August 08, 2005

Testing, testing 1, 2, 3....

The blog has been down for quite awhile.. apparently corrupted or something. (What do I know?) This is just a test to see if it's still operable at all.

If you're reading this I guess it still works.. and my best to you!


Posted by ed at 04:31 PM

April 11, 2005

A good English Vietnam news site

Browsing around this morning I found a site in France that has a nice set collection of current news from and about Vietnam in English.

The Vietnam News is on the Le Viet Nam, aujourd'hui web site and worth taking a look at.

Posted by oren at 08:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (70)

April 10, 2005

Our next group adventure

Many of us who were on the Vietnam bike ride bonded pretty strongly on the trip, and we talked about doing some other activities together.

A number of us who were on the ride have now decided to do the annual Seattle-to-Portland bike ride in July. It's 208 miles in two days, with an overnight stop in lovely Centralia, WA.

So far it looks like Ed, Karalee, Lenah, Nancy, Tara, and I (Oren) are for sure. TJ, Hillary, Kim, and Jan are considering and being subjected to serious arm-twisting.

We anticipate a great time together, even if we don't find Tiger Beer and karaoke in Centralia.

Posted by oren at 09:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (82)

March 26, 2005

Lessons Learned

This from Tara, one of our traveling companions. Tara parted with us at the Hanoi airport to travel on her own to Cambodia. She just got home a couple of days ago....

What I Really Learned In Vietnam, by Tara Morris

I never did learn the words to that song, but...

I learned that Halong Bay means 'descending dragon'.
I learned that the liver is a horrible organ and must be punished.
I learned that dessert can come incased in a gelatinous goo.
I learned that a karaoke version of 'We Are The World' can bring TJ to tears, but a swim in a river full of crap cannot.
I learned that International Women's Day and Elizabeth Jackson's birthday are both week long celebrations.
I learned that visionaries aren't always warm and fuzzy, and that's OK.
I learned that a camera flash can cause pandemonium on an unsuspecting school yard.
I learned that 'Hello' by Lionel Richie actually sounds better as "Herro" at a Vietnamese karaoke parlor.
I learned from Lenah that a french manicure can still look great after a 250-mile bike ride.
I learned that I can tell what animal I'm eating by how chewy and salty it feels in my mouth.
I learned that Anna-Lou listened to books on CD while trying not to get killed along Highway One. Totally impressive!
I learned how to say 'you got mad crazy eyes' in Vietnamese, but I still don't know how to say 'yes' or 'no'.
I learned that Halong Bay means descending dragon.
Here's something you may not have known, but I learned that it took Hillary seven days to poop.
I learned that Kim has the best music collection on the planet.
I learned that Rich's giggle is more contageous than Avian Flu.
I recently learned that the "How to Get Fit and Stay Limber With Cuong" DVD is due out next month.
I learned that when Kien is not showing Yanks around his country, he's a well-paid cheek bone model.
Along with every Vietnamese child under the age of 14, I learned that Ed carries hand stamps.
I know I learned that you shouldn't wear matching silk shirts with your spouse but apparently that memo wasn't circulated through everyone.
I learned that Oren wore a Che Guevara button on the day he met Ed 40 years ago. Some people are just born cool.
I learned never to hit the 'format' button on a digital camera.
I learned, as did Stephanie, that cuticle oil and toilet seat covers will not be necessary in Vietnam. Can't have a toilet seat cover when there's no toilet!
I learned that caged dogs on bikes aren't out for joy rides.
I learned that Halong Bay means 'descending dragon'.
I learned that Steve is an incredibly brave man to return again and again to Vietnam.
I learned that Karalee and Webster's Dictionary have different definitions for 'undulate'.
I learned what a 'hand shandy' is and if you'd like to find out for yourself, just follow Sparky into an internet cafe.
I learned from Jan that snacking is really the proper way to get to know a country.
I learned that when Nancy accidently went into the men's room, she yelled, "So THAT'S a Vietnam dong!" (thanks Spark.)
I learned that starting off a week-long trip with a rousing "GOOD MORNIN' VIETNAM" to a group of strangers can really bomb.
I learned a lot about Minnie Ripperton.

I learned a lot, my friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

OK, so it's MY turn to be totally jetlagged and wired. Just arrived home about an hour ago, and it feels great to be back.
A couple of weeks ago, as I sat in a steamy restaurant on the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Pehn, I thought of all of you. Surely the waitstaff thought I was crazy as I sat alone, drinking beer (OK fine, a couple of beers), and laughed aloud as I scibbled in my journal. That's what I wrote.

I miss you a lot. I thought of you all the time. Where we goin' next?

I really hope to hear from you.

Posted by ed at 09:42 PM

March 25, 2005

The prosthetic hand on our trip to Vietnam

Ed wrote briefly before about the fact that Michael Mendonca, one of the people on our Vietnam trip, was testing prototypes of a new prosthetic hand.

This effort is a great example of using modern materials to create appropriate technology to solve real human problems. The hand itself is held with simple straps and attaches to the stump of an arm. The hand has two interlocking and opposing sets of fingers that can be moved closer together just by pushing against an object - the fingers ratchet into the tighter position, enabling the user to grip items in the hand. The fingers can be easily released by pushing the release against an object. The material used to coat the gripping surfaces is the same soft plastic commonly used on toothbrushes, giving a good grip.

Michael is one of the owners of Stack Plastics in the Bay area, and he got involved because the designer of the hand was looking for the proper material for the gripping surfaces, and a toothbrush company referred him to Michael. Michael got the Rotary Clubs involved in funding the prototype development, and he brought along several of the prototypes to Vietnam, where lost limbs are all too common, due to land mines and birth defects caused, in part, by the residue of chemical defoliants.

Michael was able to try the prototype hands on several people while in Vietnam - here is his moving description of one event, and some photos of some of the people who received the prototypes:

A four year-old Vietnamese boy was carried into the room by a care taker! The boy had only only 1 limb…I repeat, only 1 limb…a right leg! His right arm was gone just below the elbow and his left arm just above the wrist. His left leg also missing but fitted with a prosthetic. The boy screamed and yelled upon entering the room at the sight of all the prosthetic hands lined up on the table. His care taker took him outside to calm him down. 10 or 15 minutes later the care taker brought him back into the room and again he started right up with the crying and screaming. In a moment of desperation, I decided to give him one of the prosthetic hands and in the same moment I questioned my decision as I wondered whether or not that was such a great idea – I mean, how could a child “play” with such a device by having available to him, only the stubby ends of two arms that aren’t even the same lengths.

I was told once that if the only tools in your tool box are a hammer and a screw driver, then you tend to think of your solutions in terms of how they can be fixed using that hammer and that screwdriver. Well, he did just that. He instantly calmed down and was able to hold the prosthetic hands between the ends of his two arms. He began experimenting with it and in a few short moments, was able to realize how the device worked. With a little help from his care taker, he was also able to fully see how to tighten the digits (fingers) and release them.

He stayed in the room clutching the prosthetic hand and watched while we put hands on several other people. Nearly an hour passed until it was his turn and by that time, he was so ready to have his hand put on that when he and his care taker sat down, he literally reached out his left arm as if to say, “quit fooling around and put this thing on ME!” We did just that and literally within one minute, he had managed to put a marking pen in the hand and for the first time in his life, draw on a piece of paper.

The room was flooded with emotion. How many opportunities do we have in life to be able to impact another person to this extent.

A couple of weeks later I received an e-mail from Vietnam indicating that the boy not only loves and uses his hand, but he doesn’t want to take it off at night when he goes to bed.

Rest well little child, hopefully you can have the same opportunity that we have had and to experience the gift that you have given us.







Posted by oren at 04:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (13)

March 20, 2005

More great pictures - from Tara

Tara's back after her post-Vietnam Cambodia jaunt (welcome home, Tara!), and has her pictures up here on Shutterfly. She's got some great shots!

Posted by oren at 06:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (19)

March 19, 2005

Six Questions: An invitation

One of the people I most appreciated traveling with was Karalee Woody, our leader and organizer for the bike ride. The ride (which, by the way, raised nearly $100,000 for Kids First!) is Karalee's baby. She is the mover and the shaker behind it and the person responsible for coordinating the fearsome logistics of moving fifteen Spandexed Americans through rural north Vietnam. She does this as a volunteer board member for Kids First; she is not paid. Remarkable.

One of the things Karalee presented us with during the ride was a daily question: six of them; one for each day of cycling. The questions were designed to get us to think about our own priorities and our relationship to, and responsibilty toward, Vietnam and the rest of the world.

For me, the questions reflected the heart and soul of the reasons I wanted to do this trip in the first place. They also provided a context and a way to think about the overwhelming emotions and sensory overload of cycling through the country. Karalee captured some people's thoughts and responses on camera at the end of the ride but we, the riders, never really sat down to talk about them as a group.

Now that we're back and people are getting over their jet lag (wasn't that a bitch?)and are hopefully on the mend from digestive and respiratory problems, I'm curious: does anyone have any thoughts or perspectives on Karalee's questions that they'd like to share on the blog?

I plan to do some additional writing about this as well but would like to put the invitation out there for any of you who cycled with me. Actually I'd be interested in hearing responses from anyone who cares to contribute. All you have to do is hit the "comment" button and write away!

For those who have forgotten, here are the questions:

What do I take for granted? Why?

What do I really need in life? Why do I want what I don't need?

What are my global obligations to other people?

What are the limits to what I will do for other people?

How is Vietnam changing my life?

What are my personal responsibilities to the suffering people in the countries my government has chosen to destroy, and how do those responsibilities take action?

Posted by ed at 04:26 PM | Comments (0)

TJ and Deerfield wine in Dong Hoi

I think we were all surprised when sitting down to dinner at our hotel in Dong Hoi, as TJ Woosley pulled out a bottle of Deerfield Ranch Old Vine Zinfandel to share with the group of bike riders at our last dinner together. It turns out that the folks at Deerfield are family friends of TJ's and that they like to feature pictures of their wines in various locations around the world on their web site. The wine was delicious, and made the meal even more special. I know I'll be seeking out Deerfield wines for my own drinking. Thanks again, TJ!

Posted by oren at 07:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (16)

March 17, 2005

Stephanie's pictures are up on the web

Stephanie (that's her on the left in the top photo of the Boston women) now has her photos up on the web, here, hosted on Shutterfly. Nice pics, Steph!

Posted by oren at 09:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 16, 2005

Sick and tired

I heard from more than half a dozen of my fellow Vietnam travelers today in a wild group email exchange that lasted most of the day and that undoubtedly cost our respective places of employment thousands of dollars in lost productivity. We are a group with our priorities straight, let me tell you.

So.. what I deduced from this swapfest is this:
a) everyone is still jet-lagged. 2:00AM seems a popular time to snap awake, no matter what time one goes to bed. Even in Boston people are waking up at 2AM though you'd think they'd snap awake three hours earlier than me because of the time difference.

b) people are sick with airline-acquired respiratory crud. Everyone's coughing, hacking, and spewing. We are actually much less attractive than we appear to be in our photos. We were healthy then and not just wheezey, leaky disease vectors.(Ironically, I had respiratory infections all winter and I feel great! Sorry gang).

c) People are using acupuncture, Nyquil, antibiotics, heavy sedation, faith healing, mass emailings, and small animal sacrifices to get some sleep and alleviate their suffering. Nothing works.

Posted by ed at 07:24 PM

March 14, 2005

Pictures from the trip

People are beginning to put up their photos from the Vietnam trip on the web.

So far, here's the list I know about:

Ed's photos are online here, hosted on Snapfish.

Lenah's pictures are here, on Ofoto.

I've got two sets up on .mac, the first set is here, and the second set is here.

If anyone else from the trip has photos up, send me the link and we'll keep this list updated.

Posted by oren at 02:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (158)

Agent Orange article

A friend sent me this article:

Agent Orange no mystery for some Vietnam children.

FRIENDSHIP VILLAGE - Dinh Thi Hanh is no scientist, but the shy 17-year-old can tell you exactly why she thinks she has so little hair.

Her friend Trung Thi Thanh Binh, 14, also knows why she is less than a metre (three feet) tall.

Agent Orange.

None of the children at a centre for the handicapped near Hanoi are authorities on Agent Orange - a toxic defoliant sprayed by U.S. forces in the Vietnam War - but those able to think and speak say they know it's what made them sick.

"It's why my hair won't grow," said Hanh with a shy smile. "I'm very said about that."

"My parents told me it's the reason I'm so short," said her friend Binh.

Hanh and Binh are two of the luckier children at Friendship Village, a haven for those thought to be suffering from the inherited effects of Agent Orange.

Nguyen Thi Bien, 18-years-old but with a mental age of only the same number of months, can't even say her name.

Next to her, 15-year-old Nga sat twitching from a nerve disorder as she concentrated on a wooden jigsaw designed for a three-year-old. It took her half an hour to complete.

And two desks along sat Nguyen Van Luong, 10, his head swollen to almost twice normal size by hydrocephelus, known sometimes as water on the brain.

The director of Friendship Village, Nguyen Khai Hung, said all the 70 children currently admitted are sons and daughters of communist veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the war and living proof of the damage it can do in terms of birth defects.

"The soldiers all fought in the south in areas heavily sprayed by Agent Orange," he said.

U.S. forces dumped millions of gallons of defoliants on Vietnam from 1962 until 1971, only stopping when it was discovered that Agent Orange contained the most dangerous form of highly toxic dioxin, TCDD, and caused cancer in rats.


Vietnam estimates more than a million of its people were exposed to the spraying, which it blames for tens of thousands of birth defects.

But three decades after Washington halted the spraying, U.S. government scientists still do not accept it was responsible for the numerous maladies Hanoi claims, saying confirming such linkages would take many more years of research.

The issue is the subject of a landmark conference in Hanoi on Agent Orange this week involving U.S. and Vietnamese government scientists and international experts aimed at assessing current research and charting future priorities.

Hung said Vietnam did not have the money to spend on expensive science to help prove its point - one blood test for dioxin currently costs around $1,000, and implanting a tube to tap fluid from Nguyen Van Luong's swollen skull $800.

But he said there was plenty of circumstantial evidence, especially the high incidence of handicap among families of veterans who served in southern Vietnam, some of who had as many as five handicapped children.

"In one district in this province we have 17 cases of mental or physical handicap, all are children of veterans who fought in the south. That's the common factor, that's the evidence."

Hung said U.S. veterans, who helped found Peace Village, had suffered similar birth defects in their children and had convinced Washington to pay them compensation for diseases associated with Agent Orange. He said the United States should now show some responsibility to Vietnamese victims.

"They have a humanantarian responsibility," he said. "They should cooperate with Vietnam to overcome the consequences of the war. These children should not be suffering."

Hung said he wanted to avoid the word "compensation" and its negative wartime connotations, but said the United States could assist by providing health care equipment and facilities.

Senior members of Vietnam Veterans of America, which has fought for years for compensation for U.S. veterans, told Reuters this week they felt Washington, and Agent Orange manufacturers Dow Chemical Co and Monsanto Co, had a moral duty to compensate Vietnamese who have suffered from exposure.

The United States said on Sunday that demands for wartime compensation and reparations were dropped by Hanoi when diplomatic ties were normalised in 1995.

Story by David Brunnstrom

© Reuters News Service 2002

Posted by ed at 06:01 AM


Another 2AM awakening. What's up with that? By my calculation it's dinner time in Vietnam so I'm no longer sure what my biorhythm's tuned to....

Two others from the trip are waking up at weird times too. At least I'm not special- in that regard anyway....

I have to leave for work in an hour or so. This is going to be one long and interesting day.

Posted by ed at 04:50 AM

March 13, 2005

2:30 AM reflections

It's 2:30 in the morning in Seattle and I just woke up; wide awake from jet lag I guess. I went to bed at 11:00PM so it's not like I've slept a long time or anything- just wide awake.

I don't think I've slept more than six hours in a single night since I left for Vietnam. There, I tended to wake up at around 5 or 5:30 (even on the nights we closed down the karaoke bars).

Weird. Might as well make use of all this middle of the night silence and clarity. So I'll write:

The trip was the most amazing traveling I've ever done: every day was intense, active, interactive, and non-stop- an onslaught of sights, sounds, and smells (and smiles too!). Evenings, and on occasion early mornings, were spent laughing and singing off key with our new comrades.

I came away with my eyes wide open about a number of things: first, the work that Kids First is doing in central Vietnam is crucial, dynamic, and their story there is badly in need of telling. Oren and I and our friend TJ, whom we met on this trip, are going to be doing some writing, speaking, and web-design updating for them in order to get the word out. (Oren will do the web stuff; I can barely turn on my computer).

One in four children in Quang Tri province is born with a birth defect. I don't have any idea how that stacks up with the numbers here in the states but I'd be surprised if we were one in a hundred.

The reason for this is simple. During the war we dumped and sprayed tons of dioxins (agent orange) on this narrowest section of VN to defoliate the region in order to eradicate the cover for supply lines and NVA and VC troops. It failed as a strategy but it did leave a lasting legacy of pollution and misery for decades to come. The dioxins are in the ground. Vietnam is an agricultural country and people depend on the food they can grow for survival. The dioxins enter the food supply at the most basic level.

Another problem is land mines. A buddhist nun told us that her friend had been killed by an old land mine the day before we arrived. The mines which probably number in the thousands were left behind by the US, the French, the Japanese, and the Vietnamese. During the monsoons the mines "travel" as the wet ground shifts and a safe place to step yesterday may become lethal today.

Kids first is working hard to heal the damage. Roger Ferrell, the Executive Director for Kids First, lives in Saigon and met us at the KF Village in Dong Ha for a tour. They are nearing completion on the construction of a free medical and dental clinic, a bakery, and a wheelchair manufacturing factory. Roger's goal is to "get them in and get them healthy. Then we train them in a way that will make them able to go back to their communities and make a living".

He said that self sufficiency and sustainability are key to Kids First's survival and growth. He believes that the program must have ways to generate income so that every year isn't spent seeking grants and soliciting donations. With that in mind Roger intends to develop the capacity for manufacturing pig food for the KF pig farm and even plans to build a hotel in the Village where visting medical professionals, travellers, and I suspect, tired bike riders can stay for a reasonable fee. The staff, of course, would be the Kids First young people who would receive great training for Vietnam's burgeoning tourist industry.

Roger also spoke about his vision of partnering with anybody who wants to help. He said that as long as someone is willing to take ona needed project (and will commit to follow through with it) he is absolutely willing to partner wit anyone. His only other proviso, and one that I was quite moved to hear, is that it all be the highest quality. "We want to give the Vietnamese the best that America has to offer", he said. "We don't want anybody's junk".

The other revelation was about myself. Karalee started each of our cycling days with a "Question of the Day"; something to contemplate as we cycled through this beautiful, impoverished, and damaged land.

I don't recall all six questions. They were good ones though and I will put them up here when I get them from Karalee. The theme though had to do with what we take for granted and what our priorities and responsibilities are.

There is no easy way to say this but I suspect most of you will understand. I felt really, really alive on this trip and it made me realize how closed off and guarded I've let myself become in many aspects of my life.

Seeing the bare bones existence of rural Vietnam does not leave one much space for the conceit of self-absorption. I found that I could only respond to it and the people I met there with spontaneity and honesty. I mentioned in an earlier post from VN that I felt "peeled". I guess that's what I was meaning.

Anyway, I have no doubt that these feelings will continue to settle and sort themselves out. I'll keep writing here as long as it seems somebody wants to read what I have to say. It's now almost 3:30AM and I'm starting to get tired again. I know I'm starting to ramble. Good night.

Posted by ed at 02:13 AM

March 10, 2005

One Full Day in Ho Chi Minh City

Today, our last full day in Vietnam, we were in Ho Chi Minh City (written HCMC in local English parlance). This is the largest city in the country (officially at 5.5 million people, but unoficially estimated at 7 - 8 million). It's very alive and full of bustle, feeling much more cosmopolitan and modern than Hanoi did. There are all the usual assortment of big shops such as Prada, Shiseido, etc, and very fashionable people crowding the streets. In some ways it feels like it could be any big Asian city like Hong Kong or what I imagine Singapore to be like.

We started off the morning with a trip to the War Remnants Museum, formerly called the Museum of American War Crimes. It was a sobering place, as you might imagine. It features lots of the photos of the war that those of us who are old enough to have lived through that time will remember - pictures that were originally published in Life and Look magazines. It's intersting to contemplate how the widespread readership of those mass-market publications aroused the realization among the US public of the reality of the war in Vietnam and spurred the expressions of antiwar opinion.

There is a whole section of the museum dealing with the continuing effects in Vietnam of the defoliants used by the US during the war. The birth defect rate in Vietnam is one in four children, which is due at least in part to the long lasting effects of Agent Orange in the soil in this primarily agricultural country.

Visiting the museum was the first time since we've been here that I felt strange about being an American in Vietnam. There were groups of Vietnamese schoolkids touring the museum, and I kept wondering what they feel to see wealthy Americans in the same place that they're learning about the horrors of the war that we brought to this country.

We spent the rest of the day browsing the central market and wandering the streets of the city, shopping for gifts. Victoria, one of the people on our trip, was born in Vietnam and came to the US when she was eleven. She acted as a translator for the group who weren't bike riding and has been a great help to all of us. A friend of hers from when she was a young schoolgirl owns a shop here that sells very beautiful hand embroidered fabric, so we stopped by there and spent a small fortune between the five of us who were together today.

Tonight we have one more big group dinner and then tomorrow morning we're off for the airport and the incredibly long and cramped flight home. We'll be back in Seattle on Friday afternoon.

Posted by oren at 02:54 AM