Carl W. Cole and Patti Mears
It was great! Everything we'd hoped for and more.
I was able to find the places I'd lived and worked
in Cho Lon
and Sai Gon
, burned incense
in the Cholon temple
dedicated to the goddess who protects those who go to the sea, laid wreaths in the Gulf of Tonkin
and read the names of lost shipmates (and wrote a poem about them
), investigated the fate of North Vietnamese prisoners
my ship took and, in the Vietnamese way, burned incense
at Cua Lo beach for the spirits of those POWs.
We spent better than two weeks in the country
, touring with a private guide and driver. I've always loved Vietnamese food so we ate like royalty (tons of fresh seafood, vegetables we'll never identify, and bowls and bowls of fish sauce!) in everything from 5-star restaurants to sitting on tiny plastic chairs in the ubiquitous Vietnamese roadside cafes. "Em oi! Hai ca phe sua." (Waitress! Two coffees with sweet milk) became almost a catechism.
We found stunning seashells
on every beach we searched: at Hoi An, Da Nhay, Thien Cam, Cua Lo, Sam Son, and an island in Ha Long Bay. At Cua Viet and Cape Lay, I was preoccupied with wreath laying
and just forgot to look for seashells. Actually, being preoccupied was a pattern: at the " stamp cafe
" and at Cotevina's Ha Noi office
, I was engaged with the people and forgot to take pictures of them or the sites and, at meal after meal, I was preoccupied with enjoying the food and never once thought to get pictures of the table.
We took romantic dinner cruises down the Sai Gon River
and through Ha Long Bay
, watched the Tet fireworks
from the window of our hotel room 12 floors above the Saigon River, and tramped through both villages
and back street urban markets so muddy and smelly that I joked that it would be a shame to have to burn brand new $100 cowboy boots when I got home.
Our car in the north had an alternator failure that stranded us three times (before we could get close enough to Hanoi to get a replacement car) and we joked about "Wherever you go, there you are" and sat down in a roadside cafe for ca phe sua while the driver flagged down a passing motorcycle and rode off with the battery in his lap.
I met with local stamp dealers in a " stamp cafe
" at the Sai Gon Art Museum
and, in Hanoi, took the director of the Vietnam Stamp Company to lunch, after he "received" us over tea in their company meeting room and we exchanged gifts
The last evening, we had dinner in our guide Thuy's home
and - with her translation - spent the evening talking with her son Duc and uncle Hieu, a wonderful, gentle, intellectual, 72-year-old retired university professor. I gave Thuy a copy of a poem and drawing
to try to tell her how the trip - with Patti and I spending long evenings talking to her about family and culture - had come to mean much more than we'd expected. Even before translated explanations, the wise old man picked up on the symbols (some Vietnamese believe that butterflies are souls of the departed) and understood how that the souls of the departed had indeed been with us throughout the trip. He and I seemed immediately to be kindred spirits.
And more, and more, . . . .
Carl W. Cole
Copyright 2004 - 2006 Carl W. Cole