Joe and Faruk, having a discussion.
Our last adventure in Viet Nam. We left Hanoi and went to Halong Bay, about 3 hours east, and got on a little cruise ship (about 30 people) and spent 3 days and 2 nights moving around through the most amazing gorgeous seascape I have ever seen, beyond imagining.
I will confirm this with pictures, but here is something I want to say that can’t really be done with picture: we had discussions. Some of them went farther than others. The other travelers were mostly young, many in couples, but some families, and English was the common language, with Germans, Swiss, Swedish, and Turks all speaking “global” English well enough to do pretty much anything they wanted with it. So we discussed things. At first I couldn’t figure out what was different, but then I realized: the center of attention was some topic (not just “Where are you from?”) and we were actually discussing it. Corruption in Viet Nam (an Aussie who runs software for mall tenants), virtual reality (an Argentinian who has just quit his job in a Maltese online gambling operation), academic standards at European universities, climate change, the tourism industry (Swiss), just for example. This was not just one-on-one, it was the whole table. Eventually we spent the most time with a family from Turkey. Both the father and son were adept in English and wanted to talk politics, which led to long conversations. The mother was reading a book by Ursula LeGuin, in Turkish.
Throughout, I had the sensation of doing something I hadn’t done for months: a group conversation with each person putting in a piece, the whole thing adding up to more than the sum of the parts; none of us having the power to implement any of the big ideas on our own, although the Turkish father explained clearly how he does his activism.
It was not just because we all spoke English, although who knows? Unless I learn Vietnamese, I can’t know.
We leave for San Francisco on Cathay Airlines, tomorrow afternoon. I have very mixed feelings about leaving Viet Nam and the people we have made friends with. We will probably try to come back. We’ve been invited to come back and work with the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, where the combination of labor and anti-war work interests them. We have also been invited to come back to Ton Duc Thang. Right now I find that I can look neither forward nor backward very clearly. Saying goodbye feels like something that is happening to me; all I have to do is wait, and I will be on the plane. Coming home, saying hello, is something I will do. I can’t wait to see the kids and my brother, especially, who has been ill. But doing these both at once is complicated. That’s why it’s nearly noon, Friday February 12, and I am still sitting downstairs in the empty restaurant of the Charming II Hotel at 32 Hang Ga Street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, typing on my computer instead of going out and walking to all the places I want to remember — Hoan Kiem Lake, the Temple of Literature, the Citadel, for example.
Onwards. Actually, Joe and I have a lot of work to do on our handbook, the compilation of all the modules we wrote for our students, which have been translated and will form a new curriculum for the post TPP labor classes.
Our boat, the Cristina Diamond, one was on these white boats. It was great.
A floating village. Not many of these left. One of them grows cultured pearls. The man below shows how they do it: open the oyster, put it in the frame, drop a tiny grain of mother-of-pearl matrix into the oyster, place a small spherical base into it, close it, pop it back in the water, come back in a few months.
We had a great time.