Saigon, 2011

3/1/2011-Saigon, Former South Vietnamese soldier

I am, by training and inclination, an observer, a spectator, voyeur even, and more likely to study people than to strike up a conversation. I firmly believe in the Blanche DuBois philosophy of depending on the kindness of strangers, but struggle to live it, even though when I do it almost always leads to interesting encounters. So when this gentleman called out to me as I was walking down a street in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City if you prefer), my first reaction was to nod and keep walking. Something made me stop, sit, and accept his offer of a coffee. It turned out he was a former South Vietnamese soldier who had worked with Americans there during the “American War.” After the war he and his family had been sent to a re-education camp and while there his young son became ill. With no medicine available, they left the camp and went back to Saigon to get him help. At some point he was caught and asked why he had “escaped.” After hearing the reason, medical attention for his son, the officer simply said, OK, just go back when the boy is better, and released him. A lesson I learn over and over is that no matter what the official government and political circumstances are, people are just people the world over, reminding me of a Mark Twain quote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice.”

For more photographs go to