Sunday, August 29, 2010

PS on Minsu

Getting ready for class Thursday, 27-7-10, my cell phone rings, it's Minsu calling from New York, he's 30 minutes from boarding for his flight back to Seoul. You can sense the sadness in his voice, but stated he loved the Smithsonian in DC, and was overwhelmed by the Grand Canyon. He said he was fortunate to be adopted by a group of brit's and other euro's, so he had plenty of time to practice his english.
I wished him good luck back in Seoul, and reminded him if he should ever have the opportunity to re-visit the United States, he has family here, and a place to stay.

Had our last meeting on Saturday, now the real work starts. We have until the end of January to submit our projects.
I'm having great time experimenting, and learning more about the cuisine of Vietnam and Cambodia. I've visited a number of related supermarkets in Long Beach and Little Saigon, now I actually know what I'm doing. In the past when I covered the chapter on Asia, I relied on what I researched from books, the internet, eating and talking to chefs at the restaurant and cuisine in question, not to mention asking questions from my students from those geographical areas. NOW, after visiting, studying, cooking and learning first person, I'm in hog heaven.
( Thanks Mike, Florence, and Bo).


Monday, August 16, 2010

Our New Son From Seoul

Ok, lets back track, 31 July 10, Narita, Japan. We're six hours into an eight hour layover in Japan. Everyone is trying to find something to do to eat up time. I meet Rebecca in an internet cafe and we sit, chat, and work on our projects , even have a beer at our station. Later we meet up with the crew at our gate when a young Asian man asks Tanja a few questions regarding boarding procedures in the airport, one thing leads to another, and before we know it we have befriended Mr. Minsu Kim, a 24 year old third year university chemical engineering student from Seoul South Korea.

He is on his way for the first time to the United States for a thirty day tour of our country with thirteen other foreign visitors. We chat, and give him advice on things to see and do during his journey, during the conversation he asks me a few questions about my project, and we immediately make a connection. Who doesn't like to talk about food!

My wife and i have a history of befriending visitors from other countries, and welcoming them to our country, it's just who we are. With Minsu it was a no brainer, ( I'm a teacher).

He told me he had a two day free time scheduled in LA before his trip was to begin, so I invited him to a day in Long Beach, which he quickly accepted.

The following day, jet lag and all, I picked him up from his hotel at 10am, and headed straight to Redondo Beach Pier for coffee and a nice walk along the pier and beach, fortunately if was beautiful sunlit day, with no crowds.

We then headed south along the Palos Verdes peninsula where we visited Whites Point, Royal Palms Beach, and then on to the Korean Bell a beautiful gift to the United States from the Korean government in 1974 overlooking the pacific ocean at Fort MacAurther, another beautiful sight to see from every vantage point.

By the time we had reached the Vincent Thomas Bridge, we had become friends. We arrived at my home a short time later where he met my twenty-three year old son, Andy and my wife, Laura. He kept repeating he was experiencing the American dream as we sampled fresh grapes from my garden vine.

During our meeting in Japan, while exchanging information, he used and noticed my pen, one of three I had made especially for my trip to Vietnam. During the tour of our home, I gave him a tour of my shop, and my pen making equipment, so naturally after explaining the process, he sat back and I made him a beautiful pen from northern California redwood burl. The process took about an hour with the inlay work and all, but when all was said and done, he was thrilled, this is my gift to you my new son from Seoul, he was speechless.

By that time we were pretty hungry from the days events, we made a quick shopping trip to the market for sandwich making and dinner ingredients, beverages when we arrived back.

He stood there in amazement as I prepared our lunch, a roast beef sandwich, fresh farmers market fruit, and a beverage.

I couldn't figure out his curiosity and interest he seemed to be mesmerized as I prepared our meal. So I asked him up front, what's so interesting, he replied, everything, this morning, today, now!

He went on to say that in his country, this whole day would not happen. First of all, in Korea, strangers don't just approach another stranger and ask for anything, even directions. Second, and most important, a junior ( as in he ) would never associate openly with someone like me , his senior ( that would be me ), for anything, I mean anything, unless spoken to first, and yet, even at the airport in Japan ( remember here, he is a third year university student) , he was openly befriended by a group of American's, total strangers, (Fulbright Scholars no less), who treated him like an equal! Now, he finds himself in my home, getting what I called the $.50 tour of Long Beach, and I'm making him lunch! Can you feel his confusion and amazement. He asked me if this was a common trait of the american people with foreigners, and I replied that, yes , for the most part we are pretty much a friendly people, with everyone.

The day ended with he taking a nap in my hammock on the deck, and my getting in a good snooze as well, followed by dinner, roast rack of lamb ( which he had never had ), Bucks famous mashed potatoes, a fresh farmers market garden salad, and fresh strawberries for dessert, heaven for both of us after our combined journey.

The Finale,

The trip back to his hotel ,(9ish), was to say the least, interesting, as I sat in the back seat of Bucks truck, SILENCE, Buck volunteered to drive, and for most of the forty-five minute drive nothing was said, I watched his as he gazed at the sky line in a daze, I asked him, what do you feel, he responded, the american dream.

We now, have a new son.


Monday, August 9, 2010


Don't really know where to start. I've been home a week, and I'm still addlebrained from the trip, both physically and emotionally. Brian was over on sunday, and we both confirmed the jet lag bug still had us in it's ugly grips.

I had planned to write about my new found son from Seoul, but that experience need's it's own entry.

The trip. Wow, where to start. first of all, a big thank you to Mike, and his group for even inviting me to participate. When Mike offered me the opportunity to apply, I didn't think I had a chance of qualifying, but bingo! I was going! Now, it's all a blur, almost a dream. At times when I'm talking to my wife Laura, something pops up in my head, either a high spot or a low spot, some important, some mundane and it's hard to pit it into words, especially the emotion. As far as mundane, there was nothing mundane during the entire trip, even the long bus rides were special, seeing brief glimpses of the farmers in the fields to the makeshift eateries found everywhere we went, and the people, the beautiful people of both countries.

What was especially unique about the trip from my perspective and research, was that it was my job to talk and interact with the people in our respective fields. As a result, I had access to kitchens, foods of every description, chefs, waitstaff, managers, dishwashers, all the people that make my field, my passion, so unique, so first person. I've begun to outline a new chapter for my syllabus on "Asia" for the Fall semester, both the culinary, (food ) and the "Food and Beverage" (administrative) aspects, and believe me it's going to be an eye opener for a lot of people. ( The good, bad, and the ugly)

Even the motorbike traffic was a sight to see, and it was evident everywhere we went, from Ho Chi Min City to Phnom Penh, and on into Hanoi. I drove Brian to John Wayne today to see his family, and on the way back I could still see the motorbikes in my head, and still feel the exhilaration of riding on the back of Rosie's back in Hanoi.

One things been especially odd since my return, the phone has been silent, no calls from family or friends welcoming me back home, it's been weird but a pleasant weird, for the last week it's been Buck ( my wife ), Andy ( my son ), and Jack the dog! Aside from the sleep, and fatigue issues, I've found myself with a mild form of PTSD, but in a good way, don't know exactly how to describe it! I've had a hammock hanging on my patio for a couple of years now, and it's getting a whole lot of use these days. Even Bucks been really good about giving me space, not asking a lot of questions unless I volunteer. But for the most part, I've been pretty much to myself, and my thoughts.

The three things that keep coming to me with a ton of emotion, and it's hard to describe, are the NVA officer, Mr. Nam, I met in Hoi An, Rosie, my gracious host at the "Botique Hotel" in Hanoi, and the trip to Chu Lai and the LZ goodbye to my men, I will carry those memories with me forever.

My daughter Renee and her husband Tom are coming over this weekend, and I'm anticipating the "Best part of the trip" question to come up. and to be honest, it's going to be tough to decide on a single moment or place. How do you describe location, emotion, or experience?

I took a ton of pix during the trip, and now that I've gone threw them, I wish I had taken more. But I've got Brian to cover that, as a photo journalist, he took his share of shots and we've agreed to share when all the dust settles.

Then theirs Brian, my friend, my colleague, and now my brother. I won't go into detail, but during the trip we discussed everything from politics, (He's Vietnamese), family, art, you name it, and I'm thankful to have had his friendship through this journey of a lifetime, we've already discussed a return visit to vietnam in he future with our families. I look forward to it.

Don't have much more to add, except that it's so good to be home. I'm not going to close with the cliche about really appreciating what you have, etc. etc. I think you already know that.



Our New son from Seoul

Friday, August 6, 2010

Not Done Yet

The trip home was a bear for all of us! Almost 25 hours from start to finish. The 8 hour layover in Narita, Japan didn't help, and the following 10 hour flight to LA, finally did us in!
We met a great young student from Seoul South Korea in the terminal in Japan, ( Minsu Kim, 24 years old, 3rd year university student ), his first trip outside of his country, and excited about coming to the us of a! More about it later

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cooking at The Rex

For the last 2 day's I've been trying to get Victoria to set me up with a Ho Chi Min City chef, to complete my research. Well, I shouldn't have been surprised when she called this morning at 7 to tell me that she had arranged for me to participate in a cooking demonstration at, are you ready for this, the REX HOTEL, one of the most famous hotel's in Saigon during the war.

It was built in 1927 during the French occupation, and during the war it housed military officials and war correspondents from 1961 thru 1975.

I's now a posh hotel and restaurant complex in the 1st district about a 5 minute ride from the hotel we're at. The Royal Court Restaurant where the demonstration was to take place is a beautiful traditional Vietnamese adorned facility. The walls are decorated with murals, and sculptures of the history and legends that are Vietnam and it's culture. One relief in particular that was pointed out to me by the general manager, Mr. Giac, showcased a scene of a teacher instructing his student's in a classroom. The picture reminded me of a saying, as thing's change they always seem to stay the same.

After the brief tour we were escorted to a beautifully set table to the side of the main floor. The executive sous Chef Mai began to setup a station adjacent to our table, complete with a 2 burner stove and various prearranged and preprepared foods for the demo.

I watched as Chef Mai prepared two classic dishes from the southern region of vietnam, Banh Khoai, a deep fried pancake prepared and served to the king as an everyday dish in the fourteenth century. The second was, Cha Gio, a deep fried spring roll also found only in the south. The best part of the demonstration, was the practical participation I was offered.

The 3 hour class ended with a full lunch of other dishes, including a wonderful hot pot, I plan to incorporate in my Asian Cuisine chapter.

All in all, I feel I've accomplished what I set out to do in my research. Now the hard part.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Last Night In Camp

Did some shopping today, needed to purchase some last minute odd's and end's for some family and friend's back at the ranch, T-shirt's, etc. Ben Thanh market down the street is a mecca for tourist stuff and brickabrack of all sorts. I also wanted to take additional shots at the seafood mart for my report. If you know what you're looking for, and a little haggling you can score. ( I'm starting to get pretty good at it here) their are bargains to be had. More about that later.

Right now, well let me back up a little. I missed lunch with the crew this after noon to shop, on the way back to the hotel, after scoring on some great bargains to augment my research, on the way back to the hotel, I developed a major thirst, tons of heat, I stopped for a brew at a little shack with a little older lady vendor who shared her umbrella and a big smile with me, then appeared a young lady smartly dressed and official looking who spoke to the proprietor, I grabbed my camera hoping she could catch a flick of me for prosperity, when I asked her to take the flick she balked at first, then agreed, turns out the lady proprietor is her mother, she agrees to take my picture, and in return I take one of them together, I give her my blog address and tell her to check it out later today, they will be on it! She's thrilled.

I then spot two round eye's walking by,( from Holland) I and asked them if there was any where close by non-Vietnamese to eat, guess what they ask me? Do you eat sushi! Do I EAT SUSHI ! Is a fat dog heavy, does a bear, well don't get me started. I said yes indeed I eat sushi. Well it turns out they are staying in the same hotel we're at and have seen us in the lobby a few time's. Without going into detail I explained, etc. etc. Well the sushi bar turn's out to be is a Vietnamese sushi bar about a block from the hotel, called "Tokyo Deli", I'm here now, and wow! I'm impressed, all Vietnamese employees, including the sushi chef. I introduce myself, and luckily one of the staff spoke English. When I presented my business card to the manager, things turned quickly, I was led up stairs to a private Tatami room that sat four, after I took off my shoes, well I won't get into detail, but if you're familiar at all with Japanese cuisine, I was made quite comfortable, and the food was exquisite! I ordered a "Bento Box" which consisted of mixed sashimi and grilled fish, in this case pompano and salmon. (135,000 VND, about $7.00 US ), is that a deal or what, at home $10.00 to $12.95 easy! Entree, miso soup, salad, 3 types of sashimi, rice, 2 sizable pieces of local grilled fish, AND, darn, I can't remember what it's called in Japanese, custard. I thought I was in heaven in Cambodia.

The manager keeps an eye on me like a hawk during my meal as I write this, and they make sure I'm not bothered by any distractions, the female wait staff are off to the side, looking around the corner like school girls laughing and giggling. (Now I know how Tony Bordain feels, oh! did I say that! Cool! ) AHHH, Chawanmushi, that's the custard, we do it at school when we cover Asian cuisine! Perfection, I was taught this dish by a master sushi chef years ago, Todo San, thank you!

Unfortunately the only English speaking person in the restaurant left for the day, and I wanted to interview the manager who doesn't speak English. Better luck next time, I may sneak in here again tomorrow before we leave.

Later this evening I decide to go solo, and go for a long walk, half way threw my walk the rains came, big time! For the last few day's my right knee is starting to go out (old tennis injury and age are creeping up on me) so I take a short cut back to the hotel, and guess where I find myself, back in front of the sushi bar! Darn sushi again for dinner! :)

Long story short, Brian and I are hard at work writing, and working on our project's, guess who call's, it's Rosie calling from Hanoi, to see how we are doing, to say good bye, and to thank us for our hospitality and kindness.( Later on, my plan to help her son accomplish his wish to become a chef!) It should be we, who should be thanking her for her help and hospitality while visiting her beautiful country, but that's the beauty of our profession, God I love my job!

It's almost 2:00am now and we have a long day ahead of us, tomorrow after a month without our families, long grueling bus rides, endless lectures and temple visits and many, many miles of untold stories and memories, at last, HOME.


Ha Long Bay

Heard about it, read about it, maybe even dreamed about it, but never did I ever imagine actually being there! But 4 + - hours later north of Hanoi, there we were driving up to a view, that literally took you'r breath away. Aside from the sea of tourist's milling around like worker ants, and boats large and small, tenders, taxies, junk's of every size and configuration, it was a mariners nightmare, but believe it or not it was controlled chaos. It was like a water dance of ship's and freight.
Our guide, the professional that she is, herded us through the sea of lines and officials, and before we knew it we were on a water taxi. ( 15 minutes max! )
We boarded the Husong Hai, a 100 foot wooden junk beautifully trimmed in teak throughout, with 9 state rooms, a full galley, beautifully furnished dining area, bar, ample aft covered seating area, with a full sun deck and chairs topside.
The staterooms were smallish but comfortable, with a head and shower wand, best of all, they were air conditioned. Ok, Ok, the boats cool, enough. We were assigned our state rooms, bunk mate's, and after stowing our gear, a quick dip in the bay for a few of us, followed by a quick shower, LUNCH TIME!
I could go on and on about the food, but I'll spare you the torture, but believe me it was terrific. From the fresh seafood to the professional service, believe me it was first class all the way! I do this and teach this for a living, and I've never seen such perfection and professionalism. Now I know how the other half lives, and the best was yet to come, our Gala Dinner served on the sun deck that night! Another winner! Seven courses, and again I'll save you the torture.
After a good night of blissful sleep, we were up early the next morning to a great breakfast, and on with the day's adventure cruising the water way's in wonderland.
Surprisingly with all the vessels on the water the area is so expansive, we noticed only periodic glimpses of other vessels cruising by, I can't put it into word's, the beauty of it all.
Early on we transferred to small tender row boats seating 4 people each, and visited a floating village tucked away in a beautiful expansive cove, where about 500 people live permanently year round, they live and subsist on locally caught seafood, we were told that a ship delivers fresh produce, water and other proteins twice a week. We visited the local floating school house, and natural pearl beds that are harvested and sold to tourist's like us, that generate much of their income, beautiful stuff! At days end we returned to our mothership for another cruise before lunch, and back to our waiting bus. Again, I could write endlessly of the adventure, but you had to have been there to truly appreciate the experience. After the trip ended Brian and I both agreed that if ever possible we will return with our families to share the experience.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Three Muskateers

I started to write about Ha Long Bay last night, but quickly developed a brain fart, with so much to remember, and convey. Had a wonderful dinner with Mike and, most of the crew, on the way back Joy and Laurie wanted to do some quick shopping at night market, so I volunteered to ride shotgun for them. When I got back to the hotel everyone was out on the town having a good time, Hey guyyyyys!
So I settled in to write. Brian wandered in some time during the night, this morning we decided to do something for David today, as yesterday was his birthday, and later this afternoon he leaves us for Bangkok on business.
Brian, David and me. Who would have figured, a motley crew at best! Brian and I bonded immediately as rooms mates tend to do, you either get along from the get go, or one of you is found dead the following morning. David on the other hand is the crew's Mr. Wizzerd. You need med's for an affliction, he's there with a pill, you're pants are falling down, he's got a safety pin to hold them up! You always say there's always one in the group, and David's the one, we lucked out!
Brian and I are lucky, he's a Photojournalist on the trip, and a colleague from city. David on the other hand is an English Professor from El Camino, Compton Center. At first glance you wouldn't picture a group of professionals as our selves getting along as we have. I'm kind of crazy, and spontaneous at time's, Brian is somewhat quite and demure most of the time, and David, quiet, intelligent and articulate in his own right.
When Brian and I were discussing our escape from the group to Chu Lai early in the trip, David overheard our plot, and expressed his desire to accompany us as a backup conspirator. Later that evening Brian and I discussed the offer, wondering if David would be a good fit for the trip, turned out David's now part of the 3 Muskateer's. The crew have noticed the bond we have developed during the trip, and notice we pretty much hang out together most of the time. One made the comment that they can smell the testosterone in the air when we're around.
One of my fondest memories of time around David, was the return from Ha Long Bay, one that was supposed to be 4 hour routine bus ride back to Hanoi, but ended up to be a 5 1/2 hour trip from hell! Aside from the Tiajuana bus with no rear suspension or shocks, and the 1 near head-on collision half way back, or the human ping pong ball experience we had at the rear of the bus every time we hit a rut or gouge in the road, everything went just fine! Ouch!
One more memorable experience that kind of sealed the deal for us as friends, was the road trip to Chu Lai, I won't get into it again, but it was good to have David in the back seat with me on the way back to Danang while Brian sat upfront with his friend, I was pretty much a basket case all the way back, all 4 1/2 hours, and we spoke most of the way.
During my lunch experience, you'll read about next he called to let me know he was off to Bangkok, our timing was off for the get together, but I wished him well and told him, to remember the 3 of us are now joined at the hip, and to have a safe trip.
I'll end with that.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

HANOI 2010 They Are My Friends

Really don't know where to start ( sound's familiar), I feel I've crossed a thresh hold in my life, and it feel's good!

The trip to Hanoi was amazing from different levels one from a personal, ( the war, now behind me) the other from a practical, wow, I'm here to study and research! Kind of blow's you're mind!

The contrast's, in Saigon the south, it's a loose, fast pace, kind of dirty, party type atmosphere. Hue, Hoi An area pretty much in the central, a little slower, cleaner and open, lot's of visible rice patty expanses as far as the eye can see. Water buffaloes, and hard working farmers, massive diked area's for aquaculture, to the tiny street vendors hawking everything from food to make shift motor bike mechanic shops.

Now Hanoi, the north, pretty clean ( an objective view on my part ), a bit more conservative, and cosmopolitan. It's hard to describe.

We landed after an hour or so flight from Saigon ( Ho Chi Minh City, what everrrrr! ). Loaded onto a bus for a short ride to a small downtown district called the "Old Quarter". On arrival to this crazy buisy area of motor bikes and people, we had to get off of the bus and transfer to four waiting large golf cart electric vehicles for a ten minute ride to the heart of the city. The street's are amazingly narrow, thus the golf cart transportation, chaotic foot traffic, and motorbike chaos. Lot's of round eye's everywhere you look, obviously a hit with the eureo's, and american's.

The hotel, "Hanoi Boutique Hotel" is situated smack dab in the middle of everything you could possibly need or want. It's been under a major renovation for about a year, and Rosie, my F&B friend said it will be another three or so month's before it's completed. ( Maybe! ) It's a beautiful building, room's a bit smallish but how much time do you spend in a hotel room with so much to do and see? I've already decided to come back in the future with Buck, ( My wife ), more later on why.

The immediate and sourrounding area is rich in French Colonial and Indochine ( their description not mine ) style architecture and old world charm. It's really cool here! Small quaint and easy to walk. I went for a walk one night and got really lost in the maze of streets, late night market's, bars, restaurant's, street hawker's, dark alley's with the usual denizens of the deep, if you know what I mean, I was waiting for Bogie to come out of the shadow's and ask me if I was lost, but no luck. I finally flagged down a Taxi-------.

Side note;

PANIC!! My roommate Brian, just came by to drop off some money he owed me and to pick up his camera and bag, ------, Oh S---t! NO CAMERA, NO BAG! UTTER PANIC! Where oh where can my camera bag be? ( the camera is a loaner from school just for the trip- all $4000.00 of it!) Some quick phone calls to David to back track last nights events and happening's. Last chance call to a restaurant they had a late night dinner at, and bingo, his whole complexion and demeanor changes, they have his camera and bag on ice for him! Just come by and pick it up the guy says, thank you god, there are actually some honest people left in this world.

Can anyone spell, BIG TIP!

Ok, back to the taxi, I get in trying to remember the exchange rate from US to Vietnamese Dong, in Saigon I exchanged $100 US at the hotel, and received $1,8500.00+ -Dong, man I'm not a math major. We finally arrive at the hotel it's 27,000 Dong, panic, so I call over the hotel lobby guy, turns out it's about $3 bucks US. Whew!

I'm in the elevator on my way to my room when I meet this beautiful female vietnamese uniformed employee who ask's me where I'm from, we exchange professional conversation, during which I explain to her that I am a Professional Chef from the United States, and briefly explain to her why I'm here, her expression completely changes and she proudly announces that her name is Cam Thai Thu, (Just call me Rosie ), and she is the hotel Food and Beverage Manager, how cool is that! To top it off she is also a professionally trained Chef!! Thank you Hilda, there is a god!

She quickly ask's me if I would like to see her kitchen and meet the hotel chef when I was available, and I quickly responded by all means, when? Well before you know it within a half hour I'm touring her brand new kitchen, and she's made arrangement's for me to meet and have breakfast with Chef Le Phuong Lam the following morning. Yesssssss!

After breakfast, chef Lam and Rosie emerge from the kitchen, and what was supposed to be a 45 minute to 1 hour interview, turns out to be a 21/2 hour discussion on food, philosophy, politic's, culture, and everything else I'm supposed to be researching in the first place. At the very onset of the discussion, they specifically asked me what I wanted to know, and I quickly responded, for the next few day's, if you will have me, I AM YOU'RE STUDENT, PLEASE TEACH ME! And did they. I don't want to short change both Chef Lam and Rosie with a brief description on their combined education and experience, you'll have to read my final Fulbright Report, to learn the specifics, if I tried to do it here I'd be writing for the next 2 hours. But I must say, I was treated like royalty during my stay, every nook and cranny was open for me to view, inspect, and especially taste.

I must share one experience with you I thought was special, and close to my heart as a professional cullnarian.

The day before we were to leave for Ha Long Bay, the chef invited me to have dinner with he and his staff when the restaurant closed for the evening. Earlier that day Rosie was gracious enough to motor bike me throughout town on the back of her bike to shop for gift's, imagine this, Rosie, about 5'6, about 90 pounds dripping wet, and me about 6' and roughly 200 pounds on the back of a small motor bike, spooky, and definitely not for the faint of heart. Well after about 2 hours of motoring around the city, we finally ended up at the local farmers market to purchase the evening's fair, all local fresh produce and protein, in this case, freshly processed chicken and duck.

On arrival back to the hotel, Rosie request's that I meet them all at 9:00 pm for dinner, 8:55 I arrive and nothing is going on in the restaurant, but it's bustling in the kitchen, I think, somethings wrong, in a professional kitchen, if service is at 9:00 we should be eating promptly at 9:00, period, no excuses!

Rosie exits the kitchen obviously annoyed and flustered. I asked her if everything is alright, when she tells me that at the last moment she received a contract from the hotel manager for a VIP breakfast for 40 vietnamese businessmen for 7:00 am the following morning, and that they were in the process of doing the prep work for the meal now, and that our dinner date would have to be postponed or cancelled, ( mind you, by this time I'm starving! a major embarrassment in any culture, especially in the culinary field ).

So Rosie, thinking on her feet, the consummate professional, ( I love this woman, switches to plan "B" ), she asks me to wait a moment, and returns with a single conduction flat top, a device that cooks with, well it cooks with no flame!) Do you know how to use this, she ask's, I reply, yes, of course, a smile the size of a major happy face t-shirt emerges! GO TO YOUR ROOM, PLEASE! I'm ordered.

10 minutes after I arrive in my room theirs a knock at my door, it's one of the prep cooks with a large tray of all the fresh ingredients we were supposed to have for dinner, the duck, chicken, fresh vegetables, a pot of PHO' mushroom broth, fried wanton skins, and a complete setup for 1! The cook starts to prepare my meal on my desk, and my knowing how it works in the kitchen, they can't afford to be short handed during prep, I politely stop him and say no! I cook! His response, oh, you chef! he politely and respectfully bows and leaves. What class! I'm overwhelmed with astonishment, joy and left with a new found pride in my profession.

I'm perplexed, filled with excitement, Brian's out with family having dinner, I'm starving, it's now close to 9:30pm, and I have no one to share the moment with as I prepare my meal. Buck! I gotta call Buck! I SKYPE my wife and share the moment with the love of my life, scanning the images of the moment with my MAC, oh technology! ( I'll spare you the corny details, but it was her birthday, DO THE MATH! ) After a personal discussion and loving goodbye, I sit down to one of the most amazing meals I have ever had in my professional life, and I cooked it in my hotel room, alone, go figure! You couldn't have scripted it any better. The following morning at breakfast, I tried to convey my gratitude and respect for what Rosie and Chef Lam had done for me, but they would not have nothing to do with it. The ultimate definition of "Professionalism", and now, They are my friend's!



The beauty of Ha Long Bay

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Return

I'm not going to make this a running dialog of stories, antidotes, and descriptions of pain and suffering, as with any war to this day, it's still not the answer.

This entry is personal. I never honestly thought I would ever come back to this place, nor did I every think I would WANT to come back to this place, for any reason. But the demons I have carried around in my fabric for the last 40 years, have always dictated, you must return someday, and today was the day. I not only had to return for my own sake, but also return to say a final, and respectful farewell to so many friend's and foe alike, it's difficult to describe.

When we finally arrived after a 2+ hours ride from Hoi An, just on the outskirts of Chu Lai, Mr. Anh announced, we're almost there. The anticipation, the dread, the possibility I may not even remember what it looked like were now a reality.

When we arrived, we observed a fortified military gate, weathered, pot marked by obvious signs of rusty decay, and neglect over the year's. In the center was a lone military guard assigned to protect a piece of history, from what? Beyond the gate, a vast expanse of sandy embankments, goats roaming the area to control the weeds, and scattered palm tree's sprouting up like those same weed's.

There was a sign, clearly posted, "NO PHOTOS", but Brian, sitting in the front seat, crouching down, periodically popped up when the guards view of the car was obstructed, clicked away.
Mr. Anh spoke with the guard briefly as he made determined head gestures shaking NO, NO, NO. When Mr. Anh pointed to the car with a last ditched request, the guard exited the shack to an adjoining shack, and made a phone call. When he finally returned he stated something to Mr. Anh, at which time Mr. Anh waved to us in the car to quickly come, come quickly!

By that time, my only hope was to touch the gate for a moment and briefly reflect and I did, just give me a moment, please, (alone), but to come all this way was somewhat anticlimactic under the present circumstances, I was being watched by a group of friends' and one previous foe, I needed more, a personal ritual I had carefully planned when I realized I would indeed have the opportunity. But it didn't look like I was going to get the opportunity, a final toast to those fallen and eventually forgotten, the burial of a photo of myself taken prior to a mission on Landing Zone West in 1969 (LZ West),
a mountain top forward fire support base in the Heip Duc Valley.

When we left the gated area, we drove a few hundred yards, where a group of men were sitting in the shade, Mr. Anh spoke to them briefly, a few hand gestures were exchanged, and we were off.
We turned right onto a road parallel to the complex proper, where we found nothing but emptiness, and scattered burms of sand and shreds of old asphalt, perviously covered with corrugated steel to hold the landing helicopters, transporting troops to and from theaters of operation, suddenly it dawned on me, I've been here before. The feeling was overwhelming, melt down! Couldn't hold it, couldn't control it. I needed a moment alone, and the guys were gracious enough to oblige.

I pulled out a small bottle of cognac from my backpack and a glass I had purchased for the occasion, poured 2 fingers, had a moment of silence with my thought's and brief memories, and christened the spot. Poured another 2 fingers and downed it, with emotion's pouring out of every pour of my body.

My final and most important moment was the burial of the glass, and my picture in a shallow hole in the sand, I'd finally fulfilled the return.

I had planned to include a few photo's on this blog, about which one's and from where, but in the end, decided that this moment was too important in my life to share, I think I will keep these memories within.
Finally, I'm at peace.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Once We Were Soldiers

Once We Were Soldiers

This one's going to be tough for me. But my wife keeps asking me to write, as many of my family and friend's are asking about, and are concerned about my much anticipated visit to Chu Lai. One important aspect of this trip for me was to revisit the base or at least whatever was left of the base camp I was stationed out of during my tour of duty in 1969-1970.

Prior to our arrival Brian, through his many contacts managed to have a close friend of his Mr. Huynh Anh (A new hero in my life), researched and located the Americal Division's base camp at Chu Lai. I was told that it was all, for the most part a shell of it's former self, and now used as a guarded military property. But I'm getting ahead of myself, I think you'll appreciate this part more.

After our arrival at Hoi An, and numerous phone calls incoming and outgoing, we advised Mike that Brian, David and I would be leaving the group and taking a side trip on the second day of our arrival, and would be gone all day, probably till the evening. Our plan would be to leave our luggage with Mike, pick up our passports and check out of the hotel at 6:00am. and meet back with the crew in Da Nang for the flight the following day to Hanoi. As a Vietnam veteran himself, I had already given Mike a heads up on our plan's, his only comment was that he wish he could have come along .

What I didn't know was that Brian and his friend had made arrangement's to have a private breakfast with a local high ranking official who wished to meet and greet us at a posh hotel close by.

Well, 6:00am we're in the parking lot and a gentleman on a motorbike pulls up, Brian exchanges a few words with him, we jump into Mr. Anh's vehicle and we're off. A 5 minute ride later, we arrive at the restaurant, a few pleasantries are exchanged, coffee is ordered, and then the bombshell!

Turns out that the official is Mr. Dang Ngoc Nam, the President of the Vietnam Fatherland Front of Hoi An City. Through close networking and the grapevine (remember where we are) Mr. Nam was informed of our Fulbright Group, our project, and wanted to meet us, as we are all considered VIP's staying in his city. During the expected small talk and pleasantries, Brian explained to Mr. Nam, my quest to visit Chu Lai, and of my service during the war, Mr. Nam asked where I was stationed and time frame, when told, his eye's opened up with an obvious excitement that was palpable to all.

Since I don't speak vietnamese, Mr. Anh and Brian looked at me with such a surprised look, I thought I had done something wrong! At that point Brian revealed to me that Mr. Nam was an officer in the North Vietnamese Army, and fought in the same area I was in at the same time I was here! There was a strong possibility that we had been first person combatant's 40 years ago! The entire experience was to say the least, surreal!

Without saying a word, we both stared at one another with a mutual respect that is difficult to put into words, unless you have walked in our shoes, after so long, and now meeting this proud and distinguished gentleman coming to the realization that once we were soldiers.

I went on to describe my official mission as a Fulbright Scholar, and my desire to study and learn the cuisine and culture of his, and that of the Cambodian people. I explained to him my sincere desire to bury the demons of the war, and replace them with a new found mutual respect and understanding as an educator.

We ended the meeting with the traditional toast of Cognac, and a mutual embrace. A wonderful beginning to a long awaited quest.


Later, "The Return"

Should kick myself!

Have much to write about, but had to leave the room, had a major power outage a few minutes ago. Air in the room is out, and it's hot as the dickens, the desk said the power is out on the whole block. Checked the weather forecast this morning and there's a typhoon warning for this area all day until tomorrow. We were on the Perfume River (Song Huong) last night on a VIP cruise half way through the trip it came down thunder and lightning, again like crazy! I'm backed up a couple of day's on my log, but good to hear everyone back home and at school are following my blog, special thank's to Chef Robert D. Yes, you were right!

Was fortunate enough to find and visit, with Sarah, "Senteurs d' Angkor' before leaving Siem Reap, Cambodia. It's an N.G.O. that recruits local underprivileged people to produce sustainable natural products for local sale and export. Products such as candles, moisturizing creams, made from harvested berries and plant extracts, soap's, coffee, tea, a whole array of products that are indigenous to this and surrounding areas. We were given a great tour, of the facilities and witnessed first hand the hand crafted manufacturing of these and many other products. It was great! My camera took a dump because of the humidity, so Sarah was elected as the day's photographer, posting of any shots of the visit will have to wait until we can get together to swap pix. I purchased an assortment of spices, and related good's to share and use in class when I return to school in a few weeks. As far as my purchase's, some of the spices I purchased were used in the preparation of "Amok" a classic regional dish we were taught to make at the Phnom Penh cooking school, cool!

Without going into great detail, the trip from Siem Reap, to Ho Chi Minh City, to Hue was a killer, from international flights, customs, immigration and 2 internal domestic flights, some petty bickering, logistic glitches, and what not, by the time we arrived in Hue, had dinner (9ish) and hotel check in, we were all pretty much toast! and I mean toast! By the time Brian and I were ready to hit it, it was after 1 am., and we had a 8:00am pick up to the Hue University of Language and Art, for, get this, a lecture from 9:00am to 12:00 noon. (Help!!!) But to everyones surprise the experience was quite exhilarating, we were treated to a lecture of local classic culture and a fascinating performance of classic Vietnamese songs and dance by a group of both professional musicians and students, the performance was quite impressive, and entertaining. What a pleasant surprise, and our host's were so congenial. To end the day's festivities, (and here's where I kick myself, hard! ) We were presented with a wonderful lecture and slide presentation by a university professor of art, on the fascinating art of "Lacquer Art's". As an artisan pen turner myself, I could relate to the art he was so passionately describing in detail, I was mesmerized by the intricate detail of the processes in creating such beautiful pieces of vase's, abstract art, and various practical containers used in everyday life. As he passed around samples at various stages of design, he passed around a beautiful completed vase he himself designed and created. As he explained the piece and the extensive process it took to complete, you could tell by the pride that was quite evident on his face, the joy of the opportunity to share his work with us. It was just before the end of his presentation that I had an idea. A few weeks before we left on this trip, I wanted to create a special pen for myself to commemorate the trip. A pen I would use to document the experience. I used a beautiful piece of northern California redwood burl I had in the shop for some time that I was saving for such an occasion. Two hours later with a lot of patience and some intricate inlay work using crushed abalone shell, shards of turquoise, and tiny pieces of red coral, I had created a pen that would travel with me on this journey.

Well, back to the presentation, I had to do it, I asked Mike if I could meet with the professor privately, (I didn't want to make a big thing about it ), and I told him I wanted to present my pen to the professor as a gift from one artist (and I use the term artist on my behalf loosely!) to another as a sign of respect and gratitude for his hospitality, and for sharing his knowledge.

Well when the opportunity presented it's self David and Brian photographed the occasion and as I explained and describe my offering, the professor seemed to be quite moved with my gesture, and thanked me repeatedly for my generosity, and to reciprocate the gesture, he gave me the beautiful vase he use in his presentation! I was floored! I can't describe the emotion's that were going through my being when be bowed and handed me the piece. When all was said and done, well need I say more!

By the way, as I write with the perspiration dripping off my chin and on to my lap, the electricity's back on!

Oh! why should I kick myself. As I walked away from the excitement of the pen and vase moment, I left all my notes, the professors business card and related documentation at the table I was sitting at! (WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!) Good thing I gave him my business card, as we departed he said he would email me back in the states with more information and his website, whew!

Until later,
Chef :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


We're here, I don't know how people do this? The day was brutal, but I'll get to that later. Before the nightmare of HUE
At breakfast in the hotel in Siem Reap, spoke with Sara who asked if I was interested I visiting an NGO ( Non Government Organization ) Hospitality organization a few minute walk from the hotel Rebecca and I had heard of in Phnom Penh. The organization called "SHINTA MANI" and "SENTEURS d' ANGKOR" was started by the French NGO "Agir Pour Le Cambodge" in October 2002. each year the school trains free of charge about 100 young disadvantage Cambidians in the hospitality and tourism industry, and an adjoining industry that trains more students in the art of producing products fabricated from sustainable resources, such as soaps, herbs, spices, candles, and the like. More later.

Monday, July 19, 2010


A few parting shots before leaving Cambodia, visited a nice temple this morning with the crew, still a little shaky from the revenge, but made it through. Brian and I decided to take a quick shower after lunch, by that time the heat had to be in the 100's with 90+ humidity, sweating like 10,000, ( have to be a vet to know what I mean). We were invited down to the pool for beverages with Sarah, Rebecca, and David, but that didn't last long, heat! So we all decided to meet later for dinner and a visit to the night market as our last official night in Cambodia, 7ish.
Looking at the sky, didn't look good around 5ish, I was right, suddenly, boom! thunder and lightning like 10'000, monsoon rains, the likes I haven't seen since the war, I mean hard! Brian and I looked at one another and said, so much for dinner and night market, right. 6:30 rolls around and David call's asking if we're still up to go out, mind you it's still raining like crazy, and the hotel parking lot is now flooded. Should we , shouldn't we, yes , no, yes, get ready let's go.
We make it down stairs, there's David, Rebecca, Sarah, then comes Jeanie, and then there's papa bear Mike, by this time we're all looking at one another, should we do this or not, mean time more thunder and lighting. We look outside there's the van to pick us up, lets go!
We head to "Pub Street", the local tourist crawl for beverages and food. Long story short, after dinner some pool, it's time to head back. By the way, 5 minutes after we arrive at Pub Street it stopped raining, go figure, and a good time was had by all!
Tomorrow, 2 connecting flight's to HO CHI MINH CITY, then on to HUE City.
The journey continues!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Children

Brian and the group decided to check out the night market, I decided to stay in, and rest for tomorrow.
Few day's ago we visited a small village called PHNOM DA, about 20 km by small motor boat, through rice patty channel's, what a ride, the highlight of the trip! The group road in 3 different boats 4 passengers each, took about 1/2 an hour to get there. When we arrived we were greeted by a hoard of children the like's I haven't seen since the war, the innocences! No begging, no whining, just joy to see us. Brian brought a Polaroid instamatic camera took pix and gave them to the kids, they were fascinated, and fought over them like crazy, good thing he brought plenty of film, by day's end they all got copies. I took a ton of pix, to top things off, my Cannon 7D takes HD video, as I filmed and played back what I took the kids went nuts. It was hilarious to see the joy in their faces. We toured the ruins of 2 beautiful temples that had been bombed in 74' at the end of the war, what a shame, our guide gave an excellent description of the history of the area, while the kids ran around us like children will do with strangers, but in this case we might as well been from another planet. When it was time to leave we started to board the boats the kids started to jump into the water all around us. It was sad, but I left with a feeling of gratefulness for what I had waiting for me at home. On the way back, there were people on the banks hard at work fishing, tending their flocks of ducks, and working the rice fields, waving with beautiful smiles as we whisked bye. Time to ponder.