Men become lifelong friends under awful conditions

By Michael J. Ross
AMERICUS, Ga. Retired Air Force Col. Fred Cherry and retired Navy Cmdr. Porter Halyburton both explained at a symposium Wednesday at the Rylander Theatre that their horrendous experience as cell mates in a prison of war (POW) camp in Vietnam forged a lasting and nurturing friendship to this very day.

Cherry and Halyburton ended up in the camp, when each of their fighter planes was shot down by ground artillery over Hanoi, Vietnam just within days of each other.

Cherry estimated that his aircraft was traveling about 700 miles per hour when he had to eject from the plane. He suffered several broken bones in his ankles and wrists and an injured shoulder because of the rough ejection, he explained.

Initially, Cherry and Halyburton weren’t jailed together at the “Hanoi Hilton” and didn’t know each other, even though they were both officers in the U.S. military.

The Vietnamese army interrogated both Cherry and Halyburton for months separately. Halyburton said each time he wouldn’t answer their questions, they would move him to a worse cell and living conditions. He said this particular punishment escalated about three times.

Halyburton said he was almost at his breaking point. He had been in solitary confinement and hadn’t spoken to a friendly face in months, when the Vietnamese decided to move him to the worse cell possible, so they thought.

He said guards threw him in another dark cell and yelled, “Take care of Cherry.” The Vietnamese thought it was the ultimate insult in 1965 for a Southern American white man to have to take care of a Southern American black man.

But Cherry and Halyburton both said that was the best thing the Vietnamese could have did for them at that point. Cherry was in a very dire condition from the wounds he had received from his airplane ejection.

Halyburton described how Cherry couldn’t move and hadn’t been allowed to bathe since his capture. Cherry’s captors had only given him the most basic of medical care, he remembered.

“Haly had to do everything for me. He even had to feed me and he never complained once,” Cherry recalled at the symposium. Finally, the doctors at the prison camp decided they were going to operate on Cherry’s injured shoulder.

But this operation only made his health drastically worse. Halyburton recalled that the doctors put a cast on Cherry from his waist to his neck with no padding or bandage on the incision.

Halyburton remembered that the cast was bound super tight and Cherry could hardly exhale or inhale and eat. He said the doctors finally treated Cherry for the infection, after Halyburton caused a lot of trouble and ruckus to get them to do anything.

Cherry said they removed the cast, dug out the infected flesh without any anesthesia and doused his entire upper body with gasoline to supposedly clean the wounds.

They both said the Vietnamese army tried to force them to make audio or written statements denouncing the war, but they wouldn’t.

Cherry said the Vietnamese figured that many American blacks wouldn’t enlist if the Vietnamese could use him as a propaganda tool. “They knew propaganda was the only possible way they could win they war,” Halyburton said about the Vietnamese.

The Vietnamese eventually separated Cherry and Halyburton, and Bill Robinson then became Cherry’s cell mate. Cherry revealed at the symposium that he was imprisoned in the Hanoi Hilton for 7 1/2 years.

But Cherry and Halyburton eventually reunited after captivity and when they returned to the States. Now, they are lifelong friends.

They both have revisited Hanoi decades after their release. Cherry and Halyburton have moved on with their lives and have no ill will or hatred toward Vietnam or its people, they explained.

Michael J. Ross writes for the Americus (ga.) Times-Recorder.

Vietnamese film doing well at international film festival
08:26′ 20/09/2007 (GMT+7)

Actress Truong Ngoc Anh in The White Silk Dress

VietNamNet Bridge – The White Silk Dress, a Phuoc Sang Film product, at present ranks among the top 10 films at the on-going International Fukuoka Film Festival in Japan, according to the festival’s website.

The International Fukuoka Film Festival this year gathers 25 films from all over the world. They include I Want to Dance from China; Crossing the Dust from Iraq and France; The Last Queen of the Earth from Iran; Water from India; and The Road under the Heavens from Uzbekistan.

The Kodak Vision Award for the film with the largest number of audience votes will be announced at 7 pm, Japanese time, today, September 19. The announcement of all other prizes is slated for September 24.

Cultural Coffee Weeks to promote Vietnamese coffee


Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City will hold Cultural Coffee Weeks this December to promote Vietnamese coffee, which has become increasingly popular on foreign markets.

Ly Thanh Tung, director of the Commerce and Tourism Department in the Central Highlands province of Daklak, said the coffee weeks would showcase the history Vietnam’s high-yield beans, display farm models and demonstrate harvesting and processing techniques.

Organized by Daklak provincial People’s Committee and sponsored by Vietnam’s leading coffee company Trung Nguyen, the event is an opportunity for some 20 coffee companies to cooperate in promoting their products.

Daklak is the country’s leading coffee producing province with a yield of some 400,000 tons per year.

The first coffee week will be held in Hanoi November 29-December 2 before HCMC’s event December 13-16.

Man shares Vietnamese art at Surprise museum

Michael Senft
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 22, 2007 07:25 AM

For Todd Shepherd, collecting art isn’t just a way to beautify his home – it’s a way to meet people.

“I don’t collect any one thing. It all depends on whether the piece or the artist speaks to me,” the 41-year-old Glendale man says. “There are pieces I have that are sitting in my closet, I’d never put them up, they are so bad. But my wife and I would go to First Fridays and strike up conversations with these artists. We’d talk, then I’d buy one of their pieces, no matter how bad it is. Afterward my wife would ask why I wasted $25 on that piece, but I figure the conversation, the connection, it’s worth it.”

That’s not to say Shepherd’s collection isn’t museum quality. Surprise’s West Valley Art Museum is showing 15 paintings by contemporary Vietnamese artists from his collection. He developed a love of Eastern art during his travels in Japan and China while serving in the Navy.


“I’ve always loved art, but I kind of drifted away from it. My oldest son is very artistic, and when he was growing up he always wanted to go to museums. We’d go to museums and art galleries in places like Tokyo, and it rekindled my love for art. It was a great way to escape, as well as a great way to learn about a culture,” he says.

But don’t expect typical Eastern art in the collection. Most of the pieces in the exhibit show a markedly Western influence.

“Vietnamese art is different than most Eastern art. Because it was a French colony for so long, the artists were heavily influenced by 19th-century European movements,” Shepherd says.

They are also astonishingly diverse, from realistic portraits to abstract oil paintings. Some are in pen-and-ink, others in gouache. And all are recent works.

“Vietnamese art did not follow a linear development – there are no ‘-isms.’ The artists paint what they feel. And with doi moi (the Vietnamese government’s economic Westernization in the ’80s) many things that were taboo became more accepted,” Shepherd says.

Through his collection, Shepherd has kindled friendships with several Vietnamese artists, including Bui Quang Anh. Shepherd has invited the abstract painter to visit America next year.

“He’s never been to the United States. I want to bring him over here, show him the Grand Canyon,” Shepherd says.

A former Viet Cong soldier, Anh offers Shepherd a different view on his own family history.

“I come from a military family – my relatives fought in Vietnam. By collecting Vietnamese art, I’m able to meet artists like Bui Quang Anh and learn more about the war from their perspective,” he says.

“And I’m able to share my perspectives with them.”



Todd Shepherd

enlarge image


Vietnamese Artists: From the Collection of Todd Shepherd

When: Museum hours 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Exhibit open through Dec. 16.

Where: West Valley Art Museum, 17420 N. Avenue of the Arts, Surprise.

Admission: $6.50-$7.

Details: (623) 972-0635,



The things she carried

September 25, 2007

The things she carried

Karen Solie is the author of the poetry collections Short Haul Engine and Modern and Normal.


By Denis Johnson

Farrar, Straus & Giroux,

624 pages, $31

Print Edition – Section Front

Section D Front  Enlarge Image

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getSLinks(“topStoriesInSection”,”LAC.20070922.BKTREE22″,5); The Globe and Mail

The author of three collections of poems, six novels and a book each of reportage and plays, Denis Johnson is still probably best known for Jesus’ Son, a terrific collection of stories made into a less terrific, but still pretty good, movie. Tree of Smoke isn’t, perhaps, as overtly winsome. At 600-plus pages, it’s not only an extremely long novel, it’s an extremely long Vietnam novel, which might generate doubt that this particular vein is close to being tapped out. But do not be deterred. Admirers of Johnson’s work will find their enthusiasm reaffirmed and Tree of Smoke will win him new ones.

Johnson has always been interested in disappointment. His characters, through the sad alchemy of bad choices and worse luck, tend to find themselves in its heartland. Inside all the anger, grief and loneliness, persistent as a national anthem, is a profound confusion at how things have ended up. His books burn with it, his best characters like the man in his poem The Incognito Lounge, who’s “out on the generous lawn/ again, looking like he’s made/ out of phosphorous.”

Often in his work, confusion slides into absurdity, and when Johnson’s on his game, this is translated with acute insight and wicked humour into insanely perfect similes and dialogue that’s both natural and inventive. He can also be a tremendously compassionate writer, adept at communicating not only what his characters think, but how and why they do, rejecting cynicism’s easy out. As this work demonstrates, evoking real disillusionment, rather than simply describing it, is only possible if ideas of hope and redemption are also sincerely thought. If they count for more than plot devices. Something important needs to be at stake.

Tree of Smoke follows William (Skip) Sands, a neophyte spy involved in psychological operations against the Viet Cong. The particulars of this campaign are unknown to him – or, one begins to suspect, to anyone. At the centre is Skip’s uncle, a hard-boiled all-American former war hero known as the Colonel. Unsure of his relationship with the man and the myth, woolly on even the nature of his postings, Skip’s nominal task is to collate and cross-reference the Colonel’s enormous repository of notes. A strange cloud of information, anecdotes, quotations and philosophy, it forms the dubious backbone to an operation code-named Tree of Smoke.

B. S. (Jimmy) Storm is the Colonel’s devoted right-hand man, a “tough little lunatic” totally into the potential of psychological terror. But when the Colonel’s banal demise exposes a dumb nest of aimless deception, Skip embarks on his mundane downfall, and Jimmy flares out into the jungle trailing a comet tail of manic delusion.

Another branch of the novel is the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, who wander aimlessly into a war where at least, James figures, “people would tell him what to do.” Faced with a total absence of moral responsibility in the name of moral responsibility, the brothers are delivered home to the Arizona desert without purpose or direction. Also in play is Kathy Jones, a Canadian missionary aid worker with whom Skip has an affair and whom he loves poorly and obliquely. And there’s Trung Than, the Vietnamese double agent, and his duplicitous cousin Hao. The novel is thick with doubles: the Williams Houston and Sands, and James Sands and Jimmy Storm are only the obvious ones. Betrayals, real, imagined and both, abound, everyone is working under false or secret offices. Even Kathy has misgivings about her God.

The novel opens on the news of JFK’s assassination. Each section contains one year, 1963 through 1970, with a coda set in 1983. Saigon falls silently in the gap. And while the obvious parallels between U.S. involvement in southeast Asia and in the Middle East are important, they never jam the plot, which roars along on the fuel of Johnson’s language. A significant passage on the Tet Offensive nearly causes hearing loss.

Conversations have a surreal, claustrophobic quality that can only be achieved through precision. Clarity is what makes the craziness real. As with the Colonel, who “removed his sunglasses and succeeded in staring the whole platoon in the eye at once.” Or the one-legged deserter who tells him, “My invisible foot hurts.” Who left China Beach and its “smiley gung-ho physical therapy.” Who says, “I like to drink and cry and take pills.”

Skip Sands describes himself as “a young American who thought of himself as the Quiet American and the Ugly American, and who wished to be neither, who wanted instead to be the Wise American, or the Good American, but who eventually came to witness himself as the Real American and finally as simply the Fucking American.”

Alongside the references to Graham Greene’s novel and Lederer and Burdick’s incendiary 1958 book, Tree of Smoke references and suggests Conrad and Melville, Orwell and Antonin Artaud, Kubrick and Coppola. Its questions make the war’s lessons in disillusionment and bad faith worth returning to. How is one to act, for example, when confronted with deliberate misinformation? Or with a nasty mix of luck and circumstance? In the novel, choices based on delusion lead to chaos and destruction, but casualties also result when choices are deferred until no more remain.

Ultimately, it’s Kathy who’s left to carry the burden of grief, lame from what she’s learned and the choices she’s made, but persisting. She’s rejected the doctrine of predestination, that some are born saved, some damned. The possibility for redemption arrived at is simple, resonant and unqualified, as necessary as breathing. Though, as Johnson indicates, to maintain hope and to act out of it can be the most difficult vocation of all.

If Tree of Smoke is your first Denis Johnson book, you can find out what happens to Bill Houston by reading Angels, his first novel. Then read more, since Johnson is one of the best American writers now working. And don’t forget his poetry.

Documentary filmmaker has passion for fashion





Nguyen Hai Anh is one of the few female directors in Viet Nam and has lensed 40 documentaries for HCMCity Television. Thu Huong talks to her about her latest, a five-part series on traditional costume.

Inner Sanctum: How did you become a documentary director?

I was the second runner-up in the entrance examination into Ha Noi College of Drama and Cinema when I was 17 years old. One year later, I won a scholarship for a seven-year-programme at Sankt Petersburg Institute for Theatre and Cinema. After having successfully gained my master degree, I spent three years working for Sankt Petersburg Television. I officially started working as a documentary director for TFS in 2000 after one year of unpaid co-operation with the studio.

Several months later, I was astounded when the Viet Nam Cinema Association’s Festival honoured me with its Silver Kite Award (the festival does not have a gold prize) for my documentary entitled Teacher Nguyen Van Xuan. What surprised me most was that TFS had submitted my work without letting me know about it. Admittedly, the documentary hadn’t been made in anticipation of entering that contest. Right after the documentary was screened, Xuan and his four-member family, who all suffered from mental illness, received help from philanthropists nationwide. This incident has strongly proved the great value brought by documentary filmmaking and has fuelled my desire to devote my entire life and career to this film genre.

Inner Sanctum: What ignited your curiosity for your documentary on Viet Nam costume history since the Hung King period?

Fashion is my special interest. I remember that at every party that I attended while I was studying abroad, my traditional Vietnamese dresses always attracted great admiration from my foreign friends. And I was further inspired when I saw how the traditional ao dai has been promoted for the past 10 years. Admittedly, I started searching for information and writing script five years ago.

Inner Sanctum: Could you give a brief introduction about its content, production procedure and the current filming process?

The desire to discover and record true representations of real objects and to provide information related to costume culture of Vietnamese people over the generations at a popular level, both directly and indirectly, has given birth to the documentary. It could be said that the film will present a general yet interesting panorama of Viet Nam’s unique and ancient arts and fine arts. On top of that, the work will examine currents that have had a great effect on cultural exchange in the country’s modern and ancient society.

We began filming in March of 2007, and at this point we have completed 80 per cent of our work. We will finish the initial process by October, and we expect to have a final product by early next year. The documentary’s anticipated release date is next summer.

Inner Sanctum: What makes In search of Vietnamese Costume differ from your other work?

This documentary is my brainchild and a labour of love as well. It has also been the cause of my worst headaches! I’ve never needed to travel so much and so far to collect information for filming. And for the first time, I sometimes become discouraged due to exhaustion and homesickness. Admittedly, producing a TV series requires female directors to be in good health and demands a great deal of flexibility. Filming this documentary has really been the biggest challenge I’ve ever had to overcome.

Inner Sanctum: Your name has always been associated with short documentaries, which normally last no more than 20 minutes. Why did you choose to develop this film into a TV-series? Is it a way of renewing yourself?

I don’t think changing screening time is a method to renew my work. It should be the topic and how I choose to deal with that topic that helps to renew me. Both the 20 minute documentaries and the five episode film, each episode lasts about 20 minutes, need new elements. I never cling to any special theme and I hate using familiar techniques while creating new films. Each documentary is a new creation and I encounter new challenges, which I find really motivating.

Inner Sanctum: You’re considered an investigator of Vietnamese folk and traditional culture. Why are you so interested in such topics?

Several people say that I always succeed with films which aim to paint human portraits, whereas some others conclude that I’m most successful at folklore. In fact, I never stick to anything in particular (as I’ve mentioned above). The reason is very simple. If I find a character or topic that is worthy of a documentary and can bring true social benefits, I will definitely use that character or topic. Moreover, I love investigating things that grab my attention even though I haven’t got a clue what to make of it. That’s the reason the themes I choose to explore tend to vary and differ from each other. This film isn’t an exception. Fashion has always been a passion of mine, since early childhood. I love it, however, I knew nothing about it. That’s why I decided to study it.

Inner Sanctum: Clothing habits are true expressions of culture. Have you ever thought that you’re being too ambitious by deciding to intertwine all the various dress cultures of a nation over the course of 4,000 years of complicated history in a TV series?

If I decide to do something, I am determined to complete the task at all costs. If I fall in love with something, I’ll love it wholeheartedly until the end. As a result, sometimes when I look back on my work, I realise that the theme that I chose to film was really a great hardship. I think I’m a bit bold. Anyway, we’ve already made it to over the half way mark of the filming process.

Inner Sanctum: What do you think are advantages and disadvantages of being a female director?

Flexibility, gentleness, and patience are the most striking advantages that female directors have over their male counterparts, especially when they have to interact with difficult partners or unapproachable topics. As a documentary-maker, I have to depend largely on my relationships in the real world in addition to observing my crew. For instance, while filming a documentary on espionage, I hunted for information from all possible sources and also tried to contact many different VIPs. Having a chance to talk with them would have been a problem if I hadn’t been flexible and patient, and successfully persuading military officials to provide information or interviews is very tough work! So there are those advantages. To successfully tackle difficult topics, a female director must also be determined and strong-willed, two characteristics that are associated with the male personality. Furthermore, female directors often have tighter schedules because of their womanly role in the family, not to mention they often have poorer stamina than their male co-workers.

Inner Sanctum: Which qualities do you think any documentary director must have?

Documentary-makers and certainly anyone working with any kind of social science should have a warm-heart and a sincere attitude. Their work must be based on good intentions for the work to contribute to vast or permanent social changes. Directing is a job consisting of collective arts, hence, it requires that the director have a comprehensive knowledge of many other kind of arts like dancing, theatrical art or photography. The most important quality in a director is a willingness to constantly update his/her social knowledge so that their work won’t die young.

Inner Sanctum: What’s your latest plan for the future?

Well, that’s my secret. I love randomness and surprising other people so could I keep it to myself? — VNS

Vietnam architects shine with Asian architecture award


Vo Trong Nghia and Nguyen Hoa Hiep became the first Vietnamese to win first prize at the Architects Regional Council Asia Awards in Sri Lanka on Tuesday.

The team’s award-winning structure “Wind and Water Café” was designed in cooperation with Japanese architects Sakata Minoru and Ohara Hisanori.

The bamboo café is located in Binh Duong Province and has been designed to bring cool breezes through seating areas on hot days.

In an interview with the VnExpress newswire, Nghia said the unique design, natural energy and environmentally-friendly materials made the project shine. 

In April, the work won 2nd prize at the 2007 International Bamboo Building Design Competition, held in the US.

The bi-annual Architects Regional Council Asia Awards (ARCASIA) awards encourage the development and improvement of the Asian environment and promote the awareness of the role of architecture and architects in the socio-economic and cultural life of Asian countries.

ARCASIA was established in 1967 with six founders – the architecture institutes of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Representatives from seventeen countries and regions now participate in the group.

Source: Thanh Nien, VnExpress, ARCASIA – Compiled by Luu Thi Hong