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My Vietnam Adventure
by Minette Seate

Tuesday, March 7, 2006
Did I say it was hot? Because it's even hot at 3:30 am. We got up very early to head to the airport for our flight to Danang. It's a smaller city an hour airplane ride away with less of the international hubbub of HCM City. For instance, if Ho Chi Minh is New York, then Danang is more like Cleveland. But a lot poorer.

The reason for the early rollout is that we're all going to the foreign affairs office to meet with the Deputy Minister who's giving a formal welcome to us and the FOD (Friends of Danang).

After securing all our gear at the airport, we pile in our van and head to a pretty pink stucco building. On the way there we pass faded past buildings, some falling down, others being torn down. The fancy shops of downtown Saigon/HCM that featured Dolce & Gabana and Lancome are nowhere to be seen. Instead there's a faded old water park with giant skeletal slides. In the middle of downtown is a giant statue of a woman sheltering several soldiers behind her clothing. This is the Hero Mother, a monument dedicated to all the women whose sons died in the struggle for Vietnamese independence. I learn from Huong, our government representative, that all mothers who have lost children in the war are also formally addressed as "Hero Mother."

A word about Huong. Before we left Pittsburgh, we were told that we'd have to have a government agent with us on every part of the trip. We were expecting some cold stereotypical Communist operative with a uniform and lots of paperwork. Instead, Huong is pretty young woman who speaks English, French and a few indigenous Southeast Asian. She is funny and smart and so good at answering the nine million questions we throw at her. "What's that statue, what are they eating, what does that sign say, aren't there any speed limits, how do you get a driver's license?" I think I'd be tired just looking at us but her spirits are good and luckily, she finds us as enjoyable as we find her.

The official meet and greet is more like a creative brief with a new client at your local ad agency. Lots of handshaking and business card passing and offerings of bottled water. The Vice Director of Danang's Foreign Affairs office is Mr. Nguyen Nho Trung. A brightly colored room is lined with stately leather chairs while his sits on a raised dais at the front of the room. They thank Tony Accamando and the other FODs for their diligent work in restoring the lives of the people. Us QED folks are also given a formal welcome. There's much picture taking and hand shaking and many of us stand to thank them for our warm welcome and the hospitality they've shown.

Once we're done, it's on to our new hotel to unload the gear and get ready for the rest of our day. We're staying at the FuRama Resort, which is nothing short of breathtaking. It has a low a wide low white stone entry way with gorgeous sculpture of the Buddha and other historical figures. It's all cool marble and teak wood, opening on to a flagstone path that leads straight to the China Sea. Which is so beautiful it makes my head hurt.

There's a man made lagoon surrounding the hotel's lobby and restaurant area with palm trees and lounge chairs and bougainvilleas everywhere. I just want to jump into a swimsuit and grab a fruity drink and soak it all in. But that ain't gonna happen.

I get to check out my room, which has sliding doors separating the bath from the bedroom, marble tile floors and an elegant Asian simplicity to everything in it. You can hear the splash of the lagoon's waterfall and sunlight streams in from the patio's sliding doors. I change my clothes and go sit on my cute little patio to catch up on this diary. I hear somebody yelling my name and there are Chris, Boone, Perry and Arlene (one of our FOD friends) enjoying the sun and the pool. It's now about 2 in the afternoon and I let them persuade me to soak my feet in the lagoon for a few minutes. It is heavenly and I'm wishing this trip were more about relaxing than about work.

But I've got to meet up with Dino and Mark in a half hour to figure out where we're going to interview Chris and Perry and how we're going to set up for the next day's trip. By the time we leave two days later, I'll have had my feet in the lagoon for 15 minutes and in the ocean for five. Five! I'm all about the hard work, but to come this far and not even get sunburn is more than a little bit aggravating.