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Vietnam

This is exactly what I need in my life right now.

So, this happened.

Fifty years ago, Vietnam was a very different place from what it is now. In 1968, there were a half-million American military personnel in Vietnam. The central part of the country was a war zone, literally. And in the middle of the lunar new year holiday, on January 31, 1968, the communist government in the north began a military offensive. They carried out a series of coordinated attacks all over the central and south. A lot of people died. One of the most surprising and shocking actions was an attack on the American Embassy in Saigon. A dozen or so commandos used satchel bombs to blow a hole in the wall surrounding the Embassy, and entered the grounds.

Five American servicemen were killed in action while defending the Embassy. One of those killed was a Marine Security Guard. We have a detachment of MSGs at our Consulate now. They provide security for the Consulate. They’re good people. They hold an annual birthday ball and invite us to attend. It’s a lot of fun. I like the MSGs. Anyway, in 1968, an MSG named James was on duty, and he was killed while fighting off the attackers. In the almost 20 years of having MSGs at our Embassies, James was the first one killed in the action of defending an Embassy. In addition to James, four Military Policemen also lost their lives in the fighting.

Eventually, all of the attackers were killed (one was wounded and captured). The Embassy grounds had been briefly occupied, but the Chancery building was secured throughout the attack. The attack was militarily meaningless. But symbolically it was huge. The American public had been told that we were winning the war. To see enemy soldiers shooting on the grounds of our Embassy was shocking. Some have called this attack the beginning of the end of public support for the U.S. engagement in Vietnam.

The site of our Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City is the exact same spot as the U.S. Embassy when the city was called Saigon. It’s literally on the same plot of land. There are still some old building from the old Embassy on the compound that we are still using today.  That means that every day, when I go to work, I walk through the location of that historic and horrible event. There is a plaque on the grounds of the Consulate, listing the names of the five fallen servicemen.  It’s hard to describe the combination of feelings that I have every morning after I walk through the security checkpoint and onto the Consulate grounds.  Pride, humility, patriotism, respect, joy, thankfulness.  But never apathy.  Ever.

On Wednesday this week, the 50th anniversary of the attack, we held a small, solemn event on the grounds to honor those five men. It was a military-civilian ceremony, representing the cooperation between the U.S. military and the State Department. Many people who work in the Consulate attended. From the perspective of U.S. personnel, it was a dignified tribute to those who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe. For some of the locally-engaged staff, who had family living here during the war, this isn’t just history. It’s memory.

I was proud to have helped to coordinate the commemoration event. I’m glad that we had the ceremony. And I hope that we can spread the message that while we honor those who have died for us in armed conflict, peace is always the path to a brighter future.

You have to respect her self-confidence

This is a person who will sit wherever she wants to, however she wants to, and doesn’t care what the hell you think of her. If she wants to sit in a plastic crate, then by God, she’s going to sit in a friggin’ plastic crate.

I can’t say that I respect the decision, but you have to respect her self-confidence.

What’s better than gourmet coffee?

Free gourmet coffee, of course!

After getting a haircut today, I realized that my favorite local roastery is in the same building as the barbershop. How awesome is that? Two of my favorite places in the same spot.

Because I live a charmed life, where only good things happen to me, the coffee place was celebrating their second anniversary today, and was giving away free coffee.

We tried a few of their special roasts, and a lite coconut pudding.  The two brews were very different from each other, and different from most coffees that we’ve had.  I liked the Bourbon Natural more than the Catimor Black Honey, but they were both really good (note: bourbon is a type of coffee bean.  Not a whisky-soaked bean.  But I like your thinking).

Can’t beat the presentation: the coffee was made in using the pour-over method.
Loved the wooden serving tray.

 

I buy whole beans and grind them myself.

 

Buying beans wasn’t in my original plan, but since I got two free cups of coffee, I would have felt guilty if I walked out empty-handed. So I bought a half-pound of beans. Even though the shop got money from me in the end, I think I got the better deal in the end.

 

In case you were wondering…

…yes, douchebaggery does exist in Vietnam, and this is what it looks like:

What happens when your country wins a big soccer match?

You take to the streets and celebrate, of course!

Vietnam’s soccer team made it to the semi-finals of something (I don’t have the soccer gene, so I don’t know exactly what’s going on). The streets have been flooded with flag-waving, cheering people for at least five hours now.

This is unfortunate

A native speaker of English clearly did not name this product.

Eight-year-old me finds this hilarious.

Truth in advertising

I ordered the “egg-free breakfast with beans.”

Not a single egg in that bowl of beans!

Hungry Trip

On a recent trip to the countryside, we ran into an unexpected problem.  Come dinnertime, we couldn’t find anything to eat! There were no restaurants in the area, just farm houses and small towns.  Even the stores closed up early.

We finally found one “restaurant” that I wouldn’t want to eat at, if I had a choice.  Picture a concrete barn.  But we didn’t have any other options, so we went in and ordered their “specialty” (the only thing the restaurant sells): glutinous rice and duck meat.  The owner of the restaurant looked at us like we were stupid and said: “we’re all out of food.” I guess by 6:00pm or so, restaurants in the area have sold all of the food that they prepared for the day, and that’s it.  And we were stupid for not knowing that.  The owner said she still had a glob of glutinous rice, but no more duck meat.

Better than nothing, we figured.  We asked her to split up the glob into three portions, one for each of us.  I’m not a fan of glutinous rice in the first place, and wasn’t looking forward to eating that for dinner, but I was hungry, and so mentally prepared myself for the worst dinner of the year.

As we walked back to our car, by chance, we saw someone across the street making little “banh xeo” (Vietnamese savory pancakes).  They’re usually much bigger, the side of  large dinner plate.  I’d never seen them made this way before.  We got some of those to add to our feast of lukewarm leftover glutinous rice.

 

Banh Xeo: shrimp, batter, bean sprouts, “served” with a handful of fresh herbs (mint, basil, lettuce) and fish sauce.

This was a dinner that I won’t forget, at least not for a long time.  At least it was cheap.

The definition of “not worth it.”

If I’m going to pay to use a restroom, it’s reasonable to ask that I don’t get cholera from using it.