picture of a chunk of tree with the word "log" on it
Feb 20 - March 3
Ho Chi Minh City
to Chennai
Fred Hansen, Winter, 2005

Sunday, February 20

5 AM buses in Hong Kong
arr HCM City in the morning
passengers spread across eight hotels
the bus took us to our hotel, New World
    very nice
Then four guys shared a taxi to the Renaissance Riverside hotel where we were supposed to eat meals. We were in hotels according to which tour we were on. I was on an Angkor Wat trip; S was at the Sheraton for her trip to the Mekong delta. My roommate's wife was in a third htoel, so he stayed there and S came to visit me.

I had no idea what I had signed up for in Vietnam other than the Cambodia trip. Joseph was kind and helped me find out I had no tours. He explained that I could just show up at the start of a day trip and get on it if not full.

There was one tour I wanted to see in HCM City: "Former UPI Photographer and war remnants museum." I had no ticket, but it was easy to wait by the buses and get a ticket when some student failed to appear.

It turned out that the two stops on the tour were unrelated other than both covering the Vietnam war era. We met the photographer in his home and then ferried without him to the museum.

The photographer, Huang Van Cuong, was an interesting guy.  He gave us business cards for his own private museum outside town featuring a "spacious, and varied collection of Asian and European Fine Art" and also a memorial to the photgraphers who lost their lives in the war.

His apartment was hung with many photographs from the war era. It seemed to me, though, that too many pictures were of him and not enough by him. There was one of him with a Viet Cong general ad his staff. There was one of him in front of the Presidential Palace on the day of the final USA departure. I found him reluctant to talk about process and experiences. But there was a government supplied translator, so his real thoughts may have been surpressed or revised in translation.

He began as a photographer's assistant and moved up to freelance photographer, serving from 1968 to 1975, ages 20-27. During the Tet offensive he was at home in Hue. When asked if he was afraid of death, the translated reply was that he was afraid, but would have been proud to have died in the meaningful cause of showing the world the evils of war. After the war, he served seven years i n a "re-education camp." I asked if he had to sneak around; he replied that he was freelance and traveled pretty much anywhere. His photographs were not censored. Nowadays, in Iraq, the US gov't does much more censoring, he says, than was done in Vietnam. He applied for Iraq press credentials, but was turned down. Overall, he estimated, 2-3% of his pictures taken were published.

War remnants museum grisly, but I had seen the news as it happened. All new to the students. The museum did not distinguish between atrocities by USA and those by South Vietnam. (Of course, the former kept the latter in power.) Them museum had a samples of planes, tanks, and other random arms. I was surprised that the American planes were a bit jury-rigged; not flashy, seamless commercial products. There was a mockup of the tiger cages where torture was done. Otherwise, the exhibit was mostly photographs and a few documents. Everything was captioned in both English and Vietnamese. The agent orange display showed the extent of deforestation. I felt it lacked a followup showing the remaining effects decades later.

Returning, the bus went right through the grounds of the presidential palace on the way back to the Post Office square. I walked over to S's Hotel.

Monday, February 21

Finally a morning to sleep in. Arose at 8, breakfasted, and hit the gym. The hotel was loaded. Big pool and cabana area on the roof. Next to it a golf driving range. And a putting black; it was for putting, but it wasn't green.

Exercise: 3 km 35 min (treadmill)

Noon: xfer to airport and on to Cambodia.

Our Guide is Virak. I got interested in the ornate Cambodian alphabet, so I asked him to write his name. It looks like: Cambodia script for "Virak"  The left half is the letter vee (?) and the right half is the letter ar. The final kay sound is apparently understood. Needing more examples, I asked for Hansen. It looks like: Cambodian script for "Hansen"   Here there are clearly two instances of the letter for en. I think the accent on the second chooses the vowel sound "e" in front of that en. 

There are 13 mil people in Cambodia, one tenth of them in Phnom Penh. Correspondingly, there are 79 and 3000 Buddhist temples. So Phnom Penh is under-templed; probably the ones there are bigger and more ornate. Officially, only 200 thou have AIDS.

From 1863 to 1053, Cambodia was French. Old people still speak French, but the young learn English. A UN vote in1993 brought in the current version of democracy. The Khmer Rouge hung on to 1997. Since then Stability has ruled. It requires 2/3 of parliament to be the governing party. Currently that is a coalition of 73 from the Cambodian People's Party and 26 from the Royalist Party. Opposition parties total 24 seats. There is much new investment. The army has 150 thousand soldiers. That is one third the USA military on a per capita basis. Literacy (I heard later) is much less than the official "80%."

To drive requires a license of $80 after driving school. Without driving school, the cost is $120. Apparently the difference is a bribe to the licensing official; that's still cheaper than school.

The king's father is still alive; his picture is everywhere, along with that of the current king. The father had fourteen children with six wives. The current king is the second oldest son; the oldest prefers to run things from parliament, where he is a leader.  (The king cannot be elected.) The current king was schooled in France.

Our first stop in Phnom Penh was to the compound housing the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. We didn't get in the palace itself, but did go in the coronation  building. The throne there is sat upon by the king only once. One recent king was returned to rule in 1993 after the Vietnamese left, but he could not sit again on the throne for his re-coronation. Above the throne hang concentric rings symbolizing long life (or something).  Gold was everywhere.

The Silver Pagoda is so called because the floor is some 5300 silver tiles of 1.125 kilogram each.  Expensive, but not really comfortable or practical for walking on. There is a huge 90 kg Buddha of solid gold. He is a "peaceful Buddha," standing and not fat. Behind him and higher and smaller is a seated Buddha carved from a single huge emerald. There are dozens of middle size Buddhas and hundreds of little ones. My mind imagined a crafstman laboring for a lifetime to create the perfect Buddha and then having it stuffed in a corner of this huge collection. As typical of a tour, we ended in shops and were expected to remain there for far longer than  I  wanted.

The devotion of this workman is like that of guide Sam to his children. He works multiple jobs to give them things he could never have. Do the children appreciate the sacrifices of their parents? I am blesssed in that my children do appreciate me and say so often.

Next we went for a boat ride on Tonle Sap.  This is the river that goes in one direction during the dry season and the other during wet.  Phnom Penh is on the western bank and various settlements of underclass peoples are on the other. In particular, there are Vietnamese fishermen who make their living from the river and a community of Muslims.

The boat ride could have been a bore. However, I struck up a conversation with Sam Vang, the guide from the other bus. Interesting story. His parents had been professionals at the time of the Khmer Rouge killings. They lied about there jobs and were spared, but lived in camps for a number of years. Sam himself, though young, lived for three years in a "re-education" camp. Eventually he went to tourism college, graduating at age forty in 1998. In addition to giving tours, he works in the ministry of tourism. (Everybody takes off for the occasional outside job. Thhe boss does, too.) He was once elected to parliament on an opposition ticket. His wife feared for the family's safety, however, and made him quit. He likes democracy and hates communism because iot supported the Khmer Rouge.

After the boat ride we went on to a buffet restaurant called Tonle Basac. Wandering around, I found at least a dozen different food tables with differing cuisine: Cambodian, Thai, Vietnamese,  Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian, American, Indian, European, and more. There was a huge desert table. Notable were the lichee nuts. Fresh. With the nuts inside and the skin outside. They are prickly like a horse chestnut.

Finally, sated, we got to the Phnom Penh Hotel at ten PM.  It was a four star place, which was largely wasted on us because we had to leave less than eight hours later. The shower alone was a miracle. After figuring out the five position selector (nozzle, rain, tub, side jets, foot massage) I tackled the instruction sheet for the 22 button remote control.  Mostly it ran the steam bath and the radio. And the jacuzzi jets.

Tuesday, February 22

There were multiple options at breakfast, but I didn't experiment much. I did pick up a mid-morning snack because we were to fly in the morning and lunch late after arrival. Five minutes after departure time I ate the snack. We had not then yet departured.

Before the plane flight we toured Toul Sleng and the killing fields.

The touring began with a visit to Toul Sleng. This was formerly a boy's school and was converted by the Khmer Rouge into an "interrogation" center (w/ torture). The interrogators wanted to find all people of intelligence so they could root them out. Anyone with a white collar job or eyeglasses was to be killed.

T\oul Sleng is a grassy area 100x300m meters with buildings on three sides. The buildings are three stories high and one room deep with open corridors along the grass side. Rooms were all much the same generous size, say 5x7 meters. Some had been dormatories and others classrooms. The KR had converted many to cells and used others for torture.

On the bus, Virak gave some history. The Khmer Rouge ruled for 3 years, 8 months, and 20 days from 17 April 1975 to 7 Jun 1979. He was ousted when Vietnam invaded. Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge lived on until 1998 when he died of natural causes. (The universe has no sense of justice.) Pol Pot came from a rich family and had lived for a time with the king's family. Perhaps he suffered from "middle class guilt." The KR soldiers were mostly uneducated and quite young.

The French arrived in 1863 and independence came in 1953 under King Norodom Sihanouk. In 1955 he abdicated in favor of his father. In 1970 the king (I think it was Norodom again) took a trip to Russia, France, and China. During this time, Lon Nol took over in a coup d'etat. A couple of years later, Sihanouk met with Pol Pot in the forest in the "King Moment." He aligned with the Khmer Rouge, expecting to get back into power. The KR arrested him in 1976.

(Motorbikes are everywhere around us with an amazing variety of passenger configurations. Girls sit side-saddle with their feet dangling. One such was calmly carrying a baby. We saw a cycle with four passengers and another with "only" three, but the center one was carrying a six-foot shelf.)

The 1991 Paris Peace Accord gave independence back to Cambodia. In 1993 elections were held under the supervision of the UN. There were twenty parties and the final government was a coalition of four parties. There were two prime minisers, the king's son and the prime minister who had held that post when under domination by Vietnam. King Sihanouk was recrowned in 1993 (this was when he could not sit again on the coronation throne).

In 1996 the two PMs started to fight. One was allied with the KR. On 5th and 6th of July, 1997, there was heavy fighting in Phnom Penh.  (The guide did not give the result. KR did not get back into power.) In 1998 a general amnesty was given to all KR fighters. Peace has lasted since then.

The bus ride to the killing fields was 15 km, 45 minutes. We passed shops, houses, and rice fields. One crop per year. Where there were buildings, they generally had additions built on at the back, perpendicularly away from the road. Probably extensions to the family living on the road itself. All shops were open-front and small.

Virak gave his own history. His father had been a professor and told that to the KR. He was killed in 1976 when Virak was 9. Virak spent the next two years working in the fields. When Vietnam invaded, he had a choice: run on the road and get hit by VN tanks or run in the fields and step on VN mines. He somehow survived. (He's now told the story often enough to do it without getting visibly emotional.)

The killing field we visited is just one of many across the country. Thee are almost 20,000 mass graves. Two million died. At this field, 89 of the 129 mass graves have been excavated. The human remains have been placed in a stupa. About 30 meters high, with 17 levels of remains arranged according to age and sex. Skulls, fingers, vertabrae, legs, arms, layer on layer.

The area approaching the stupa is not entirely reverent. On the path is a drings cart with a bright umbrella advertising a western Cola company. To the left is a large dragon boat under covers. It is used in races and has nothing to do with the killing fields. Behind is a bunch of shops with little kids running around amusing themselves.

Virak finished high school in 1989 and managed to get together enough money for the graduation bribe. He studied math and passed, but could not get a job. Hiw mom had a friend who got him a tourism job assisting in developing a site. His government job is secure. It pays $45 and he has expenses of $250. His he does guiding on the side.

The prime minister, Hun Sen, got rich on bribes and has now built 4000 schools at $25,000 each. He has also spent money getting wells dug for viallages. Is this very different from Carnegie under-paying the workers, beating off the unions, and then building libraries?

Often we would see people carrying loads of some long green plant. On foot, bicycling, motor bike, or ox cart. The fodder was usually for pigs and rabbits. The fields growing it are so productive that a new crop can be harvested every two-three weeks. Other carried items included sugar cane and a huge covered laundry basket. There are more than 100 garment factories in Phnom Penh.

Monks study for free. (I didn't think to ask whether their studies are all religious.) You can sign up to be a monk for a short time. Some politicians sign up to be monks just to get away from the daily pressures; other sign up because it looks good on  their resume. University costs $500/yr. The son of the premier (ie, king's nephew) was educated at West Point, USA.

We flew to Siem Reap and got lunch there at an open air Cambodian-food restaurant.

Angkor Wat

While driving to Angkor Wat the guide gave a few details. The temple was started in 1113 and took 30 years to build with 386,000 workers (French estimate). It is something like a kilometer square. The quarries were 85 km away. Transport via a new-built canal and elephants. The temple faces west and was for burial.

We passed a sign mentioning dengue fever. Linda Winkler pointed it out and explained that moquitoes did not just carry malaria. The evening-night ones do malaria, but the day ones do dengue fever. So we should be sure to use our bug spray. We also saw monkeys on a roof.

I needed camera batteries and bargained down to $3. The new batteries lasted for just one hundred pictures. EIther I got ripped off or batteries get used faster in heat and when reviewing and deleting pictures. I was trying to delete some to have enough space to take more. Hopefully Steve Coulis computer retained my China pictures, because I deleted them in Cambodia. {The pictures were retained just fine.}

The site plan for Angkor Wat is like this:
plan of Angkor Wat site

The main road runs between the parking/shopping area and the moat. The circle in the parking area is where tethered balloon ascensions take place. The only one worth doing might be the one at dawn.

The moat is 100 meters across and encloses an area of almost a mile square. It represents oceans around Mt. Mereu (sp?). The temple is the brown area in the middle, with a causeway extending to and across the moat. Along the causeway are balustrades of an enormous snake. It once wound itself all the way around the moat as well. Athwart the causeway are two "libraries" and two reflecting ponds. The lower library is a still-standing ruin and the upper one is clothed in scaffolding. The lower lake reflects well and the upper is mostly scum. 

There are three concentric arcades to the temple itself, mostly carved in geometric patterns. Covering the oter wall of the middle arcade are bas relief scenes from Hindu myths. I thought of the poor guy on his first morning at work. Here's the wall, two hundred meters of flat stone. "Here's your hammer. Here's your chisel. Have Fun." And so he begins: tink, tink, ....

Every building stone has two holes in each end, about two cm around and several centimeters deep. These were part of the original construction process. They inserted iron rods in the holes to move the stones around.

There are various active shrines including large Buddhas at the saffron marked spots. The central tower is tallest. Each of its sides has a stair of forty steps ascending at a 75º angle. There is a railing, but it is still easier to descend by facing the steps. I was surprised at the state of preservation (or restoration). The place looked nearly intact. It turns out that the overrun-by-the-jungle temple is on tomorrow's tour. Climbing through, around, and over the site was hot, sweaty work.

Late in the day I became interested in what might lie inside the structure. The guides all assured me that there was nothing inside. Just a pile of rocks. But the central building is in the shape of a huge pyramid and pyramids elsewhere have been found to have internal spaces. The only remotely suggestive feature is that the causeway extends right up the the bottom step of the inner building. It is constructed of large stones laid crosswise. They could serve as the roof of another causeway underneath. No sign of any place where that other causeway might come out.

Were it not for the incredible carving -- every visible surface -- and the incfredible size, Angkor Wat would be a bit boring. There is a sameness of architecture everywhere. Symmetric and all that, but boring. I was kept interested and busy by trying to take interesting pictures. Only later could I download them to see what I had got. {The pictures are numbered 603-850.  From those 248, I selected twenty-eight and made a captioned web page showing eleven.} Inevitably, one theme of the unselected pictures is photographers. We were ubiquitous and unavoidable.

Dinner at a mostly open air buffet restaurant. Lots of choices. I pigged out on unexceptional cookies; not many cookies aboard ship. Nice show of local ethnic dances. One set of dancers reminded me of Balinese and Indian dance styles. Another set wore more rural costumes. They did a great pantomime dance with fishermen and girls. The featured pair did a pas de deux eventually leading to his placing a flower over her right ear. The rest of the dancers returned, teased the couple, and then all joined in a celebratory dance of general joy.

Wednesday, February 23

We arose at 5 to be able to see Angkor Wat at dawn. It was worth it. ("I suppose," he grumbled.) I needed batteries again and there being only one vendor they cost $5. But lasted no longer than yesterday's bunch. Crossing the causeway we could here the deep booms of the frogs in the trees and moat. Later, when the light improved, someone backstage threw a switch. Wham. The cicadas started all together, all at once, to make their incessant drone.

I went ahead and climbed up to the top, hoping to get a picture from that vantage. It seemed cloudy and I got impatient so I climbed back down. Then the dawn appeared and was really beautiful. I rued my descent. I did get this picture:
dawn over Angkor Wat

After breakfast the rest of the group went on another boat trip while I loafed around the hotel. When they returned, I heard that the villagers were indeed poor, but some did have television.  There were once 600 species of fish in Tonle Sap, but now fewer than 100. Fishermen used to snear at 6 inch fish, tossing them back. Now such young fish are routinely eaten, jeopardising the futures of the remaining species and of the fishing lifestyle.

At lunch we all learned that the evening's plane was already known to be delayed from 6 PM to 8PM; who knows how much later it will really be. And the tour operator has no plans for getting us dinner. Yuck. What we did do was to hang out at the hotel for an extra two hours and do the entire afternoon two hours behind the initial schedule. That way we avoid the hottest part of the day. At least airport wait-time is reduced.

I usually think that tropical poor people are not as badly off as they would be in a more temperate climate. There is no need for housing to exclude winter drafts and storms. And food is often within relatively wasy reach, so life is not always a struggle. However, if the fish vanish life will be hard indeed.

After lunch we proceeded to Angkor Thom. The guid told us on the bus:

In the 9th to 12th cnturies, there were a million people in the Siem Reap area and it was all cleared. In the 10th century the brick temple was built; it is the oldest. Stones came from the Kulen (sp?) quarry. "Angkor" means capital.

In 1430s Siam invaded and everyone went to Phnom Penh. Later the invaders were ousted. Hence the names Siem Reap menaing "Siam Defeated."

The afternoon includes three sites:
  • Ta Promh - the overgrown temple
  • Elephant terrace - apparently an old sports arena
  • Angkor Thom - Buddhist temple area including the Bayon temple with 40 Buddha heads

Ta Promh is the most ruined site. It is the one where pictures are usually shown of the jungle overgrowing the temples.  THe site is almost a km square. Jayawarana VII built it to his mother. It is Buddhist. Construction began in 1186 and lasted 20 years.

Angkor Thom was built starting in 1181 and has 5 gates.

Temples do not use mortar: the stones are locked together with carved keys.

The terrace of elephants is 350 meters long. There are a dozen piers on each of the two opposing sides of the field. The walls on each side separate elevated viewing areas from the field itself. Bas relief friezes on each side depict a series of elephants of various sizes and poses.

At both Angkor Thom and Bayon we will walk in one gate and out the opposite gate, where the bus will meet us.

Contrary to some expectations, there will be no elephant rides at Bayon.

Bayon has four main corner towers. Each tower has a huge head of Buddha carved in each of its four sides. Numerous other Buddha heads are everywhere. The temple is walkable, but in disrepair. At the exit side there is a huge pile of stones that have been cleared away and belong somewhere in the puzzle.

Across from the exit gate is a colony of modern Buddhist monks. They have their own huge Buddha in a pavillion. Considerably more impressive in size than the others, but of course built with modern machinery.

After Angkor Thom we went through the South gate and crossed the Bridge of Gods and Devils. Once you know how, it is easy to tell the difference. The gods -- along the west side -- are smiling and the devils have sour expressions. We stopped for pictures. Behind the trees was a lovely sunset, but I couldn't get a good picture of it.

We proceeded to the airport. First surprise: they were confiscating spray insecticide bottles from cabin luggage. I was checking my bag so I wound up with four extra insecticide cans. {As of the end of voyage, I still have one of them.} Second surprise was deferred. Since there was to be no dinner, I purchased a sandwaich and ate it. It should not have been a surprise when my stomach developed express train velocity. I didn't fully recover until Africa.

Thursday, February 24

Although I would have anyway, Prof. Meredith urged me to visit the Cao Dai temple, which was bundled with a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels.  On the bus trip--highway 22 to Cambodia--I observed or heard the following:

* Honda motorcycles are expensive. China makes a knock-off for $2000, but it costs another $500 to fix it before you can use it.

* Motorbikes carrying: a huge bouquet of flowers, a kid standing between his parents, load of bricks, egg-sized crushed rock aggregate, an under-arm bundle of gray plastic pipe, plywood, small water tank, folded mattress. One load was of triangular construction members stacked horizontally around the driver; a passenger was seated behind. One load was a trunk, a guitar, and a bongo.

* Motorbike riders adopted varied head coverings. The three most common are bare, helmet, and baseball caps. Others: coolie hats, bonnets, scarves, fisherman hat. Some wore masks. Some were muslim females with full head covering.

* Water buffalo pulling a wagon load of tapioca.

* Bicycle load of rice husks. Fuel for brick ovens. Burn at 2000º C. In one area we passed dozens of brick factories, all under different ownership.

* Passing bus drivers exchange hand signals to indicate whether radar speed traps are ahead.

* HCM City to sea is 400 km.  To Hanoi is 2000 km;  3 days by car and 2 hours by plane. To Phnom Penh is only 9 hours by car. It's all flat delta land, no mountains. That road is being rebuilt as a highway straight through to Thailand.

* Store front rentals are $500-100 per month. You have to do mbusiness to pay for them. Everyone seems to want to do business. (The role of "The Engineer" in Miss Saigon is a not-off-the-mark depiction of some go-getting Vietnamese. Perhaps some American culture was left behind.) Most factories are outside the cities.

* Tours leave from and return to the plaza with the church outside the main post office. When we were there a troop of soldiers was marching in a sort of half goose step that our guide called the "clamp step." Service is compulsory for males for the two years from 18 to 20. {I favor compulsory civil service in the USA. Military should be just one of the options. Others should include hospitals, prisons, road work, teen shelter service, and so on.}

* HCM City has a soccer stadium with 40,000 seats.

* There are 22 districts in HCM City.

* Getting a new telephone installed takes 4-5 days. (Not too bad, actually.)

* A house is typically 5x20 meters and 3-4 floors. It costs US$300,000 in the city.

* All written text is syllable-by-syllable; there are no multi-syllabic words. I suppose their ought to be a space in "Vietnam." The written language is a romanification of the spoken words. There may have been a Chinese-like script, but the Vietnamese have never been too fond of the Chinese.

* Water tanks are shiny metal. Water pressure in themains is low, so people pump water to a tank on their top floor.

* The main roads have two lanes for cars and trucks and then a lane for motor scooters. With a flimsy barrier between.

* Traffic lights have a display showing the number of seconds remaining until the light changes. This is excellent for a numbers guy like me. I wonder if sometimes drivers don't jump the gun a little early and cause accidents.

* Speed limits are strict. That's why we slowed down so much at one point. It was a known location for speed traps.

* We did see rice fields being built on. Retaining the capacity to feed the country may get harder.

* Mid-morning break was at a restaurant where they clean tables by just pushing the food onto the floor. I didn't try the toilets.

* We passed the site where the girl in the famous picture was napalmed.

* Twenty years after agent orange, things are beginning to grow again.

* Rice is harvested when yellow. The chaff is called rice straw and is fed to farm livestock.

* Rubber trees were planted in a tight grid. It takes sevn years before the rubber flows.

* Man is yang, woman in yin. Yang is hot, yin cool. Thus (our guide claims) women can drink more because the coolness of their yin counteracts the heat of beer's yang. Hard life is yang. Women can tolerate a hard like because their yin counteracts that yang.

Cao Dai Temple

Cao Dai ("high tower") is a strange amalgamated religion started in 1926 by Mr. Ngo Van Chieu. He claims to have seen a vision of the eye of God on Phu Quoc Island. The religion preaches that multiple religions lead to war, so they embrace all religions. Major saints include Jesus, Buddha, Confucious. Among the minor saints is Voltaire.

Cao Dai symbols feature yellow for Buddhism, blue for Taoism, and red for Confuscianism. Each member is of one of these colors as chosen by lot at the time of initiation. (The lot choice is done by a blindfolded virgin. This sure beats Hogwarts hat.) Your color chooses your role: yellow-finance, blue-education, red-other. (Cash and proselytization being the most critical tasks in any growing group.)

Masses are held every six hours, starting at midnight. The floor of the temple is a series of steps, one  every 35 tiles. Novitiates worship at the lowest, rear level. After five years at a level, a vote by your peers may advance you to the next step. Only one guy has been promoted from seven to eight. None to nine. The advanced people wear robes of their color, services are a bright sight.

Like any religion, Cao Dai is about power. The home is the Tay Ninh province. Close to the Cambodian border, this province has often had many smugglers. The province embraced Cao Daiism; 90% of the population are members. At one time, the religion had its own army. Now the Cao Dai main compound of 100 hectares includes a temple, a school, an orphange, a sawmill, and other engines of civic progress.

I took a lot of notes on the symbols of Cao Dai, but there seems little merit to typing them in.  You can find much more at www.caodai.org.

Lunch at a back-alley-but-pleasant restaurant. Sat next to Sarah who assists at a maternity center. Her mother is Catholic, so according to the Jews she is not Jewish. Her father is Jewish, so according to church law she is not Catholic. She doesn't worry much about the problem.

Cu Chin Tunnels

In the "American War," the Vietnamese had a huge network of tunnels they used to infiltrate the south and house their troops. The Cu Chi tunnels not far from Saigon have been preserved as a way to remember the was and bring in some tourist dollars. They claim 2000 tourists/day.

By 1948 there were already 48 km of tunnels in use against the French. The Americans dropped some 240 thou tons of bombs over Cu Chi, but did little damage because the ground is such heavy clay. An American base was nearby, but the tunnels pre-existed.

We passed a graveyard. Monuments very colorful. We passed a fertilizer factory. Not much to see. We passed barriers on the Saigon river; men were fishing. The Cu Chi tunnels are near the river, but above it so they don't flood.

In the pre-briefing room we heard that there were various kinds of rooms in the tunnels: bunkers, defensive tunnels, booby traps, air vents, storage, offices, kitchen, eating, relaxation, bomb shelter, water well.  Some of these were at ground level or slightly below, but tunnels were at three, six, and nine meters deep. After the verbal briefing they showed us a vintage movie of the idyllic life in Cu Chi and how the peaceful villagers were merely defending themselves against invaders.

Finally we got to walk through the woods to the tunnels. But first we had to see various above ground trappings. Almost invisible entrances, booby traps, kitchen, and the like. Eventually we did get to crawl through a tunnel. It was unsurprising, but disappointing, that the tunnel ceiling has been covered in cement to preserve it. I was too big, so they would only let me crawl the three meter deep segment. The crawling was ok, but getting in and out took some contortion.

At the end there was, behold, a shop! And a rifle range at one dollar per bullet. I found a wooden carving of an eagle struggling with a cougar, so I borrowed the $26 and bought it. They didn't wrap it, but merely brought out an already wrapped box. I opened and checked it, finding the same carving, right down to how poorly the wings fit into the body. Apparently the carving is done on some sort of automated machine.

On the bus I got onto the word "evanescent" for a haiku. Then I remembered that Emily Dickinson used "evanescent" for a hummingbird. Anyway, I wound up with

Flickering firefly --
An attractive, distractive,
Evanescent flame.

Friday, February 25
Just sat in hotel room and watched television all day.

Friday night
Earliest boarding time was announced as 7 PM, with buses to the ship from various hotels staggered throughout the evening. I decided to go earlier by taxi and invited along a couple of others. As we got in the taxi, I proposed 30,000 dong and the cabby seemed to agree, although he was rounding the hood at the time. When we arrived, the taxi meter said 44,200 dong, so he wanted that. I felt I was being generous by giving him 40,000, but have since had misgivings. I have told myself to try to never have misgivings by tipping too low, and yet I may have done so again. The extra 10,000 dong would only have been 66 cents; my peace of mind is worth more than that.

Others had also decided to arrive early, so there was a long line. Amazingly, S arrived almost simultaneously and we were in line together. The line moved reasonably quickly so it took only twenty minutes for us to reach the front. As I got there, one of the crew took my bags and ushered me aboard, right past inspections and passport check. Oops. Around 10
Sagturday, February 26

Bright shiny day. Ship left harbor around 7 AM. We sailed down the Saigon River to the sea.
I went around paying debts: $21 loaned to me for buying the winged eagle sculpture, $25 for the visit to the former UPI photographer. And collecting files I had cached on other people's computers: mozilla sources and documentation, filezilla, all the pictures taken up to Hong Kong.

Sunday, February 27

The sun god casts heat
In a psychic miasma
Shackling hand and heart.

The above is a good problem. Try to find a last line. Can you do better (whatever that means) than the above or one of my earlier attempts:
clutching at my mind
muting my movement
benumbing my soul
stifling action
mumbling my soul
cloying and deadly
setting minds adrift
slowing heads and hands
sapping will power
befogging our will
befuddling our wills
enmiring our minds
damping our gumption

Yesterday, given eight minutes, I came up with:
A critic may rant
, decry, and denounce,
but he creates not.
However, the editor chose an earlier one I had written on the same napkin ("Day, a flying fish,...").

Spent much of the day working on extending my image management software so there would be buttons to click to select photos and copy them to another directory.

This evening, four guys from the Vietnam war era gave a panel and told our stories. My main theme was how what you do affects what you believe. Had I actually shot someone, I would have had to change my self-image to that of a killer. Had I dodged the draft I would have had someother reaction. The war protesters had to revise theri self images to be protesters and this has affected the rest of their lives.

Internet is still down.
One ten-year-old Immodium at 3. Skipped dinner.

Monday, February 28

Many compliments today on our presentation last night.

I wrote another haiku and submitted it and two others to Sharon for daily Dean's memos. Latest compares the sun to a fastball pitcher:
Blazing sun throws heat
across my pate, so I'm a
useless unswung bat.

This afternoon I entered the notes from the Hong Kong editions of the Global Study course.

Several students have asked if I will make them available.

2 Immodium at 8, one at 9. Skipped lunch.

Tuesday, March 1

Not really a sleepless night, but I awoke three or four times.

Imodium at 9 AM

Wednesday, March 2

Imodium, 9 AM nothing but bread and water all day.

Kind of took it easy all day.
Exercise: Elliptical 2.22 mi in 32 min.

The website had to be mailed off to Pittsburgh first thing on our arrival Friday morning in Chennai--and nothing had been done on the web site today. This  evening we had a website meeting and only I, Ellyn, and Drea showed up. I agreed to do a web site. Sue showed up later and we agreed to work together. But she begged off the next day.

Thursday, March 3

Today I made a strawman website.The whole team met at five PM, reviewed the web site and agreed on an action plan. Some of the team  picked a fine set of photos for the web site and my task was to adapt my existing software to create html to incorporate the pictures. This was, of course, quixotic since other voyages have used existing packages which do a better looking job. The only advantage of my approach is that the thumbnails are displayed with their captions, so a whole story can be read off. On the other hand, the captions spread out the thumbnails so you can't see all the pictures at once.
I stayed up until three AM finishing (rewriting) the software for the website. The software was not modularly designed; the one program does tasks ranging from creating thumbnails, converting caption files to html, and generating html for the pictures. Thus to build my application I had to write a mostly new program. Hence the late night.