“You are missing a lot of great stuff out there.” Michael to me as we taxied across the airport grounds of Ho Chi Minh airport, me with my head resolutely stuck in my book. Concrete, bunker type hangers lined up are not big enough for commercial jets, presumably for fighter jets. Rows of them. Part of me wants to look, part of me is afraid. This is Vietnam, which in my life is a metaphor for war, not to mention my first foray into a communist country. Michael gives me the kind of look that only couples can interpret, to me it says “get over it,” to the rest of the world it looks like a slightly wrinkled brow. And I know he’s right — thirty years is surely enough time to get over it. I close the book and peer out into the blazing sun and think of Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam describing the word hot. We are after all going to a teacher conference in a modern hotel, something I do at least on a monthly basis. This can’t be that different from KSRA or IRC or OCTELA, right?
Riding in from the airport in a hotel shuttle tells me this is way different. It is obviously a much smaller city than Bangkok, fewer street vendors selling food, but shop after narrow shop of goods from modern furniture to oil paintings to basketware lining and spilling out onto the street. And what’s with the traffic?!! We are seated right behind the driver and everywhere there are motorbikes, beside us, cutting across in front of us, COMING STRAIGHT AT US, only to veer at the last second. The guidebook has warned us that Vietnam cops are not to be trifled with, but they obviously are not monitoring the traffic, which in a word is sheer mayhem. Traffic lights are almost non-existent even at what look to be pretty major intersections. It’s just a free for all and crossing the street has its own protocol we learn later. Just walk into the traffic and the motorbikes and taxis that flow with the constancy of corpuscles will go around you. Don’t run or stop, that just throws them off and you’ll get hit — step off the curb into what you are sure will be sudden death and keep on walking. Never will your faith in your fellow man be more accutely tested.
The first night we attend an opening reception at the top of the Sheraton. It is open air, breezy but hot. The food is incredible, avocado mousse, petifores and grilled shrimp toothpick spiked to a board like wallpaper, just to name a paltry few offerings. Okay, it’s not like PA or IL Reading, but I’m pretty much getting into the groove. There’s no war going on, this will be fine, and I see a vaguely familiar face. Ohmygod. It is Peter Yarrow, who appears to be there without the rest of his trio, Paul and Mary, but I recognize him anyway. He is to be the keynote the next day (why didn’t I look at the program more carefully?). We are introduced and I can’t help being a bit star struck. I tell him the last time I saw him in person was at the Moratorium March on Washington. He says, “you were there? In November of 1969, you were there?” I nod. He nods and kisses my cheek. No more to be said.