Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Two years ago this month, on little more than a whim, I climbed on a plane a flew nearly 9,000 miles away.  I wasn't running away from anything.  In fact, I left the northwest with the Earl's blessing on our 34th anniversary.  He was looking forward to complete control of the remote for March Madness and had no desire to experience a culture so foreign.  Let me interject here:  I am crazy curious about things.  Anything, really.  Him, not so much.  My compulsive need to know-ness hasn't always served me well, but mostly so.  And now, my curiosity was taking me to Vietnam.  So foreign, yet hauntingly familiar.  If you came of age in the mid-60's you had Vietnam and Walter Cronkite for dinner.  Frightening stuff.
Eeennyhoo, back to my story.  I was traveling with a friend and co-worker and her 7 year old kiddo.  She had left Vietnam in the '80's.  Alone, a girl not yet even in her teens, she was packed into a boat with strangers on the Mekong Delta and left all that she knew, a poor rural life in a tiny village south of Saigon.  She was going back to see her dear Granny and to show her 7 year old where she came from.  A noble and important journey.  I was tagging along, completely unaware of what I was about to experience.
Vietnam is a country of a little over 87,000,000 people.  
They were all at this intersection in Ho Chi Minh City on a Friday night.
Me:  "Where are the police to control the traffic?"
Driver: (through interpretation, 'cuz nobody speaks English):  "They're all drunk."
Me:  "Oh."  
In my head:  I wish I was.
This was an oddly calm and managed scene.  Horns tooting, scooters inching along, more tooting.  It took about an hour, but we made it across this mass to our hotel.  Mercifully.  That is Ho Chi Minh City.

This is Ben Tre......

And this is the preferred method of transport.....

Ben Tre is the sleepy village where my friend's family still lives, near family graves that they cannot abandon.  It has a market, motor scooter repair shop, a school and a beauty salon.  For the equivalent of about a dollar I could go to the salon (where they loved my snow white American hair, and my map arms - what's that?) and get a 20 minute shampoo and a facial......
Not sure why the fancy dresses, but they were in many shops in every village we went through.  This was apparently a Diep/Mr. Tuxedo.  Whatever, I did this every day that we were in Ben Tre and it was fab.
A side note:  map arms?  fat arms.  They were not uncomfortable at all patting, gently pinching or stroking my "womanly" arms.  They also loved my pasty-colored skin.  Ahhhh!  To be in a country where my God-given, formerly disdained features are revered.

On the other hand, the market was an interesting place....
We didn't buy any of these.
We bought some of these instead.  They were alive.  Whatever they were - alive I tell you.
And we bought this for Mama (it's what they call Duchesses apparently).  Does anyone see refrigeration?  No?  Me either.

All in all, it was an exciting, wonderful adventure.  We road-tripped in a 15 passenger van on the Mekong Delta. Me and 14 or 15 members of the fam, who periodically ate durian with the windows up, who spoke no English and who were the warmest and sweetest people I've had the pleasure to share time with.  We traveled from just south of Ho Chi Minh City to near Ha Tien.  It was magical.....
Not magical in a slick, touristy kind of way.  Magical in the way of touching places and faces that I'd known, but not known.  Vietnam, for me, had always been a terrible, strange jungle where war was.  A place from which friends never returned, where those friends were fighting a war nobody understood, and nobody I knew thought was right.  Me included.  It's not that place anymore.  It has beautiful and warm people, an economy that's moving ever so slowly forward edging away from state domination and gorgeous scenery.  There are remnants of the American War:  a museum (aptly named The War Remnants Museum full of horrific photos and artifacts), Highway 1 built by American G.I. know-how to move heavy equipment in and out of then Saigon and Zippo lighters at the big market in Ho Chi Minh City said to have been found in the jungles and having belonged to American G.I.'s.  I don't know if that's true, but I bought one for our young Duke at home that had a soldier's name stamped on it along with his station, Da Nang.  I bought it for him to remind him that guys his age fought in a war in a strange and terrible place because they had to, and perhaps left a Zippo behind on the floor of a jungle 9,000 miles from home.  And to replace the one that I found in his room and confiscated.  That's another story altogether.
At the end of our trip the entire Manor household was at the airport (they really miss ya after 17 days!) to greet us home.
Our son, the Duke of FM to 7 year old:  "Did you have a great trip?"
7 year old kiddo:  "Yeah!  It was awesome! DeeDee barfed on the plane!"

So, yeah.  I did.  There ya go.  Seventeen days and 9,000 miles from home, having seen crocs and monkeys in the wild, spiders as big as my hand, meeting his family and that's what he remembers.  The barfing that occurred between Portland and Seattle.  As entertaining as that was for him, I hope he actually remembers even just a portion of what I remember.  I'm sure he will.

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