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Visiting Vietnam

Good morning, April 22. I can’t believe I’m on my way to Vietnam.

The Vietnam trip has been in the works for several months, but I haven’t had the courage — till now — to write about it.

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m excited about this trip — upbeat, optimistic, incredibly happy. What I’m saying is that the whole thing has had a surreal sense of unreality. (But there’s something about looking down at the sky from above it that restores one’s sense of “this is really happening!”)

Another reason is that I honestly wasn’t sure, till a few days ago, that the trip would be possible. Had to get a visa, contingent on a renewed passport, contingent on getting a long form birth certificate. (Can’t believe I’ve never had one of those!) From all appearances, there wasn’t time for these steps even with expedited service. It took congressional intervention, plus two all-day driving trips and an overnighter, to clear those hurdles in the nick.

But enough already! Why Vietnam?

For the record, this trip has nothing to do with me. I’m going primarily as porter, reporter, and assistant to Zabine Van Ness. Here’s the scoop:

In 1992, Zabine and her late husband, my dear friend J.T. Linkins, introduced the Baha’i Faith to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. The present-day Vietnamese Baha’i community grew out of that seminal event. Now, twenty years later, that burgeoning community is celebrating that anniversary at its annual national convention. Naturally, they invited Zabine as their guest of honor.

The invite also extended to a companion. In the beginning, the dear Vietnamese friends didn’t realize that J.T. is deceased. The obvious next choice was Zabine’s current husband, the wonderful Peter Van Ness. Yet another obvious candidate would have been Miles Lane, Zabine’s associate and co-designer of her Heart to Heart Baha’i multimedia project.

Neither of these dear friends, however, were available, so the invitation passed on to me. I’m still reeling in shock, but won’t pass up the bounty.

Boarded American Eagle in Knoxville this morning at 7 a.m. I’m writing this at Chicago O’Hare Airport, waiting to board an American Airlines flight to Seattle, where I’ll be a guest of Zabine and Peter for a couple of days before leaving on Tuesday, April 24, for Vietnam via Seoul, Korea.

Okay, now it’s April 23, and I’m in Seattle. Tomorrow, at 2:20 p.m., we leave on Asiana Airlines for Seoul, then Hanoi. What sort of web access will we have for posting updates? Check back in a few days, and I’ll let you know.

Or not. Either way, please let me know what you think. Or ask, if you aren’t sure what to think. Let’s let this be the start of a great conversation.

8 comments to Visiting Vietnam

  • the day is finally here and we are packed and having that last cup of coffee and some slight breakfast.

    Checking out the list one more time….

    Next stop Hanoi


  • Shiraz Gol

    Dearest Zabine and Gary,
    Thank you for bringing joy to the Vietnamese friends by being there; both of you well deserve this trip. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  • David Neidig

    Wow! What a trip (literally!). As I read of your experiences my thoughts go back to the late sixties and early seventies. I was so glad to hear that the awful war was finally over. Now there’s a Baha’i community in Hanoi? Awesome!

  • Ellen Frew

    Obviously have had this address for a looong time and kept it so family could find me.
    Back in the day I knew David Neidig when he lived here in Illinois. And also knew Arlene Jenrich who knew David when he was even younger. It is a small world.
    My husband was in Seoul, Korea, when we were involved there. How rewarding to know that Vietname has a community!

  • Dermot McHugh

    Very interesting that the Faith took that long to reach Hanoi. In 1968 while in Thailand as an army medic I had the opportunity to see a Navy manual for new sailors in Vietnam. It had a section on Culture including religion in Vietnam, and began with the Baha’i Faith first of all, believe it or not. There were tens of thousands of Baha’is in Vietnam at that time. I also had the opportunity to meet Shirin Fozdar whose son, Jamshid, had been a pioneer in Vietnam before moving to Thailand.

    • Gary Matthews

      Yes, Dermot, you are right. The Baha’i Faith during the Sixties was extremely successful and fast-growing in South Vietnam. But this was not true in North Vietnam. After the American presence in South Vietnam ended, and Vietnam was unified, the Faith remained unrecognized and unsanctioned for a great many years. During that period, many South Vietnamese believers left the country, became inactive, or dropped out of sight in various other ways.

      When Zabine and J.T. visited Hanoi in 1992, there were Baha’is in the south of Vietnam. As you perhaps know, if you’ve read Zabine’s account of the history, it was to those Baha’is that she appealed for help to save the life of her husband after he fell ill. The story is here. It all ties together into really fascinating history.

  • Dermot McHugh

    Before Thailand, I was at Fort Sam Houston for basic and medic training at the same time as Doug Ruhe (spring 1968 at the time his father was elected to the Universal House of Justice). Doug went to Vietnam, and in the film (“It’s Just the Beginning”) of the 1970 Youth Conference, he is shown talking about his experiences meeting the Baha’is in Vietnam.

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