Sunday, May 28, 2006

The dragonflies of Arlington County

I'm in DC. Yesterday I went to dinner at Minh's, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Clarendon section of Arlington County, with my friends Peter, Samantha and Darlene. On the walk to the restaurant from the Metro, one of us spotted a store called Nora's Arlington...was it Gifts?...can't recall. But it had dragonflies on the sign and on the awning. Got some photos. Then I saw a pair of dragonfly sandals in the window of a shoe store.

We were seated outside at Minh's, and the weather was great for it. Once we ordered, a wedding party showed up in traditional Vietnamese dress, though most in the party were not Vietnamese. They had the entire inside of the restaurant reserved, and they looked as if they were going to have a wonderful time.

The fresh spring rolls and the crunchy fried shrimp and vegetable dish I had were the best Vietnamese food I've had outside of Vietnam and Thanh's cooking.

On the walk back to the Metro, I stopped into the shoe store and bought the dragonfly shoes, and then bought a pink rhinestone dragonfly ring at the counter.

Our next stop was Whole Foods, for flowers, and I found a dragonfly ceramic cup--but skipped on buying that because I didn't think it would travel well in my luggage.

We went to the Iwo Jima memorial, and then to the Wall, where I put on my dragonfly sandals and ring and got some photos at 21 West. The name that jumped out at me was Tom Hurlbut's--the day before a vendor on a conference call kept talking about Traverse City, Michigan. Tom's family lives there, and I'd been thinking about them.

After the Wall, we went to the WWII memorial, which is beautifully lit.

We're going to head back to the Wall today, but I'm going to skip the concert at the Capitol lawn tonight so I can focus on my speech tomorrow. And I need to give my feet a rest.

Hope everyone is having a lovely Memorial Day weekend! I still have not had my morning coffee, and it's nearly 11, so if I don't go to the Starbucks aroud the corner right now, my head is going to crash on this desk.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Air date change, and an addition

On my bus ride into work this morning, I was reading Rob Owen's TV notes in today's Post-Gazette and saw an item that temporarily threw me into a fit of panic: the WQED program on the Vietnam trip will now air in November, rather than in July.

Once I got into the office, I ran into a staff writer who told me he'd seen a full-page promo ad in the lastest issue of Pittsburgh Magazine (the Restaurants issue). I went back upstairs to my department, found a copy of the magazine, and in the TV section in the back, there's a full-color, full-page promo ad for an OnQ preview of the program.

The air date on the preview is June 14, I believe, and I remember the time is 7:30 p.m. I keep meaning to buy a copy, and I keep forgetting. I'm in the throes of trying to straighten up my apartment before I leave in the morning, but I may make a run to the 24-hour grocery store. I definitely want to take that with me to DC.

I may not get a chance to post again until Thursday. I'm sure I'll have much to write about talking about my Vietnam trip to the folks in DC, but I'll be setting up my new Mac iBook when I get back. Gotta take the old PC laptop back to the office--Wednesday is my last day.

Looking forward to spending much time with my iBook in the days ahead.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Fish feeding and fashion

I'm getting ready to head to DC on Saturday morning for Memorial Day weekend. Tonight I went to print a few photos to take with me to show when I speak at the Vietnam Women's Memorial at 10:30 a.m. on Monday. I didn't print the above photo, but it's one of my favorites. I'd just walked in through the main gates of the Citadel in Hue and happened upon these schoolgirls and a teacher, watching fish in a pond. We were literally surrounded by all of this fascinating architecture, and they were doing just what I would have done at that age.

It was cloudy and humid and in the high 80s, at least, and this girl in her pink coat and very un-uniformlike light green pants (blue pants are standard, but many were wearing jeans) stood out. I must have to her, too. I was wearing a very unfashionable light blue t-shirt and grass green cotton pants and gray tennis shoes, and a purple messenger purse and a conical hat with a lavender chin sash. Yikes!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Sunday outing with Phuong Ngan Do

I had a lovely afternoon yesterday with Phuong Ngan Do. Phuong is here in Pittsburgh this spring and summer as an Alfred Friendly Press Fellow. Her home is in Hanoi, where she is a senior editor for an international affairs publication.

We met because we both are working at the Post-Gazette right now (my last day is May 31). In the few times we've had to talk, Phuong has taught me so much about the Vietnamese people. But yesterday it was fun to talk outside of the office, and get out of work mode.

We went to lunch at a Thai restaurant in Squirrel Hill, and we talked about fairly typical things, like shopping. And we talked about some serious things as well, like how Americans don't seem to be very open to talking about the war. She was surprised by that. It was fascinating comparing our stories of war, and women and children, and social situations.

I had just been talking to her about the newsroom, and told her that Tony was a good person for her to know, when we headed out and walked down Forbes Avenue--and ran into Tony.

Odd enough.

Then Phuong and I went to Tazza D'Oro to see Dino's photos from Vietnam, and she was drawn to a wall on which hung photos of Hanoi. She told me they were taken very near her home.

Phuong ordered hot chocolate (it was a cold day which had turned bright), and I ordered coffee, and we talked about the photos and flipped through some of my snapshots I'd printed out. Mine weren't as interesting as the ones on the walls, but I think they gave Phuong an overview of where we'd been in the week we were there. I pointed out Dino in a few of my snapshots.

Not long after that--maybe ten minutes later--Dino walked in.

Twice in one day I talk about someone and that person shows up. Freaked me out, especially since Dino was supposed to be in China for a project, which turns out was rescheduled and assigned to a different crew.

It was great to be in there with Phuong and Dino talking about those photos. I felt like I was back on those streets in Hanoi, and Phuong told Dino they looked like photos taken by a Vietnamese person. (That was a compliment.) She'd had the chance to tell me a little about the housing in the ancient buildings. I remember rounding a corner on the cyclo ride (which Dino and the WQED group did not have to go on, lucky them) and I was stunned to see that housing. It was scary, and beautiful, and I just could not get myself to photograph it. I'm thankful that Dino did.

I felt like we'd walked into those photos and were walking on those streets with Phuong. I'd like to do that someday. Phuong had me write down the address of the cafe for her, and she said she's like to spend more time there. Then we went to the bus stop sign to figure out the bus routes that stop there, and she said she'd go on the Internet to get schedules.

Most times I forget it's that simple.

Phuong's photo and bio are here. If you see her around town, say hello!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Talking to strangers

I've been talking to strangers lately. On Friday, I went with two friends to Lemongrass, a Cambodian restaurant, and when we got there every table in the large-for-downtown dining room was taken.

We decided to order takeout, and while we waited two tables for two opened up. There were three of us, so that was no help. Then two men about my age came in and we told them about those tables--but they had to hang out with us until someone from the wait staff came over. (This is not a complaint about the restaurant: just an observation that Lemongrass has been there for years, and I don't recall it ever having been that busy. Word from the two men was that on Fridays it's always packed.)

I started talking with one of the men about how great the food is there, and then I told him I went to Vietnam a couple of months ago. His reaction was something like, "Oh, cool!" and he said he'd like to go there. He asked me if I'd gone for business or for pleasure, so I tried to briefly explain the trip. And then a waitress came over and took the men to their table. I wish we could have kept talking.

I think my two friends were embarrassed. I wasn't flirting with the man, honest.

On to the next stranger:

Yesterday morning I had a dentist appointment, and I took my photos to show my dentist, the receptionist and the two dental hygienists. The one dental hygienist had been asking me fairly complicated questions while she cleaned my teeth, and after awhile it made sense just to talk about it once I was out of the chair. My dentist asked me to bring all of my photos next time, not just the ones in the little photo albums. I was out of the office and walking to the elevator when a mail carrier passed me and stopped in the dentist's office. I had just stepped onto the elevator when he was heading back into the hallway.

"Want me to hold the elevator?" I asked.

"Sure!" the mail carrier said, and he pretended to run to the elevator. It was only about a fifteen-foot walk. "I never see anyone smiling when they leave the dentist's office," he said when he got into the elevator.

"Well," I said, "I've been seeing that dentist since I was four, so I've known him a long time."

"That was like, what, twenty, twenty-five years ago?" he said.

I laughed. "Not exactly," I replied. And the elevator doors opened.

I was carrying my little photo albums under my right arm, and as we walked into the first floor hallway, I said, "I was in Vietnam and I was showing them my pictures."

(This is always the point where I expect people to look at me as if I'd said something completely insane. It usually takes a few seconds for people to process what I've said and to think about how they're going to react.)

The mail carrier wanted to see my pictures. So we stopped at the marble hall table and flipped through them--quickly, because he was on his route. I told him about my story, and he didn't seem quite old enough to have been a Vietnam War veteran, but he didn't say one way or another.

We talked for a little bit and then walked outside, where we headed in opposite directions.

"July sixth?" he yelled to me as he made his way around the corner onto Craig Street. "July sixth!" I yelled back.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Buffalo Boy

I went to see the movie "Buffalo Boy" on Tuesday night at the Melwood Screening Room. It was one of the screenings of the Silk Screen Asian-American Film Festival.

The movie was filmed in Vietnam, in the South, in an area which floods during rainy season. And a boy, Kim, has to get his family's water buffalo to grassy land or the water buffalo will starve, and then the family will starve.

Later in the movie, Kim teaches a young boy how to swim. Kim picks up a dragonfly from some grass and places it on the young boy's back, and the boy flails his limbs and splashes.

I loved the water buffalo in the movie. I had the chance to see many of them in Vietnam, but not up close. That'll go on my list for my next trip: I want to meet water buffalo.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hero Mamas

Happy Mother's Day.

My friend Karen Spears Zacharias will be a guest on the Chris Moore Show on KDKA-AM ( on Sunday, May 21 at 4pm Eastern. (Everybody hope the Pirates don't go into extra innings or get behind by eight runs, as they had today by the fourth inning. Can't they apply the 10-run rule in Major League Baseball?)

Karen is the author of "After the Flag Has Been Folded," which was titled "Hero Mama" when it was released in hardback last year.

Karen's mom, like my very own Hero Mama, returned to school and worked her butt off to support her family after her husband had been killed in Vietnam.

Please give a listen to Karen and Chris on the 21st--I'm sure it's going to be a fascinating show.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

They're baaaackk!

Since Saturday, dragonflies have shown up:

-on a wine label,
-on the tag of a friend's Cheap Trick t-shirt,
-on a big gold pin worn by a lady on the bus,
-on a Mother's Day card on a coworker's desk.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Vietnam: beauty in everyday life

Just a quick promo here for Dino DiStefano's photo exhibit at Tazza D'Oro, a cafe at 1125 N. Highland Ave. in Pittsburgh's Highland Park neighborhood. The photos will be on display until May 31. I had a chance to see them at the opening on Saturday night, and they're gorgeous. Go see 'em!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Local air date: July 6

Got word that the Vietnam documentary is as of now scheduled to air locally (WQED, Pittsburgh) on Thursday, July 6. I don't yet know the time, but evening is a safe bet.

Mom and Freddy are coming in for the big show, and they're staying in town until July 10. They'll be joining me and lots of others at the Friends of Danang Vietnamese dinner on July 9 (3pm-6pm, Bethel Park Community Center).

Tickets to the dinner are $25 each, benefiting the Friends of Danang "Let Them Walk Again" campaign. Some of the work of that project will be shown, I believe, in the documentary.

The photo? That's Freddy and Mom at a dinner in DC in November, 2004.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Perfume Pagoda and Phuong Le

Once the guide and I stepped off the boat, we stood at the bottom of these stairs and climbed them to the Perfume Pagoda. Its Vietnamese name is Thien Mu. Years ago I read a special package written by Phuong Le of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about her return to Vietnam. I'd emailed her later about her review of pho shops before a trip I was making to Seattle. One afternoon while I was in Seattle I saw smoke, and followed it to a fire in Pioneer Square. Phuong showed up to report on the story and struck up a conversation with a group of us witnesses gathered on a street corner. She asked me where I was from, expecting a neighborhood in Seattle, and when I said I was from Pittsburgh, it didn't take us long to figure out we'd exchanged emails. The other witnesses were so confused, how it was that I was from the other side of the country and knew a reporter here.

Phuong's package ran in 2000 and is still online, and on this first photo of her gallery) you'll see a photo from a similar vantage point as the one above. I was shocked to see the condition of the pagoda six years ago. Looking at it the other way, I'm happy to see that it looks like it's in much better shape now than it was in 2000.

Her story is a worthwhile read.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

This was the view from where I was seated on a dragon boat on the Perfume River in Hue City. Americans know the city as Hue, but I've found that a lot of Vietnamese people I've met refer to it as Hue City. (The same is true with Danang and Danang City.) It was a short, noisy ride, and one of the women who worked on the boat tried to show me many things that she had to sell. On one hand, I wanted to look. But on the other, I didn't want to miss the view. We were headed towards the Perfume Pagoda, a Buddhist temple on the opposite shore and maybe a mile and a half from where I boarded with my guide.

There were barges on the river, and it looked so much like Pittsburgh to me--cloudy skies included--but I realized I didn't have anyone with me who could concur. I took this photo of the bridge because it looked familiar. I may have seen in it one of John Glover's photos. John served in the same company as my dad in Vietnam and has shared with me many of his photos, which has been such a gift. My dad didn't take a camera to Vietnam, so it wasn't until I saw John's photos that I had any real understanding of what my dad saw.

The woman on the boat kept signaling me to look at her wares. As politely as I could, I brushed aside the woman's silks and embroidery, and then I flipped through some prints she had on a special local paper.

Many of the scenes seemed stereotypical: women in conical hats, bicycles, water buffalo, rice paddies. But I stopped at a print of a black cat with green eyes. I bought it for Uncle Jimmy, who is reading "The Cat from Hue."

When I left the boat with my guide, I asked him if it was okay that I just bought one thing. He nodded that it was okay, and I showed him the print.

"Ah! Kitty cat!" he said, smiling. "You like kitty cats?" he asked me.

"The Cat from Hue? Ever heard of that book?" I asked.

He nodded his head no. I tried to explain that it was an American book about the Vietnam War but I stopped. Especially since we'd just arrived at the Perfume Pagoda, and it seemed a very inappropriate place to talk about war.