Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rice Crackers

Rice crackers drying in the sun

As we were driving to Duc Pho on Saturday, we noticed many houses with rice crackers set out to dry. Marjorie said she had never seen how they were made and wanted to stop to have a look, so our driver pulled over at the next house we saw. That turned out to be a serendipitous choice, as we were warmly greeted by the mother and daughter whose business this was. Below you can see the daughter measuring out the appropriate amount for a cracker, using a mixture of water, rice flour, sesame seed and a little salt.

She then spreads it on the hot griddle, covers it and lets it cook for a minute or two.

Then she lifts it off the griddle with a round stick and spreads it on the bamboo matting to dry.

After it's dried on one side, she turns it over and presses it firmly onto the bamboo to get out any extra moisture. This also makes the crackers take their distinctive crinkly shape.

As we were getting ready to leave, they gave us a couple of crackers to take with us. Crispy, crunchy and good!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A few photos from Duc Pho

Dang Thuy Tram Memorial Clinic, Duc Pho.

Statue of Dang Thuy Tram at her memorial clinic in Duc Pho.

Tinh, our translator; Marjorie; and Miss Rose, Physician's Assistant.

Tourists for a Day: Dr. Dang Thuy Tram Memorial Clinic

Shortly after I returned from Vietnam in 1969, someone shared with me an article written by a North Vietnamese journalist reporting from Quang Ngai. He described observing a woman doctor treating patients at a Quang Ngai hospital and how impressed he was by her concern for her patients. My friend asked me who that might have been, could it have been me?
I was puzzled because I was the only woman physician at the Quang Ngai Provincial Hospital. But how could a North Vietnamese journalist have encountered me? Years later, when the diary of Dang Thuy Tram (Last Night I Dreamed of Peace) was published, I understood that the journalist had been writing about her. She came to Quang Ngai province in the mid-1960s and worked as a doctor in a hospital and clinics dotted around the NLF controlled areas of Duc Pho. She was ambushed and killed at the age of 27 while returning to her hospital from visits to clinics. I had visited her mother and elder sister in Hanoi a couple of years ago and said I hoped very much to visit her clinic someday.
Saturday was a free day so we became "tourists for a day". Our driver took us down a smooth paved Highway #1, so different from 40 years ago. I recognized the rivers as we passed over them but the landscape is totally different now.
The clinic is a beautiful two story building with a goldfish pond enclosing two sides. In the side garden, a stone statue of Thuy Tram shows her stepping out of the background stone with one foot, her medical bag slung over her shoulder. All around the outside are benches bearing the names of people or groups who have donated them in her memory. We were met at the entrance to the clinic by Miss Rose, a physician's assistant, who showed us into the memorial room to one side. Here are numerous pictures of Thuy Tram, her mother and sisters, the translator who persuaded U.S. intelligence officer not to destroy the diary which was found among her effects at the ambush site, and others.
After touring this room, Miss Rose invited us into the clinic itself for tea. She explained that the clinic does both preventive care and acute care for illnesses. If a patient needs more advanced care, they are referred to the district hospital. Miss Rose works in the area of nutrition and counselling for children and expectant mothers. She also explained that, thanks to a substantial donation from an overseas Vietnamese woman, they are able to issue vouchers to very poor people in this area who don't have enough income to afford adequate food. We asked if we could make a contribution to the clinic to be used for food for the poor. She then called in the on-call doctor for the day so that he could accept our donation.
As we left, I commented to Margaret and Tinh that this is a wonderful and appropriate memorial to a woman who loved the people of Quang Ngai and devoted what short time she had to live in helping those suffering from the ravages of war. I had commented to Miss Rose, that Thuy Tram and I were working in the same province with many of the same concerns as young doctors and yet we were fated never to meet. I'm glad to see that this clinic continues to provide loving care to the people of Duc Pho.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A week of Teaching in Tinh Khe

It is Friday evening at My Khe beach. The flotilla of shrimp boats with their bright lights form a brilliant streak across the eastern horizon. I am sitting at the computer at Reception for our hotel. We have had trouble with the wifi connection here and so Margaret has yet to be able to connect her computer to the internet.
We were delighted at our first meeting with Mr Trung, the principal at Tinh Khe Primary School to learn that the Education Dept. and the Dept. of Foreign Affairs had approved our program and we could start immediately. So we set about consulting with Mrs. Luu, the English teacher at Primary School. Pat Dewees and I worked with her two years ago. Last year she was on maternity leave and no English was taught there. Now we are working with her every afternoon to meet with her 4th and 5th grade classes: a total of 10 classes with 20-30 children in each class.
After our meeting with Mr. Trung and Mrs. Luu, we walked over to the Middle School and met briefly with Mr. Thanh, the principal there. He greeted us warmly and informed us that they were in the midst of a two day visit from the Education Dept. - an every-four-year comprehensive review: teaching, finances, and physical plant. So everyone was busy and a bit tense. However, we then met with some of the English teachers and received our tentative schedule of teaching with them. Further good news was that we have been approved for work there through March 21! All persons there seemed really happy to see us again and much more relaxed about our program. For example, the administration had temporarily rearranged schedules so that we could have extended classes with 7th graders: a time for questions and answers with the students.
Our first such session with Mrs. Lieu's class was fascinating. Questions ranged from: "How many children do you have?" through "What is your favorite color?" to "Do you like the My Lai Memorial Site?" That last question brought a lump to my throat. I said, "It would not be correct to say I like it. I honor it. It reminds of a great tragedy for the people of Tinh Khe. I am grateful to have the opportunity to attend the Memorial Service in March while I am here in Tinh Khe and so happy to have the chance to know and work with teachers and students here. I worked in Quang Ngai 40 years ago helping those wounded by war. The people of Quang Ngai have a very special place in my heart."
At primary school we have been helping children by teaching songs that relate to material in their lessons. For example, the 4th graders this week are learning about pet animals so we taught them "Old MacDonald had a farm" using "cat" and "dog" which were two of their new words. They get such a kick out of singing it along with us. In 5th grade the topic this week is "Our Classroom". We played "Simon says": "Simon says, show me your notebook" and all are supposed to hold up their notebook. Leave out "Simon says" and any student who holds up the requested item has to stand up to the glee of the rest of the class. At the end of the game, all the students standing have to hop around the room back to their seats.
Coming and going to school we encounter students who wave and say hello. We also meet other people who remember us from prior years. Sometimes it takes us quite a while to get 'Home'.
We have been invited to two celebrations this week: one with staff of hotel and the corporation currently building the new resort complex around us and the other a 'death anniversary celebration' at home of Mr. Trung. It was wonderful to meet with his family, neighbors, and many teachers from both schools. Mr. Khuong, the retired former principal of Primary School, was there. He is now chairman of a local committee looking after the needs of elderly people in the community. It was good to talk with him and hear of his current activities in retirement.
Now I've occupied quite enough time on this computer so it is time to sign off for now. Hope to post more soon.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Rehabilitation: Hope for a Normal Life

Last year, Linh Chi, our travel agent, persuaded us to make a visit to the Buddhist pagoda near their home here in Hanoi. One of the services the monks at this pagoda provide to the community is to take in and nurture abandoned babies left at their gate. One of the caretakers of these babies was a woman, Cuc, in her early twenties. She had contracted polio about the age of ten, which left her with marked weakness of many muscles in both legs. As a result, she could only move about by crawling. Linh Chi wanted me to examine her and give my opinion on options. I did so and we forwarded this information along with pictures of her legs to some orthopedic surgeons affiliated with Red Cross.
This year, Linh Chi informed me that the original contact did not pan out but after considerable effort on her part, she linked this woman with Mr. Cuc, head of the Danang rehabilitation center; the same man that Roger Marshall works with for the branch center where Mr. Quy and Mr. Tien, former trainees of AFSC Quaker Service, now work in Quang Ngai! Small world.
Mr. Cuc arranged for this woman to have her first surgery on one leg. She was in a cast for several months followed by physical therapy. But now she is able to walk with assistance and is waiting for the second surgery on her other leg. The expectation is that after that surgery she will be able to walk upright with minimal assistance! Currently, she has been able to move back to her own village where her family lives and Linh Chi said, "She is hoping that she will be able to get married and have a normal life!" I am so grateful and happy to have had a small part in this beautiful story.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Margaret and I arrived together in Hanoi on Wednesday and were met by our driver from Indochina Explorers. We are staying at a different Hong Ngoc hotel than prior years but it is still in the Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem lake. After some 22 hours in transit, it felt good to take a hot shower and tumble into bed for a long afternoon nap.
In the evening we set out to find a restaurant we had liked last year. Our walk took us past the hotel where we had stayed last year. It is under new management and we accepted our travel agents recommendation that our current hotel is better. It certainly is nice. Further down Ma May street, we came to the site of the restaurant we were seeking: no restaurant there...changes. So we looked at a restaurant across the street and decided to give it a try.
Slowly we ascend narrow steep metal stairway to the second floor. There are a couple of tables occupied by tourists young and old. We place our order and listen to Johny Cash singing familiar songs. The food is good but we miss the old restaurant where we were on the first floor and could look out at all the life going on around us on the street.
Margaret had gone out for a little 'wander' in the afternoon, so when we had crossed the maelstrom of traffic just north of Hoan Kiem with all limbs intact, I turned the navigating over to her. We made it back to our new hotel without incident. Near our hotel there are a number of stores specializing in children's toys including beautiful rows of stuffed animals. I saw a number of mothers looking speculatively at the array - trying, no doubt, to decide which animal would be just right for their child.
Thursday morning we had a meeting scheduled with Linh Chi, our travel agent, plus Do, Madison Quakers 'man on the ground' here, and Tinh our translator and 'sister'. Do arrived with his wife, Ngon.
His first words, "Did you get my latest email of this morning?"
"No." I replied, "What's up?"
"I just heard from Dept of Foreign Affairs in Quang Ngai. They have issued approval for your project."
We all erupted in cheers and hugs all around. Do ordered a beer. And then we proceeded to make definite plans for going to Quang Ngai. I said that if I had feathers, I'd be fluttering around at the ceiling. What a relief.
We leave Sunday noon, flying to what we still refer to as "Chu Lai", now the airport for Tam Ky. From there it is less than an hour drive to Quang Ngai. As we are starting early Monday morning, we will go directly to our Tinh Khe hotel on the beach and begin planning for teaching in both Tinh Khe Primary School #1 and Middle School. All three of us are looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones.
I expect my next post will be from Tinh Khe.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Morning Assembly, Tinh Khe Middle School, March 2010

Once a week the children assemble in the school courtyard to salute the flag and hear motivational talks from school officials. When this boy saw me raise my camera, he proudly posed.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Evening Commute, Tinh Khe Beach

This was the view from the balcony of our hotel looking over the beach last year. We don't yet know how things might have changed this year; on the day we left, they were about to begin groundbreaking on a new resort complex. This herd of peaceful brown cows spent their days roaming around the village grazing, with apparently no one watching over them. Then each evening they would wend their way back home. This year I'm going to try to find out where "home" is.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Dinner at Do's house, Hanoi

I decided to post a few images from last year, since we weren't able to do much then. This was taken at the home of Mr. Do and his wife in Hanoi before we left for Tinh Khe. From left to right, Marjorie, me, Mr. Do, Mrs. Tinh (our translator) and Do's wife (whose name I unfortunately I don't have). Mr. Do is our indefatigable "fixer." He knows everyone who's worth knowing, and fires up his mobile phone to contact just the right person to get things done. His mantra is "peace and reconciliation."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tet, 2011; Preparing to go to Vietnam

February 5, 2011
Chuc Mung Nam Moi: Happy New Year! This is the third day of the Lunar New Year (Tet) as celebrated in Asia. People in Vietnam will be visiting friends and enjoying special feasts. I am in the midst of preparing to go to Vietnam just after Tet for my fourth year in a row. I fully expect this to be my last trip there as I'm finding the long trip across the Pacific increasingly demanding. So it will be a very special trip for me.
At the moment, Margaret Roberts and I have our visas, tickets, and plans. What is still unknown is if we will have the needed approval from the authorities in Quang Ngai province to proceed with our proposed program of volunteering as teacher-aides to the English teachers in the Tinh Khe primary school #1 and the middle school. This year they have requested additional documentation which we have submitted but no final answer yet. The District Education Dept. has approved a proposed plan and local people are optimistic and enthusiastic about the prospect of our arrival.
Margaret and I volunteered there together last year and are looking forward to seeing the teachers we met then. One of the thrilling bits of news conveyed to us by Mrs. Tinh, our translator, is that the Tinh Khe Middle School students turned in the best performance in regional English competition last spring (after our departure) in the history of the school! While we think the credit goes to the hardworking teachers and students, we'd like to think that our presence there may have contributed a little extra bit of enthusiasm in their efforts. We look forward to the possibilities this year. Hold us in your thoughts and prayers while we proceed as way opens.