Gary by campfire

Recent Comments

Vietnam Day Three

April 28, 2012 (Saturday) – This morning, Zabine had a wonderful and completely unexpected encounter with Rosalie Huibonhua, a Baha’i Continental Counselor. Her areas of responsibility include China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and other Asian countries. She is here, of course, to attend the celebration of the Hanoi Baha’i community’s 20th anniversary.

Days Three-Four 004 We met her at the home of a member of the Vietnam Baha’i national governing body. Although it seemed like a chance meeting, I don’t really believe in luck.  Zabine and Rosalie, it turns out, share a common vision regarding social action and spiritual education. The Counselor instantly recognized many ways Zabine’s work could facilitate her own. They both talked so fast I couldn’t keep up, but my sense is that Very Great Things will come from the relationship.

Later in the afternoon, Zabine taught a workshop on resources for engaging in unifying conversation. Speaking of which: Most of the friends attending were Vietnamese, so she spoke with the aid of a translator. Although she brought various printed materials, one of her best tools is turning out to be the iPad. Considering Zabine never had used an iPad until this week (she’s borrowing mine), it’s amazing how quickly she has mastered thic amazing tool.

That evening, back at our home-away-from-home, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner and relaxed conversation with our hosts. Although I love traveling, it is inevitably hectic: You’re always in novel situations and running on high energy. We were more than ready for this deeply peaceful evening. Tomorrow is another day.

Vietnam Tech Notes

If you contemplate travel to Vietnam, you may want to brush up on how to stay connected with home. It is a lot easier than I expected.

You can make free phone calls to home. You can keep your smart-phone, computer, camera, and everything else fully charged. You can plug in.

First step, plugging in: Most modern electronics have dual-voltage power supplies. This applies to all Apple products, all the Android products I’ve checked, and the laptops I’ve checked. (You can verify the dual-voltage status by … Continue reading Vietnam Tech Notes

Second Day Vietnam Photos

Some representative photos from our second day in Vietnam.

Eat, Pray, Love, Shop (Vietnam Style)

April 27, 2012 (Friday) – Having enjoyed our motorcycle ride, we were set for a busy day.

SecondDay001 First, we sat in on a committee meeting at the home of a Baha’i friend, met many members of the Baha’i community, along with a visiting Counselor, George Saroya, from Indonesia. Lunch at an outdoor noodle cafe. Delicious food. Did I mention that I am not normally adventurous with unfamiliar cuisine? So far, however, I’ve enjoyed all kinds of new dishes I don’t recognize, can’t pronounce, and that taste unlike anything I recall. It’s turning out to be a treat, not a challenge. (But stay tuned!)

SecondDay014 After lunch, we were turned over to two wonderful young Vietnamese women, Ha and Huyen (pronounced “When”). They escorted us on a long trek through downtown Hanoi. Shopping, sightseeing, learning cultural history. Too much to easily absorb, much less summarize here – but amazing stuff. Long walks, long bus rides. (Riding a bus in Hanoi feels just like riding a bus in any American city, or at least that was my take on it.)

SecondDay020 In the evening, we attended a Baha’i Feast observance at a private residence. At least 50 to 60 Baha’is attended – almost all of them Vietnamese. Rare exceptions included our hosts, Michael and Selena, who are American; ourselves, and a couple of visitors attending for the same reason we are: To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Baha’i community in Hanoi.

SecondDay023 Speaking of which, Zabine was recognized and honored for her role in teaching and enrolling the first Hanoi believer, Dr. Dao An Son. She’s thus regarded by the Baha’is here as the founder of their community. Asked to speak, she conveyed loving greetings from hundreds of well-wishers from throughout the planet. Zabine has unnumbered Internet connections: more than 4500 Facebook friends, just for starters. She assured them (through her interpreter) that this immense worldwide community is vibrant with admiration for everything the friends in Vietnam are accomplishing.

Tomorrow (Saturday) happens to be Vietnam’s annual Baha’i convention, where the National Spiritual Assembly is elected. Since Zabine and I can’t attend that, we aren’t sure how we’ll be spending the day: That is up to our hosts. But Sunday is an open anniversary celebration to which everyone is invited – public officials, private citizens (Baha’i and otherwise), and visiting dignitaries.

Hanoi from the Handlebars

April 27, 2012 (Friday) – Our busy day started with an unexpected treat – motorcycle rides for Zabine and me. We knew that Baha’i friends were coming by to pick us up, and I suppose we expected a van or car or something. But the most normal mode of transport in Hanoi seems to be the motorcycle, so it was our time to be initiated.

Motorcycle Prep1 Major streets in Hanoi are narrower than those in Ho Chi Minh City. There are good lane markings when there’s no construction going on – but there is a lot of construction.

Nevertheless, motorcycle travel in Hanoi is safe and stress-free. Until you get out of the driveway. Connecting alleys are okay, except for the requisite right-angle turns at high speed. Then you enter a major thoroughfare, and the rules change. Including, apparently, the rules of physics: Standard equations that govern momentum, drag, gravity, and quantum thermodynamics no longer apply.

Motorcycle Prep2 Hanoi has six million people and three million motorcycles, most of which are on the street simultaneously. (Okay, not literally – but a high percentage.) There also are large numbers of large buses, smaller buses, SUVs, cars (regular and compact), bicycles, pedestrians, and other moving objects.

At any given moment, each of those moving objects appears to be on a high-speed collision course with at least five other moving objects. Often a lot more. Time and again I wanted to yell, “You’re heading straight toward an oncoming bus!” Or we’d be zooming toward the back of a car ahead of us, going in the same direction, when an SUV would zoom past that car through an opening that appeared half its size. Milliseconds before the SUV would pass, my driver would slip between the two vehicles and tool nonchalantly along.

How I wish I had photos taken from the back of that motorcycle. Or better yet, a video. But waving around a camera phone during the actual ride wasn’t an act that leapt to mind as rational. I held on tightly. It was fun, sometimes in the way an extreme carnival ride is fun. Our drivers were highly skilled and completely accustomed to the traffic environment, so the reality is that we were – statistically speaking – quite safe. I’d say we were at least as safe as one is driving a car during Knoxville rush-hour traffic. Probably a lot safer.

And yes: I’m looking forward to doing it again!

Motorcycles01 Motorcycles02

Hanoi Street Market

Vietnam Arrival

April 25, 2012 (Wednesday) – We are now in Hanoi. Considering my many (mis)adventures with travel, domestic and foreign, the trip here was amazingly smooth and stress-free. Well, as stress-free as 18 or so hours on an airplane can be.

We landed in Seoul, Korea (Incheon Airport) right on schedule (okay, a couple of minutes late). The first thrill was discovering that our cell phones could connect to the airport’s free wifi hotspot. So I texted, then called, my beloved Cheri. Actually heard her voice (though what that voice was saying was that she couldn’t hear mine very well). Zabine and I passed through airport security to board the plane to Hanoi. Then ensued a four-hour flight, during which we both tried to catch a bit of sleep.

Landing, debarking, and baggage collection – smooth. Immigration entry checkpoint, even smoother. Zabine and I both recall travels where involved a lot of entry paperwork. Here we were greeted by a brisk customs official who checked our passports and visas, confirmed they were in order, stamped them, and waved us through.

Vietnam-iPhone First 196 Then a thrill: As we walked left the airport proper, we spotted three men holding a sign that read “Baha’i”. Ecstatic greetings and introductions ensued. Zabine, who has been to Vietnam twice before this trip, well remembers when no such openness would have been possible. Having official government recognition for the Faith makes all the difference. As is typical in Baha’i circles, we all were like lifelong friends, nay family, within five minutes.

A car ride followed, during which we learned all about Hanoi and Vietnam. Zabine was astounded by how much, and how rapidly, things have changed. A major surprise was the relatively small number of bicycles, once much more common, and the corresponding prevalence of small motorcycles. Everyone seems now to get around that way.

We were taken to the home of Dr. Hao Van Le and his wife, Dr. Khinh Le, who are providing hospitality during our stay. Their home has, among other amenities, very high-quality wifi. (That’s why I’m able to post blog updates like this one.)

As the home tour completed, we were rapidly descending into jet-lag-reinforced comas. Zabine and I therefore retired to our separate sleeping rooms. I did, however, take a few minutes to call Cheri over a free wifi VOIP phone service. To my amazement, it connected instantly and were able to talk as easily as if we were in the same room. (More on that later.)

Vietnam Journey Unfolding

April 24, 2012 — Zabine and I are in flight –Asiana Airlines– somewhere between Seattle and Seoul. We’ve travewled 1550 of our 5210-mile total;our altitude is 36,000 feet, ground speed 532 miles per hour, and current outside air temperature — a balmy minus-70 degrees F. (Guess if I get too hot, I can always go perch on the wing!)

Sense of time, utterly mixed up. Between Knoxville, my home, and Hanoi, our ultimate destination, the time difference is 12 hours. (But does Daylight Saving Time factor in, and how?) Twixt Seattle and Hanoi, 15 hours –at least that’s what the web site said. What I don’t know is what time zone we’re in right now, or where the international date line is, or what time it is now, locally. (Is there even such a thing as local time when you’re 36,000 feet high?) My iPad clock reads 6:05 p.m., but that’s just what the time WOULD be if we hadn’t left Seattle and lost Internet access.

This I know: Asiana is one classy airline. Boarding was a breeze, despite the hugeness of the crowd getting onto the packed plane. Accommodations are comfortable and spacious; the flight crew, uniformly friendly, briskly efficient and genuinely caring. I wish domestic air travel were as easy as this, but it just isn’t.
… Continue reading Vietnam Journey Unfolding

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 … Continue reading Visiting Vietnam

New high-def “Heart to Heart” website

Whew! It’s hard to believe it’s been more than a month since I posted my March 8 article on Heart to Heart. Sorry to be quiet for so long, but so much has happened:

SlideshowI’ve ported my new presentation of the Heart to Heart program to its own, standalone web site: Heart to Heart HD. Even though this new site remains a work-in-progress, early feedback suggests that people are finding it highly attractive, engaging, and useful. You can visit it by clicking here, or on the slideshow graphic to the right.

The actual web address is:

This site went live on March 19. Less than 24 hours later, the official web site of the US Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly featured this new site on its “multimedia resources” page, under “interactive”:

A few days later, Stephen Scotti, webmaster for the Virginia Peninsula Baha’i cluster, figured out yet another way to make Heart to Heart sizzle on the web. … Continue reading New high-def “Heart to Heart” website