It’s hard not to like Vietnam. The people are friendly and open. Most don’t speak English, but the ones who do speak well and with confidence. They’re not afraid to look you in the eye.

I’ve just returned from a day of riding a rented motor scooter around the big national park outside of town, the one that’s famous for its caves. One of the caves is called the eight woman cave. It’s called that because eight young women died inside. Such a beautiful spot for such sadness.



According to the People’s Army Newspaper (Quân Đội Nhân Dân) of 17 May, 2009, one day in 1972 eight young volunteers were clearing a road near Eight Lady Cave (Hang Tám Cô) when an air raid sounded. The volunteers ran into the cave. A bomb landed, lodging a 100-tonne rock across the entrance. Nine days later, people outside heard the volunteers for the last time. The war ended that year and a temple was built near the cave to honour the eight and others who died keeping the road, Road 20, open. In 1996 the Government used explosives to remove the rock and found bones and hair.

Fact is, we bombed the hell out of this whole area in the early 1970’s. We bombed the cities, railway lines, we bombed the park. Following find a picture I took yesterday near the cave. Also a photo taken from an American bomber of what was left of Dong Hoi city. It’s just bomb craters and the foundations of buildings.


So I must admit, I didn’t sleep well last night. I tossed and turned, reminding myself that these people are too sweet to hold a grudge. When I first came to Vietnam, I was staying at a hotel in the old part of Hanoi, and I was reading a book about the war. Kissinger and Nixon had come up with a plan to convince the North Vietnamese that Nixon was crazy and so they’d better sue for peace at the negotiations table. Part of this plan was the Christmas bombing, cutely named Linebacker II, using B-52’s to carpet bomb Hanoi itself. It turns out that a bomb fell through the roof of the hospital next door, exploding in the operating room during an operation. Needless to say, not only the patient died. I put the book down and looked to my right, at the wall that separated my hotel from the  hospital. I wondered why there wasn’t an angry mob outside of my hotel, asking for my head.


True, we didn’t carpet bomb major Vietnamese cities the way we did North Korean ones, or Japanese or German for that matter, but then we weren’t really “at war” with Vietnam. We were there as advisors, right?

I just met a woman who asked if I’d be interested in teaching English as a volunteer at her school. I said I’d like to visit her school the next time I’m back here, but that I live in Chiang Mai. I am pretty pleased to have found Dong Hoi, and it’s only the same distance and cost as the beaches we go to in Southern Thailand. I believe next smoke season in Chiang Mai (March, April) we’ll come here.





God knows I’m as guilty of Internet addiction as anybody. I’ve posted so much on Facebook that I’ve lost most of my early “friends.” They’ve had to unfollow me so I wouldn’t overwhelm their Facebook feed.

Writing is work, sometimes hard work. It usually follows thinking, maybe even ruminating, which are forms of concentration, also hard work. Again, the restless mind rebels. Sharing memes is easy as is “liking” the posts of others. Instead of thinking, composing my thoughts and writing them down, it’s much less cumbersome to identify myself with a brand. Rather than formulate my own opinions or reiterate those of others, I can simply join their brand. “I’m a Noam Chomsky kind of guy.”

Nowadays this passes for self-expression. The background for this fundamental change in communication began with advertising. Most of do not consider ourselves intellectuals, but we are all consumers of products, and advertisers assure us that our shopping choices tell the world who we are. The brand and color of my telephone says a lot about me.

Teenagers focus on their musical preferences as a way to quickly inform others who might want to become friends or lovers as to what kind of person they are. In fact, this was the original function of Facebook; to help college students meet others who shared their musical tastes.

But this is dumbed-down communication, with none of the subtlety or complexity of real conversations. There is no discourse. No one is talking back and forth, they’re simply grandstanding. Everyone is in transmit mode, but no one is listening.

So we now have the perfect President for our culture at this time. A recent article in Salon described a reporter who met with Trump a few years ago. He said “he was clearly emotionally impaired: in constant need of approbation; lacking impulse control, self-awareness or awareness of others. We’d heard tales of his monumental vanity, but were still shocked by the sad spectacle of him.”

This is both sad and lonely. In villages I’ve visited in the developing world, people spend a lot of time simply hanging out together and talking. In Chiang Mai, Thailand, I remember seeing a woman join another group of women at a market. They were sitting on concrete very close to a busy highway, and most people would consider such this a difficult job in a horrible setting, but the expression on her face told me otherwise. They were all selling the same thing, bananas. As she sat down, she was smiling, preparing to talk to her friends and watch traffic go by. She knew why she was there, and whether or not she sold many bananas, I bet when she went to bed that night she didn’t wrestle with remorse or self-condemnation.

The problem with being a big shot, even only in your own mind, is the expectations are so high you can rarely succeed. If other people are aware of your ambition they will either dislike and avoid you, or try to stop you from succeeding. The more egocentric you become, the less credit you will give those around you. Your sensitivity to their feelings will also be low. Not only will those around you suffer, but you will find yourself lonely and isolated.

This may well be the future of our online society. Post photos of your vacation, your happy children, your bucket list accomplishments, and you will only inspire envy at best and revulsion at worst. As we scroll down the torrent, we will see an endless parade of self-appointed pundits, clueless analysts, faux journalists, all clamoring for an audience. Not many are listening or reading. Scrolling and browsing, are hypnotic activities that are addictive only because they are so rarely rewarding.

It has been said before that modern life is mostly one of indulging in addictions that we try to pretend are merely preferences, but secretly know to be snares. Shopping, sexual hook ups, and now discourse itself. Or what pretends to be discourse, but is actually grandstanding.

I’se Regusted with Ambien

DSC_3704 - Edited


As I’ve aged, I’ve found it harder to fall and stay asleep. Every night I was waking up after only a few hours, checking Facebook, browsing Amazon, and generally wasting time until I could drop off again. Somewhere along the line I found an online pharmacy that sold me Ambien, a newer drug that helps one fall asleep.

Even though I didn’t need a prescription to buy it online, I read the label and it warned against resisting the initial drowsiness. So of course after a couple of nights of using it as directed, I forced myself to stay awake. I remember staring at my laptop screen from an odd angle, talking to myself and drooling. Then I must have gone to bed, even though I don’t remember doing so.

The next day at worked I discovered a video on Facebook where I was wearing my underpants on my head, and giving a free-associative rant about politics while talking in the voice of the Kingfisher from Amos and Andy. I knew that something was seriously wrong. In disbelief, I watched myself roar “I’se Regusted” while stomping on my desk. By the time I managed to delete the video post it had been shared 250 times.

I had recently accepted an offer from Amazon to try out it’s Prime status for a free thirty-day trial, and to my knowledge I had yet to order anything taking advantage of one-day free delivery, but for the next two days I came home from work to find my front porch littered with boxes bearing the Amazon label. In them I found costume jewelry, sex toys, a metal detector, the entire set of Gene Autrey films on DVD, the Gabby Hayes VIP collection, and some very expensive oatmeal/raisin cookies from a cottage bakery in Vermont.

That evening I decided to forego the Ambien, and as I tossed and turned I heard a strange buzzing sound over the house. Turns out these were drones delivering even more packages which contained various herbal remedies, sex lubricants and cheap reproductions of expensive vintage watches.

That evening, just after dinner, there was a knock on the door. As I opened the door a cab drove away, and I saw a middle-aged woman dressed in a polyester pants suit of clashing floral patterns standing before me.

I invited her in and found that her name was Ludmilla, and even though she spoke very little English, learned that she had taken up my offer of free room and board in addition to a small salary to serve as my housekeeper. Though she has a doctorate in physics and had once been the director of a Research Institute, now it was impossible for her to find work in her native Latvia. I couldn’t very well go back on my word and send her on her way, so I invited her to start work the very next day. 

We are still together six months later. She’s a delightful woman who seems happy to read quietly when she’s finished with her chores. Since we can’t communicate we can’t argue. We like to take walks together around sunset. Since she’s arrived my sleep problems have disappeared and I gave the rest of the Ambien to one of my co-workers, who claims to have a hard time falling asleep.