Thursday, November 28, 2002

Qui Nhon

Friends: Laurie tells me she's never heard anyone vomit louder than I did a couple of nights ago. She certainly heard me at my loudest and most pained. Shortly after lights out I was struck without any forboding by the urge to vomit. For the next two hours I wore out a patch between the bed and the toilet, expelling whatever poisons wanted out.

It followed an equally nauseating four-flat tire day, with the last three after dark and in the rain. Pained as I was by such ill-fortune, I actually went to bed with relief after finding a bike store that had a 27-inch tire. It was a triple miracle. Even if there had been a bike store in this town, I doubted it would be open at such a late hour and could only pray that if there was a bike store that it would have a 27-inch tire. I was also relieved that I hadn't damaged my front rim, as I rode the last five miles into the town on a flat tire, having given up on patching another tube in the rain and in the dark. I thought finding the tire had ended my miseries for the day, especially when we also discovered a woman with a blender who made us a couple of fruit shakes before our late late dinner, not until after nine.

I don't have much experience at vomiting, so I wasn't all that adept assisting my stomach in expelling whatever wanted out. It was in and out of bed every ten or fifteen minutes. Not only was I disturbing Laurie's sleep, but her peace of mind, as we had both pretty much eaten the same thing all day. She feared the same urge any time herself. What a battle that could be in the bathroom for the toilet. But Laurie could rest assured that she'd only had a mouthful of a couple of questionable meat dishes we had had this day, while I had heartily chowed down on both.

Twice this day we shared meals with Vietnamese in their homes. The first was lunch with a 23- year old economics student. He encountered us on the road on his motorbike and, as happens several times a day, slowed to have a conversation. Rarely does it go beyond a minute or two, curtailed by their limited English and our even more limited Vietnamese. But this fellow, Tong, was very determined to keep a conversation going, difficult as it was at twelve miles per hour with traffic zooming past and his very minimal fluency. He escorted us for over an hour and also waited out my first flat tire and then took us to his home, about a mile detour, for lunch. Our appearance more than surprised his younger sister and neighbors.

His home was quite austere, essentially two bedrooms and a kitchen. Tong had a bed with a thin mat as a mattress, a desk and a bureau with his one luxury, a radio/tape player. He had one wane fluorescent bulb for illumination. His walls were adorned with several pages ripped from magazines, one of Britney Spears and another of a player from Liverpool's soccer team, a favorite team throughout Southeast Asia. We arrived at 12:45 and told Tong we had to be on our way by 1:30 to reach our destination forty miles away by dark at 5:15. His sister had to go out to get food for lunch. There was still chopping going on in the kitchen at 1:30 and it wasn't until two that rice and vegetables and strips of pork and a fried egg and various condiments were ready. Tong gave us a lesson in how to eat the food. Laurie and I were fully prepared to make the sacrifice of some night riding for this rare opportunity. But it could have been that pork, which Laurie only sampled, that did me in later that day.

Or it could have been the meat served to us by another family that took us in as I worked on flat tire number three at 6:30. We spent nearly an hour with them as Laurie and the wife of the home/restaurant really hit it off even though their shared vocabulary amounted to about three words. She sent Laurie off with a couple of glossy wedding photos and would take no money for the food and drink they gave us. The food was mostly a platter of dark meat of several types. I thought it was duck, but after the meal when Laurie went to the bathroom out the back of the house she noticed several caged dogs, as we have seen in the market for eating. The thought of that later that night was the one thing that facilitated my vomiting. Still, it took all too long for my marathon to end. I was in considerable pain and wondered how long we might  be marooned in this town if I was really sick. At least it had Internet and fruit shakes, our two greatest pleasures.

When I awoke at seven, I was surprised that I had finally gone to sleep and then even more surprised that I could walk without a wobble and even felt like putting something in my stomach. We were lucky our next destination was only forty miles down the road. I could hobble such a distance. But I also had the chance to test out my health, as well as that of my bike, with a nine-mile ride out to the site of the My Lai massacre that morning. Laurie feared it would be too emotional of an experience for her, so I went off on my own.  I rode without any gear on my bike, making pushing the pedals much less of a strain than usual. I felt only a hint of weakness from my rough night, meaning there would be no need to spend the day in rest.

The most difficult part of my ride out to My Lai was finding it, as it wasn't very well marked and I rode right by it. I came upon a My Lai Peace Park under construction further down the road than where I understood the My Lai memorial was. I mistook the Peace Park for the site, even though there was no museum there as I had been told there would be.  After doubling back, then I did find what I was looking for.

It was here in March of 1968 that American soldiers led by Lt. William Calley rounded up and gunned down some 500 villagers, mostly women and the elderly. It was covered up for over a year, but he and others were eventually brought to trial. Calley was sentenced to life in prison, though he was released after three years. No others were sentenced. The museum had over a hundred photographs of the actual operation, as an army photographer was on the scene. Some of the photos were marked "U.S. Prosecution, exhibit so and so." There were more recent photos of U.S. soldiers who had returned twenty years after the event, including the photographer. There was also a lengthy statement from a U.S. helicopter pilot who tried to intervene and did save some of the villagers. The memorial site included a dozen or so sculptures. A ditch where 170 villagers were gunned down en masse remained. Bullet holes in trees could be seen where various villagers had been executed. I had the place to my self. It was hard to imagine the horror that had gone on there.

I was greatly relieved to discover that I was okay to ride and have been fine since my bout of vomiting. Today is Thanksgiving, and that we both have our health is our greatest thing to be thankful for. I'm being told it is closing time here, so I can't go on about our great Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant run by a couple of New Zealanders. I had meat and potatoes, while Laurie had spaghetti with two cheeses. All is well.

Later, George

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