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Vietnam Trips 2009

8 May

An open letter to the blogosphere:

Dear Blog Reader,

This summer, my friend Paul Pinkerton is leading two service trips to Vietnam. Paul was combat veteran…who later became a rogue POW/MIA activist…and then an honored humanitarian. If you’re interested in visiting Vietnam…or participating in a service trip this summer…going to Saigon with Paul is a great opportunity. I know…because I’ve done it myself…and am glad I did!

* The first 10-day trip runs July 19-30. More info here: http://mysite.verizon.net/paulskids/ff/

* The second trip is for college-age students and runs August 16-27. More info here: http://mysite.verizon.net/paulskids/

* More fast facts about Paul below…or here: http://mysite.verizon.net/paulskids/ff/fastfaq.htm#paul

* Paul’s Kids Vietnam Children’s Charity is sponsoring the trips. You can learn more about Paul’s Kids below…or here: www.paulskids.org <http://www.paulskids.org>

Thanks…and please feel free to share this info with anyone who you think might be interested. Any questions…please give me a ring: (801) 580-6479.  Go ahead, call me.

I got a lot of emails last year from people interested in Vietnam and for a good part of 08′ if you happened to Google the phrase “elephant ear fish” (as I’m sure you did) my trip report was the number one spot.

I think about that trip a lot and what an incredible country it is.  While I have traveled to numerous countries around the world none stand out quite like Vietnam.  It has everything one would want in an exotic destination; incredible food, scenery, history, people and an unforgettable vibe.

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Maybe you’ve never even thought about it or have been dreaming about it for years, either way now is the time to go.  My good friend Paul Pinkerton of Pauls’ Kids,who I traveled with last year, has put together 2 different trips this year to Vietnam.  You’ll not only get to experience the exotic destination but you will also be able to participate in life changing humanitarian work with the children of Vietnam.

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I promise it will be the best trip you ever take anywhere during your short visit here to planet earth.  Just don’t drink the snake wine.  Trust me.

Thanks for reading, now go!

Brad

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Final Thoughts And Parting Shots

18 Feb

If there is one thing, turns out there are a bazillion, you should do if you plan on visiting Vietnam I’d have to say you AFL (abso……lutely) must visit the Vietnam War Remnants museum. I couldn’t bring myself to take any pictures. The horrors of war were on display and I made the mistake of having breakfast beforehand.

Nothing could have prepared me for the sobering experience of seeing the Vietnam war through the eyes of the Vietnamese. It totally caught me off guard and I had to stop several times to regain my composure. I don’t completely understand the politics behind the Vietnam war but the suffering and cruelty I saw spoke volumes about the evils of war.

I have the distinct feeling I will return to Vietnam sooner than later. I’ll be forever grateful to Jeff for inviting me tag along for the ride and for introducing me to Paul from Paul’s Kids. Everywhere we went in HCMC someone had a smile and a hug for Paul and of course he reciprocated in kind. I was touring the city with a celebrity and it was always apparent the impact Paul has had on the people of Vietnam.

 

Some of my favorite pictures from Vietnam. Cute kids.

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Have a scooter:

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Paddling around the Mekong.

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The beasts of burden.

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Vietnam Valentines

14 Feb

Vietnam is and isn’t a communist country. They pick and choose to suit there fancy. You can practice any religion you want but its illegal to preach. Supposedly there is prostitution (I’ve seen no evidence) yet it’s illegal to have the opposite sex in your home or apartment past 10 p.m. No holidays other than TET (Thanksgving, Christmas and New Years all wrapped up into one) yet they go crazy decorating for and celebrating Christmas and today they celebrated Valentines.

My Valentine Isn’t with me today so I was thinking about her and where we would go and what we would do If she were. Pretty easy, We’d visit Ha Long bay:

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We’d spend the night on one of the Chinese junks in the bay. Yep, that’d be the perfect Valentines day.

Viet Cong

12 Feb

I visited the Cu Chi tunnels where the Viet Cong entrenched themselves in an ingenious series of tunnels and beat the U.S. into the eventual withdrawal. It was at once fascinating and horrifying. A sobering reminder of how awful warfare is and how cruel humanity can be. I still don’t know how I feel about my visit. A bit weirded out I guess.

This entrance has been widened for large folk. The original entrances were only 8″x8″.

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They lived in these tunnels for weeks at a time. Our guide showed us the many booby traps the Viet Cong laid for American GI’s as well as how they made land mines from unexploded U.S. cluster bombs. They recycled all of the U.S. Military garbage to fashion booby traps and explosive devices. Essentially beating us with our own supplies.

It was a little creepy to say the least. The weirdest part of the visit was the shooting range where you could fire one of 10 different weapons including an M2 machine gun.

The most amazing thing about Vietnam is how recently we were here tearing their country apart and I am here now and the people absolutely love America. Once the war was over they just wanted to get on with their lives but the U.S. had an embargo against them up until just over 10 years ago. We are sure good at holding grudges.

Biking in Vietnam

10 Feb

I finally got out on  a bike ride. 

We hit the Ben Thahn market in the morning where you can buy anything from snake wine to weasel coffee.  I’ll be bringing home some of that weasel coffee if anyone wants to come by and try it.  Just the smell of the roasted beans brought me to my knees and put my saliva glands in overdrive.  I’ve never smelled anything quite so delicious.  And it is delicious.

We then hired ciclo drivers to haul us to the other end of town to visit some Buddhist temples.  I booted my driver to the passenger seat while I took over the cockpit.

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I immediately felt right at home on the fixed gear single speed machine.  Well, for a moment anyway.

I thought I’d show off my superior American cycling abilities to the other ciclo drivers so I stood up to sprint. As I did I immdeiately lost control and just about dumped my passenger and myself into oncoming traffic.  The ciclos are essentially a really big 200 pound trike set up in reverse with a hinge connecting the front wheels to the back wheel.  They manuever much like those swing bikes from the 70’s which is to say they go in the opposite direction to where you think they should go.  When I stood up and started sprinting my ciclo got the death wobbles that got worse the more I struggled for control.  It took a moment to realize that what I needed to do was let go and be. Another buddhist move necessary for successful transportation in Vietnam.

After arriving in one piece I wandered around the temple bowing to people and chanting, “om mani padme sum.”  Everyone looked at me like I was from India or something.

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After half a day of pedaling in 90 degree heat nothing beats a nice bowl of pho bo and an ice cold Tiger for recovery.

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I’m Huge

9 Feb

In Vietnam anyway.  I never have to worry about getting lost in the crowd here.

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We spent the afternoon visiting Go Vap, one of the orphanages here in HCMC.  Can you believe this cute little girl is an orphan?  I can’t.

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Don’t you just want to pick her up and squeeze her? I did so, I did.  Far from being the depressing place I had imagined the orphanage to be it was actually pretty upbeat.  Most of the kids there were busy just being kids.  Yelling and smiling and stealing my sunglasses and camera and wiping their snotty noses on me.  I think they were mostly just thrilled to interact with someone other than the workers in the orphanage.  The number one thing these kids need is human contact.  To be picked up and hugged does more good than just about anything else. 

One of the action items being discussed on this trip is how to impelement a program where people can visit Vietnam with discounted airfares and hotel stays to make it affordable and spend half a day every day for a week or more interacting with the kids.  A hug goes a very long way.

There were some pretty extreme cases of kids with encephalitis that absolutely took my breath away and made me stumble. I wondered how it’s even possible with todays medicine that these kids can be suffering like they do.  Needless to say I didn’t last very long at all in that room.  I couldn’t bring myself to take any pictures either.  Its was too hard to deal with the reality of it all.

So, on a brighter note here are some shots of an incredibly beautiful city with great food, very polite people and lots of things to see and do.

View from stairwell in my hotel:

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Veiw from the Rex Hotel of downtown HCMC:

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Crazy man on the drums:

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I finally got out on a bike ride today and what a bike ride it was.  More on that later.

Ho Chi Minh City

8 Feb

I really, really wanted to ride a bike around the city.  I’m scared.  It Turns out I barely dare cross the street on foot.  A sea of scooters some with as many as 6 people on board.  Entire families busting around the city on scooters designed for one person.  Its scary just to watch let alone participate.

Complete and utter insanity.  I’ve been to a lot of big cities in Central and South America as well as most of the big ones in Europe and I’ve never seen anything like this.

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The weird thing is that if you want to cross the street you just step off the curb and go.  Paul from Paul’s Kids showed me around HCMC (that’s what you call Saigon if you’re hip) yesterday and the first time he stepped into traffic I lunged for his collar to save him from certain death.  Come to find out that’s how you cross the street here.  The scooters and cars just flow around you like its no big deal.  It’s a Zen thing I’m told and it helps to be buddhist.  Nobody yells at anyone or gets upset about getting cut-off.

I’m definitely not used to it yet so I make sure to keep Paul between myself and the oncoming traffic.  I’m into self-preservation.  Maybe I’lll give the bike a go in a day or two.