Viet Nam Generation Journal & Newsletter
Announcements, Notices, and Reports
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The 1991 Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute was in Ithaca, NY at Cornell this year. Next year it will be in Seattle at the University of Washington. The program floats around a consortium of schools, staying two summers at each one. It's an area studies extravaganza. In the mornings they teach Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, Khmer, Tagalog and Indonesian at elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels. The instructors are native speakers, each team supervised by a Western linguist. Afternoons and evenings are given to seminars and movies and dance shows and what have you. On the weekends people blow off a lot of steam. The whole experience is relentlessly multicultural, with Southeast Asians strongly represented in the student body as well as among the instructors. The Asians among the students include U.S. citizens who are illiterate native speakers, as well as foreign nationals learning a new language. I attended this year's session to start learning Vietnamese. There were twenty-one elementary students, about seven each in intermediate and advanced, altogether the biggest turnout in recent memory.
Our Western coordinator, Marybeth Clark of Australia National University, divided the elementary students into three sections. (Marybeth taught English in Vietnam for seven years in 60s.) My section was composed of the older students, who had some experience of Vietnam. I was one of two in the section who had never been there, and the only one who had not worked in Southeast Asia. The most experienced Vietnam traveller was probably Barbara Cohen, whose guide to business and tourist travel in that country is reviewed in this issue. Barbara served as an Army psychiatrist in Da Nang, 1970-71, and has returned to the country many times since then. Dana Sachs, who reviews Barbara's book for us, travelled to Vietnam last year on her own, and hopes to return. She is a Bay Area journalist who has written for The Tenderloin Times , the very neat San Francisco newspaper that publishes in English, Thai, Khmer and Vietnamese, all in one edition. Bob Brigham, a student of George Herring at the University of Kentucky, was probably the second most travelled member of the section. Bob is active in diplomatic history his article on the recent SHAFR conference appears in this part of the newsletterand has toured Vietnam several times with other U.S. scholars. Next summer he'll be at work in the archives in Hanoi, perhaps teaching U.S. history in exchange for research assistance. Carolyn Haynes runs a language school in a Philadelphia refugee center, and once managed a Red Crescent camp in Malaysia, like Lady Borton tells about in Sensing the Enemy (Dial/Doubleday, 1984). Carolyn was the best student in our section. Linda James, another member of the class, is head librarian of the Pioneer Press, the St. Paul newspaper. She works with refugees in the Twin Cities. Linda and her husband Bob, the librarian at the Minneapolis newspaper and a Vietnam veteran, are interested in the possible introduction of U.S. library science to Southeast Asia. The last member of our section, Jack Dibbell, taught in Vietnam in '68 after his military service elsewhere, and would like to return. The fourteen students from the other sections included Jonathan Stromseth, who plans to write his Columbia University dissertation in Political Science on the Communist popular organizations during the war, and Mark Waltzer, who just finished his master's thesis in History at Buffalo State, writing on the pacification programs.
Most of the rest of the students were not coming to Vietnamese from an interest in military disasters, which refreshed me all summer. As a matter of fact, the very first SEASSI student I metwe asked each other if we were parking illegally when we arrived to registerwas George Handyside, a Dallas social worker who had become so overwhelmed with the problems of recent Vietnamese refugees that he decided to do something else and learn Thai. Kari Lerum, of the Sociology Department at the University of Washington, was starting Vietnamese because her adviser needs a graduate assistant who knows the language. Rie Nakamura, of Japan, was there for her work in anthropology, as was Donald Jones of Emory. Pat Aronson was there because he just graduated college and he wanted to go to Vietnam. (I think he's there now, teaching English.) He grew up with an interest in U.S. veterans, via his parents, who made documentaries on the subject. Sandy Havens was there because she's been working with the Japanese version of USAID, and would like to work in Southeast Asia. Pat Frye was there just to pick up yet another language before starting a management career with a midwestern manufacturer. Among the advanced students was a Japanese diplomat about to go represent his country in Hanoi, and a potter, Miranda Krenzer, who plans to go to Vietnam to learn a certain firing technique that she hopes to establish in Laos. Her husband Rick was studying Lao.
It's hard for me to evaluate a language-instruction program that occasioned such an intense and happy period of my life. I lived alone in an empty rooming house. I got up every morning at 6:30, showered and shaved, went through my flashcards, then walked up two hills to meet Bob Brigham at a bagel shop at the edge of campus. We walked a bridge over a gorge to the student center, where I drank my coffee and ate my bagels and Bob and I drilled each other on our memorized dialogue for the day. Then we went to class until twelve, drinking more coffee in the sunshine on short breaks every hour. I ate and napped in my room, studied, exercised , scrambled some eggs in a wok with rice and black beans and took them down to eat on my big green porch, then went to the language lab until it was time for bed. Anytime I wanted to I could go to talk to someone who knows a lot about Vietnam.
The program was not terribly well organized. For instance, we didn't know what we were supposed to prepare for the class the first week, because our instructors refused to speak to us in English. Bob Brigham and Mark Waltzer were impatient with this and seven dozen other SEASSI confusions. Bob and Mark are historians eager to work with documents and they would have liked a course intended to help them do that, such a one as many universities have worked out for graduate students who need to read German. But as Jonathan Stromseth, who was stuck for half the program in a dysfunctional section, kept pointing out, the methods of teaching Vietnamese to Westerners are simply not yet that well understood and widely implemented. It could have been worse. We heard horror stories of former SEASSI programs when they used the U.S. Foreign Service course materials, and everyone had to learn to say "Do you need any more ice in your drink?" We stumbled across old phrasebooks in the Echols Collection with such gems as "Do you know how to defuse that mine?"
But we learned how to ask and give directions, how to ask for food, how to count things and tell what time it is. This last Sunday I had dinner with a group of Vietnamese-American college students, and would have been able to speak a great deal of Vietnamese, if I hadn't been so startled when they understood what I did say. I can read and write more easily than I speak. I think I learned a year's worth in 10 weeks, as advertised. I don't think I would have learned much less in 8 weeks. There are a lot of other inefficiencies in the program. But no efficient reading course would make me want to give up the first couple of weeks of staring into the face of each one of our three teachers, trying to understand what he or she was trying to say and to guess how exactly I could produce the sounds I was supposed to make.
The faces we had to stare at were concerned and caring. The Thac Vu, a linguist from Hanoi University, who supervises the Vietnamese program at Cornell during the regular session, is a systematic, careful, demanding teacher who ran a stimulating series of drills on every member of the class until each of us got it right. He spoke slowly and distinctly most of the time, when he wasn't mumbling or rushing or coughing on purpose, and would never use a construction or a word he had not introduced to us. He communicated the wonderfully gentle way Vietnamese can sound, and the stern righteousness it can convey. Thac is a distinguished man, a highly trained academic from a generation that sacrificed a great deal in the war. His attention was flattering. Anh Dao Le, the Vietnamese language instructor at the University of Washington, taught us songs and poems and gave us short stories to read besides the course material, and took great pains with our pronunciation. She was responsible specifically for my section, and grew close to us. She drove with Dana and I to New Haven and back one weekend. We sang her four hours of U.S. songs on the way down, and on the way back we told her all the ways Americans cook eggs, and all the associations that we give to animals, colors, vegetables and fruits. Later in the summer Dao demanded to go to D.C., and seven of us rented two cars and drove there one Friday. We stayed with Vietnam Generation general editor Kali Tal and her husband, and visited, I think, every monument, museum, and government building on or near the Mall. When we stopped for hot dogs, the vendors were Vietnamese, and Dao had to explain to them why we were ordering in their language. But they understood us fine. Dao reads 10 overseas Vietnamese novels a week, and I hope she'll start writing about them soon for the newsletter. Our third teacher, Hong Lan Tran, is a Hanoi economist now studying in the West. She wasn't accustomed to speaking Vietnamese to Westerners, as Dao and Thach were, and not used to the sounds Westerners make when they're trying to speak Vietnamese. It was great to drill with her because it gave us confidence that maybe someday we could talk to somebody besides language teachers. She spoke loud and fast, and reacted so fiercely when one of us pronounced "Viet" with a rising tone instead of with an abrupt dropping tone that it became impossible not to make this mistake. I woke up one morning with a cramp in my leg, and instantly dreamed that I had that cramp because Lan had sentenced me to redeem my bad accent by walking from Hanoi to Saigon with six mortar shells. Lan laughed about that for days. As the summer went on, her infinite energy became a great source of morale for us all.
The three teachers didn't jibe perfectly. Lan speaks like a boisterous professional woman from Hanoi, while Thach speaks a linguist's Vietnamese, actually giving a soft pronunciation to archaic spellings, as an American might do with "schedule." Thach and Lan both would contradict Dao on matters of pronunciation and vocabulary, especially on older and literary usages that are no longer as current in Hanoi as they are among overseas Vietnamese or in Da Lat, where Dao was raised. The contradictions among the instructors reflected some confusion in the program, but still they provided us with an interesting, real-life language situation to deal with, sorting out what our three teachers were trying to tell us.
I have a whole box full of notes and programs and gossip from the Southeast Asian cultural events that dotted the summer. I'll write these up for individual reports in future newsletters. The summer's Symposium on Vietnamese History is reported on elsewhere in this section. Keith Taylor, who organized the symposium, also taught the area studies seminar on Vietnam. He electrified us with an attack on his classic work, The Birth of Viet Nam. I'll report on that in the next issue, and also tell about the wonderful Echols Collection of Southeast Asian documents at Cornell's Olin Library, and its helpful assistant curator for Vietnam, Alan Reidy.
War and Asian Americans
The impact of war on Asian Americans is the focus of the new issue of Amerasia Journal (17:1) published by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. The issue contains commentaries and essays by Asian American Vietnam War veterans and Vietnamese refugees, and poems, short stories, and essays by other Asian Pacific Americans about World War II, the Korean War, and Philippine-American War, and the recent war in the Middle East. Among the featured works is an original novella by Chinese American author Frank Chin about his trip to Cuba in 1960 and its subsequent impact on his draft preinduction physical in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Chin's novella is titled "I Am Talking to the Strategist Sun Tzu, about Life When the Subject of War Comes Up." According to Amerasia Journal editor Russel Leong, Chin is thinking about developing his novella into a future book. Also contained in the issue are poems by Lawson Fusao Inada, Al Robles, Walter K. Lew, Russell C. Leong, Sachi Wada Seko, and Ko Won; and essays by Velina Hasu Houston, Frank Emi, and Robert Ji-Song Ku. Other contributors to the 200-page issue include Gisele Fong, Don T. Phan, Dick Kobashigawa, Van Luong, Jean Pang Yip, Paulino Lim, Jr., G. Akito Maehara, Darrel Y. Hamamoto, Lewis Kawahara, Jeanne Twaites, Thuy Dinh, Thelma Seto, Mari Sunaida, and Mary Kao. Providing analytic articles are Haeyun Juliana Kim on the lives of Korean war brides, and Teresa K. Williams on marriages between Japanese women and US servicemen since World War II. UCLA History Professor Emeritus Alexander Sacton contributes an introductory editorial essay, "The New World Order and the Rambo Syndrome." Copies of the issue can be purchased for $7.00 plus $1.00 postage and handling. California residents should add 6.5% sales tax, and Los Angeles Country residents, 7% sales tax. Subscriptions for Amerasia Journal are $15.00 per year for three issues, or $25.00 for two years. Checks should be made payable to "Regents of University of California" and sent to: Amerasia Journal, UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 3232 Campbell Hall, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024-1546. For more information, call Amerasia Journal at (213) 825-2968 or 825-3415.
Two fine books of poetry in the mail from the vet poet and dynamo of the world of very small very good presses: Footsteps of a Ghost: Poems from Viet Nam ($5, Iniquity Press, P.O. Box 1698, New Brunswick, NJ 08901), and Lurid Dreams . . . because we all have them (Intro. by Robert Bove; experimental press, 3740 n. romero road, #a-191, tucson, AZ 85705). The books are interesting for their verse, e.g.
the guy who masturbated with his feet cause he had no hands leaned out over the rail in the febrile wintersilence looked down at the ice colder than the river that it paved then he let GO ("on reading Cynthia Ozick near the John Berryman Memorial Bridge" in LD)
and for their construction. Footsteps is simply done, 8 1/2" by 11" sheets printed on both sides and folded with a colored card-stock cover. It is made lively by varying font sizes throughout the book, and by a number of page-size xerox collages, all by the well-known small press illustrator and poet, Wayne Hogan. Lurid Dreams also uses 8 1/2" by 11", folded twice, with a slice going half-way down the center of each sheet, in the long direction. Got that? Every page folds down to reveal its poem. Varied fonts within, a nice collage of a Gettler drawing of a face, I presume a self-portrait, on the cover. The construction of these books says that they are made on purpose by intelligent people who mean to be taken seriously. They're not counters die-cut for the game of cultural legitimacy. On the other hand, they aren't letter-press on vellum bound with fetal goatskin for the illiterate snob trade. The poems in these books appeared in the following magazines: ALTERNATIVE FICTION & POETRY, Abbey, Big Hammer, Deros, Alpha Beat Soup (Canada), Slipstream, Poetry Australia, Open 24 Hours, MADDOG PRESS, Green Fuse, Rhododendron, Black Bear Review, Mosaic, Samisdat, Nexus, Ellipsis, Visions International, Second Coming Press, Mr. Cogito, Ball Peen, CAGE, The Enchanted Mountain Monthly, HEATHEN, The Kindred Spirit, The Lithic Review, NoMag, Parting Gifts, The Plastic Tower, Psychopoetica (England), Rhododendron, Shrink-Wrap, SubRosa, Tempus Fugit (Belgium), and Xenophilia. Contact Gettler at 2663 Heath Ave, 6D, Bronx, NY 10463-7520 for help in contacting these publications. The poet is an authority on this kind of thing, as shown in his masterful anthology of vet poets from the small presses, in Chiron Review, Volume X, Spring 1991 ($2, Michael Hathaway, 1514 Stone, Great Bend, KS, 67530-4027). Gettler's other books include only the mountains are forever ($3, Black Bear Publications, 1916 Lincoln St., Croydon, PA, 19020 -8026), Zen & the Art of Perfect Desire ($2.50 from M.A.F. PRESS, Box 392, Portlandville, NY 13834).
Found in a used book store, no dustjacket, subsequently spotted in many stores in the same condition: Beach Red: A Novel by Peter Bowman, Random House, New York, 1945. My copy stamped "Jane T. Richardson" and inscribed "Dec. 1945" on the inside front cover. It's a book-length poem, pages numbered consecutively from 3 to 122 in the lower right and left hand corner, numbered 1 to 60 in big red numerals on the upper right recto. The poem follows a green doggie assaulting a Pacific island, similar to James Jones' Guadalcanal novel The Thin Red Line in the way it teaches tactics and attitudes, except that the poem sticks with one man and his head. He dies. Dedicated "To the Unreturning." Title page has awkward sketch of rifleman, prone on a beachhead, aiming toward treeline. The title refers to a standard name given landing beaches. There was one at Normandy, for example. David Willson says that Beach Red was a wide-selling book. Well worth obtaining and reading, if you've got a bug in your nut about the traditions and discontinuities of U.S. war poetry. The book itself has the same proportions, inks, binding and types as Karl Shapiro's V-Letter And Other Poems (Reynal & Hitchcock, New York, 1945) and Essay On Rime. No prickly metrics like Shapiro, no mandarin doggerel like Lincoln Kirstein's Rhymes of PFC , the verse is relaxed and dignified, has the tone of a nice college man who was in the Pacific War recently and is nauseated, the kind of person who will write something like E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed At Peleliu and Okinawa (Presidio, 1981) once he has rolled the bile around in his mouth for a few decades. We would welcome a full report, especially printing and reception history and authors career.
Director: Cornel Wilde. Producer: Cornel Wilde. Screenplay: Clint Johnston, Donald A. Peters, and Jefferson Pascal, from the novel Sunday Red Beach [Beach Red: A Novel]by Peter Bowman. Photography: Cecil R. Cooney. Editing: Frank P. Keller. Music: Col. Antonio Buenaventura. Cast: Cornel Wilde (Capt. MacDonald), Rip Torn (Sergeant Honeywell), Burr De Benning (Egan), Patrick Wolfe (Cliff), Jean Wallace (Julia MacDonald), Jaime Sanchez (Colombo), Genki Koyama (Capt. Sugiyama), Gene Blakely (Goldberg), Norman Pak (Nakano), Dewey Stringer (Mouse), Fred Galang (Lt. Domingo), Hiroshi Kiyama (Michio), Michio Hazama (Capt. Kondo).
Synopsis: A Marine unit prepares to invade a small Japanese-held island in the Pacific during the Second World War. Their officer, a lawyer in civilian life, understands his men, their hopes, and fears, and gives them strong guidance and encouragement, even as his own memories of home and his sense of the absurdity of war challenge his effectiveness as a commander. The men hit the beach and dig in, holding their ground through a bloody firefight. Moving inland, they are involved in a series of incidents that make the enemy nearer and more human to them. The officer finds himself increasingly at loggerheads with his tough first sergeant, whose ideas about the conduct of war are less humane than those of the officer. One squad is detached on a special advance mission and finds the location of the main body of Japanese troops. The squad is cut off from the rest of the Marine force, and is involved in a firefight as they await rescue. In a furious air strike, the Japanese force is slaughtered on the beach. One Marine from the cut-off squad and a Japanese soldier wound each other. They make a separate peace and share a cigarette as they lie injured, waiting for help; but the rest of the Marine unit breaks through and kills the Japanese soldier.
Comments: Set in the Pacific during the Second World War, Beach Red is a taut little antiwar film that gets its message across mostly by focusing on the material business of war and its inherent absurdity. It begins in a landing craft as a company of Marines prepares to storm a Japanese-held island; and it follows the operations of that company over the next several hours. Every once in a while, Wilde drops in a flashback to one of the soldiers memories of home. The films color values, its use of long lenses and soft-focus, and its flashback technique are very much of the 60s. So, surprisingly, are the clothing and hairstyles of the women in the flashbacks. Whether this was done deliberately to connect the film with the U.S. war then raging in Vietnam, or is traceable more to the films low budget, theres no question that Beach Reds sparsely-populated look deliberately evokes a milieu more allegorical than historical, and that the war in Vietnam, not the old one in the Pacific, was most on Cornel Wildes mind in 1967.
Bob Cumbow 14814 SE 18th Place, Bellevue, WA, 98007 W 206-462-3241 wrote this article for Jean Jacques Malo and Tony Williams Vietnam War filmography, to be published by McFarland. Contact the editors at 4411 Corliss Ave. N. #7, Seattle, WA 98103, 206-548-1419.
Updated Thursday, January 28, 1999