A Day of Contrasts

In 1969 as a junior Pan Am co-pilot I ferried US troops in and out of the Marine airbase at Danang. They were on their way to or from R & R (Rest and Recuperation) holidays during the Vietnam War. Today I rode into Danang on Vietnam Airlines and seated next to me was a family of four from Florida on their way to hang out on China Beach for a few days.

I am traveling to attend a staff meeting and talk about our work in Vietnam including some mitigation of the devastation wrought by Agent Orange/dioxin. The Florida family is taking a year off to travel around the world before their kids push back because they are don’t want to leave their friends.

After checking into a modern hotel on the street bordering the river I met another East Meets West staffer at a Danang coffee house. The purpose of our meeting was to have him brief me on the work we are doing with disabled people in three provinces including a number of third generation birth defects caused by AO. Where does that end? The work EMW does with the disabled isn’t limited to casualties of AO. The beneficiaries can also be accident victims, hearing and visually impaired, mentally ill or other forms of disability. The young man I met with is a real star, living away from his wife and two kids except on weekends, traveling between programs and provinces, supervising a staff of 10, and delivering services to a population largely hidden in Vietnam.

Following our meeting I walked along the river until I came to a trendy indoor/outdoor restaurant. The bait was a stunning young woman in a short, tight silk dress and 4” stilletos. Her beautiful face could have graced the cover of any of the top fashion magazines. I bit. She seated me on the veranda looking out at the river and her. I ordered a beer and some fried rice and was served by three rather homely but refreshingly innocent young girls who wanted to try their English out on me. They smiled constantly and didn’t miss an opportunity to try out their new language skills. Meanwhile, the bait was doing her best to charm a table full of drunks who were ruining everyone’s dinner by trying to outshout each other. The real charm this evening was provided by the three homely teenagers whose eager innocence won the day. I finished my beer and walked back to the hotel as it started to rain. It was a day of contrasts.

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