reflections on vietnam journeys - 1969 and 1999
these pages are gradually coming together. i want to gather material and experiences both past and recent that i've lived through these years. tried to make sense of with my life

  Vietnam is like a dragon between spewing engines of joint venture .... hong kong the capitol of capitalism, and bangkok a real-life struggle for survival. as someone said: vietnam is like bangkok thirty years ago. but i remember hanoi thirty years ago crossing the Long Bien bridge at dusk, after having been met at the airport by Vietnamese. radiant, intense with arm loads of lillies as welcome. i had just been in chicago in '68. and mississippi before that. and the usarmy before that.... and harvard and andover and lake forest before that and so on... Vietnam was a hope. talk about light at the end of the tunnel. monks burning themselves against the cia. Madam Binh growing roses in paris. Ho Chi Minh cooking in nyc. macrobiotics and then buddhism for me seemed to leave off where Ho Chi Minh began. the Vietnamese had been fighting for their 'independence and freedom' for hundreds years...



in July 1969, when i was crossing that bridge into Hanoi with splashes of arc welding tacking the tressle back together again, i had only a vague sense of the history and the forces that shaped this part of the world. and back in the states slavery, racism was real. but a recent discovery for me. it even took me some time to put together racism and the war Vietnam. we had been told it was communism etc.

shortly after the installation of the two military dicators (strongmen, think they were called then) in thailand .... my parent's young siamese cats were each named after one of the generals. my father was deputy defense secretary with eisenhower. i have footage of him reviewing Ky's new air force in '58. but i hadn't put any of that together yet. but here i was crossing this bridge. a treasonable act according to the dept of state.

i was with newsreel. part of newsreel since finishing a film in mississsppi. we had been asked to film an interview with Ho Chi Minh. an address, really, to the american people. he had not wanted to be mediated by walter chronkite.

 one of the dragons



text from daughter maya's school assignment
- what does the airport look like? smells? what do you hear?

in hanoi the airport still looks like remnants of an old military base, except for the huge new modern airport that might look like any medium sized airport building in the world except it stands infinished... the joint venture money has apparently run out. or the companies involved have backed out, given the major recession in asia. the investors haven't made as much money as they had planned. in siagon, the US built a major airport building as part of the extensive military base that was built during the war. all of the many bomb proof hangers stretch as far as you can see still. and it all smells of jet fuel and motorbike exhaust. we were there at the beginning of Tet. the holy new year, so there were many many folks greeting family coming from abroad or trying to get a flight to some other part of the country. when we arrived, saigon was an amazing crush of people. and beep beep beep of car and bike horns

- what does hanoi look like? what do the houses look like? old? new?

when i first arrived in hanoi thirty years ago, we came into the city on the Long Bien Bridge at dusk. one narrow bridge that made do for all military transport, trains, vehicles and bicycles, people and everything... all in the midst of major repairs going on simultaneously. spashes of sparks from welding torches... the rat-a-tat-tat of rivetting. dense life on the move.... coming in to Hanoi this trip, we came in on a brand new superhighway from a slightly different direction. the huge new four lane bridge was part of the raised structure that went over not only the river, but the dikes as well, and much of the out-lying city. on the highway however there were but few automobiles and an occasional truck, but many many motor bikes. and bicycles. and from time to time water buffalo. and pedestrians. all on a superhighway. with horns honking continuously, beeping folks out of the way ... faster, faster

Ho Chi Minh City - east bank of the Saigon River

the city is old. old french colonial in fact... still. it's the color of the limestone further to the north. the greying aging mortar. and then creamy orange-ish tropical yellows and whites. and then the new office building... hotels. like corporate headquarters anywhere in the world. where the hanoi hilton had been, well, there's a small part of it remaining as museum, but the rest of the entire block is a new hilton, no, hyatt, no, um.... something like that

Ho Chi Minh City - west bank of the Saigon River

8APR99 - Meanwhile, HCM City Realty Corporation has invested VN481 billion in the construction of low-priced houses. In 1998, they made a net profit of VN44 billion from leasing houses and apartments. They are investing in the construction of 2,000-plus apartments, 900 of these will be used for the resettlement of families who previously lived in shantytowns built along the Nhieu Loc and Th Nghe canals. Housing development enterprises in several districts across the city are building thousands of apartments and houses for the needy. VNS


- are there many people in the streets? are the streets dirty/clean?

in the last twenty years the population has doubled... to now 70-80 million. twice the population of france. yes there are many people in the streets. and perhaps one of the most remarkable experiences we had was simply crossing the street. ah, you say, 'remarkable experience' ... definitely. there are very few stoplights. perhaps two or three in the entire city. no, well, more than that... but. there are few private cars, and for that matter trucks in the city. but millions of motorbikes. whole streets ... rivers of people... streaming. well, you just step off the curb into it. and with sharp awareness move out toward the other side. amazing flow of consciousness. and then there you are. you made it. it seemed sorta magical. not that you were still alive, but that so many people could move that way.

i noticed honda made a number of different models. all with flashy paint jobs. one was called DREAM (painted in dramatic design) and then there was the DREAM II... but the best ... the top of the line was called.... DREAM EXCESS !!!!! ah, well, that's what all this joint venture stuff seemed like. and there were areas in town where the motorbike exhaust was so strong, it just made you want to just stop breathing. hold your breath... hold out for some fresh air. people rode their bikes with bandanas wrapped around their faces. but the airpollution in Hanoi didn't seem as bad as Saigon (HCMC - Ho Chi Minh City) and of course no comparison to Hong Kong, let alone Bangkok. Vietnam is equi-distant between those two polluted pillars of free enterprise. and now finance falters





- is it easy to tell that there's been a war?

i think, throughout the entire trip, we saw only a few huge old craters from 2000lb bombs. one was a fish pond with ducks... and another, just in the outskirts of the city, had been turned into a sort of reflecting pool in the garden behind a house.

- are there many differences between the cities and the country life?

a motorbike vs. the old bicycle. the country has changed little in hundreds of years. planting rice... fishing. gathering wood, what little is left. and the cities have grown enormously. but people seem to still share the same level of prosperity... or poverty. whichever way you come to it. there seems a broad equality. though you do see, here and there, joint venture built, huge modern hotels and homes, and the occasional late model car....

- what makes hanoi different from ho chi minh or N.Y?

Hanoi is further north than HCMC.... so it is a bit less tropical, parched and open. but it is built near a large river (same as HCMC) but here are many small lakes. and there had been much more of a French influence in the building that went on through the years of colonialism. but now each have areas of major investment. hotels for tourism. and of course here and there (in the country too) factories making the most the cheap labor. 1700$US would be a very high annual salary.

- what is the weather like? warm? hot?

it is hot in the south, even during the winter. in Ha Long Bay (in the very north) you might wear a sweater in the evening . but in the summer very warm in the north too




- what are the people like? shy? open? talkative?


in Hanoi one afternoon when Bobbie and I were strolling about... she looking at some material in a small store, i chatting with a man of about my age. the son of the old old man sitting motionless in the back of the store. he asked me whether this was my first trip to vietnam. and i said no, i had been here, in fact in hanoi, thirty years ago. making a film. that was to have originally been a statement by Ho Chi Minh to the American people, but that he was ill at the time. so we then made a documentary of the vietnamese struggle for independence. and he said ah a journalist and threw his arms around me. saying that he had been Wilfred Burchett's translator for 3 years during the war. and had been just looking after his father's store recently. what an amazing connection immediately...



then on the other hand. in the school now, three of the main areas (and most stressed) are english, computers, and karate. of course there are other subjects, but these are the new additions to the schooling. one morning on Cat Ba... an island in Ha Long Bay... a coupla kids came eagerly up to us. always the chance of money from the tourists. smiling 'where you come from?' at that point the smallest child kicked me in the shins in finest karate style and retreated looking tough... off down the street

- how do the people live?

i remember on the first trip asking our guide.... our 'responsable' (french for the person who was responsible for us) .... where were all the people bicycling to all the time. i thought here we are in the middle of a war, and people are just bicycling endlessly at all times of the day throughout the city. i for some reson thought everyone would be somewhere doing something. no time to waste. war or no war people certainly keep moving throughout nyc at all hours all the time. so what's different?



how do people live in nyc? not as simply as they do in hanoi. people live and eat on the street. of course in the three of four story buildings that spread as far as you can see. but in the morning bright and early, you can see folks open the doors and gates to their homes in their underware, stand and greet neighbors getting their motorbikes started. stretch and wander back into the house, which is now exposed... the whole living room, or store. the traditional (appartment) house of the city is similar to what is built in the country town. the building is very narrow because of the price of land, or the historical family holding. the front which is open is the business area, but also the living room. there is another room behind that and that room is both bedroom and dinning room. and behind that, the bathroom on one side and the kitchen on the other. this is the traditional layout. then there is the traditional country dwelling on stilts. and that goes way back




- what is it like out in the country?

it's mountainous and rugged jungle. it's flat ricefields as far as you can see. and then it's both, flat ricefields with huge rocky lumps of mountains just rising right out of nowhere. like Ha Long Bay, but with land, the earth, instead of water. all looking remarkably like the chinese paintings that seem to be the products of crazy imaginations. no, that's just what's there. little tiny pagodas nestled on the side of a towering peak over looking the ocean. a buddha carved into the walls of a huge cave in these mountains... and people live everywhere.

- name some interesting buildings / museums / parks / restaurants / streets / places

the caravelle hotel. has ten new floors added on top of it, though the bar on the roof that the press used to see what battles were going on around saigon, is still there. sorta to one side of the ten additional floors

the war remnants museum. it used to be called the museum of imperialist atrocities... something like that. i was there in the middle of the room that detailed the torture and poisoning and destruction of the vietnamese people by the americans... when a whole class of young vietnamese students came in on a tour. i can't imagine how i might have felt if i hadn't been involved in trying to stop the war in the best ways i knew

there's a windsurfing camping park that has just been built near Cat Ba

we ate at Gustav's... we were the only people in the entire restaurant. though it was 4:00PM, we were hungry. but it was right across the street from the Opera... a huge edifice built by the french at the turn of the century. and there we were ... you could see the upper-class french partying... pictures of the eiffel tower. the good old days in france. of course we had just come from the hanoi hilton where they had kept american pilots that had been downed and captured. but the prison had a long history. we saw the guillotine that he french used on the revolutionaries. the peasants of the uprisings

- how do you get around hanoi? car? bike? walk? how much do transport tickets cost?

walk... or take a cyclo (a pedicab)... or a cab... fifty thousand dong from the airport to the city. one dollar US anywhere in a cyclo . if you live there, it seems as though you would have a motorbike. but god there's got to be another way.

- what are the teenagers like? very american?

yes they wear casual clothes. familiar youth, if they can afford the look. for the most part lightly simply dressed

- what is it like being in vietnam 30 years later? what is different? what is the same?

and this question i will continue to answer....
but right now it is 9:00PM your time ...
so here it goes.... comes




last updated 6APR99