Monday, March 19, 2007

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sfgate_get_fprefs(); The Father of All Things

A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam

By Tom Bissell


Tom Bissell’s wandering journey through Vietnam, “The Father of All Things,” within the context of the Vietnam War and his unresolved relationship with his father, does not lead to an epiphany, nor a holy grail. Instead, Bissell’s account, in tandem with his father’s recollections, offers a fresh and comprehensive look at the Vietnam era.In 1967, after being wounded in Vietnam, Capt. John Bissell resigned his Marine commission and moved his young bride to his hometown of Escanaba, Mich. The younger Bissell imagines his father’s thoughts as he watches televised accounts of Saigon’s fall. At the same time, the marriage between a traumatized John and his wife, Muff, the author’s mother, is unraveling. John is incapable of sharing his deepest feelings with her and finds solace in alcohol:

“Of course you know that if you keep behaving this way you are going to lose Muff forever … You honestly don’t know what you would do, or where you would be, without her. … Yet running contiguous to this certainty are rivers of far inkier thought. They flow through the black, treeless landscape of your mind and feed into your heart, changing its electricity, coarsening it … And your mouth is so dry. You need a drink. You pacify yourself by thinking of that drink, the way the scotch-soaked slivers of ice will melt against your teeth.” It is in passages like this the author finds his most expressive voice.

In other places Bissell defines the reasons we continually retrace our most difficult moments:

“Why do disasters demand such constant revisitation? Perhaps the first human being to delineate yesterday from today was not acting upon any natural observation but was instead seeking to commemorate some previously unthinkable event. Where were you when? Do you remember? We employ so many signifiers to hallow our larger, shared disasters that memory itself collapses beneath the weight. I was there. I remember. But all one truly remembers of most disasters is having forgotten what existence was like before they occurred. …

“On April 29th, 1975, my father was losing something of himself. He was losing what was at that time possibly the largest part of himself. This was his certainty that what he had suffered in Vietnam was necessary. In other words, he was losing his past and future all at once. He would lose much more. We all would. We would lose so much we would forget, perhaps, what it was we had lost.”

In the book’s second part, as father and son traverse Vietnam, the author continuously prods John Bissell to talk about his memories. This veteran is not a particularly revealing person. Pulling stories out of him is hard work, and it shows. At the same time, the son occasionally mines some gems, as in this exchange with a former South Vietnamese soldier.

” ‘The bad memories,’ my father said, ‘like this.’ He then pantomimed taking his brain out of his head, slipped the imaginary brain into his shirt pocket, and slyly patted it.”

Bissell’s extensive description of the grisly My Lai massacre and its aftermath, the harrowing attempted evacuation of Saigon and Da Nang, and the atrocities committed by both sides during the course of the war, offer proof of his astonishing skill. The reader desperately wishes to look away from the heartbreaking narrative of death and destruction, but Bissell’s powerful writing forces one to open one’s eyes and take in the enormity of the moral abyss.

Similarities to the war in Iraq can be found on every page, but Bissell does not spell them out. Simply put, technological advances do not assure victory, and leaders do not always tell the truth, no matter which side they are on. The line between combatants and civilians is consistently blurred.

After a visit to the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, Bissell describes a display that honors all the journalists killed in wartime, especially relevant at this moment in time. He also generously pays tribute to fellow writers on Vietnam: Philip Caputo, Tim O’Brien, Neil Sheehan and Tobias Wolff, among others.

Bissell reads so much about the Vietnam War that he seems to know more about it than his father.

” ‘I read somewhere,’ I told my father, ‘that the National Liberation Front was so effective using booby traps because they knew which trails you’d take. They knew American soldiers would always take the easiest, driest-looking path.’

” ‘I’m sorry to say,’ my father admitted, ‘that what you read is probably true.’ ”

In his author’s notes, he asks, “More than thirty thousand books on Vietnam are currently in print. Why another?” The answer is not difficult. Bissell looks at the war through the lens of a generation not yet born when America pulled out of Vietnam. He scrutinizes the oft-repeated historical facts and holds them up to the light, illuminating them in the process. The complexities inherent in the Vietnam War are difficult to understand. And, although Bissell obviously loves his father, their relationship is fraught with sadness and uncertainty. “The Father of All Things” displays the kind of hard-won comprehension and insight that develops only over time and with much thought. In a nation’s history, and a family’s saga, this understanding is both painful and necessary.

Patricia Conover is a writer and editor who lives in Paris.

This article appeared on page E – 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

By The Associated Press


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(Multichannel News) _ It would be easy to read too little ‘ or too much ‘ into last month’s announcement that the MTV World channels MTV Chi, MTV Desi and MTV K were going dark. Read too little, and the news can be dismissed as problems specific to MTV Networks. Read too much, and it could signify that the bottom is falling out of the Asian-American TV market.

“I was disappointed,” said Bill Georges, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Asian network AZN. “It is sad, and it doesn’t send a message we would like to have out there.”

For ImaginAsian TV president Mike Hong, what happened to MTV World had to do with making a go of it in a premium space. “When you are trying to target the Gen Y Asian-American market with a premium service, it just doesn’t work,” Hong said. “And I think [MTV’s] was a premium service that had very little appeal to advertisers.”

During an interview last July on the launch of MTV K, MTV World senior vice president and general manager Nusrat Durrani claimed several advertisers were interested, but he refused to name them. Later that month, MTV president Christina Norman said, “We really feel these young audiences deserve their own MTVs.”

Maybe so, but not for long. MTV Desi, aimed at South Asian-Americans, launched in 2005. MTV Chi, for Chinese-Americans, and Korean-American-targeted MTV K launched in 2006.

ImaginAsian and Comcast-owned AZN report increasing advertising sales on a quarterly basis. That said, “the Asian market is grossly underspent,” according to Georges, with the amount of advertising targeting Asian-Americans in no way reflecting their buying power.

“There has been a lot of buzz and e-


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‘);” onmouseout=”hideAd();” class=”Hotlink”>mail circulating within the Asian space because it is Viacom and MTV,” said Hong. “And some of the agencies have been active in trying to support [MTV World’s] continued existence.”

By contrast, the demise of the satellite network American Desi drew little attention when it filed for bankruptcy last August.

Founder and former CEO Vimal Verma now regrets having granted exclusivity to EchoStar Communications when American Desi launched in December 2004. That approach, he said, is fine for a network from Asia looking to secure incremental revenue in the United States, but “today, for a local U.S. channel to establish itself on EchoStar would be difficult.”

Hong goes one step further. “I think the idea of creating a linear channel that is ad-supported today if you were just getting out of the gates is probably insane.”

That did not stop Filipino Click for the lowest price on dmnobieblanktelevision‘);” onmouseout=”hideAd();” class=”Hotlink”>television giant ABS-CBN from launching a “music/lifestyle” outlet called MYX, inspired by a music network of the same name in the Philippines. MYX debuted Feb. 28 on DirecTV.

“There really is a big market out there, specifically the Asian-American youth market who we know are really, really hungry for music videos,” ABS-CBN Global product manager Pia Palpal-latoc said. “They are not getting enough of that right now.”

ABS-CBN has run a premium network, The Filipino Channel, in the U.S. for more than a decade. In that time, according to Palpal-latoc, it has realized the children of Filipino immigrants felt there was nothing on the network that spoke directly to them as Asian-Americans.

In light of this generational shift, “The next question is, ‘What is the future of our company?’ Obviously we need to start talking to the younger people, the kids of the immigrants and they are looking for something else beyond our original programming on TFC. We feel the way to go after them is music and lifestyle,” Palpal-latoc said.

Despite its Filipino origins, MYX’s focus is on the whole Asian-American youth market. The network does not intend to provide separate Chinese, Korean and South Asian feeds.

ABS-CBN International product manager Jun Del Rosario said, “We are taking a risk but a risk that needs to be taken now.”

Other companies are taking that risk to the Internet and pursuing the Asian-American audience online.

KyLin TV, for instance, is an Internet Protocol-TV service that provides 31 broadcast Chinese channels and some 20,000 hours of “on-demand” broadband programming. The service has 15,000 subscribers, and is bringing in $25 per customer per month, according to Chris Wagner executive vice president of NeuLion, which distributes KyLin TV via broadband.

“Very attractive” is how Wagner described the multicultural broadband market. “You have an expatriate group that wants programming from home. There is a very strong desire for that.”

Broadband, according to Wagner, enables KyLinTV to reach a potential market of 20 million Chinese-Americans without going to the trouble of having to negotiate dozens of cable and satellite carriage agreements.

AZN’s Georges said his network’s online Click for the lowest price on dmnobieblankstreaming‘);” onmouseout=”hideAd();” class=”Hotlink”>streaming video player offers programming in several languages at the same time, “which you could never do on a linear platform and, with the number of Asian languages, you can’t do it on VOD either.”

Even when news of MTV World’s demise broke, the company said, “We remain steadfast in super-serving multicultural youth, and we are continuing to investigate ways to integrate the MTV Desi, Chi and K brands online and on our other screens.”

As ABS-CBN’s Del Rosario put it, “With the Asian market, everything is a work in progress.”

Copyright The Associated Press 2006. All Rights Reserved

The Christian Science Monitor

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Highly prized fermented fish sauce produced on Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island is bottled for sale earlier this month.

PHU QUOC, Vietnam — Nguyen Thi Tinh draws a sample of her 2006 vintage from a wooden vat, inhales deeply, and dips her finger into the golden-brown liquid. The verdict? A sharp nose. Nice warm hues. And the taste is, well, sour, salty and unmistakably fishy.

What cognac is to France, the pungent, fermented fish sauce in Tinh’s vats is to Vietnam: A national treasure that shouldn’t be produced anywhere else. And everyone agrees that the best fish sauce, or nuoc mam, comes from the island of Phu Quoc. The islanders use only top-grade black anchovies, natural inputs and traditional storage methods to make their sauce, as they have done for a century or more.

Wherever you travel in Vietnam, you’re never too far from a bottle of fish sauce. It’s a protein-rich staple of the cuisine, and a companion to any savory dish. Other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Cambodia produce their own sauces, but nobody does it quite like the Vietnamese.

“Every morsel that people put in their mouths is either cooked in fish sauce or dipped in it,” says Ashok Mittal, vice- president of Unilever Vietnam’s food division, which sells fish sauce from Phu Quoc under its German subsidiary, Knorr.

But Phu Quoc is changing, and so is the fish-sauce industry. Until the 1980s, when Vietnam began to tinker with its socialist economy, producers sold their sauce to the government at a fixed price. Private traders then took over. As demand increased, more families entered the business. Today, there are more than 80 producers on the island.

Producers began to complain, though, that traders on the mainland were diluting their premium product with low-grade fish sauce and passing off the result as Phu Quoc sauce. Eventually, Vietnam’s government took notice. In 2001, it ruled that only sauce produced and bottled on Phu Quoc could use the island’s name, giving it the kind of territorial copyright that European wines and cheeses enjoy.

Enter Mittal’s Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch consumer-brand company. Unilever built a $1 million bottling plant on Phu Quoc in 2002 and began selling Knorr-branded fish sauce in Vietnam. The move upset some traditionalists who asked why a multinational was marketing a national treasure, but producers saw a way to get better returns from their sauce.

Nuoc mam (fish sauce)

What it is: A protein-rich staple and a companion to any savory dish.

Where it is most popular: Thailand and Cambodia produce their own sauces, but nobody does it quite like the Vietnamese.

How it is made: The sauce is prepared in tall wooden vats in open-air ware-

houses. The vats are 10 feet in diameter and can hold several tons of anchovies. For every three tons of fish, a ton of sea salt is added, before the container is sealed at the top. After one year of fermentation, the first extract is sampled — a process that is akin to the first pressing of olive oil.

“Knorr is the first attempt to brand a commodity that’s like salt and sugar in Vietnam. It’s so integral to daily life,” says Mittal.

Today, about one-third of the island’s top-grade sauce, or 2,500 tons, is sold under the Knorr brand in Vietnam. But the government hasn’t kept up its end of the bargain, says Mittal, as companies that buy in bulk and bottle on the mainland continue to use the Phu Quoc name.

The industry also faces the issue of sustainability. Fishermen are finding it harder to catch the prized black anchovies in the waters around Phu Quoc and are forced to sail farther afield. “We have so many fish-sauce manufacturers. I think in future it will be hard to find enough supply” of fish, says Pham Huynh Quoc, who inherited a medium-size sauce business from his mother.

But there’s a new game in town: tourism. In recent years, as newly affluent Vietnamese take more vacations, beachfront property on Phu Quoc is being turned into resorts. The island is abuzz with rumors of foreign investors snapping up land, and local officials are promoting Phu Quoc as the next big destination for holiday makers in Southeast Asia.

Both Quoc and Tinh have joined the rush by opening their own hotels, where guests can also buy bottles of private-brand sauce. Both hotels are close to the beach — and far from the pungent vats of fermenting fish.

Inside the open-air warehouse where the sauce is prepared, dozens of tall wooden vats march along the concrete floor. The handmade vats are 10 feet in diameter and can hold several tons of tiny, briny anchovies, which the boats haul in from in the waters off Phu Quoc. For every three tons of fish, a ton of sea salt is added, before the container is sealed at the top. After one year of fermentation, the first extract is sampled.

Traditionally, this is women’s work. “Every housewife here knows how to make fish sauce,” Tinh says. “The husband would go out to fish, and the women would stay home and make the sauce.”



Coralis Vietnam Co., an affiliate of SA Coralis of Luxembourg, has submitted the design of its proposed 65-story building, Vietnam’s tallest, to Hanoi authorities.

The 195-meter building, Hanoi City Complex, will be located at the intersection of Dao Tan and Lieu Giai streets in the capital’s Ba Dinh District.

The US$114.6-million building, the largest foreign-invested venture in the Hanoi real estate sector, will have apartments and offices for rent, conference halls, and a shopping mall, supermarket, cinema, and clinic.

An SA Coralis representative said the design of the building was based on the charm of the traditional Vietnamese garment, the ao dai, and the smiles of the Vietnamese people.

The skyscraper will take three years to build and is likely to be opened in 2010.

The country’s tallest building now is the 33-storey Saigon Trade Center in Ho Chi Minh City’s district 1.

Source: Tuoi Tre, VTC – Translated by Thu Thuy