Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cambodian refugees

At 4211 San Jacinto
Here are photos (link is below) from our work with Cambodian refugees 1981-86 (and afterward). Those were very intense times. They really were the best of times. They really were the worst of times. Thousands of severely traumatized people were dumped into rough neighborhoods in Old East Dallas with little to no help. We were there seven days/week doing whatever needed to be done – helping people get into the healthcare system; helping families get enough food to eat; hearing the stories of torture, concentration camps, starvation (“sleep, sleep, die”), and murder; sitting with people dying; getting the East Dallas Health Center started; all of that and more. Some of the story is told with the photos at the below link and other places in this journal; some of the story cannot be told.

At New Year ceremony
Those were the days when we did far more than we could possibly do. How our hearts burned, how we fought injustice and cruelty, how we wept, how we raged, how we did and became more than we had imagined was possible. The people – their lives, their pain, their strength, their beauty. Leslie said, “All of it was an injustice. And (regarding Rith) it was love at first sight.” And there we were. 

At the photo site (link below), click slideshow. It defaults to 3 seconds/slide, so maybe need to adjust to more seconds/slide. If anyone sees a photo of themselves that they don’t want here, let me know and I’ll delete it.

Posted from San Francisco

Sunday, March 2, 2014

In the garden (walking to the front door)

Standing on front sidewalk. Larkspur bottom left, New Dawn rose
on arbor. old-fashioned yellow iris further back, then a hint of rose 
Pull in the driveway, park, open the car door, get out, walk diagonally about 20 feet across the lawn, past rosemary and roses on the left, and on the right, lemon grass and tomatoes (everything depends on the season – like right now the only things blooming are daffodils and rosemary, so you wouldn’t even see some of what I’m writing about), a big sprawling hybrid musk rose (Buff Beauty, first bred in 1939) and Texas mountain laurel, and here are the steps, with more roses (Maggie, found rose, no date; Zephirine Drouhin, a bourbon rose dating from 1868; and New Dawn, 1930) and also Confederate jasmine with sweet-smelling flowers perfuming warm late spring nights with fireflies all around.
Larkspur and CK

The jasmine blocks the main front door, so go to the right, past the Buff Beauty that blocks the far edge of the porch, under the arch (four arches on this porch; how cool is that; it’d be insane to glass-in a porch like this), past the mailbox and various potted plants here, there, and everywhere, past the big hundred year old egg pot that a man at a Vietnamese store gave me, past the table I made >40 years ago, the one that David wrote his name on (which irritated me at the time, though I didn’t say anything and now, of course, I treasure it), past the bench to the door, first the screen, the one that Buddy busted through a number of times, now the door, with little double happiness characters taped to one of the 15 panes of glass and on another pane, a no smoking sign that I put there when my Mom died from lung cancer in her groovy little house behind ours. Looking through the glass the view into the house is blocked by Cambodian silk.
Texas Mountain Laurel. A single Buff Beauty rose peeking through...

Coming from the front/street, walk between two big clumps of lemon grass (again, everything changes with the seasons), past old-fashioned larkspur or Mexican tarragon or cilantro, past another old garden rose with small white flowers with a tinge of pink (Marie Pavie, a polyantha rose, 1888), past iris given to me by Don Lambert, jewels of Opar (a native perennial, named after a Tarzan book!), walk under the arbor overgrown on one side with a large climbing rose with fragrant cream/pink flowers (New Dawn, 1930) and if it’s night the many-colored lights on the arbor are sparkling, past wood sorrel (oxalis) on one side and on the other side, a red fragrant rose (Archduke Charles, China, before 1837) and then a fragrant apricot rose (Perle d’Or, 1884) and across from them the old-fashioned yellow Dutch iris that a long time ago the old woman at the Washington Place Projects gave me from her little garden beside her front stoop, past mint and rosemary and now we’re at the steps again.
Standing on the porch, looking back at walkway

Look sharp and see crystals hanging from oak tree branches and temple bells hanging from the roof peaks…

Here is a cottage garden webpage I put together sometime around 2006-2007 and have not updated in awhile: A cottage garden is what I’ve been describing in this post. Not all the neighbors think it's a good idea... one person said, "Interesting."  

New Dawn (front door far in background)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

War, refugees, Boom!, Leslie

In the spring of 1967 I was in what were called the “Hill Fights” (or First Battle of Khe Sanh), a series of battles along the Vietnam DMZ. Over the course of about a month and a half I spent a few weeks off and on at Khe Sanh (which was kind of a rear), actually kind of just hanging out between operations.

Marine cleaning M-60 at Con Thien (not my photo) 
One day I was on the perimeter and we saw someone walking toward us. Nobody had ever done that before – just a person, alone, walking out of the forest toward the Khe Sanh perimeter. I’m guessing there were 30-40 automatic weapons trained on this person, and the claymores. We began to realize it was a man… a western man… a western man wearing a clerical collar. He was barefoot, with shabby clothes – maybe a cassock? I don’t remember. I remember he was a handsome young guy and his feet were pretty gnarly. He turned out to be a French priest and he was visiting us to talk about artillery and whatnot being careful of the villages he served near Khe Sanh.
Medevac Con Thien  (not my photo) 

I was impressed then, and remain so today, many years later.


Leslie and I visited Khao-I-Dang refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border around 1981-82. Bob Kramer, the beloved cystic fibrosis doctor at CMC, as well as some other doctors gave me a bunch of antibiotics and other medications to take. I had a sea bag completely full of good medications and to hide the goods I had one short-sleeve shirt folded on top of them – a few layers of cloth between the contraband and security. Sure enough, Thai security wanted to have a look in the bag. I said my first prayer in a long time and stood there trying to look bored as the man unzipped the bag, peeked in, and zipped it back up. Whew!

Khao-I-Dang refugee camp  (not my photo) 
I also had two sets of money – $500 or so dollars that had been given to me for whatever I wanted and several thousand dollars from various refugees in Dallas to give to relatives in the refugee camp (all mail was opened and all money stolen, so delivery was the only way to get money into the camp). I gave the drugs and part of the $500 to Pere (Father) Robert Venet. Pere Venet was a Jesuit priest who spent 50-60 years serving the poorest Cambodians and after the war, working in Site 2 and Sa-Keo refugee camps. Really a hero. It was pretty funny to show up unannounced at the monastery with cash and a bag of drugs. They were happy to see us.
Torture chamber Tuol Sleng - bed used as rack

We changed the money that refugees had given us from dollars to baht (yielding bigger stacks of bills). We didn’t want to attract attention so we went to different places to change the money – walking around Bangkok, changing $300 here, $500 there. I divided the baht into two stacks and put a stack on the bottom of each foot and a sock over it and then my shoes, which fortunately were lace-to-the-toe shoes. A tight fit, but it was only a 100 or so miles from Bangkok to Khao-I-Dang.

Mass graves at Choeung Ek
Before we got to the camp, we had to stop at Task Force 80 (the paramilitary beasts who ran Khao-I-Dang) and go into an office to have our papers examined. Uh-oh, it was one of those offices where everyone leaves their shoes at the door. So I’m walking in, kind of mincing-like with the stacks of bills crackling under my feet – Here come old flat-top, he come groovin’ up slowly. He got ju-ju eyeballs, he thinkin’ how he gonna do this shit? Come together. Right now!

Cave where bodies were thrown (near Battambang)
Pieces of fabric like prayer flags from sarongs from the dead
But all’s well that ends well and we got into the camp – beyond the hospital and clinic where foreigners were supposed to stay. We walked all over K-I-D with help from two young people who led us to the various people on our list of relatives of people who were sending money. I had a pocket of 100 baht notes, a pocket of 500 baht notes, and one of 1000 baht notes and we’d go into these little refugee camp hooches and hovels and do a pay-out and move on to the next place. In the end we were something like $50-100USD off. The extra money that we’d been given made up the difference and was also a nice payment to the people who helped us.

Khao-I-Dang hospital  (not my photo) 
We stayed one night in a two-story house in the countryside somewhere near the border. As far as I know, we were the only people in the house. Artillery rounds were exploding a mile or so away – Boom – and except for those flashes of light it was very dark. Leslie and I talked and I told her what tree to rendezvous at if we had to get out fast and were separated. She was just like, “Okay” – and I was thinking something like, “Incredible. What an amazing wife!” I remember there were lots of lizards on the walls and ceiling of the room we were in and I was reading a book about Edie Sedgwick, one of Andy Warhol’s tragically hip “superstars” who died way too young. I saw a weirdly brightly colored amphibian clinging to the wall of the shower (that we didn’t use). Boom. It doesn’t get much weirder than all this. I don’t remember if we were smoking at the time, but what a great time and place for a cigarette. I’d like one right now just reading this.
In the garden (outreach)

We stayed at K-I-D just a few days, mostly hanging out at the clinic, talking with doctors and nurses about providing healthcare for the Khmer people. That was our official purpose and I think we accomplished it. I wrote a report for Church World Service and for the US Dept of State – both of which no doubt pretty much ignored it. But more to the point, out of that visit and the work I was doing with refugees in Dallas, I was able to inform many people through articles I wrote for professional journals and presentations I made locally and nationally. LOL, I gave a consultation this afternoon.


Leslie on bus in Burma 2007 and Leslie waiting for bus in Nepal 1978 
I’ve been with Leslie in refugee camps, spending countless hours on some mean streets and alleys and in too many seriously run-down slum apartments; I’ve seen her comfort women who’ve been raped, people in pain, people who are dying, people past the edge of grief, pain, madness; I’ve watched her work miracles – going up against The Machine and winning, time and time again; I’ve seen her go where no 60 year old western woman has ever gone – the back stairs of the Chungking Mansions; I’ve been with her on buses rattling all across Asia, on trains into the Vietnam mountains, on boats in the Gulf of Siam, in donkey carts in Burma, on Royal Nepal Airlines with the cockpit door swinging back and forth, on crazy bus rides; we’ve slept together in a little grass shack on the Gulf of Siam, in Burmese guesthouse rooms with walls that went up ~6 feet and then chicken wire, in a tiny low-ceiling room in Nepal sleeping on a straw mattress with a giant wool blanket and a wooden latch on the door, in rooms smaller than prison cells, in a brothel, in a little shack in Oklahoma with tornadoes roaring all around, in a really old hotel in a mostly deserted town in Nevada where we lived for a few months, on trains, boats, buses, all over the place.
Leslie at Butt Fast Foods in a hallway at the
back of Chungking Mansions

She would not go to Tuol Sleng or the “killing fields” – those places were done. She would have gone if people were there, but not now. Not just to see where they were and what they looked like.  

I’ll have some photos up in another few months. I’m going through slides atm and am struck by the sheer volume of what we did with Cambodian refugees and the incredible number of people who were served.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Baking bread

Rustic sourdough cheese bread
I started baking bread about 1969. The Tassajara Bread Book (Edward Brown, Shambala) was my guide to rustic crusty whole wheat loaves, to creating my own sourdough starter, and to other baking adventures and a few misadventures. The Bread Book took me through the bread making process step by step, do this, do that, and then the magic of bread. Learning a right way allowed me to learn my own right ways. But I generally follow bread-making recipes more closely than other recipes.

Bread makes itself, by your kindness, with your help, with imagination running through you, with dough under hand, you are bread making itself, which is why bread making is so fulfilling and rewarding. Brown
Whole wheat, like I used to bake from Tassajara Bread Book

I baked all our bread from ~1969 until 1975, when I started back to school. Those were formative years – Leslie and I were married, I started gardening, started baking bread, and I started the healing journey for myself and for others. Then, along with our marriage I was caught up in career and mission and had little time for baking. Then the joys of parenthood – what a time that was! And years of working with Leslie. And then the tiredness of the end of my work and then retirement and now for the past 4 or 5 years I’m baking almost all our bread. My favorite is a rustic sourdough from Artisan Baking (Maggie Glezer, Artisan), which goes like this…
No-knead bread baked in a glazed clay pot. Fully fermented dough at left

About a week ahead of time, I start refreshing the sourdough starter I started about four years ago. To refresh I mix 10-12 gm starter with 25 gm warm water, then mix with 45 gm bread flour and knead (in the bowl) just a little to make a little ball of dough. The dough ferments and rises for ~24 hours, getting bubbly and having that sourdough fragrance. I take 10-12 gm of that, mix with warm water so on and so forth. After a few days it comes to a full ferment in ~12 hours, and then fewer hours and it’s about ready.
Using a bench knife/dough scraper

The starter is combined with water and flour and left to ferment overnight to make a levain. The levain is combined with water and barley malt (syrup) and yeast and bread and all-purpose flours and smaller amounts of whole wheat and rye flours. I knead it for about 10 minutes (enjoying the kneading), then there is a process of fermenting, folding, shaping, proofing, and so on and in the end I end up with 6 loaves of as good a bread as I’ve found (I finally matched SemiFreddie’s in the Bay area). Usually I bake four plain loaves and two pepper jack cheese loaves.
Coarse, crusty
With rich true-spirited flavor
That one soon learns to love and crave. Brown

I bake bread on a stone, a piece of slate, well-heated in the oven. The man at the rock yard had never had a customer who wanted only one piece, so he just gave me the slate. The hot stone helps create a crustier crust. In the bottom of the oven is a pan with rocks and chain in it. The stones and chain also preheat and when I put the bread in, I spray the stones and chain with water from a garden sprayer – all this with the goal of creating a lot of steam, which also helps with the crust. 
Whole wheat and some cookies

As others have said, good bread is more – magically more – than the sum of its parts! The process is good and healthy. It’s good and healthy like working in the garden is – mixing, kneading, folding, dividing, shaping, baking, and then eating the bread – sometimes just the bread, sometimes with butter or olive oil, sometimes with almond butter and homemade preserves, and always with appreciation.

Here is a link to a recipe for no-knead pot bread:

A bag of fresh-baked rustic sourdough bread

Sunday, December 15, 2013

“You call it liver. I call it karma.” (But it was worse)

As we left the Kim Hotel in Saigon, standing where our alley meets the street, one of the young women who works there hugged Leslie – and patted her on the bottom. Sweet.
Wat in Chiang Mai
Easy flight to Bangkok on Vietnam Airlines, good seats that got better when we moved to an empty row, then a stressful taxi deal that was a small screwing. Got to the Drop Inn on Sukhumvit Soi 20, checked in, and moved rooms to escape cigarette smoke. The Drop Inn is as close as we get to a splurge - $44/night.
Ladies of the night in bar across the soi from our hotel

We caught the bus to Tops where I had pork fried with chilies and a handful of basil leaves, and then a generous plate of mango with sticky rice and coconut milk (let the good times roll!) and Leslie ended up with rice, noodles and (oops) chicken gizzards and livers with chilies – “He said it was chicken; he just didn’t tell me which parts.” It’s been two weeks since we’ve had a salad and Tops has a salad bar, so we got salad to take back to our room for dinner. Shared a Beer Chang on the little patio in front of the hotel. Salad in the room. Listening to Brandi Carlile, REM, 10,000 Maniacs, and so on on the computer jukebox. Even when the travel is easy, it’s tiring for us.
Sick tourist in Bangkok

Leslie talking that trash: “Pure tabaccy” and “That’s the way I roll.” Where does this stuff come from? I don’t know.

Little bitty waitress at "chicken street" stand 
In recent days there have been demonstrations against the current Prime Minister in Thailand. A number of government offices have been occupied, streets closed down, and some violence (five people killed so far). This fits with our last few visits to Thailand. The last time we were here the police raided some guys making bombs about a kilometer from where we were staying. One of the bomb-makers ran out of the apartment and threw a grenade at the police. Oops, it hit a pole and bounced right back at the guy, blowing him to smithereens. The time before demonstrators shut down the Bangkok airport for several days. We were on the first plane (literally) into the reopened Bangkok airport. This time the street we’re staying on (Sukhumvit, Soi 20) has been all or partially shut down several times. And I just remembered that a long time ago we stayed with an army officer who was part of a coup d’ etat while we were at his house (he was gone for several days, needless to say).
Grilled chicken, something like laab, sticky rice, peanuts from Indian guy

We made yet another expedition to the amulet market near Thamasat University – red 25 bus through Chinatown, through Indiatown, past Wat Phra Keo and then the crowds near the market. While we were waiting for the bus back, a woman brought me a chair (Leslie already sitting down). Basically It is one loooooong bus ride back to Sukhumvit. Hot, noxious road air, but actually good times with Leslie. Every time we’ve been on a crowded bus, someone has given their seat to Leslie. I, on the other hand, am never offered a seat.

Very nice moment: Bangkok buses all have a driver and a person who circulates through the crowd, collecting fares. On one bus there was a sick toddler asleep at the front of the bus – the fare collector’s child. Apparently fare collectors make very little money… One of the passengers gave the collector 50 baht for the child. Lot of nice people here.
Sick child on the bus

We ate at “chicken street” one night. This was where we were, sitting on stools along the sidewalk when Leslie made a famous comment re a rat running by less than 3 feet away – “But it’s going the other way.” No rats this time, but an awesome cat circulating.

As I said in an earlier post, we seem to be mostly repeating ourselves on this trip, going where we’ve been before, eating tried and true things… Oceans of memories memories memories memories….oceans… of memories… together.
Monk's laundry at wat in Chiang Mai

We flew to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Staying at the Roong Ruang Hotel near Tha Pae Gate. Made a songtaew run to the Central Airport Plaza, which sounds like, why would anyone go there? Unless you’d been there, to the food court where there isn’t a word of English on any sign and where there in khao soi to end all khao sois… red curry soup, noodles, fried thingies, chicken and add lime juice, chili oil, shredded cabbage, holy basil, shallot, sour vegetable, and whatnot. Another bowl please. On the way out, pick up – you guessed it – mango and sticky rice with coconut milk. On the way out, commenting on foods available at one place. Leslie says, “Blobs and squiggles.”
Buddha image at wat in Chiang Mai

On the way back to the Tha Pae Gate we were packed into a songtaew (pickup truck with benches in the bed and a canopy over) and there was an Englishman in his 70s or 80s sitting across from us. We were talking about this and that. Noticing he was wearing a wedding ring, Leslie asked about his wife. He said she had died 20 years ago and he said some things about her to Leslie that couldn’t hear.

Settled in to Chiang Mai, enjoying the smaller (than Bangkok) city with wats all around. As before, true that a big effort to get to the more famous ones hardly worth it as several lovely wats are a 5 minutes slow walk from our hotel.

These are the days.
Roong Ruang Hotel (old section) in Chiang Mai

Leslie connected with a woman at the hotel desk, Nan, and we’ve gone from having to stay in the older section for four days to one night in the newer section to three nights in the newer section and one elsewhere to all four nights right here in the very comfortable and quiet room. The old section is something from days gone by with old-fashion doors, kind of uncomfortable beds, kind of a dank atmosphere, kind of moldy, kind of cool. The way this hotel worked out was when we got to Chiang Mai I hiked all around inquiring about rooms, and in the sweaty end, the Roong Ruang, even the old section, was the best I could find. So after I did that part, Leslie took care of negotiations. Pretty good teamwork.
At Erawan shrine

We’ve gone to the Airport Plaza every day for lunch – 20 baht ($.64) songtaew ride. Sometimes downstairs in the people’s food court, perched on stools, getting down on khao soi, and sometimes upstairs in the more upscale area (where seats have backs and menus have English subtitles – but prices are still good. One day upstairs we had chicken panang, pork satay, cucumber salad, and rice all for less than $3 USD. A brilliant lunch for $1.50 each. I’ve gotten mango, sticky rice and coconut milk every day. Bliss.

Tomorrow we fly to Bangkok. Hope we can get past the demonstrations. Two weeks left in the Asia part of the trip. These are the days.
Beer with ICE in Bangkok, peanuts from Indian man

Every evening in Chiang Mai and Bangkok we’ve sat outside and had a beer together – “happy hour.” I’ve been to more malls and 7-11s in Asia and drunk more beer this trip than in the past 10 years. The mall food court scene is basically street vendors moved inside with cleaner dishes. 7-11s in SEA are unlike 7-11s in the US – prices are good and they have more stuff. Beer is Chang.

Things we’ve eaten in Thailand so far this time around (it's extravagant and cheap):
Here it is - mango with sticky rice and coconut milk
• Mango with sticky rice and coconut milk almost every day for me
• Pad Thai, vegetarian and with shrimp (little dried ones and fresh)
• Pad see eu
• Krapow, chicken and pork versions
• Green curry
• Panaeng curry
• Red curry, several variations
Woman vending panaeng and satay at mall 
• Masaman curry
• Khao soi – a lot
• Satay, several kinds
• Grilled chicken, several different – some as good as what we used to get in the Shell station parking lot way down Sukhumvit a long time ago
• Gyoza
• Mushrooms wrapped in ham and grilled
• Fried bananas – 10 baht buys a lot
• Jook (like congee with tons of garlic)
• Laab, several kinds
• Tom kha
• Tom yum
• Chiang Mai sausage
• Western salad from several salad bars
• Chicken fried with basil and garlic; also pork the same way
• Peanuts fried with citrus leaves and garlic
• Papaya salad
• Chicken with ginger – ginger not as a flavoring, but a vegetable
• Khanom jeen nam ngiaw – this is a spicy stew with clabbered blood – a detail I didn’t know about – not good. At first I thought the blood was liver. Leslie said, “You call it liver. I call it karma.”

• Several things I don’t know the name of; things I’ve forgotten

Rugged stuff - blood on right side of bowl
Bangkok: at this point in the trip everything is a big effort. Basically we’re just being in BK, eating fabulous food, having “happy hour” every evening on the porch of the hotel… 50 years on… 

Malls. Really, who would have ever thought I’d go to a mall, much less know something about several!. Here is the deal on mall food in Bangkok: They have collections of vendors who, in days gone by, would have been street vendors. So the food is as good and authentic as you can get from a street food perspective. They are air-conditioned (not an insignificant factor in Bangkok). Most have chairs with backs. Clean restrooms with toilet paper. Here are some malls on or near Sukhumvit Road:
Great food - khao soi

Siam Paragon: A huge upscale mall with the greatest food court ever. SP was the world’s most instagrammed location in 2013. Really a fabulous and extravagant place.
Tops: A much smaller place up the road from our hotel. Good grocery store, nice inexpensive food court and okay salad bar.
Big C on Rama IV: The people’s mall. Today we had masaman curry, sticky rice, and laab for 100 baht (less than $1.50 each). Some of the food at Big C requires culling and discarding of less desirable parts, but well worth it to us.
MBK: Huge, cheap discount mall. We had a poor experience at food court there.
Emporium: Upscale with hard to find and not so great food court (but when you think about it, so much better than anything in the states), but the best salad bar we’ve found.

Erawan Shrine to Lord Brahma

At Erawan Shrine
We visited the Erawan shrine to Lord Brahma today (Sunday). Many people there, heavy clouds of incense, traditional music, classic Thai dancers, flowers, and worshipers. From my book on culture and health beliefs and practices: Many Thais and Laotians practice a mix of Theravada Buddhism and Brahmanism or Phram. The practice of both, as well as belief in spirits is seen in the relatively common approach to shrines: Inside the home is reserved for the Buddhist shrine; while outside may be found a spirit (Phi) house (small house or shrine on top of a pole or column). Offerings of food are to spirits, while offerings of flowers are to Phram.

A poem from Michael Montague:
Up Lad; thews that lie and cumber
Sunlit pallets never thrive;
Morns a bed and daylight slumber
Were not meant for man alive.
Clay lies still, but Bloods a rover
Breath’s a ware that will not keep
Up lad; when the journey’s over
There’ll be time enough to sleep
A.E Housman

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saigon, a little Hanoi, some Sapa

Saigon: We’re staying at the Kim Hotel in a backpacker alley off Bui Vien Street in the Pham Ngu Lao area. $18/night with aircon, fan, hot water, etc. It’s hot in Saigon. Haha, of course it’s hot; it’s the tropics. 
Alley where our hotel is (Kim Hotel) 

We’re mostly just repeating ourselves now – pork chop and egg on rice with tomato and cucumber and café sua da every day for breakfast; walk to Ben Thanh Market across intersections of no mercy, through the park where someone has set up a bizarre Holland exhibit of street, store, café, and garden facades so people can take photos of one another as if in Holland and of course they do take the photos. Across another stressful street, cut up a side street toward the market to discover that this is a largely Muslim street now so when it’s as hot as hell their women can be covered and “protected” while the men are comfortable in short sleeve shirts. Right.
Another alley, where we eat breakfast every day. Leslie on the left.

The market is as before – hot, crowded, some stuff for tourists, some for locals, and one of the world’s great food courts. For me, bun thit nuong with a very generous amount of pork right off the grill and for Leslie a return to the banh cuon stall where about two years ago the woman came out from the stall to hug Leslie and this time the woman (Hue) sees us across the way and breaks into a smile of recognition. Incredible. Good banh cuon for lunch with a fried shrimp pastry. I got Hue’s email address and sent her a photo I’d taken the time before. Here is her email to us:

Dear A Good Couple,
Thank you for your kindness and thanks for coming.
Breakfast of Champions!!!

What can I say? Vietnam has been full of these graceful moments. I’m grateful.

Two nights in a row we’ve eaten at JJ’s Fish and Chips, a small street cart with two tables and four chairs run by a British guy and his boyfriend. Basically, they make the best French fries ever and the fish is outstanding as well. Sitting on the sidewalk next to some open-fronted bars with bar girls sitting outside to entice men and we’re drinking Saigon green label beer over ice (hell yes, just like in the old days) and eating fish and chips.  
Family moto

I made this forum post on the Lonely Planet site: Vietnam scams: We’ve been in VN about 10 days now, mostly Hanoi and Sapa, and now in Saigon. As on previous trips to Vietnam, we are unaware of being cheated – except for today. I was making a small purchase on Bui Vien in the heart of Pham Ngu Lao (the main backpacker area) and handed the woman a 500,000 dong bill instead of 50,000 dong. She said, “OO! No!” and gave it back. So, so far, the only cheating has been totally my own doing. What a numbnuts!

I think the main protective factor is paying careful attention all the time and clarifying everything, which I usually do. But there are those moments of inattention and zoning out. Thanks lady! Vieeeetnaaaam!
Dong Xuan Market - the porter's area

Hanoi: Taking it easy in Hanoi, leisurely breakfasts, coffee and more coffee, into the flow now. Reading Shogun, a perfect travel book. This copy is an old one, brittle yellowed pages, front and back covers off. I have to keep it in a plastic bag.

Dong Xuan Market, mostly a wholesale market now, narrow aisles, insanely crowded and fast, where a few years ago I felt Leslie patting my bottom and looked around and realized it was an old woman wanting to get past me, where today, someone patted Leslie on her bottom, also wanting by. These weren’t customers but women porters who carry small to huge loads from place to place. I love it; it’s a little like a rave with all these people all together (not loving, but massively getting along – LOL).  
The Queen of Bun Cha

Bun cha for lunch with Leslie somehow knowing what street is what, guiding us through what some people call the “medieval streets” of the Old Quarter – streets that change names every 1-2 blocks and direction whenever, walking along the edge of the streets/in the gutters because the sidewalks are blocked with vendors and their goods, bales of this and that, stuff kind of spilling out of stores, parked motorbikes, and so on – and here in the streets we’re sharing space with countless motorbikes passing by literally inches away (with one person riding, two, three, four, carrying everything from huge loads of rice to a refrigerator, yep, a refrigerator), a few cars, xyclos, women carrying bamboo poles with baskets on each end (baskets of produce, baskets of tiny portable cafes – really, baskets of portable butcher shop, flowers, clothing, I mean everything), other pedestrians, stacks and bales of whatever – WOW!
This whole cafe fits in 2 baskets, each one carried at ends of bamboo pole 

She says, “If we go straight here and turn left, we’ll be at whatever becomes something.” Hahaha, that’s my wife talking as she takes us through these “medieval streets.”

Bun cha and crab nem for lunch and garlic and more garlic, garlic as a flavoring, garlic as a spice – you know you’re getting a lot of garlic when it’s hot like Tabasco. Acha!

She says, “Here comes a dead chicken” and sure enough, here comes one carried by its feet by a woman.
Why me? Taken in bun thang cafe in Hanoi

Leslie’s email to David: We're back in Hanoi after a nice visit to SaPa, a beautiful town with an abundance of even more beautiful Hmong people. The whole scene seemed more Nepalese than Vietnamese; surely all mountain people originated in the same place as they all really look alike. Two 12 hour train rides with only a night to recover was a bit much, but the train was better than I expected.

We leave here tomorrow for Saigon and are staying at Mrs. Kim's as usual. This time, we booked an airport taxi with her to skip the hype, cheating, and angst of doing it ourselves upon arrival.
Leslie throwing elbows in a plane scrum

CK at the fish and chips place in Saigon
All is well here. The two young women at the desk have been wonderful to us. We really got passed hand-to-hand from here to the train (someone from the hotel followed the taxi to redeem our receipt for actual tickets at the station) and then had a van driver waiting for us in Lao Cai for transport to SaPa. The return trip was even more interesting. The Paradise View Hotel booked a van to Lao Cai which deposited us at a Cafe near the train station; the proprietress obtained our train ticket and then sent a young man to escort us to the station and position us in the right line at EXACTLY the right time. Finally, when we got off the train in Hanoi, a young woman who was also a passenger on the train called the Camillia for me, and Huyen from the front desk brought a taxi to take us to the hotel. We just accepted everything on blind faith, not understanding anything until each step was completed. I can't think of any place in the world except Vietnam where all of this could actually work out successfully. Amazing, really!

Hope all of you are doing well. It must be nearly Thanksgiving; we miss being there with you. Give our best to Charles and a big "woof" to Jake.
Motos in the night. Photo taken from the fish and chips place.

Hahaha, there are little bitty ants crawling along on my computer screen.