Dining Coral Gables – A Destination on Its Own

Coral Gables has the most diverse dining scene in South Florida. With more than 200 restaurants, the biggest challenge is deciding where to dine. There are casual outdoor cafes as well as top rated world-renowned restaurants. The list is endless… choose between Mexican, French, Italian, Argentinean, Cuban, vegetarian, healthy bites, dessert specialties, casual dining, fine dining and much more. Social, business, to see and be seen, elegant, brunch, romance, special occasions, just choose the ambiance; Dining Coral Gables has it all!

Visitors can take a gourmet world tour just by strolling down Miracle Mile and its surrounding streets. Coral Gables is a vibrant community and one of the reasons is the variety of tastes and aromas from the great collection of restaurants in the area.

The list of restaurants with the best reviews is large and very tasty due to the high standards of dining in Coral Gables. Among the best recognized are Palm D’Or, French-American-Contemporary Cuisines; Café Vialetto, Caribbean-Italian; Ortanique on the Mile, Caribbean-Eclectic-Jamaican; Miss Saigon Bistro, Vietnamese-French-Thai; Houston’s, American; Bugatti Restaurant, Italian; and newcomers like Patagonia, Argentinean; Angelique Euro Café, Spanish-Italian-French; and last but certainly not least, Norman’s 180, with it’s eclectic menu combining cuisine elements of Cuba, the Keys, the Yucatan, the West Indies and Asia.

Coral Gables’ dining scene is a gourmet destination in South Florida with ambitious menus of global eats in classy comfortable venues. A dining experience for all budgets and all tastes. The restaurants in Coral Gables will certainly meet your expectations whether you are looking for a family, business or romantic dinner.

Manny Pacquiao: What He Means To His Country

Boxing superstar and Philippine Congressman Manny Pacquiao will turn 32 on December 17 (Philippine time) and, by punching his way to success inside the ring, has created such a positive impact for his country in a manner few Filipinos have ever achieved at such a relatively young age. This is the same man who, as a youngster, often skipped meals not to beat the scales on the day of weigh in (as he did later as a prizefighter), but because there simply was no food to eat; the same man whose story started with nothing but a dream to become a boxing champion, make money, and be able to send his earnings to his mother so his siblings may live.

Already being deified anywhere as one of the greatest fighters of all time, at home he is also fast becoming to be ranked alongside the nation’s icons of responsible citizenship. How does he fare among other Filipino greats?

Let’s reel off some of my favorites:

  • Major Ferdinand Marcelino, 41, of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency had seen action in the blood-dripped battlefields in Muslim Mindanao. But he conceded that war on illegal drugs is uglier. Pushed to the limelight a couple of years ago by congressional investigations on a drug buy-bust operation involving scions of wealthy families, he admitted having been offered huge amounts of money that were meant to deter him from pursuing the case. That the case did unfold into one that eventually pitted government functionaries charging each other of impropriety could only mean that he refused to give in to the bribery attempt.
  • Lea Salonga blazed the path for Filipino entertainers dreaming to make it big on the global stage. Barely out of her teens, she sang and acted her way to fame in the 90s with a superb portrayal of the lead role in “Miss Saigon,” the British-produced musical. She has been an international celebrity since then.
  • Bobby de la Paz (1953-1982) was a Manila-bred middle-class physician schooled in the country’s premier learning institution, the University of the Philippines. He could have chosen to go green-grazing like most of his kind did. But instead of establishing a financially-rewarding career overseas, he practiced his medical profession in remote and poverty-stricken Samar where many of his patients were so wretched they already did well by paying for his services with anything they got-like live chicken and other domestic animals-instead of cash. He was only 29 when he was murdered after the military had warned him against attending to all the sick that sought his help, including those they suspected of being local insurgents.
  • Jose Rizal (1861-1896), the national hero, defied the Spanish rule with satire. His works led to many other things, including trumped up charges that took away his freedom and, eventually, his life. He was 35 when he fell from bullets of a firing squad.

Unlike Marcelino, Pacquiao may not have the resolve to shun temptation where personal interest is concerned. In fact Pacquiao might have embarrassed himself and his supporters when, sometime in 2006, he supposedly closed a promotional deal with Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, only to unilaterally dishonor it when Bob Arum offered him what could be assumed as a more enticing package.

But where the national interest is at stake, Pacquiao has proven himself equal to Marcelino’s standards. In 2008, the Bureau of Internal Revenue published a list comprising the country’s top taxpayers, and Citizen Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao happened to be on top of that list. For whatever noble intentions the BIR might have in coming out with that list, this one must have shamed the rich in the Philippines-probably all of them directly represented in the highest echelons of government-that no similar list would re-appear since then.

Although 90 percent of the country’s wealth is owned by only ten percent of the Philippine population (around 88 million as of 2010), this ten percent still constitutes tens of thousands of families, and at least two of them are included in the recent Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s richest people. What the BIR list thus suggested was that thousands of Filipinos among the ranks of the rich could afford to cheat their government by not paying the right amount of taxes. They failed in their privileged position to promote the proper exercise of citizenship. By a singular act of honesty, Pacquiao-like Marcelino-has exposed what ails his country. He has shown what prevents it from progressing as a nation. He has opened a dump where corruption stinks from the highest strata of society and of government.

As a prizefighter, Pacquiao-like Salonga-lives in the world of entertainment. They rose to the pinnacle of their craft not only by the brute display of talents they possess. They reached unmatched levels of excellence through a dedicated effort to hone their skills to perfection, one that required hard work, focus and faith in oneself. To learn success through their examples is to give everything one has, which requires discipline. To be another Pacquiao, in sports or in whatever arena of life, one needs to continuously test his or her limits, dare the odds and face certain risks-all of which require courage.

The selflessness and heroism of De la Paz and Rizal are something that merit eternal gratitude from a people who are in constant need of heroes. For years the Overseas Filipino Workers have filled this need. For years the Philippine government could have been ruled by double the dose of creeps it has been used to having and its economy would have survived just the same. The Philippine economy survives and endures not so much because of the government’s astute fiscal management strategies as for the dollars being poured into it by OFWs.

In a context where millions of his compatriots work as virtual slaves in other countries to make a decent living, Pacquiao has gained parity status with other nationalities in matters related to the commerce of men. In a sense, therefore, one could make a case where he has managed to become the employer of, rather than being employed by, foreigners. And it is a case in which Pacquiao himself would unlikely relish being regurgitated in public. But for his countrymen, it is a source of collective pride and one that lifts their human spirit.

For the majority of Filipinos who continue to wallow in poverty, Pacquiao represents hope. For those who grope in the darkness of doubt, he is like the flicker that assures them of their capacity to succeed.

The man who had nothing early in life has now under his command almost everything. He has money and all it can buy. With an estimated asset of close to 70 million dollars, he is number six in Forbe’s list of the world’s wealthiest athletes. He has a multitude of fans. He is famous. He has graced the cover of Time Magazine and Readers’ Digest. He has appeared in mainstream American TV talk shows. Hollywood celebrities have called on him. Former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush had gone out of their way to acknowledge him.

In a relatively short period of time, the Pacquiao legend has soared to dramatic heights. The Filipinos would do well to be grateful for the day this man was born 32 years ago at around this time, and for his parents who raised him to become a ferocious hunter of his dreams.

Vietnam – The Land That Time Forgot, But I Haven’t

“And dimly she realized one of the great laws of the human soul: that when the emotional soul receives a wounding shock, which does not kill the body, the soul seems to recover as the body recovers. But this is only appearance. It is really only the mechanism of the reassumed habit. Slowly the wound to the soul begins to make itself felt, like a bruise, which slowly deepens its terrible ache, ’till it fills all the psyche. And when we think we have recovered and forgotten, it is then that the terrible after-effects have to be encountered at their worst.” Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence (circa 1925)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) The Hidden Scars That Never Heal

Great Britain’s Prince Harry recently disclosed his personal difficulties in dealing with the loss of his mother, Princess Diana. In National Geographic Magazine, Cory Richards writes about lifelong debilitating symptoms like his panic attack after summiting Mt. Everest. In my own life, while learning to accept what is, writing about a traumatic experience allows me to look at it objectively. It’s just a story.

There is treatment but no cure for PTSD. It has become the acronym for delayed reaction to everything from combat and rape to school shootings and terrorism. Severe anxiety and panic attacks began to manifest several months after I left Vietnam. While waiting at an airport, suddenly I began hyperventilating. A man came over with a paper bag. “I’m a doctor,” he said. “Keep your head down and breath into this.” A similar episode occurred while having my hair cut at the hairdresser. They had to call an ambulance.

From My Vietnam Diary – 1967-1969

While I was landing at Tan Son Nhut Airport near Saigon, “The Happy Time” was playing on Broadway with lighting design by my cousin Jean. Critics praised Jean’s ground-breaking lighting techniques, but the show ran only six months. “Hey Jude” was at the top of the charts, and the Beatles were in India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They learned something profound from the master, but their trip ended badly. My State Department assignment to Vietnam began with all good intentions, but was not a happy time.

Well-known to most conflict photographers are the words of iconic WWII photojournalist, Robert Capa. “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” The New York Times recently ran a story about French combat photographer Catherine Leroy whose photographs of the Vietnam War are historic examples of Capa’s assertion.

Here’s what Capa did not say: Though many war correspondents and photographers eventually burn out, when you witness a traumatic event through the lens of a camera you are a recording device that distances you emotionally. But when you are an ill-prepared noncombatant, you are a victim.

A Room With A View – The 1968 Tet Offensive

When I arrived in Saigon in mid-1967, the war between north and south Vietnam was escalating. The lack of available housing required me and thousands of government civilians and journalists to live in hotels. My hotel was in a pleasant neighborhood across the street from the former Independence Palace, home of then president Ngo Dinh Diem. I began the first few months with language lessons on lunch breaks, and tennis and swimming at the Cercle Sportif, a club for expatriates, residual French and well-heeled South Vietnamese. But in one of the great inexplicable mysteries of karma, for the third time in my foreign service life, I found myself living next door to the wrong guy.

At two in the morning on January 31, 1968 an explosion rocked president Diem’s Palace, shattering my large seventh floor hotel window-and my false sense of security. When I peeked down into the street I saw small wiry shapes in black pajamas attaching more plastique explosives to the palace gates. After a second explosion, a Jeep with American GIs roared down the street to confront them; the black pajamas blew that up too. As in a Marc Chagall painting, the figures seemed to float upward in slow-motion, before gravity pulled them down into a haphazard assortment of body parts. The floor of my hotel room was covered in broken glass, bullet holes from small arms fire punctured the walls. I had minor scratches on my arms and face. Earsplitting explosions and gunfire continued throughout the terrifying night.

After the initial coordinated attack on the city, North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces soon ran out of reinforcements and eventually withdrew. In the wake of the Tet Offensive, the Americans retrieved their dead. Enemy corpses remained in the streets for days.

Tet, The Asian Lunar New Year – The Year of The Monkey

Within two days our hotel had run out of food. Early on the third day some of us tried to get to a nearby American Officers’ mess. Crouching with our heads down, we entered a street littered with bodies. A few days ago that same street and marketplace was alive with people strolling, laughing and celebrating the new year with their kids. Now the air was smoky gray and reeked of decaying bodies. North Vietnamese regulars lay in their green uniforms, the Vietcong guerrillas in black or dark blue pajama type clothes. When I stepped over the stiffened body of a young Vietcong fighter, I nearly lost it.

In the final moments of his life, he had raised his right arm with a clenched fist, an expression of defiance on his distorted face. Like a citizen of Pompeii caught in the eruption of Vesuvius, he was frozen in time and my memory. His brains had dried on the pavement leaving a stain even the monsoons could not wash away. I could never walk on that side of the street again. It was “Apocalypse Now” before Hollywood ever made that movie. It was Tet, the Asian lunar New Year, the Year of The Monkey. It was the beginning of the inexorable end for America in Vietnam.

No Rules In “Disneyland East

Weeks later, after the clean-up, the tree lined streets of the sultry city retained their French colonial appearance. Outdoor cafes on leafy streets once again resounded with the laughter of young South Vietnamese men whose politically privileged parents kept them out of the war. Visitors continued to enjoy their aperitifs on the river’s idyllic floating restaurants. The sidewalks of TuDo Street teemed with merchants chanting their mantra: “Hey GI, for you I sell special-cheap, cheap!” But every day that followed Tet, more ragged refugees and orphans poured into the city. More slick drug dealers prospered. More young GI’s on R&R were no longer young. Never mind that the goods sold on the street were stolen from the American Commissary and PX. More often than not, American products were pilfered right off the loading docks at riverside.

Those who were not fighting the war were prospering from it. The resilient city went about its daily commerce while millions of Vietnamese on both sides died, and 58,220 American body bags came home, including eight nurses. U.S. Government contractor employees strutted around town with guns in their holsters. One night at a party in a friend’s private house, one of those “Saigon Cowboys” drove his motorcycle up the marble staircase and right into the host’s living room. This bizarre environment became known as “Disneyland East.” Drugs were ubiquitous and anything could be had for a price. The GIs bought sex from Miss Saigon. The South Vietnamese bought time. The Vietcong could not be bought.

Collateral Damage

I often rode to work in one of our minivans or took a pedicab. A consummate New Yorker, I find walking is the best way to know a city. When on foot we were advised not to take the same route every day. I used to pass by an orphanage jammed with infants swinging from the ceiling in tiny urine-soaked hammocks, buzzing with flies. While the doors remained wide open to the street, I never heard a peep from inside. Traumatized babies don’t wail and cry. They just die quietly. Random mortar and rocket attacks rained down on the market place, schools, private dwellings and the roof of my hotel. Mortars thump. Rockets whoosh. Off in the distance the constant rumble of our own B-52 bombers.

I studied Vietnamese on my lunch hour and enjoyed the Cercle Sportif for tennis, swimming and sanity. Since Saigon was probably the only place on the planet where men greatly outnumbered women, it was no surprise I’d meet Alan there. Destiny placed us together a second time when I had to attend an inter-agency counter-insurgency class. While I was supposed to be learning how to protect myself in “unexpected circumstances,” Alan was the distraction seated in the row behind me. Tall with a light brown buzz-cut and disarming smile, he was an intelligence operative with access to parts of the country prohibited to most civilians.

Fluent in Vietnamese, French and Mandarin Chinese, nothing was impossible for Alan, including “winning the war.” Consequently, I saw a lot of the countryside from the rock hard seat of his Jeep. He was the quintessential Ernest Hemingway protagonist-the rugged self-reliant individualist who championed the ‘brave, the righteous and the beautiful.’ And like the writer himself, Alan moved among different economic classes as easily as he slipped back and forth across borders. But after the Tet Offensive my attitude about the war began to change, and the emotional stress was taking its toll. When I tried discussing it with Alan, he’d shut down. “We’re fighting a Communist takeover of the South,” he said. “We’re the good guys, remember?”

“Then why are so many young Vietnamese men lounging in cafes while ours are fighting and dying?”

Steadfast as ever, his gray eyes narrowing to slits, Alan retreated into his secret life. I was the talker, he was the clam. He believed with all his heart that America was on the side of the good. “The protesters back home were spoiled, deluded hippies,” he said. “Maybe you need to get out of country more often.” Every few months we were permitted a seat on one of the military’s R&R flights to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Manila or Tokyo. They were pleasant interludes until you had to fly back.

Up On The Roof

“On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be. And there the world below can’t bother me… “

In the aftermath of the Tet Offensive rigid nighttime curfews were imposed on the population of Saigon. When you have to be off the streets after dark, where else to go but up! From our hotel rooftop we had bird’s eye views of the city, and a place to grouse together. Throughout the city small fires continued to erupt into billowing black smoke, and the occasional crackle of small-arms fire echoed in the deserted streets. One night after work I came up to the roof thinking I was alone when I heard shouting behind me. I turned to see three South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers in their camouflage uniforms drag two young Vietcong from their hiding place inside a makeshift roof closet. The girl had long, silky black hair. The boy wore a black and white checkered scarf around his head. The soldiers accused them of smuggling grenades into the city in cookie containers, a ruse the Vietcong often used.

“Go ahead and kill us,” screamed the girl. “We’re going to beat you. We’re going to win!” The boy spat at the soldiers. They pushed the youths to their knees and shot them each in the head. I made it to my room just in time to throw up.

Phoenix Rising, Like a Helicopter

One clear evening a few star gazers like me were on the roof to watch a lunar eclipse. In the celestial silence of that night, as the earth’s shadow began its slow crawl across the indifferent face of the moon, a Huey helicopter gunship slowly lowered itself to eye level. I stared straight into the face of the pilot. He hovered for a few seconds, waved and proceeded to fire his guns on the street below. While the moon disappeared behind the shadow of the earth, the gunship roared off in a trail of red tracer bullets that lit up the sky like the fourth of July.

I always felt safer when Alan was around. When he was away on assignment he often returned filthy and covered with scratches. I didn’t have to ask where he’d been. I knew about the Phoenix program, a pacification strategy developed by the CIA to force the enemy to defect. Since the rules didn’t apply to Alan, he arranged for us to jump the curfew one night and join some of his friends at a local nightclub. Crowded with Vietnamese and American curfew breakers, the food was good and the orchestra hot. But after too many drinks, one of Alan’s buddies disclosed how he and two others had captured a sleeping Vietcong leader in the jungle. I was captive to what I didn’t want to hear.

“We took him up in a helicopter and told him he had to come over to our side or we would iron brand the word “traitor” on his chest. When the poor bastard refused, we threw him out the door.” Most of these young men could not live without considerable drugs and alcohol while they were off duty in Saigon. In Vietnamese mythology Phung Hoang (Phoenix) is the bird of peace and prosperity.

Orange, The Secret Agent

Watch out for this guy. He’s invisible, he’s lethal and he’s everywhere. After the unexpected intensity of the Tet Offensive, there were no illusions about safety in Saigon. In one particularly heavy attack on the city, we had to huddle in the hotel corridors, away from windows. One of my neighbors became hysterical and had to be airlifted out the next day. People who lived in private homes were shut in at night. Parties were over by seven or you stayed until the next day. Up on the roof we watched American aircraft spray a misty substance around the outskirts of the city. It got its name, Agent Orange, from the orange stripe on the container. A chemical defoliant that killed the dense foliage where Vietcong hid to fire their mortars, too late we learned the effects of it on humans. With no history of breast cancer in my family, I was diagnosed seven years after I’d left Vietnam.

Out of The Frying Pan, Into Can Tho

When Alan was temporarily assigned to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, I lived in a constant state of anxiety. One day he called to assure me it was safe to visit, and he reserved a space for me on the CIA’s Air America.

Flying into the provincial capital at dusk I was struck by the natural beauty of the landscape. In that heartbeat of a moment, the setting sun shimmered on the Mekong River and the symmetrically planted rice paddies. Silhouetted against the horizon, a man with a conical straw hat was riding on his slow moving water buffalo-as his ancestors had for centuries. By night he was probably Vietcong. But in that fleeting crimson twilight he was a farmer returning home to his family. Relieved to be getting out of Saigon for a long weekend, I soon learned that nights in the Delta belonged to the enemy.

Delta Nights In Realtime

Upbeat and happy, Alan greeted me at Can Tho’s small airport and we went directly to a party in progress at the nearby Base camp. A tape recorder was blasting “Sittin’ On The Dock of The Bay” while a noisy crowd drowned out the war at the bar. The following evening Alan invited some of his friends to his small but comfortable two-story house. We set up tables for poker and rummy and I helped two nurses bring iced tea and sandwiches from the fridge. For several hours we were in our own peaceful world-until distant explosions shattered the reverie. A phone call from the Base confirmed a “spotter” plane had seen squads of Vietcong blow up the airport and were headed our way.

It all happened so fast-from fun and games to breaking open crates of grenades and weapons stored in a kitchen closet. We were back in realtime Vietnam. Everyone raced up the stairs to the roof. The plan was to toss the grenades down on the enemy when they crossed the small foot bridge that led to our street. Alan handed me a revolver. “If they get into the house, use this,” he shouted. “Shoot the bastards!”

While Alan was demonstrating how to hold the gun, aim it and squeeze the trigger, his voice receded into a hollow echo. I found myself watching the scene as an observer, not a participant. I saw everyone moving in slow motion like that water buffalo. When we heard shouting and gunfire in the street below, it was our own GIs from the Base arriving with Jeeps and trucks.

“Hail Mary”

I must have looked like a deer in the headlights. Maureen, a triage nurse, grabbed me by the shoulders and calmly said: “Do exactly as I do. Follow me down the stairs and don’t stop for anything. Our guys will cover us. Remember. Don’t stop!” I wondered how many times she had done this. Maureen was a heavy smoker and I heard her breathing between her prayers as we fled down the stairs to the street. “Hail Mary full grace (gasp). Hail Mary full of grace (gasp).”

We piled into the waiting vehicles and raced to the nearby Base. In that terrifying night I never saw our attackers, but I heard them shouting obscenities and threats in English. “You American Chi (women), when we get you, you wish you dead.” The attack lasted through the night. In my early (atypical) childhood I’d been taught to not cry. I was supposed to tough it out, no matter what. The consequences would follow me the rest of my life. While huddled in the bunker with Alan, he told me he was proud of how brave I was. I remember saying, “No. I’m not brave. I’m scared to death and good at hiding it.” But hiding it is not good. By sunrise our attackers had evaporated into their idyllic green rice paddies, and I returned to Saigon-shaken and severely troubled.

Strange Interlude: PTSD or NDE on R&R

One weekend Alan drove us to Vung Tau, a beautiful beach resort about 75 miles from Saigon on the South China Sea. The French used to call it Cap St. Jacques. It was an in-country R&R destination for our troops. The day we arrived the beach was deserted and there was no one in the water. I couldn’t wait to go for a swim. Alan was tired and remained at the water’s edge. The undertow was very strong. Before I realized I was too far out, I couldn’t get back. The more I struggled the more tired I became. In my panic I forgot the rules: “swim parallel to the shore, not toward it.” I waved to Alan but he misunderstood my signals and simply waved back. By then I was exhausted and had swallowed enough water to drown a fish. In that split second I felt myself surrender to death. I stopped struggling and went under. I was aware of being submerged, disconnected from everything and calmly looking up at bright light. I saw two beautiful male faces smiling down at me from over the side of a little boat. The next thing I remember, I’m on the beach with Alan pumping water from my lungs. When I asked him what happened to the guys who rescued me, he said: “What guys? I swam out and dragged you in.” PTSD or NDE (near death experience), I never forgot that R&R.

Passing For Normal and The Five O’clock Follies

In the increasingly overcrowded city, a corrupt and incompetent regime hoped for the best while preparing to run from the worst. It would be another seven years, but Ho Chi Minh and his northern Communist forces were coming, and the Saigon generals knew it. While secretly moving their bank accounts, they prepared their families for eventual evacuation. When that day finally came, they would shove their closest friend aside to get on the last American flight out.

Late afternoons saw the journalists who were not risking their lives with the troops, filing their stories from press releases handed out by the Saigon Government. It was called “the five o’clock follies.”

Paradoxically, life in diplomatic circles continued its illusion of normal. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker gave his normal Christmas parties, joined by his soon to be wife Carol Laise, our Ambassador to Nepal at that time. While the killing fields were not far from the champagne and caviar, both Ambassadors were their normal charming selves. Foreign service people tend to chat about where they’ve been and where they might be going-never where they are. But a war zone makes you very present because the present moment is all you have. It is only when you leave the area and settle into a more conventional life that the awful effects begin to manifest, as they did with me.

Panic attacks in public places; the need to keep moving from one place to another, from one failed relationship to the next. When you give it a name like PTSD you can put it in a box.

Art Among The Ruins

Woven into the chaotic tapestry of war was the human desire for artistic expression, something to which soldiers on a battlefield have no access. Within our nightly cloistered environment and on weekends and holidays, a dozen of us decided to work toward an art show in three different mediums: painting, sculpture and crafts. One or two had real talent. The rest of us muddled through like children in a sand box. Since I enjoy working with my hands, I found a number of small wooden boxes to which I epoxied colorful collages (thanks to old American magazines). I applied multiple coats of lacquer, sanded down each layer to a smooth surface, then lined the insides with felt. Nothing like those beautiful Japanese lacquered gems, but they made nice gifts for jewelry and letters. After several months, we were ready for an exhibit in the lobby of a sandbagged USAID building. It didn’t matter what you did or how well you did it. Creativity was the right side of normal. It drew a large crowd and the proceeds went to orphanages.

The Family That Played Together

After Tet the crowded Chinese section of Cholon had become off limits to U.S. Government civilians. It was on the west bank of the river, where the black market flourished and the Vietcong easily blended in. But Cholon had great restaurants and my friend Kim Ba lived there. So we went anyway. Kim and four other Vietnamese on my staff were beautiful young women, bilingual, extremely efficient at their jobs and a joy to be with. Kim’s mother, Madame Ba made the best Dim Sum and she always had the local “Ba Muoi Ba” Beer 33 on hand. Along with Kim’s uncle Ly Tong, they tried to teach me Mahjhong. With his language skills Alan caught on to the game easily, while I muddled through and we all laughed a lot. Ly Tong was a history teacher who often spoke of teaching in America and “dining at McDonald’s.” Whenever he mentioned the name of the restaurant, a gaggle of kids raced through the house chanting, “McDonald’s, McDonald’s.” They didn’t even know what a hamburger was.

Kim’s Buddhism and her unflinching spirit helped her cope with the loss of her fiancé, a Vietnamese Army officer who was killed in the battle of Hue during Tet. Yet nothing could alter the fate of those who had put their lives in our hands. When we hugged and said goodbye for the last time, Kim pulled a gold ring with a jade stone from her finger and placed it in my hand. Squeezing my fingers tight over the little ring, she said: “Don’t forget us. Please don’t forget us.” I never have.

After The Fall and Out of The Box

By the fall of Saigon in 1975 Graham Martin had replaced Ellsworth Bunker as our last American Ambassador to South Vietnam (now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam). Those Vietnamese who had worked for us were destined for death sentences or so-called “repatriation.” Those lucky to get out were scattered across the U.S., many in refugee camps we set up for them. By then I was assigned to Washington to write and produce educational documentaries. When I searched for Kim and her family I found a name that matched Madam Ba on a list of hundreds sent to Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. I went there with my camera crew, certain we would record a happy reunion – only to find it was a different family.

I believe we all live the life we’re meant to live, and mine simply could not have happened any other way. Of the countless miles I’ve traveled in my life, the journey within is the most compelling, and meditation has been helpful. Medication temporarily numbs you, and I needed it for many years. Today I’m med free and able to open some of my boxes and write about the contents. Besides Kim’s ring, the one tangible memento I brought with me from Vietnam is a large enameled ceramic elephant I had won in Ambassador Bunker’s Christmas grab bag. A reminder of absent friends, he’s fifty years old now, and hasn’t aged a day.

For privacy, certain names have been changed

There Was a Lady ((Story Two, to ”Voices Out of Saigon”)(Revised 8-24-2008))

Mrs. Caroline Abernathy paced slowly as she reached her front yard, coming up alongside the mansion from her backyard. In the hot afternoon the huge, square house, and thereof, the premises seemed peaceful, tranquil, as it had for almost one-hundred and fifty years. The old mansion was part of her husband’s family heritage, Cole Abernathy, whose grandfather came to North Carolina and built it, gave it to his son, whom gave it to Cole. Fathers and grandfathers had been raised there. They, like Cole had died in that there mansion, in turn they had expected their son, Langdon to die in it too, but that no longer was a preference, Langdon had been buried now, he had died in a taxi in Saigon, a year ago to this very month, October, 1972.

Caroline believed that Langdon was actually responsible to die there, that their lives were intertwined not only with the Abernathy name and for it to be carried on to eternity on earth, but soil likewise was in the veins of the Abernathy family, the soil, dirt it all came along for the ride, one for all and all or one. When he chose to go to war, the family felt as if he cut himself off from them. He had a strong sense of justice yes, pride for his country too much perhaps, as if it was a duty almost to lay his life down for the many, and one he needed to match with his family heritage. Caroline had thought that perhaps, once Langdon returned home from Vietnam, there would be a renewal, a rebirth on the Abernathy plantation. There was some unpardonable outrage when he left-but that could be mended, but now dead, full possession of the land, and the name, and the mansion remained in a dying household, this was the unconscious, turnabout, in her mind. She was simply masquerading, that life had purpose, there was none now, life was anything more than, a bag for her bones waiting, as she received her aches and pains, from growing age, she’d be in the family cemetery soon, and the way she was thinking, the sooner the better.

So very still was the tranquil woman of Abernathy’s family tree.

Caroline crossed over into the front yard towards the wooden fence, that parallel the country road, she walked, she now remembered how a year ago, this month about this very time in the day, her son, Langdon, in his early twenties died, and brought so much grief to his father that his heart gave out; he had became a crazed, hate ridden old man, now buried among the graves also. It had been learned, on the day he died, his grave was already dug in the family cemetery, he had been digging it for a week prior, and in the proper time his will gave out, without surprise to him, there was no substance left in it. And now from beyond the grave, Caroline had been stuck one final blow, she had to live life alone. There was no remaining flesh and blood.

She remembered how Langdon and Cole would be throwing the football to one another, treading on the grass, catch it and throwing it back, even running on the front porch to catch it falling over chairs and newspapers and lamps, and sodas, it would seem it wasn’t much fun watching them, in that she wanted to join in, and felt she’d be out of place, and now she moaned: why should I have cared.

And now, to stack one on top of the other-her defense, and refusing to plead for her life with her minds eye, her second self, old Josh had died ((Josh Jefferson Jr., born 1890) (died 1972: 82-years old)) the negro stable hand; he would help Langdon up on his horse, tell him stories in at Christmas (like Josh’s father Silas would do, and Silas’ father, Old Josh, who came from the Congo, back around 1813, he African name being Zam, who was a slave down in Ozark, Alabama all his life, minus his first ten years of life, and after the Civil War he remained on the Hightower plantation) he was like a grandson to him, he worked for Cole’s father, and his father as well back before the turn of the century Josh Washington Jefferson (Born 1853-1903), Josh’s father worked for the Abernathy’s for fifty-years, perhaps more. It’s the way it was, family to family (often times from the cradle to the grave), thus, the house had seen a lot of Langdon Abernathy, and expected him to carry on the family saga, in that very house. And now, to Caroline, it all was smoke, simply smoke, all clouded. She didn’t know, or understand, what Langdon was thinking at the time he chose to go to war, and not college, he could have avoided it. But Cole, her husband seemed to understand more of what it was about, man to man, men could see what such things are about, but she couldn’t. “We didn’t want to smother him,” she told Cole, “but one day he just broke out of his growing pains and said, ‘mom, it’s time,’ and I cried, because I knew what he meant, and I told him, ‘you can have it all, right here’ and he told me, ‘I don’t want it all mom, only my share of life.”

“Why couldn’t he take a little of it at a time,” that is what Caroline told Cole. There was no answer, a rhetorical question, at best, but he was a man, a man that was about to come out and claim what he thought he wanted, what was best for him, instead of hanging around someplace he didn’t want o, someplace he had hung around for years. He had packed up his belongings, heavy eyed, and left that day he went to the Armory, down in Fayetteville, and now she buried him, among the graves which he had violated in the sense of he was buried too soon. She was the funeral, in fact. Oh Betty from New Orleans and others were there, but she really was the dead one at the funeral, it was as if the funeral was for her that would have been her will, if indeed, God would have allowed it. And everyone at the funeral watched and listened, everyone wondering what Caroline would say. And she said next to nothing. I guess it was all finished for her, now all she had to do was wait or get revenge.

But he was dead now, and there were no more males to take on the legacy, and Mrs. Abernathy was past her prime, and her husband had died, and old Josh Jr. had died, all in one year-all the men were gone: Josh, Cole and Langdon, all up in the family graveyard, a plot of land carved out to make a cemetery, where all the other family members were buried-

So all that was now left in this big house was Caroline, her sister, Betty Presley ((former: Hightower )(younger sister by twelve-years)) came up from New Orleans to stay with her, but she never stayed long, her husband being in a wheelchair and all. She came up to the funerals three times in the past year, each time collecting cloths when she left, along with helping Caroline go through the hard times you might say. Consequently, she lived in an unmanned house, at this point sleeping on the sofa, in a six bedroom mansion, and Betty tended to some of her needs.

Betty had chosen to return and help Caroline during these depressing days, insisting her daughter could help her husband move about the house, she so often did anyhow, while she helped Caroline for a three month period, sufficient probity and honor among sisters, you might say, good will and validating her concern, she stayed, over the objections of her husband.

Caroline thought that was alright for her younger sister Betty to come and help, but felt she could take care of herself, looking out her big bay window, murmuring to herself,

“I really don’t need help,” and perhaps she didn’t, but it didn’t hurt, and so she helped and watched her older sister without impatience, feel whatever she did, chose to do, ended up doing, would be right, not because she did, or would do it, but because, she always thought things out, and would not allow anyone to step in until she did what was right.

For weeks, each morning they would see each other in the kitchen, right around 7:00 a.m. She’d get up a little earlier, and play janitor, clean up the place before Caroline arrived. Actually they both were pretty much precision with this arriving for coffee and chitchat in the mornings.

She, Caroline was a strong woman, square shoulders, and full breasted, for her short height they stood out firmly as did her shape, peered and healthy, she being all of five-foot four inches tall, only fifty-years old, having; her husband was sixty-one when he died, a year ago. He told Betty to take care of Caroline, Caroline heard him on the phone say that, she also heard him say:

“You know what caused her to go into this semi state of silence, this frozen anger state the psychologist calls it, you know why, I don’t need to tell you, and who knows what she is thinking, and she will no longer go see Doctor Wright down in Fayetteville, says he’s a quack, along with this and that. She’s always busy, but I know Caroline, she’s thinking, and it is about young Langdon’s girlfriend over in Vietnam, that Vang girl, and that three year old, or is two and half year old boy, Josue, of his, if it is really his, take care of her if I die please.” Caroline said,

“I’m going down to the creek,” to Betty; Betty thought nothing of it, she did that almost everyday, it was quiet and near the graveyard, there one could contemplate or listen to the water to calm themselves, look for the fish, listen to the frogs, she even did that when Cole was alive, it was not like she had not done it before, in her mind she said: I love you Betty but I don’t need you, not really, I know how to do what I got to do, and where I got to go to do it, and how I will get there, I got there before, I can do it again. She was going to do, what Cole knew she might do, what she was warning Betty about. He just thought it, and he knew she’d some day do it, Betty still unaware of what, her brain unprepared, without comment, and then Betty saw a letter on the table, the dinning room table her eyes opened up wide, it read:

“Don’t follow me, I am going to disappear for a while, I do not need you, but if you wish you and your husband can stay on the plantation, I’ll return in a month or so, I need to take this sudden journey, and it will be a sudden return I expect. I will miss early October and the autumn leaves, the changing of the leaves, I so much enjoy, and the November breeze. It is my contention, or has been to set things right, I know I am acting like the Jury and the Judge, but life has become shapeless for me, disturbing, and for me slovenliness has crept in. Take care.”

(Signed, ‘Your sister, Caroline.’)
To: Saigon

Fine, Betty had read the letter Caroline left for her, and she said, perhaps what Caroline expected her sister to say: ‘It’s her business where she’s going, I’ll just head on back to New Orleans.’ That’s what she said, and that is what she did. Caroline went onto Saigon, Vietnam.

Caroline had a picture of Vang and the boy, and she went from one market place to another looking and talking to the locals, with her guide, Yang, it was all of a month before Yang said to Mrs. Abernathy,

“We no can find this Vang girl, maybe back in Cam Ranh Bay!”

“I’m not leaving, I’m not going to leave this place now, I got here and I’m staying until I find her, that trash, city trash-she killed my son, she gave him syphilis, and she died, and now she has to.”

Vang watched her, she was the jury, with her dark rim eye sockets, identical to a woman in a state of starvation, aquiline face: she looked the role she was about to play, the slayer.

“I’m going to please you more than I have,” said Yang, after he heard Vang had given him that venereal disease, and he searched high and low, all over the city, looking into unfathomable faces, intently looking in every nook and crack in the city.

And he did find her, she was in a little house (almost living in the big city like a hermit), and they, Caroline and Yang, went to the little house she had near the U.S. Military Air Base, where she worked part time, cleaning the restrooms for the soldiers. Today she, Vang wasn’t working though, she was sitting at her table with her three kids, eating some rice out of a bowl, rice with some greens mixed throughout, and to the side of her was a bowl of noodle-soup and chopsticks, and it looked like pork in the soup, but she remembered what her son said, it most likely was dog meat, and gave it a grin. There were a few old grubby looking military magazines, English, magazines lying about on the floor, reminders-for Caroline-of her son, perhaps he gave them to her, so she thought.

Vang looked to the figures in her opened doorway,

“What you do here,” she said, knowing who Caroline was; she had seen pictures of her.

Now Yang stood inside the house by the opened window.

And so there they ere, one watching the other at a very shout distance, standing in a shack of a house, six-thousand miles away from her plantation, because of a crazed thought that ran ramped through her brain, driven here to this moment, to deprive her of what she took, now all she had to do was kill her, pull out hat knife she had in her purse. Yang even turned his head, as if he was not going to watch. She knew if the tables were turned, this woman would not hesitate, she did not feel one bit sorry for her irrevocable wrong, she even had the child carry the Abernathy name. She was robbing her of the best years of her life, one that people wait for, the grandchild, and the camaraderie with her son, the element Cole had with Langdon, the one she Waite for.

“I dont know’ya,” said Vang to Yang, as if to say: I don’t know Mrs. Abernathy, what you want.

“My husband, he comes back soon,” said Vang. Mrs. Abernathy grunted. The house was a low -ceiled house filled with an odd scent of spices. Sounds of the children, she didn’t understand. Outside the window was a busy street full of venders and people walking, nothing motionless, motorbikes whizzing by. Vang now sat erect wondering what to say. She stood up, and she stood to the shoulders of Mrs. Abernathy, who had a shawl of cashmere around her-no whiter than the rice Vang was eating. Caroline looked at Vang motionless, getting a profile of her face, and produced an interrogative expression.

“You killed my boy you know,” she said.

“No,” said Vang.

The aging woman looked stern at Vang, and the white boy beside her,

“I don’t understand this all,” and she walked over towards the chair where the boy was standing.

“A right smart looking boy, he is,” commented Caroline, then gave Vang a cold and quiet look.

“You stop look at me like that, Mrs. Abernathy,” said Vang.

“I
haven’t said anything yet, you see the truth in my face though,” Caroline said.

“Then you keep it to yourself, I dont want to hear it, and leave my house, now!” Vang exclaimed.

Yang was looking out the window; taking in all the sights, avoiding the confrontation, the one that looked as if one was developing, but had not yet. They stared at one another, coldly, they could have been both carved in stone…

The Door-

She, Caroline walked quietly into the children’s bedroom; it was a little dark, passing the three beds, not a word coming from the two adults in the kitchen.

Josue, and the other two children stood close to Vang, they were talking in Vietnamese to her, Caroline could not understand; she walked around the room without a sound: touching the beds, her eyeballs holding back tears, she stopped by one bed, as if it had the scent of Josue on it, as if she knew it was his, or maybe it was her own son’s scent she smelled from the blankets. Suddenly her eyes lit up, the depression it once had, vanished for a moment, and she chanted something like a lullaby, not loud, and then moved about again. That faint little solitary glow, lingered on for the moment, fading though, like a dying candle. Then she turned, walked to the entrance of the bedroom door, swift and silent steps to the next door, the outside door that led into the street, she stood in its archway, she saw, as she turned about, Josue, her boy’s boy, leaning towards his mother, talking, whispering something. Caroline did not remark, just stood in the doorway, not touching the sides or the jamb on either side, she was silent, said not a word to anyone, not the boy, the mother, or even Yang, just stood there, and Yang said

“You better come with me now, Mrs. Abernathy unless you have to do something else here…” and she said-no longer looking at the family behind her,

“I reckon so,” and she and Yang walked promptly out of the house, and off the premises.

5 Destinations of Vietnam You Do Not Want To Miss

Vietnam is a beautiful country in North East Asia. With amazing landscapes, unique culture and friendly people, Vietnam is attracting more and more tourists every year. Tourists, who are short on time, often wonder what the places that are worth visiting in Vietnam are.

To answer this question, I give you the 5 destinations of Vietnam that you do not want to miss.

Hoian Town

Hoian just recently won the Wanderlust Travel Awards 2012 for “Top City”. Being a UNESCO Heritage site, this ancient town has a lot to offer. The people in Hoian is just so friendly, they will make you feel right at home. You also can find some of Vietnam’s best cuisine here.

Tourists can enjoy the architecture of the town as well as all the lanterns which seem to appear everywhere after the sun sets. During the day, enjoy the beautiful beach and some fresh seafood. It’s really heaven on earth.

Ha Long Bay

It’s often said that if you haven’t been to Ha Long Bay you haven’t been to Vietnam. It’s the one of the world’s 7 natural wonders.

There are around 2000 islets, most of which are limestone, in Ha Long Bay. These lime-stones were formed during a period of more than 500 million years. Visit “Hang Sung Sot” (surprised cave) and you will be blown away by its magnificent and beauty.

Saigon City

The biggest and busiest city of Vietnam, Saigon City, is another place that you should not miss when traveling to Vietnam.

Once considered “the Asia’s pearl”, you can discover the real city life of Vietnam. Tourists are often amazed by the sheer number of motorbikes in Saigon, which is part of a chaotic traffic system. And, if you want to know what Vietnamese food is all about, this is the place. There are literally hundred kinds of food, most of which are served by road-side stores.

Hanoi

Hanoi is the capital and second biggest city of Vietnam. You can learn all about history and culture in this 1000-year-old city. Take a stroll through the old quarter, visitors will find all the fascinating streets; each was named after the product it used to sell. Felling thirsty, stop at one of the many road-side store and enjoy the “super cheap” (and good) beer on the plastic stool.

Hanoi is unique and amazing. Taking the time to know the people, you will be surprised by their sincerity and friendliness. Those who stay here long enough will truly fall in love with the city.

Sapa

Sapa is about 300km north west of Hanoi. This place offers some of the most amazing mountainous scenery, the beautiful rice terrace, and unique minority culture. If you dare, try to conquer the Fansipan mount, the roof of Indochina at 3143m.