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.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sapa, Hanoi 2013

It makes perfect sense to be sitting here on a tiny tiny chair on a sidewalk in Hanoi in the mist having a cup of strooong espresso with sweetened condensed milk. Happy me.
Young hill tribe women

The journey to Sapa began with a taxi ride to the confusion of the Hanoi train station. We did what we were told and ended up in a 4 person “soft sleeper,” which wasn’t very soft. Leslie and I were sitting on her bunk (she had a bottom bunk and I had a top) across from a middle-aged Vietnamese man and his daughter when a woman kind of pushed past Leslie to join us on the bunk. My lame-ass “She’s a nice looking lady” got me one of those looks from Leslie, so I didn’t have anything else to say on that matter and meanwhile, the woman was lounging on Leslie’s bunk, leaning back on the pillow and one foot on the bunk and I thought my best bet is to lay low except there’s no place to hide out. Oh well.
On the train - woman slips in beside Leslie. Make yourself at home.

The middle-aged man’s daughter left, but the woman stayed, and then the woman also left and we moved down the bunk to block her return to our space like there’s an “our space” in Vietnam LOL. When the woman came back she did a spectacular climb up to her top bunk above Leslie. Whew.

The lonesome whistle blew and the train began to move. I brought my pillow and comforter (supplied by the train company) down and we leaned back in complete comfort and Vietnam passing by outside in the darkness. We were sharing the new iPod, with one ear bud each, my arm around Leslie… “as we sail into the mystic… let your soul and spirit fly, into the mystic…” picking up speed, clacking, rumbling along and here’s Robert Earl Keen, headin’ down that dusty trail again, Ohhhh yeah, sharing a Hanoi beer… Now…
Sapa town

“Seems like yesterday, but it was long ago, Leslie was lovely she was the queen of my night, there in the darkness with the radio playin’ low, and, and the secrets that we shared, the mountains that we moved… and I remember what she said to me, how she swore that it never would end, I remember how she held me oh so tight… we were young and strong, we were runnin’ against the wind…” (a tip of the hat to Bob Seger)

We sat there a long time. Sweet. Into the Now. And then I climbed into my top bunk and fell into a rumbling fine train sleep. Pulling into Lao Cai in the early morning. Someone took us to our bus and away into the mountains, into Sapa. Get out, walk up the street to the Paradise View Hotel – 15 rooms and ours on the ground floor in the back. Perfect...
Cloud at night in street

Sapa, where the sun is shining one minute and literally the next minute clouds rolling right through town for a few minutes and blue skies again and in a little while clouds again so that you can see 50-100 feet ahead and then sun and the mountains revealed, cloudy themselves…
Sapa, where indigenous people walk the streets, looking nothing like the lowland Viets, distinctively mountain people, a little Tibetan in appearance, the women with incredible clothing with fine cross-stitched details, head-dresses, leggings, and many wearing… wait for it, rubber boots, many with a basket on their back, some peddling hill tribe crafts (some very insistently – “I follow you forever, to your village if no buy from me.”). There’s something about mountain people, whether in Nepal or Vietnam or America, something different, maybe a sense of specialness, I’m not sure.
Playing in the street

Sapa, a little like Nepal, with houses clinging to hillsides and when we went a little higher up, houses clinging to mountainsides, terraced fields, the harvest in now, the road winding up and up, past a high waterfall, and on to a high pass overlooking mountains and clouds…

Sapa has expensive food, though we were able, as usual, to find some good noodles at a good price at the Cozy 2 Hotel. Our hotel had an outstanding breakfast included, with more good Vietnamese coffee. Overall (except for the hotel breakfast), not a great food trip.
Taken from room balcony at Paradise View

When it was time to leave for Lao Cai and on to Hanoi, we got on a bus for a real death ride down the winding mountain road with the driver taking and making phone calls and at one point holding a phone in each hand. Tailgating? We’re talking extreme tailgating – honk honk honk honk and finally out of the mountains and into Lao Cai, taking a detour to let a bunch of people out who knows where and on to the train station.

Terraced fields after harvest
He let us out at a café near the train station where a woman in pajamas took our train ticket voucher, “Sit down. You wait 5 minute,” and sure enough in 10 minutes (i.e., 5 minutes) she was back with the train tickets and getting a kiss from Leslie, and there we sat for an hour or so, having a beer, watching the street unfold. Really, it doesn’t get much better than this. At one point we got up to go to the train station, but a man came over and told us to wait. Finally, a young man we’d never seen before walked up and took our suitcase and away we all went to the train, to the right car, to the bunk, our 4 bunk compartment shared by a German social worker (what are the chances that two social workers would end up in the same compartment!). As before we sat together on Leslie’s bunk, happy as hippies, listening to her iPod while the world slid by outside. Rolling, rumbling, shaking on down the tracks. Hahaha, “Red lips, red hair and fingernails, I hear you’re a mean old Jezebel” and the Dixie Chicks singing that “Earl has to die!” Hell yes.
Women and children

Back in Hanoi standing outside the train station Leslie asked a young woman to call the hotel for us and in about 10 minutes, here comes Quyen across the street. Talk about a welcome sight!

Banh cuon + roast pork with cinnamon for breakfast (it’s a well-known fact that you can’t get too much garlic), and for lunch we were invited to join the hotel staff for a nice meal of bun cha, small whole shrimps (head, antennae, carapace, legs, etc.), noodles, vegetables, peanuts, etc. Good food, good company, good times.
They wanted a photo with me in it. Sure, great idea

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hanoi 2013

Looking out of temple entrance on bamboo street
(I don't know what's up with font changes. I have no control over that.) 

Last night (our first night back in Hanoi) we went to the King Café for a toasted cheese and onion sandwich, French fries, and Hanoi Beer. While we were waiting for the food I walked outside to the narrow busy street and shift, I was there, all the way. A young woman told the man she was sitting on a motorcycle with to move up a bit so I could walk past easier. Such a small transitory action – and it opened a window for me to again feel the magic of Vietnam. I thought, my God, these people!
Passageway inside a temple
From email Leslie to David: We arrived in Hanoi last night earlier than we expected, but getting through airport immigration, etc. is a very lengthy process. The Camellia Hotel driver was waiting for us (Hallelujah!!) so finally got to the hotel about 9:00.
The night club next door is back in business and combined with
a Saturday night street crowd was LOUD! But they must have a midnight curfew, at least on clubs and bars, and all was quiet after that.
We have a balcony that looks out over a nice neighborhood from a bird's-eye view, beautiful old multi-floored/multi-layered building that looks exactly like you'd want a VN building to look like: green and red tiled roofs, balcony railing with the green porcelain tiles like at the Citadel, and an ancient old woman sitting on a balcony, looking out…
We have no onward plans yet but will keep you posted. Your Dad wants to go the Delta area so hopefully the weather will allow.
I hardly ever remember my dreams. Last night I had the longest most complex dream I’ve had in many years.
Leslie and I were standing outside the old Ross Avenue Sears. I asked her if she wanted to go in and she said no. Then I was nearby in a place like a park, with huge ancient trees, birds all around, and a male cardinal on the ground strutting his stuff, making his wings flare out and forward, singing for a female and the female hopping amongst the leaves making sweet little cardinal sounds,
Then I was running toward my car, up an incline that was getting steeper and steeper and then I was climbing and the ground was unstable and there were two people below me and a black woman to my right, digging her hands into the dirt to keep from falling and I was wishing the people below weren’t there because if either the woman or I fell
What a load; what balance!
we’d take the others down with us and I was wondering how the car got to where it was and what I was going to do if I got to it.
Then I was in a car with a couple about 60 years old and a boy about 8. The boy was explaining to the couple how Obama is a very bad man trying to destroy America. One of them asked where he got that idea and he answered, from “a 4 hour DVD.” They were patiently talking with him, trying to help him understand that maybe he’d been misled.
Then I was somewhere else and saw the couple. I was telling them how impressive their patience was. We were talking about how we never saw that sort of political or religious indoctrination when we were children. But then we realized that when we were children, at least for the middle class, America was basically all right wing and we were all being indoctrinated all the time.
Bun cha and nem (see below)

I awakened, realizing that what broke us out of the right wing rigidity were the Vietnam war and the consciousness revolution. I felt tremendous gratitude (not gratitude for the war, for God’s sake) that so many of us got out of that mind prison. I felt so sad about the terrible tragedies of that war. I thought what I thought last night on the street and what I’ve thought every time I’ve been here in Vietnam: why on earth would we ever go to war with these people.
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
Here we are, all under the same sky. Sitting here looking out of the hotel window across the rooftops of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
We were in the process of getting tickets to Hue this morning and while the woman doing the
On the street
deal was on the phone with Vietnam Air, Leslie fell into conversation with a Vietnamese woman who said it’s flooding in Hue. I went to our room to check the internet: 14 inches of rain in two days, deep water in the streets. Never mind about the Hue tix!
The woman who gave Leslie the heads up works with a foundation procuring books and o
Woman at Hoan Kiem Lake
pening lending libraries in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. She said an American veteran was the energy behind the foundation. He showed up and we talked. He was an 03 (US military designation for infantry). Pretty amazing encounter – two old veterans, both 03s, with deep connections to Southeast Asia, he with books, me with refugees. We got ready to go our separate ways and hugged, hard, “Welcome Home!”
Here is the Children’s Library International website. (For a real good time, check out the photos on the home page.)
We went on a banh cuon quest today and the place we were looking for was closed. My sharp-eyed travel partner had noticed people eating on the sidewalk a block earlier, so went back to that place, which turned out to be a stellar bun cha café 
with two menu items: bun cha and nem cua be. Bun cha is grilled pork and grilled pork patty served in a fish sauce and lime juice soup with daikon radish (or something like it) + cool noodles and a generous plate of cilantro, mint, etc. Chilies and garlic in vinegar complete the picture. More garlic! More chilies! Nem cua be is sort of like a square egg roll with a flaky crispy wrapper enclosing crab and assorted mysterious substances. What a feast! More on bun cha here

Another day… several things went wrong today. We used up too much time arranging for a trip to Sapa; we used up way too much time discovering that no bank in Hanoi will exchange travelers checks; we got a little lost; when we found what we were
Banh cuon
looking for we couldn’t find what we were looking for there; we got a little lost again; le sigh. The good parts of the day included time together in the morning, a motorcycle ride with a pretty Vietnamese woman named Quyen, trip to Sapa arranged, more bun cha, and through the frustrations we kept it together.

The next day. We found a bank that will change TCs. Breakfast (hotel buffet – including credible pho ga) with Leslie. Went to a coffee shop the man from Children’s Library International man. Later headed out on a banh cuon mission – it was great. We’re sweating garlic now. Nap. Another heart-stopping motorcycle ride with Quyen. She took me to apparently the last bank in town that will exchange TCs (1% commission on dong, 2% on USD). It’s interesting that she would take me. There was nothing material in it for her – maybe just wanted to help the old people. Taking it easy in our room. King Café for chicken with lemon grass and chilies, Hanoi beer.
Quyen and CK

From the Forward (by Gen. Schwarzkopf) to We Are Soldiers Still: “… we see the evolution of that country (Vietnam) and people as they find peace after a thousand years of war. And we see a surprising concern and tenderness for each other among men who once had done their best to kill each other. If those men, veterans of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War, can become friends and pray together for all who died on that ground on both sides, then the war really is over and we can all be at peace.”

Train to Sapa tomorrow night. These are the days.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hong Kong November 2013

From Victoria Peak (Pacific Coffee)
Wow. Get up at 6 am Monday in San Francisco, awake all day, fly out of SFO at 11:45 pm that night for a 13.5 hour flight (THE best seats in economy, thanks to Leslie) getting into Hong Kong at 6 am, finally settle into a room at the Dragon Hostel at noon. Somehow I calculated that at 38 hours on the go. I slept for about 6 hours on the plane (the longest I’ve ever slept on a flight – thanks to zolpidem) and Leslie slept not at all. I was doing pretty well, but by the time we went to bed, Leslie had an hour of sleep in ~48 hours.  We may be getting a little old for this.
Dragon Hostel room. Photo taken standing in the bathroom
We’re staying at the Dragon Hostel, which is more a guesthouse than hostel. It’s in Mong Kok on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. Mong Kok has the “highest population density in the world, with 130,000 people in one square kilometer” (Reuters, 2011). Here is a pretty good Mong Kok slide show from Reuters, though one of their photos labeled “a doorway” is actually, obviously, the entrance to a brothel. 
Now it’s Thursday morning. Awake around 5:30 am. Coffee in the room, talking in the dark, here we are again. The room is a little larger than a basic prison cell (6x9 feet) and has no window (window rooms get traffic noise). Small, cut off from the world, no problem. LOL, I was sitting on my bed with one foot propped on Leslie’s bed and my legs crossed and Leslie ran into my foot with her head. It really is pretty small.
From the Star Ferry
About the coffee: we’re traveling with a drip through basket, filters, immersion heater and enough coffee to get us through San Francisco and Hong Kong (HK has terrible coffee). We’ll buy a few kilos of coffee in Hanoi, some of which we’ll drink in Thailand (another coffee wasteland) and some we’ll take back to the US.
It’s a time of life when we seem to be repeating a lot. Today we took the #6 bus to the Star Ferry (smell the sea); ferry across the harbor; #15 bus up the Peak; coffee at Pacific Coffee sitting with a panoramic view over the city and harbor; Tsim Chai Kee for shrimp wonton noodle soup (shrimp with a wild, fresh taste, unlike what we get in Dallas); walking back to catch a bus to the Star Ferry, window shopping at Chow Tai Fook – a $2 million USD jade bracelet, similarly priced diamond necklace, all those kinds of things; back to the Star Ferry, talking about how we’ve ridden this ferry countless times; back to our little bitty room…
Entrance to Sincere House, where the Dragon Hostel is -
look past the head of the man at far right to barely see entrance 
Another day, more bus rides. But first, lying together in one of the little beds, then walk to Cherikoff’s Bakery (started in the 1920s by a white Russian refugee from the Soviet purges – his great-great grandson contacted me a few years ago) to pick up egg and ham sandwiches for breakfast in our room. Add some ketchup and Tabasco – alriiiight. Go down two levels of the MTR to put more money on the Octopus card.
Take the #2 bus to Chungking Mansions, one of the most international places in the world – on the ground floor a warren of money changers, halal curry shops, internet cafes, little stores of every imaginable sort (Need some clothes for a Nepalese wedding? This is the place), stacks of Chinese, Arabs, Africans, Bangladeshis (Hashish sir?), Nepalese, and of course plenty of western backpackers. Then there are about 15 stories of apartments, low-rent guesthouses, more cafes, little bitty factories, and a whole lot more. I love it; Leslie not so much.  
In the Chungking Mansions
Another Star Ferry ride, another bus ride (#7), more shrimp wonton soup, walking the streets, back to the ferry, bus, back to our room, and when it was dark, to the Ladies Market where we found nothing we wanted, much less needed.
She's coming out of the Sincere House
Later I went for a walk along a street that is blocked to vehicles so that people have the streets. There were musicians, portrait artists, photographers, jugglers, poets. and an astonishing press of people. Leslie calls this urban compression. I’m IN the flow, Aes Dana on the iPod, INTO THE FLOW. Is this good or what!

Saturday we had dim sum and shrimp wonton for breakfast in our room. On the way to get the dim sum, there were children on the streets soliciting for money for the HK Community Chest. Every time we’ve been in HK, we’ve seen children and teens doing this for schools and so on. We always contribute and in return, get a little sticker which I put on the little notebook I always carry. Talk about a good souvenir! Hanging out in our room, packing, talking, good times, the best of times.
Crossing the street
For lunch we went to Good Hope Noodles’ new café. Now the man who makes the noodles (traditional way, by hand) works in the window. Another great meal – braised noodles with ginger and scallion and shrimp wonton noodle soup.  
Hanoi, here we come! Dragon Air into the sky!

Monday, November 11, 2013

On the way to Hong Kong and beyond, a tender heart

Picture a door leading from inside a house to outside. The threshold is about ¾ inch high… Threshold definitions:
A piece of wood, metal, or stone that forms the bottom of a door frame and that you walk over as you enter a room or building.
The point or level at which something begins or changes.
Hue, in the old palace grounds
Though I sometimes still carry a backpack traveling, I usually use a rolling suitcase these days. We’re on the way to Asia for about 6 weeks plus time in San Francisco going and returning. Yes, let the good times roll. It’s two minutes until the airport shuttle picks us up and I’m rolling the suitcase out the front door and as the suitcase goes over the threshold, Pop!, the handle breaks completely and irrevocably. This is the suitcase that replaced the one whose wheel came off less than two years ago as we walked to the bus stop to catch the A21 bus from Mong Kok to the Hong Kong airport on the way home. I didn’t realize the wheel was off until we were at the bus stop. Dang, I was thinking, “This thing sure is hard to pull today…”
Threshold: The point or level at which something begins or changes.
Hahaha, here we go. Rolling.
San Francisco, near David and Charles' house
ATM we’re in San Francisco, staying with David and his partner, Charles B. and their dog, Jake. Lazy days, same old thing, buses and streetcars to Good Luck Dim Sum, the new Market Street Whole Foods (you didn’t think Whole Foods in SF is the same as Whole Foods in Dallas did you!), Castro, New Chinatown, all them places. Meals with David and Charles. Coffee, lunch at a sidewalk café, people, dogs, passing by and the occasional whiff of cannabis. San Francisco!
Our schedule of Hanoi to Bangkok in 6 weeks with stops here and there, depending on flooding seems like it might be changing already. It didn’t occur to me that Hanoi might have issues, but it seems to be directly in the path of Typhoon Haiyan. (Written a day before winds veered away from Hanoi – keeping it in because it’s what we’re thinking about.) By the time the typhoon hits Hanoi it will have deteriorated to a tropical storm with 50 mph winds vs. the 100+ mph winds of a typhoon. The Vietnam government has evacuated 600,000 people around Hanoi. So we’ll see what happens. Hopefully we can get to Hue/Danang/Hoi An and then onward. If not, the train into NW Vietnam to Sapa in the mountains is a possibility. Whatever.
Hue, at a tomb
Now there’s word that protests and strikes are happening in Bangkok. We’ll have to see how that goes too. A couple of years ago, about a mile from our hotel, the police raided some guys that were making bombs. One of the guys got out and threw a grenade at the police. It bounced off a pole and killed him. Of course we only saw it on the news.
Onward. Our plane takes off in six hours (Cathay Pacific). We’ve flown United (the worst), Korean Air, China Air, Thai International – and Cathay Pacific is the best at a decent price. The flight is supposed to take 13 hours, 25 minutes. We used to get some primo seats (in one of three rows of two seats vs. the 3-4 seats in all the other rows and with some extra leg room for one of those seats.
Ban cuon lady in Hanoi. The people on far left are in
another cafe. This is a small place. Leslie's favorite.
Hong Kong (Mong Kok), Hanoi Old Quarter, Ninh Binh, Hue, Dalat, Saigon, Can Tho/Mekong Delta, Bangkok, Chiang Mai (it’s the Banana Pancake Trail for sure).    
"Whole generations of westerners who went out there as soldiers, doctors, planters, journalists ... lost their hearts to these lands of the Mekong ... they are places that take over a man's soul" (Jon Swain, one of the last westerners out of Cambodia in 1975).

Tender-hearted Leslie. I’ve known few people as truly tender-hearted as Leslie. She really does hate suffering and injustice and all that. She doesn’t like to hear about these
things, much less talk about them. Yet she spent most of her life deeply engaged and helping with people and in situations where there was enormous suffering and injustice. That was what she did. She changed a lot of people’s lives. She sacrificed a lot, laid it on the line, on the altar.
Please don’t take the word sacrifice casually. Think in terms of going eyes wide open into the fire, Think in terms of wounds.
Part of this was that she connected with people and would not turn away. It was personal with her. Her connections were personal and her battles were personal. What a warrior! A warrior for justice, against suffering.
So, here we go, on what really may be our last trip to Asia. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Poems, a magician, holding the door, the beautiful Wind Rivers, Between Two Fires, dreams and dedications

These are all the poems I could find that I’ve written.

2011 – For about 6 months Leslie and some friends did an epic job of caring for a Sudanese woman who was dying from breast cancer – a refugee, a woman’s rights activist from bleeding Sudan. I helped some also. Maryam wasn’t really her name. I wish I could put her photo in – you’d see what I mean. The whole story is here.

To Maryam

Lying in the bed,
A little smaller each day
Slender once, thinner now
Mocha framing numinous eyes

Quick mind, quick speech
Clear thin voice
Following each thought
Through this strange land
Where everyone everywhere every time
Has gone each time like the first time

Smiling in the face of fear
We’ll not speak of this now
Now that we’re here
Here like all before
Here like never before

Last week seeing your sister
With drawn face
Open to her sadness and pain
When I came unexpected
Around the corner
Before she could cover her soul

We are flesh, blood, bone, skin
The carriages of our souls
Rolling through
These streets this life
This pain, this joy
This longing

You know and I know
What’s real (and what's not)
But we can wait for awhile
No need to rush to where we are going

From Hue 2011/2012 (not a poem, but it’s important to me): After a banana pancake breakfast (with honey and yogurt) and not forgetting a glass of very strong cafe sua and a few minutes later splitting an omelet/baguette sandwich, we took a riverboat cruise for 100,000VND (Leslie's bargaining acumen) to
These mist-covered mountains, from the Song Huong (Perfume River)
Thien Mu Pagoda, 45 minutes up the perfume river. This where the monk Thich Quang Duc lived before he went to Saigon in 1966 to immolate himself in protest against the VN government and the war. The pagoda and grounds were quietly beautiful –understated and mossy with just a few people around and a view from the grounds across the wide river, past the plains, to these mist-covered mountains where we fought and bled, where so many from every side fought and bled and died, aching for life – me for a beautiful dark-haired girl whose photo was so washed out from the water that only the shadow of her left eye was left and now, 45 years later, looking across the room from where I write she's sitting on the bed, the love of my life, beautiful, her hair white now and here we are in Hue and I look out through the glass-paned doors toward palm trees and mossy buildings - it's misting in Hue.

Written at the last camp site after 2 weeks on the trail in the southern Wind Rivers

In the early morning sun,
Wishing you were here with me
Knowing we’re together soon
Knowing that’s forever more

I’ve loved you for these many years
I’ll love you many more
We’ll be together now
And forever more

Sun coming up (now) over foothills
Like it’s come up these past days
Over mountains stark and grey
How can I be here
In this place so high and wild

Campsite near where I wrote the poem at left 
All these years passing by
Not like a dream, not like a mist
Like treasures one by one
Passing through my life enriched

Working hard to make it so
Lucky that it’s turned out like this.


and what lies ahead like a sparkling lake in the high snowy mountains, into lakes, lakes into streams, into lakes, into sparkling rivers and
These are the days
All the days we’re given
All that we have
Holding together


No Mas

Mexican girls
Dark-eyes, sad-eyes, sloe-eyes, slow-eyes
Fiesta Mart perfume on
Skin so beautiful it takes my breath away.
Mexican girls
Walking arm in arm in lives
Arcing, peaking in the 10th grade
In love affairs bringing baby girls and boys
Sweet brown babies
Jessica, Junior, Araceley, Raymond
Riding in strollers with young mothers
Heads high in tattered pride
Knowing in this life there are no second chances and that
The 10th grade peak was it.

2007 – I found these lines among some papers. I have no idea who wrote them. Maybe me, maybe Robert Hunter. All I know is that I wrote them down on a scrap of paper.

Roses Round the Virgin

Joyfully she sings
I'll be remembered
A 1000 years and over again.
And I saw
her tear.

Red roses, pink, white
In fragrant garland
On her breast.
No thorn, but
soft petals on
The Virgin's breast.      



The red dirt cemetery is dry under the Texas sun
Monuments stand straight, tilt in red dirt
In the center, Confederate battle flags still fly
Honoring the men who fought for their country

My Grandmother is buried next to those flags
My Grandfather, uncles, aunts, others
Are next to those flags
A little concrete border runs around the plot

Someday we’ll put my mother’s ashes there
But for now, they’re in our dining room
In a box, with an old-fashioned knitted cover draped
18 years there, waiting for me to be ready

That's pretty much my whole poetry output.

A magician

I was at 4211 San Jacinto and an older Vietnamese woman invited me into her apartment. I walked in and What! The apartment was literally filled with
I took this photo of a village meeting near Danang in 1967.
The women in the left and right rear are VN peasant
women archetypes. Not to be trifled with.
Buddhist statuary, incense burners, wall hangings, and the like. Her story was that all her life she’d been angry and subject to verbally and sometimes physically attacking other people. One night she had a dream and in the dream saw her apartment full of Buddhist icons and related. She started recreating the dream in real life and as she did, she lost the anger and people began asking her for advice. By the time I met her, she was counseling and doing ceremonies for many people and very effectively from what people told me.

I liked to visit her, sitting at the little kitchen table, drinking the café sua or tea she’d fix; she’d be smoking cigarettes.

Holding the door

I was holding the door for my wife as we were going into a market today. A couple was behind her so I held the door for them too. The man said thanks and something about me being “old school” and I said something like, “Right.” He says something about me being a Republican and I laughed and said no. Then he launched into a vignette about how he had told a woman he was Republican as he was holding the door for her and she wouldn’t go through. I said, “Right on!” And he muttered something about how he told the woman if she needed help she’d be happy to see him. I just smiled and moved on. It was getting kind of weird.

What I feel for the Wind Rivers

This is a good description of what I feel every time I go into the Wind River Mountains. It’s not that the Winds is the only place that would evoke these feelings – I imagine other mountains and deserts inspire similar feelings in other people. There’s a basin somewhere along the Maroon Bells 4 Pass Loop that also affected me in this way. 
The Winds. Twin Glacier.
“… I had already dreamt my way into their (the Brooks Range in Alaska) fabled midst many times over. And I can say, without reservation, that the age-old dreamer within me was vindicated by what he beheld – a landscape for which I felt an instant nostalgia, a landscape that inspired deep within me a terrible longing never to die, never to go blind to the world…” Dennis Schmitt

Between Two Fires

On a day when something nice would have been especially nice, something
Teaching at psytrance gathering
really nice happened.
About a month ago, in the context of writing about my spiritual development, I wrote about Between Two Fires, an extraordinary book by Christopher Buehlman. Today, the mailman handed me a surprise package with a book inside – Between Two Fires. The author had seen my blog and taken it upon himself to send the book and a kind and affirming note.  

Dreams and dedications

Leslie and I have always talked about our dreams - basically every morning. Now, we sometimes remember that one of us has had a dream, but seldom do either of us remember much content any more. Two important dreams: 

I lay dreaming that I was near an outdoor marketplace, watching a group of musicians set up to play. One by one, they began to tune, softly. Then in a soft clear voice, a woman sang the words, "Who knows ... where the time goes ... " and at that moment I awoke and said, "To Leslie." A true vision. Dedicated to my wife, Leslie.
Leslie and David in the rain in Hue

When my son, David, was about five years old, I dreamed one night that the end of the world had come. Everything was just slowing, slowing, slowing and I was drifting in space. I knew when it all stopped, that would be the end. David drifted into my arms as a voice said, "Into the arms of his father." It was a calm encompassing peace. Dedicated to my son, David.

(On a three day combat patrol 1966 or 67)

Waking one morning to sit smoking
Watching the day begin through misty green
Slow, soft, green and mist
I could sit here for a thousand years.