun was out, but I couldn’t see it!


I had to come back inside. I would have stayed out all night but sadly, I am actually hungry. So I must arrive for dinner.


Oh! I learned about how they grow saltwater pearls. I was tempted to buy them as I do love pearls—especially the black ones—but they are so expensive and I would only wear them to a military ball. It seems Halong Bay is famous for its pearls.


The local products seem to be pearls, lacquer, silk, and jade/orange figurines. The lacquer is particularly beautiful. They harvest it from a tree (it’s sap). It comes in black and clear. They first prepare the wood with lacquer and cloth—much like fiberglass. Then they paint it, or glue on mother of pearl, or glue on duck eggshell (they burn some of the eggs for color) and finally apply the lacquer to that. Ten layers of lacquer, sanding, lacquer, and sanding. The end result is shiny and luminous.


Back to the pearls. For those, they open up an oyster and implant a bead into the reproductive system. Along with a tiny piece of some oyster organ that I never understood the name of.


The oyster works and works and after 5-10 years, they reopen the oyster and a pearl is there! While the oyster works, they attach it to a sheet and then keep it in the sea in an oyster farm. I got to see the whole process. It was so intricate and impressive.

My hand is getting sore! Just one more page left.


The art here is beautiful. So many bright colors, sweeping lines, and soft textures accented with bold touches. I know the art here has inspired many artists from around the world. And I can see how nature has influenced the art and music—as is true of every culture I’ve come into contact with. But somehow, I am not finding the magic or spirituality I hoped to find. Perhaps the smog from the city and the crowds of French have hidden it thus far. Or perhaps the connection to the past I seek can only be found in the South where the men I search for served and died for their country—and in many cases in service to another country. For many, they really did believe that they fought to protect the Vietnamese people. Whether they were there in the best interest of the Vietnamese people, I don’t know that we will ever know. So far, I have certainly seen nothing to convince me that the Vietnamese thought it was a good idea. But I wouldn’t expect to find evidence of that in the North—particularly not around Hanoi.


I am interested to see how much the war still lingers here. Forty years doesn’t seem very long, but vast progress can be made in short periods of time.


So much remains to be seen. So many questions still need to be answered. Hopefully, this journey will answer many of them—at least in part.


This trip is a beautiful gift and above all, my heart is filled with gratitude this lovely evening.