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Aloft

October 18-19. We ride with our friends, Nancy Schaefer and Chet Kamin, to O’Hare from which we are flying Cathay Pacific, through Hong Kong, to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon. (Originally, we were to fly Korean Air, through Seoul, but Nancy was concerned about flying through Korea, given the current political climate, so we switched.) Nancy and Chet are quite recent friends of ours. Though I’d known Chet for many years through the legal community, we really only connected about three years ago through opera in Santa Fe because of our friends, the Kipharts.
Besides opera, which Nancy and Chet are very involved in, we share interests in the theater (Nancy, besides being a lawyer, is a playwright), in art, in travel and in politics (Chet and I were active in progressive causes when we were younger and the two of us are now involved in a group called the GOATS (Guys Organizing Against Trumpism). Chet and Nancy live a few blocks from us, and we’ve become quite good friends in a short time. After this trip we’ll either be closer, or not on speaking terms (I’m betting on the former).
We are spending our entire two weeks in Vietnam, so we will be able to cover the country quite well. We planned the trip with the guidance of our great travel agents, Jean and Ahdina Zunkel of Santa Fe. Carol and I have used the Zunkels before in Africa and been delighted by their knowledgeable, professional, personal and responsive service. And they’re fun, too. So, if you’re looking for somebody good to help you with a trip, I’m happy to provide this shout out. (jeanzunkel@gmail.com; ahdinazunkel@gmail.com)

Here’s a better map of Vietnam than the one that was in my initial post.

It’s actually a bit surreal, going to Vietnam. I spent a good part of my 20s avoiding that country, and now I’m paying big bucks to visit.
It’s hard even to think about Vietnam without appending the word “war”. That war shaped our history, culture and consciousness.
Personally, I avoided the Vietnam war because of the rule that was in effect exempting men married before a certain date from the draft. I’ve always felt a bit guilty about that. Had I been called up, I would have served, though I think I’d probably have been a lousy soldier, because I don’t take orders well. And I’ve never thought of myself as somebody who is likely to storm the barricades. Too much of a chicken.
I spent a key year of the war, 1967-68 in London, ostensibly studying at the London School of Economics. It was a bit crazy, viewing the US through the eyes of the foreign press. We looked like a Third World country, what with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, cities in flames and the chaos surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which the Walker Commission Report described as a “police riot.”
Recently, Carol and I watched the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnamese war. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend that you do. It is not at all a pretty picture. One gets a sense of the horror of the war from the footage that is shown and some appreciation for what people went through from the interviews, both of Americans and of South and North Vietnamese. It’s not easy to watch how we were sucked deeper and deeper into an unwinnable war through five presidencies. It’s also not easy to watch how the American people were out-and-out lied to about all aspects of the war. In a very real sense, we are still living the legacy of, and paying the price for, that war today.
Though I think that ours is a pretty damn good country (especially when one considers the alternatives), the whole uber-patriotism thing scares the shit out of me. It reminds me far too much of Germany in World War II. While I choose to stand for the playing of the national  anthem, I believe very strongly that people have the right to sit or kneel, if they want to, and should not have to fear reprisals for doing that. Indeed, I would support and participate in, an effort to show support for those who choose to kneel by fans in the stands. And I am bothered by simple things like asking people to stand and applaud to honor a military person in the fourth inning at Wrigley Field. I have nothing against the people being honored, but I don’t plan to stand and applaud until others who serve the country equally well – teachers, firemen, etc. – are similarly recognized and honored.
Well, I realize that the reflections above are quite a digression from describing our trip, but as this blog serves as a journal for me, I do, from time to time, digress to talk about what I’m thinking. And, besides, it’s a long plane trip.
Speaking of which, yes long—15 hours to Hong Kong, 2 hours layover and then 2 1/2 hours to Saigon. We’re flying business class, which ain’t cheap, because we’re too damn old to be flying coach on these flights any more. One payoff of having turned 75 days ago is, for the  first time, not having to take my shoes off when passing through security even though TSA pr-clearance does not apply on international flights.  Poor Carol is relegated to her socks for a couple more months. One advantage of business class is a comfortable  lounge with food (including, importantly, M&Ms and chocolate chip cookies), and drink at the airport.

One benefit of a trip like this is that it shields you, somewhat, from having to face the depressing political scene at home. It’s not that we won’t be aware of what’s going on—the Internet will make sure of that—but we will not have to deal with the constant, and to me very debilitating barrage of news alerts, Facebook posts and the like that consume so much time and energy on practically a minute to minute basis. I know that, in theory, one can distance oneself from that barrage at home. But I can’t. 
Another side of this news cycle, though, is that as an American traveling abroad, I feel embarrassed by our country’s position in the international community. I’d like to wear a big button that says, “I didn’t vote for, and don’t condone, anything about our fucking president.” (Hey, there may be a business opportunity in producing those buttons and setting kiosks up in the international terminals of all US airports. I wonder what percentage of international travelers from the US support Trump.). 
I recognize and respect that many people in our country were extremely unhappy about President Obama and disagreed vehemently with his policies. But, as Ta-Nehisi Coates said when we heard him speak at The Chicago Humanities Festival the other night, nobody could be embarrassed by President Obama, as a human being or by the way he comported himself. With our current president, we are embarrassed by something new every single day.
And I’ll be spared experiencing, first-hand, the likely elimination of the Cubs by the Dodgers. In a way, I’m fleeing from Wrigley Field, having witnessed last night’s third loss by the Cubs. From a distance of 8000 miles, it may be possible to appear somewhat philosophical about a Cubs defeat, even if I don’t really feel that way.


Well, maybe I’ve ranted enough for the time being. I guess I should take advantage of the long flight to Hong Kong now by reading, perhaps watching a movie or two and trying to get a bit of sleep. I’ll let you know how I do.
Carol finished a book called ON THE FRONTLINES OF THE TELEVISION WAR, written by a Japanese photographer, Yatsutsune Hirashiki, known as Tony, because Yatsutsune was too difficult for Americans to pronounce. Tony photographed for ABC during the Vietnamese War and we learned of Tony and his book because our youngest daughter’s father-in-law, David Snell, was an ABC journalist in Vietnam who became a friend of Tony’s. When David heard we were going to Vietnam, he reached out to Tony and Tony has put us in touch with a former ABC employee with whom we will have dinner in Saigon on Saturday evening. Making connections like this is one of the real joys of travel.
Anyway, a chapter of Tony’s book is devoted to David Snell and consists largely of writings from David’s journal. David is an excellent writer and the journal entries provide a small window into the harrowing life of a journalist in a war zone. Here’s an excerpt from his journal that conveys the journalist’s attitude in combat, “as we ran toward the shooting, I thought, ‘At last I’m getting some action’ then, as if by magic, the shooting stopped, and all was quiet. Not ‘deadly quiet’ just ‘nothing’. I was disgusted. The only sure way onto ABC’s air was with action film. I was missing out again…… [To my camaramen] I lamented the missed action, the wasted day. ‘It’s the story of my life. When I arrive, peace descends like a dove.’….An hour later I was lying on my back, a hole through my leg, and the middle knuckle gone from my right hand.”
David’s stint was shorter than it would otherwise have been because he was evacuated after being wounded by a land mine. His prose brought home to me that my saying that the Ken Burns documentary gave Carol and me some appreciation for the horrors of war and what people went through is somewhat ridiculous. Nobody who has not experienced it can truly appreciate the experience.
On the plane, I also read more than 3/4 of a very good novel, EXIT WEST, by Mohsin Hamid. I passed on watching movies. Though my seat converted to a bed, I rested, but did not sleep. When the captain announced that we were approaching Hong Kong and the local time there was 6:45, I had no idea whether it was morning or evening. It was evening. If there is wifi in the Hong Kong airport, I will try to post this.  Here is Carol standing on her seat to get into her bin on landing.

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