Somewhere in the Gulf of Tonkin

February 3rd, 2019

About a year ago, when I was finalizing my cruise schedule for 2019, I got the speaker assignment on a cruise that would go to Vietnam during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year that coincides with the Chinese one.  

Anyone my age associates Tet with the Tet offensive, which the North Vietnamese army undertook in 1968 during the ceasefire for the holiday.  Places on the cruise itinerary like Hue and Da Nang were in the news every night, Hue because it was so close to the DMZ and suffered according, and DaNang because the biggest US and South Vietnamese air base was there.

As soon as the assignment was confirmed, I knew who I had to ask to join me: my best friend in college, Nancy Strathman Regan( photo above). We were ardent war protestors  back then, and it just seemed too amazing to be able—fifty years later!—to go to the place that, though half a world away,  was such a part of our lives. And now, here we are, on a ship crossing the Gulf of Tonkin ( remember that?) on our way to spend the next few days visiting Hue and the area around Da Nang.  

In Halong Bay yesterday we spent a couple of hours in the nearby town, and I realized that about 99% of the people we saw weren’t alive at the time.  It is such a young population, I am not sure many of their parents were either.

Still, the scars remain on the psyches of many Americans in my generation, who lost confidence in our leaders over their handling of the war, and through the critical lens of the time, formed strong views of social justice at home, which for some of us became lifelong commitments.

I remain an unabashed “liberal,” having never seen any reason to change my mind about values like inclusiveness, equity, and respect for the dignity of all people.  I thought, erroneously it turns out, that America changed for good as a result of the civil rights era, and now I am so deeply saddened by this horrendous backlash against it.  

A deliberate lie told to the American people about an attack on an American ship in the Gulf of Tonkin precipitated a power grab by Lyndon Johnson to expand the war.  Even  one lie can have such enormous consequences. Tell that to the dead, both American and Vietnamese, and their grieving families. Tell that to every sentient being and every landscape that became what is brushed off as collateral damage. 

The damage to me is small, limited to a life of American guilt. Don’t argue with me about whether I should feel that way—I do, and I think it is far better to bear it than to try to make it go away.  Others have paid far greater prices for that war, but no one escapes entirely when moral courage and human empathy are drowned out by expediency and use of power for selfish ends.

Presumably anyone who knows me, in person or through this blog, knows where my thoughts are going with this, but I don’t have the stomach to write about our current national  sickness, fed once again by lies and megalomania.  May the uprising begin, strong, robust and committed, because we know we can take down power. We have done it before.  



Jumping In

January 30th, 2019


Once again, I have been too busy and/ or distracted to post anything about my latest adventures.  The cruise I am on started in Singapore and included four ports in Borneo and four in the Philippines. Today we stop in Manila, and then we have only a sea day before finishing in Hong Kong.  I will stay on for one more week, to experience Tet, the New Year, in Vietnam.  

I thought Borneo would be the high point of the cruise, but it is really the Philippines that has been the revelation.  The islands of Palawan and Romblon are straight out of tropical paradise fantasies, Palawan with its beautiful shallow reefs and cliffs that shoot up straight from the ocean floor, and Romblon with perfect beaches of dazzlingly clear water and soft sands.  As usual, I am already trying to figure out how I can get back here soon, perusing Seabourn and Silversea itineraries as far out as early 2021. Once is simply not enough.

I am not actually much of a water sports or a beach person, so I am surprised at how excited I got about snorkeling yesterday. I have really been missing out! I used to swim pretty long distances and was into scuba diving for a few years, but I drifted into other things like jogging, for a while, and tennis. 

I suspect at some point too early to remember ( or past life?), I may have had a traumatic experience being suddenly immersed in water, because I really resist getting wet , though am fine once I have done it. I don’t even like getting in the shower, and will sit around in sweaty clothes rather than take a shower immediately after tennis or just a hot day.  I have gotten in the pool in my condo complex once in the more than five years I have lived there and the jacuzzi maybe two or three times.  I don’t think I have ever gotten into the pool on a cruise, and many times I don’t even bother to pack a swimsuit. I never do the snorkeling or beach outings on tours, and I am really intimidated by the idea of kayaking because I am so worried about tipping over.

It’s nothing, I tell myself. No big deal. Silly. Lame.  Irrational.  But we are who we are.  Nevertheless, I have decided I am done with this nonsense because I am just missing out on too much.  I can’t wait to go snorkeling again, and that’s a start. Embracing change is one of the exciting things about being alive, and I am determined to be as alive as I can.

I don’t think there is anything  beach coming up for a while that I can do to jump in, literally and figuratively, to the new life as AquaLaurel, but maybe I can start by getting in the pool on the ship.  Just because I can. Just because I want to. 

Rest In Peace, Mary Oliver

January 18th, 2019

We lost a wonderful poet this week.  Here is a poem by her that resonates with me, and I imagine with many others who have faced the fearsome task of breaking away.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

—Mary Oliver