Back to ‘Nam


Back to ‘Nam

By Jerry Wadian
Contributing Writer

You won’t be seeing my byline for the next three weeks.

By the time you read this, I will be in a plane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean on my way to being a visual artist in “paradise.”

Upper Iowa offers grants to faculty to spend time in other countries to help internationalize the curriculum.

In the past, individuals and groups have gone to such places as Haiti, Italy, Peru, France, Turkey and China to study other cultures.

Among this year’s grant recipients, Don McComb (professor of graphic design) and I are going to Vietnam to develop still photos and movie clips of UNESCO World Heritage sites as well as general culture, people, and landscapes. 

The intent is to help update the curriculum in art and communications; specifically in the areas of non-Western Art, intercultural communication the course on the Vietnam War, and projects for design students to hone their craft while learning about other cutlures .

On our own time and funds, we intend to stay a few days in Taiwan. McComb has a Chinese friend named Sonny he met in Japan; he was a dancer and is now head of English at Macao University. He will be our tour guide.

  Then it’s back to Hong Kong for the flight out. However, weekend rates from Hong Kong are $170 more than on Monday.

Fortunately, Sonny is willing to put up two derelicts – or whatever we’ll be like after almost three weeks on the road – for the weekend.

As for the wives, unfortunately they do not get to go. However, my wife has had my bags packed for three weeks, and once in a while you can hear her muttering, “Isn’t it May 14, yet?”

For me, Vietnam represents a return. My first experience was as an infantryman in 1969-1970. 

Lest you ask, I am not interested in seeing the old battle sites. I didn’t know where I was in those fights –  and I had a map!

However, during my first three weeks my platoon trained local forces in villages along Highway 1.

So one day will be spent motoring along highway 1 to see how Vietnam has changed. It’s also a chance to film the country in places where tourists do not go.

On my first “trip” I was 25 with an MA and was an “emerging” photographer. I had occasion to meet Vietnamese people and see some of Long Khan and Bihn Tuay provinces. I was struck by the beauty, and I wondered what it would be like to come back with the equipment and skills to record people and places.

As my credit card can attest, I have the equipment; I hope I have the skills, because Don and I will be going to Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi. 

Hue and Hoi An are particularly interesting. Hue is the old imperial capital and remains the spiritual and literary heart of the country. 

Hoi An is an ancient seaport that the world bypassed when its river silted up. Since war has  not touched it, it has many structures dating back many hundreds of years. You can see Vietnamese temples, pagodas, and other buildings with Chinese and Japanese features. 

Also outside of Hoi An is the center for the Cham culture, an Indian culture the Viets overthrew almost 1000 year ago. Cham structures are remarkable; some rise out of the jungle like the Maya or Inca.

Other cultural influences in Vietnam are the Mongol, Khmer (Cambodia) Portuguese, French, and some American (the largest employer in ‘Nam is Nike!).

There are also the many indigenous tribes within Vietnam – the Thai, Montengaards, and the various hill tribes of the north, including the Hmong that once settled in Fayette for a while. Unfortunately, those are not on the itinerary for the trip.

All in all, the trip has fascinating possibilities – so long as plane schedules work, baggage finds its way to us before we leave, and we don’t meet the likes of Mr. Cobra or argue with Mr. Water Buffalo! 

We left Tuesday, May 14, and are not due back until June 3 – if no word by June 8, someone please call the State Department!

There will be a presentation at Upper Iowa sometime in the fall, but as I have time, a few columns after I get back will fill in some highlights. There is a lot to see and learn about an ancient and misunderstood area of the world. 


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