Wednesday, November 29, 2006

John Hulme's documentary

It's almost the end of the semester. I have a ton of work to do between now and December 8. Before I forget to mention it, I wanted to post this: John Hulme's documentary "Unknown Soldier: Searching for a Father" is re-airing on HBO2 on December 11, 17 and 21. It will also be on HBO on Demand, from what I can tell.

I love this documentary--John's story in many ways parallels my own. John's dad's name is on the same panel of the Wall as my dad's name. They were killed within 10 days of each other. Like me, John is an only child, and we grew up in the same era. He's a few months younger than I am. But beyond that, I love "Unknown Soldier" for other things: the music, the cinematography, and especially the beginning--but I won't give that away. You'll need to watch for yourself.

And if anybody out there who has HBO2 or HBO on Demand and can pop in a VHS tape and tape this for me, I would much appreciate that. It's not yet available on DVD, and the one VHS I had of this is either lost in the Post-Gazette building or is in Vietnam. Don't ask.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Americans in Vietnam

This morning I read part of an official statement on President Bush's visit to Vietnam, issued in Hanoi. As I'd expect, it's boring, and really doesn't say much of anything.

I think it's far more interesting that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie paid a suprise visit to Ho Chi Minh City on Thanksgiving Day.

Here's a fairly serious story from Australia's Herald-Sun: Brad and Angelina Tour Vietnam
and a brief story and a decent photo on

Vietnam is primarily a nation of young people--so they are very forward-looking. (And who can blame them, considering their country has such a sad recent past?) They have not had a lot of freedom of expression. Now that they are starting to get a sense of the outside world, I worry that maybe they have a collective inferiority complex--or maybe it's just that they are trying to find their own voice. They seem to be studying American culture, or, at least, American fashion and entertainment.

I think a lot of young Vietnamese are familiar with American movies, and could recognize American movie stars--except American young people rarely show up in Vietnam, and I bet American movie stars never do.

The fact that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie showed up and didn't get taken around the city in some limo with dark-tinted windows, but acted just like the Vietnamese, zipping around town on a motorbike, seems so cool to me. Adventurous. Crazy, maybe. Brave, even.

I hope that young Vietnamese people look at those photos of Brad and Angelina and think wow, they're cool. And maybe we're pretty cool, too. I mean, these movie stars showed up here and acted like us. Heck, they even looked like us, a little, carrying a package while riding with no helmets. (Note Angelina didn't wear a spaghetti-strap tank top, which would have been at least midly inappropriate.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Accidental Buddhist

I've been reading "The Accidental Buddhist" by Dinty W. Moore. I met him rather accidentally at a party a couple of weeks ago, trying to make my way to the coat rack of a party at a writers' conference. My professor had stopped me to ask where I'd gotten the conference sticker I was wearing, and Dinty asked him, "Who's she?"

Of all of the writers there, Moore was the only one I'd heard of before my course's book selections were listed. Years ago, I'd started reading "The Accidental Buddhist" and had gotten sidetracked by something--I can't recall what--but in those days, I had a hard time keeping my nose in any book to completion.

I'm reading it again (the long commute I have by bus comes in handy), and this time, I'm going to finish it.

So much of the book makes sense now that I've been to Vietnam, things that wouldn't have made sense before. Like knowing what it's like to just sit. (I had to do that for hours upon hours on planes and buses on that trip.)

I'd made it through that trip without taking any reading material, in part because I'd wanted to travel light but mostly because I want to focus on the present, to take in every bit of the now that I could. I remember two kids in a Radio Shack, when I was foreign plug power adaptors, being freaked out when they asked if I were taking an iPod on the trip and I told them no.

One of the reasons I want to go back to Vietnam is to do that same thing again--to disconnect from the millions of distractions of life in an American city (and suburb) and to just look and listen and sit. Or attempt to cross the street in Saigon again, which is something that requires complete focus and faith that the other beings won't try to squash me like a bug.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The damage done in Da Nang in words and video

In Vietnam, old foes take aim at war's toxic legacy, a November 13, 2006 piece by Anthony Faiola of the Washington Post Foreign Service about environmental toxins in Vietnam includes two very done video clips by Travis Fox.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Writers are writers

Here's a Guardian story about Vietnamese author Bao Ninh. He uses himself to create a protagonist in thinly veiled fiction in his first book, which was wildly successful. And then he sits on a second book because he's worried, I think, that it won't live up to his first book.

I was at a writing conference last weekend and this sounds like the sort of scenario I would have heard there.

Saturday afternoon at Kerry's

As soon as I walked in the door of my cousin Kerry's house, her young son, Jake, asked me, "Where is Phuong?"

Phuong had been with me the last time I'd been to their house, for a 4th of July party. Jake still talks about Phuong all of the time.

"She's back home, in Vietnam," I told Jake. I could tell by the look on his face I wasn't getting very far.

"She lives far, far way," I then said. "It's so far that it's already night time there."

Jake and I talked about Phuong off and on all afternoon. I told him it would take a whole day and night to get to her house if we got onto a plane. I told him it was so very far that I couldn't call her on my cell phone. (I suppose I could, if I'd had her number there, but it would have been the middle of the night.

I picked up some Chinese food for lunch that Kerry ordered from a place called A Wok in Heaven. It was good, and Jake and Samantha decided to have some rice with us. After lunch, I put on the Vietnam documentary tape.

"I want to show you where Phoung lives," I told Jake.

"I want to see Phuong. Is Phuong on here?" He asked.

"No," I said.

"Why not?" Jake asks good questions.

"Well, because she must have been at work," I said. That didn't make much sense, but I didn't know how to explain that back when I was in Vietnam, in March, I didn't yet know Phuong, and I really may have seen her at one of the food places we passed on our cyclo ride. Or she may have been at work. Probably not, since it was a Saturday when I was in Hanoi.

I thought about telling Jake how Phuong was busy covering the APEC conference and President Bush's visit, but I knew that wouldn't matter to him, or to any kid Jake's age.

"I miss Phuong," Jake kept saying. He told me he wants to go visit her. I told him I'd give his mom her e-mail address, and they can write to her.

Here's a photo of Phuong and Jake from that 4th of July party:

Veterans Day breakfast

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Friends of Danang Jewelry Show

California designer Debbie Corr is displaying her hand-crafted, reasonably priced jewelry on Sunday, November 19 from 10am-4pm at the Chatham Hall clubhouse. It's in Chatham Village at 655 Pennridge Road, in the Mount Washington section of Pittsburgh. I attended last year and bought some beautiful jewelry for Christmas presents and birthday presents. Debbie is a talented, generous woman who will donate her profits on Sunday to Friends of Danang.

From McArdle Roadway and Grandview Avenue: Take Merrimac Avenue to right turn on Virginia Avenue, Left on Bigham Street (at the top of the hill), then bear left onto Pennridge Road to Chatham Hall.

If you're in the area and you've never seen Chatham Village and the beautiful Chatham Hall clubhouse, now's your chance. There will be refreshments and some comfy chairs and some great people to hang out with, too.

A sad anniversary

I'd mentioned in the documentary that I'd had other friends who lost their fathers in Vietnam who'd traveled there. Today is the 41st anniversary of the day my friend Cammie lost her father, and her mom, Barbara, lost her husband. Jack Geoghegan was a second lieutenant in the 1st Cavalry Division, and a father, and a husband, and a son. He was portrayed in the movie We Were Soldiers. Barbara and Cammie were portrayed, too. Sometimes my mom and I wonder what that must be like for them, but I also know that it was important to include the families in the story, because they are a part of it. I know that when I decided to be a part of the documentary I thought about the decisions Barbara and Cammie must have made to be involved with the movie, and everything that went along with it.

Mom's back in Florida

My mom made it safely back to Florida yesterday, only to be stuck inside most of the day because of heavy winds and rain and a tornado watch. You can check out the National Weather Service conditions and forecast here.

I had my nonfiction class last night, which went pretty well, and then this morning I had a mysterious PPPoE problem with my DSL, which, after the usual round of emails and phone calls it takes to get to a person, I got a solution to try when I got home. And when I did get home the problem had mysteriously corrected itself.

My next paper is due on Monday night, so it's going to be hard for me to write much here this week, as much as I want to--there is so much I need to add. I'm going to post a few short things and then head out to buy cat food before there's a mutiny in my apartment.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Column about "In Country"

My friend Scott Beveridge has a column in today's Washington (Pa.) Observer-Reporter: An ugly reminder of an ugly war.

The puppets weren't home

After the screening of "In Country" at WQED, we made a visit to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Comcast on Demand

If you live in the Pittsburgh area and have Comcast on Demand, you may be able to still catch Thursday night's OnQ (though only for a few more days), and the documentary. I don't have Comcast on Demand so don't ask me how it works--I have no idea.

Happy Veterans Day

I'm leaving in an hour or so to go to a Veterans Day breakfast. I've been reading the morning papers (online, of course), and found these Veterans Day stories.

WQED's 'In Country' tells story of return to Vietnam from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and Military brides-to-be get ration of free gowns from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Soul Soldiers

Post-Gazette staff writer Marylynne Pitz has a story today on the Post-Gazette web site about Soul Soldiers. The exhibit opens tomorrow and runs through October 2007 at the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center in the Strip District.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ready in 5, 4, 3...

Here's me on the set of OnQ with Minette Seate just before airtime tonight:

Thanks to Joyce for snapping this for me!

Screening party

Last night my mom and I were at the WQED Multimedia studios to see a screening of the documentary, "In Country: A Vietnam Story." We were there with about a hundred and fifty other people, and it was interesting for me not just to see the documentary on a big screen, but to hear how the group reacted to it.

The highlight of my evening was getting to talk with Minette Seate's mom, and it was fantastic to see Andrew Boone again. (I'll see him tonight, when he'll be on the panel with me on OnQ.)

Here's a photo of my mom chatting with Mr. Boone:

Wait til you see him in the documentary. He's great!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

TV Times

Just to clarify, here are the dates and times for what's airing on WQED TV (all airing locally in Pittsburgh--this is not on national PBS at this time):
Thursday, 11/9/06: 7:30pm-8pm, OnQ news magazine on Vietnam
Thursday, 11/9/06: 8pm-9pm, Vietnam documentary
Thursday, 11/9/06, 10pm-11pm, Vietnam documentary (rebroadcast)
Friday, 11/10/06: midnight-12:30am, OnQ (rebroadcast)
Friday, 11/10/06: 12:30pm-1pm, OnQ (rebroadcast)
Sunday, 11/12/06: 4pm-5pm: Vietnam documentary (rebroadcast)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

OnQ appearance

I'll be on WQED's news magazine show, OnQ, on Thursday, November 9. It repeats that night at midnight, and again on November 10 from 12:30pm-1pm. Here's the info from WQED:

Cover Story: In Country: A Vietnam Story - OnQ previews this WQED-TV documentary.

Also Tonight: "In Country" producers and participants discuss their involvement in the documentary. OnQ host Chris Moore, who produced "In Country," welcomes co-producer Minette Seate, Tony Accamando and Noreen Doloughty of Friends of Danang and Vietnam veteran Andrew Boone.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette preview story

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette preview story on the documentary is on the cover of the Post-Gazette's TV Week this week, and it's online, too. Former coworker of mine Rob Owen was kind enough to include a mention of me and that I'm a former Post-Gazette employee.

It feels weird knowing that Rob may have seen this thing before I have. And it doesn't feel weird because he's a TV editor, it feels weird because he's somebody I know.

Here's another Dino DiStefano photo, from a van moving through the countryside in northern Vietnam:

WQED's press release

The WQED press release on the Vietnam documentary includes some photos and a video clip--which is similar but not identical to the preview clip that ran on WQED in July.

Here's one of the photos, Dino's shot from a moving cyclo in Saigon:

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Payback for stealing bottles

Continuing on the theme of cousins on my dad's side of the family: Back when my cousin Gene and I were babies, he was the quiet, meek one, and I was a few months older and a whole lot louder and more aggressive. Aunt Debbie claims I used to steal Gene's bottle, until finally he slugged me. But I can't remember.

What I do know is that yesterday I was flipping through the latest issue of Pittsburgh magazine (the issue with new mayor Luke Ravenstahl on the cover, and featuring Pittsburgh's 40 under 40), seeing what was in there about the Vietnam documentary. A story, but no mention of me, and I'm nowhere to be seen in the photos. Then I flip to the beginning of the issue and find a story about blogs, and right there in the collage of screen shots is my cousin Gene's poker blog.

I got out my cell phone and called him from the bus.

"Gene," I said to him, "You stole my issue of Pittsburgh magazine. I was supposed to be in here!"

Gene laughed and went on to tell me this story about how he'd been in Aruba, and Chico Harlan from the Post-Gazette wrote a story including Gene...only, by the new "courtesy title" rule shoved down the throats of PG copy editors, he's "Mr. Bromberg."

Mr. Bromberg wasted no time in getting that Pittsburgh magazine piece online on his blog. He didn't even credit me for tipping him off to it...Mean Gene is living up to his name. I'm entertaining thoughts of wrestling beer bottles out of his hands on Thanksgiving.