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.


Falling behind on my work. Left Phnom Penh for a 7 hours road trip to SIEM REAP, about 310 km. Thought my luck was holding out so far but no luck here. We stopped at a pre arranged lunch spot, half way during lunch I find a dead fly under a piece of carrot. Should've seen the writing on the wall. I obviously elected to not finish my meal. We headed out, about an hour outside of SIEM REAP we stopped at a famous location I've seen on Discovery Channel noted for it's fried tarantulas, crickets, and scorpions. No big deal as I had an order of tarantula's as an appetizer at a local restaurant the night before. When we left somebody passed a bag of dried banana chips and other assorted tidbits around of which I had to sample, BIG MISTAKE! Later, as I should have known(Can you spell ServSafe instructor) when we arrived at the 5 Star hotel ANGKOR, I was feeling a little uneasy, thinking that the long drive kicked my butt! Brian and I checked in to our room, we both showered and went down to the restaurant to meet everyone for dinner, when I sat down, my stomach started to churn, so I excused myself went back to the room and proceeded to chunk in a way I've not done since my college day's. Within an hour, chills, headache, more chunk, you know what I mean. The dreaded term "Food Poisoning" Long story short, Veronica, Mike and Brian, God bless their collective souls were on it. Started with a call to the kitchen for a cup of fresh ginger tea, major meds, and, my new goddess Veronica a Vietnamese pressure point massage with Tiger Balm, HEAVEN! Sleep was intermittent, with chill's, fever, stiff joints all night, it was miserable. Bye morning I was feeling fairly well when Brian ordered a bowl of rice pourage, straight rice and hot water, from the kitchen that I ate reluctantly, but what a difference. I obviously opted out of the days field trip, and slept all day. The guy's checked on me periodically during the day. When they returned late this afternoon I was 80%, I met them for lunch, had a little soup and local tea, decided to stay in the rest of the day and work. I'm 90% now, have to be ready for tomorrow, we have a 4:30am pick-up.
Lots more to write, want to tell you about the kids in Chau Doc, Mekong Delta.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"I'm In Heaven"

Just returned from one of the best culinary experiences I've had since arriving in Southeast Asia; a real cooking school! I'm a chef, what a novel idea! Yesterday during a lecture at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, my guide Rith, made arrangements for me and a few of my colleagues to attend a popular Cambodian cooking school close to our hotel called "Cambodian Cooking Class", the fee was $25.00 US for a full day, 9:00am to 4:00pm, which consisted of classes in traditional Cambodian KHMER breakfast, lunch and dinner item's, or a half day class for $12.50 US, from 9:00am to 1:00pm, which began with a tuck tuck ride to a local outdoor farmers market tour to purchase the ingredient's to be prepared in class. As you might guess my anticipation and expectations were; to say the least quite high. Since I've been in country, my discipline has probably been the least appreciated in research and first person interaction, I'm going nuts!. A professional chef can only tolerate so many museums, political forums, religious monuments, war memorial's, and such. Don't get me wrong, I've learned a lot since arriving here, but even our visits to the floating market in MY KHANH, to the bustling indoor market at BEN THANH have only wetted my appetite for more. I've seen, tasted, and savored the aromas of so many local exotic fresh herbs and spices; experienced so many unusual, and unique ingredients since arriving here, I long for more every day I'm here.
On arrival to the class; a small unassuming storefront restaurant, Rebecca, Florence and I were greeted by a young and quite beautiful Cambodian woman, short, slight of built, with a vibrant and extremely friendly personality named Janie Nhim. As she introduced herself I assumed ( and you know what happens when you assume anything!) she was one of the wait staff assigned to meet and greet us. We were about 20 minutes late leaving the hotel, and I was in a panic, not wanting to miss a beat, she informed us that it would be a few minute's before we would begin, as she was awaiting the arrival of two more student's for today's class. We paid our fees, and our two fellow culinarians arrived, a young charming married German couple Marion and Michael Milch from Lyon, France, who were on a food crawl through southeast Asia, foodies to the max! When the fees and what not were completed, we were escorted outside to two awaiting tuk tuk's and whizzed off down a buisey bustling and hairy fairway of humanity, hold on to your socks guys, we're on our way!
The farmer's market was a feast for a chef's eye's, been there done that so far, but this time we actually had a local chef as a guide.
It's what I've been waiting for the whole trip,( 21/2 week's later, but yet none too soon! ) Chef Janie meandered through the crowd without a pause, stopping periodically to show and explain the differences between various fresh herb's and spices, their traditional uses and culinary meaning's. What's used in courses according to ethnic tradition, region, religion, philosophy, and medicinal practice's.
We sampled fresh kaffir limen and their leaves,(exquisite), galangal, which resembles fresh ginger but has a more delicate and less bitter flavor, prahok, a pasty preserved fish paste, similar to shrimp or anchovy past used in traditional soups and sauces. I'm telling you guy's, I was in hog heaven! I've seen it, heard about it, read about it, and now I'm here first person and loving every moment! this is the place! After our shopping spree, we tuk tuk back to the restaurant, I'll make this short and to the point or I'll be here all night. We were assigned prep stations, observed a detailed and thoroughly explained chef's demonstration on each step and product to be prepared, and after about an hour or so, sat down to eat and drink a fabulous meal, we ourselves prepared! Awesome! Our group, all 5 of us were so proud of what we had prepared, and eaten together I will not ever forget this experience.
Rith finally arrived to pick us up, where the rest of the crew were waiting to visit another museum, or some other attraction that had nothing to do with me or Rebecka, so we opted to return to the hotel and rest for the remainder of the day. So off on a $2.00 tuk tuk ride back to the hotel we went for a well deserved rest until dinner at 6:30pm, where we were scheduled to meet another Fulbright group from Boston we met earlier the previous day.
Long story short, we met with a terrific group of people with similar interest's and educational goal's for dinner that night at "Friends",
an internationally renowned restaurant and hospitality organization. Cut to the chase. My pre-trip research often quoted that one specialty in this specific geographic region was deep fried tarantula, a local delicacy. Hey, it was on the menu! So, hey I had to try it. I ordered it as an an appetizer course, and it was fantastic! A little crunch on the extremities',and the abdomen which is considered a delicacy had a bit of crunch on the outside but creamy and soft on the inside, definitely tasty. (Hey guy's, it's all in you're head! ) The order had four whole spiders per order a beautiful garnish of fresh cucumber, tomato slices and a fresh kaffir lime dipping sauce, I definitely had to share with my group, brave souls that they are, each tried one, Mike, Rebecka, Joy and David, we are now kindred spirits.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wraped-Up and On The Road Again

Bunches going on. A couple of terrific seminars on the way, one where we were honored big time with student presentation of traditional Khmer dress and dance. Beautiful!!!! Spending lots of time on the bus, off the bus, on the bus etc. 2+ bus hours at a clip traveling through city's, town's, large and small, and the open countryside is breathtaking! Crossed the boarder into Cambodia yesterday, another interesting experience, but details and more pix to come.
Gotta go.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Floating Market at MY KHANH

I was going to sub-title this entry part
2, but I changed my mind.
Leaving the Tien river and on to Can Tho was a visual gourmet buffet, for roughly 4 hours we traveled south on route 1, through small towns and sporadic open spaces of rice patties I remember traveling on the back of troop transport's from point "A" to point "B". Back then there was an endless expanse of rice paddies with farmer's working their field's with the ever present water buffalo towing the plow. Now for the most part the rice patties have been replaced by industrial complexes and highway improvement project's. There are wire fences every where, but the ubiquitous water buffalo, remain, but unfortunately not as abundant as in the past. The faces of the working people remain the same, what is obviously missing are the hoards of children following the trucks, begging for candy, gum, chocolate, anything the compassionate GI had at hand to throw out to the open hands. What was quite obvious were the stacks of red bricks seen everywhere, small piles, large piles, brick laying projects in progress, and beautifully finished homes and walls constructed of those same bricks. Collectively we managed to coax the driver and tour guide to stop at a small family run brick manufacturing establishment, to observe the process, although no production was in progress, we toured the small complex, fascinating.

I think I'm getting too caught up in the moment, so I'll cut to the chase. We made it to the city of MY KHANH, still on one of the tributaries of the Mekong Delta. Checked into the hotel,(Nice place) showered, all met for dinner at a posh restaurant right at rivers edge, and chilled out enjoying the scenery and libations. Tired, travel weary, and just plain exhausted we were informed that for those who were interested, there was a 5:45am pick-up to visit the floating market at Cai Rang, a 40min. boat ride from the hotel. I'm up! Brian and I were up until 2:30am writing and discussing the days events, by the time we hit the sack it was 3:45am. He decided to opt out of the trip, so 5:15am rolls around, I'm up (groggy as hell), but ready to rock and roll.
Sara, David, Eduardo, Mike and a few other brave souls made it to the hotel lobby,(coffeeeeee).
Though it was still dark the boat ride was fantastic, we road a skiff that carried roughly 15 to 20 passengers on a good day, today there were 8 of us. The morning air was brisk, and refreshing, in contrast to the stifling heat and humidity we've been dealing with since we got here. As we approached the designated rallying point of boat'dom ( I just created a new word! kool), there were boats every where, caring everything imaginable in the produce section jockeying for position. It was cool to see stuff from a distance, but I wanted to see real stuff up close and personal, so Ali made a stance and respectfully asked that we be allowed to visit the shore farmers market, where only locals are allowed, meaning (NO TOURISTS ALLOWED!!, and that means YOU!!) When we disembarked at a makeshift wharf, expensive camera gear in hand, the locals looked at us as if, what the h____ are you doing here. Quickey we spanned out, Mike and I trolled the area for good PIX op's and were rewarded very time we turned our head. Live product, fish, shellfish, pork meat, bread, produce, baby ducklings for soup, you name it. Remember every thing here is fit for consumption. (EVERY THING). At days end, we collectively felt rewarded, research. The early wake up after the long journey, was well worth the effort. It's late and tomorrow we check out and continue on.
Chef :)

Long and Winding Road

Made it to Mekong Delta from HCMC in a couple of hours, beautiful and emotionally moving trip for me, great talking to Ali and Edwardo on the way, shared many experiences and thoughts, kind of therapeutic in a sence. Arrived at dock on Tien river, a tributary of Mekong for a trip to Phonex island for terrific lunch of fresh farm raised perch type fish, harvested directly from floating pens. The fish are collected, prepped, deep-fried and presented masterfully to the table in a remarkably artistic way I have never seen before. I look forward to showing these photos to my students. The second main course consisted of steamed giant prawns (U-3 and 4's), presented in a hollow fresh green coconut, with a variety of fresh condiments, very simple, yet elegant. Dessert was an unusual sticky rice custardy like concoction, accompanied by a masterfully produced sticky rice dough, deep-fried slowly into a brown bowling ball size shape. The end dish is served on a plate with the custardy rice as a base and dough ball cut into strips served on top of the custard. My description does not do the actual presentation justice, but when you are presented with something like this so masterfully executed and presented, no words can do it justice. Ya just gotta be here! And the local beer
( named 333 ) wasn't bad either! ( dzo dzo dzo!) Another inside joke, shared with my colleagues!
Now for the hard part, we left the island to a second location for a ride in a traditional vietnamese canoe, paddled by 2 beautiful and colorful women, traveling in groups of 3 and 4 per canoe we meandered threw a beautiful maze of canals lined with lush bamboo and giant palm frawns framed into a canapé configuration, ( if you are a Vietnam veteran I think you know where this is going ). We were each given a traditional bamboo peasant hat to wear during the ride, but a third down the way, it's hard to explain, but I could not bring myself to wear the darn thing, I just can't explain it but you just had to be there, ( and in my head to understand ). I was doing ok for a bit until we hit an area with the ominous sounds of cicadas in the trees surrounding us, thats when I lost it, loosing it is a relative term you have to understand, it's been 40 years for me since the war, and I've always believed deep down I would be back some day and now that I'm here its kind of overwhelming and extremely emotional, but all I will say is that I'm glad Mike was in the boat behind me. Once I got my emotions back in check, I was good, or so I thought.
Once back on dry land my emotions started to rear their ugly heads again, between the semi jungle like terrain, the heat, humidity, and emotions brewing inside my gut, I was close to loosing it again. I started to look for---, well let's just get off this subject. Once I had some water inside me, I think the dehydration I was experiencing had something to do with my state of mind, the traditional musical presentation by local young women and children we were so lucky to witness made up for a lot of the negative vibes I was feeling.
The boat ride back to the bus was kind of a healing process, my colleagues, bless them all are aware of my situation, and have been very understanding and supportive, and I love them all, thank you guys.
Time to take a short break, I'll be back in a few with part 2.
Chef :)