Jim Durand's Diary
Restoring Vietnam's Forest

Saturday, May 22, 2004 Friday, May 21, 2004
Thursday, May 20, 2004 Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Tuesday, May 18, 2004 Monday, May 17, 2004
Sunday, May 16, 2004 Saturday, May 15, 2004
Friday, May 14, 2004 Thursday, May 13, 2004
Tuesday, May 4, 2004 Thursday, April 29, 2004
Wednesday, April 28, 2004 Friday, April 16, 2004
Thursday, April 1, 2004 Friday, March 26, 2004
Wednesday, March 17, 2004 Monday, February 9, 2004
Friday, January 30, 2004 Tuesday, December 14, 2003
Sunday, December 5, 2003 Sunday, November 21, 2003

Related Sites

Saturday, May 22, 2004

This was our last day as a team, although we hope our individual relationships will continue. We should see Jennifer this winter, as she intends to come to Utah to ski. If our plan to visit Australia at some point materializes, we may well get a chance to hook up with Naomi and/or Andy again. It is probably unlikely that we'll see Hiroshi, Han, or Hien again, however. I'm not good at corresponding over time and great distances, but I have promised to put together a CD of our pictures and send that to each of the team members.

We ate our last meal together at the same restaurant from which we began our journey. We both felt a little exhausted but were also saddened by the impending breakup of the team. We are planning to stay in the Hanoi area for a few days, and Dr. Nguyen has invited us to dinner at his home. We'll have a chance to meet his wife and 15-year-old son. He has been a good guide and friend during our brief period together. We have enjoyed his company and are proud to have contributed a very small part to the important work he is doing.

This experience has been challenging. We have been so overwhelmed by the different things we have seen. To be immersed for the first time in a completely different culture, with new sights, sounds, foods, and ways of thinking, is overwhelming.

We've enjoyed this experience. We have made new friends. The Vietnamese we met are wonderfully outgoing and hospitable. Our horizons have been broadened. We've learned about scientific methodology and gained a better understanding of the pressures that exist on our environment. We see some promise in important activities going on throughout the world, but we have also seen the pressures of population growth and the need for economic development. We hope it is possible through efforts such as this project to find a proper balance that serves the needs of the environment, economic development, and people.

I am grateful to Alcoa and Earthwatch for the opportunity to have participated in this adventure.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Sunny this morning. We decide to walk to the "Observation Box"—a tower and viewing platform on top of a steep hill overlooking our temporary home and the Cuc Phuong valley. Very beautiful.

Next stop was the park's botanical garden. There are a number of varieties of trees planted for display and study. We saw an edible fruit-bearing fichus, a beautiful flowering mimosa, and an orchid tree with small flowers. One interesting tree, found only in Cuc Phuong, was apparently favored by the Vietnamese emperor during a period of unrest and court intrigue. It has the property of changing color when exposed to toxins that might be used as poisons. All of the emperor's chopsticks were made of this wood.

During the walk, some relatively tame spotted deer crossed our path. On the way back to the guesthouse, we saw peacock. As we got to the visitors' center, we were met by another group of loud but well-behaved junior high school students. We are always amazed at how curious they are to see foreigners. They love to try out their English and are really excited to have us take their picture.

We leave to visit the Muong at Khanh Hamlet at 2:00 p.m. and still haven't worked out the song we will have to sing for our hosts. Maybe on the bus ride.

The Muong people are among Vietnam's oldest inhabitants and still retain something of their original language and way of life. They live in wooden houses with wooden slat floors perched on high, thick stilts. We will be spending the night in one of these homes!

This Muong group apparently consists of three extended families. Each family has been assigned land that they farm. The fields are terraced so that the rice plantings can be flooded as needed since rice requires a great deal of water.

After the end of the American-Vietnam conflict, strict collectivization of farmland and the absorption of the south created very difficult times for the Vietnamese economy. Whereas Vietnam had long been an exporter of rice, for a period of time it had to import food to feed its people. Even then, many suffered from poor nutrition. Changes in the late 1980's and early 1990's—relaxing controls and allowing more freedom—have permitted Vietnam to become an exporter again.

In addition to rice, the Muong raise chickens, keep bees, and do very beautiful textile weaving. Fishing is available in the river nearby. Another source of income is the hosting of tourists, such as our Earthwatch group. Khanh Hamlet has been constructed as a model for tourism purposes. In the coming years, plans are to extend this model to other hamlets surrounding the park in order to help preserve this ethnic minority culture and its characteristics and to help the communities' development.

Our host is the head of one of the families. His immediate household, where we stayed, is made up of his mother, wife, five daughters, and a son (the youngest). He was the head of the village until he and his wife had their last child. It was important for him, as a Muong, to have a son to till the rice fields, but that family size is frowned upon and cost him his position in the village hierarchy.

Our day at the village began with a quick tour (the village is very small) and a swim in the Buoi River. There is a small school in the village, but it serves only the lower grades. Those going on must travel some distance by bicycle or on foot. The people we passed, particularly the children, all found us interesting. Some followed us for a distance. On the way to the river we encountered a small herd of water buffalo. Our presence really seemed to un-nerve them. The trail led us to a small beach area where we found two men with small bamboo rafts setting shrimp traps along the bank. Across the river, people were washing clothes and bathing.

The water was cold and filled with silt, perhaps from the construction going on about a quarter mile upriver from us. We could see one of the viaducts under construction that is part of the Ho Chi Minh Highway being built through the park. The route of the highway is a compromise intended to minimize the environmental impact of this much-needed improvement to the country's transportation system. In all, six viaducts will traverse the drainage areas of the park and will have a total length of approximately two miles (3.2 kilometers).

After swimming, we returned to the Muong village. On the way, the Forest Service guide told us that only 20% of Vietnam's land surface is now forested, and that it is under increasing pressure. We could see the scarcity of trees on mountains near the road from Cuc Phuong National Park to the village. He commented on the importance of Dr. Nguyen's work for helping ensure ecological balance with the needs of rural people for additional income.

We sat around with tea and talked for some time after our return. Han, Dr. Nguyen's assistant, spent time weaving on the loom at one end of the large open communal area. About 8:00 p.m., as it started to get dark, the family brought out dinner that they had prepared over a wood fire in a separate room. The food was very Vietnamese, attesting to the assimilation that has occurred over the past centuries and which includes normal dress and speech.

After dinner was cleared away, a young Muong girl in the colorful traditional dress came out to describe in Vietnamese what we would see. She appeared before each presentation. There was a group of musicians, including our host, the Muong families, and all the local children, who were excited to see the presentations. Women sang two traditional songs and then performed two dances, one with small bowls and the other with their conical hats. It was our turn to sing—Hiroshi sang a Japanese song and the Australians then did a song for the children that involved gestures and movements that they tried to get the children to mimic. They were too inhibited but full of laughter when one of the young men got up and joined the song.

The last presentation, a dance, was familiar to me when I saw it. The young men and children sat on the floor facing each other in two rows. The two rows were joined by poles that were held in each hand across two perpendicular poles laid on the floor. In time to the music, they brought the poles together and then down on those lying on the floor. As they did this, village women performed a dance inside the poles, timed to move their feet so that they wouldn't be caught as the poles came together. We all took part, but some of us never did get the hang of it.

To close out the evening, a large vessel was brought out. Out of its top protruded 15 or 20 pieces of small bamboo that were intended to be used like straws by the group to empty the vessel's contents. We never did finish the drink, but not for lack of trying. We were all tired and decided to hit the sack (go to bed).

In this case, the sack consisted of mats spread on the floor of the communal area so that we were all sleeping together. A mosquito net was set up around each mat, and a hard piece of bamboo covered by fabric was the pillow. While not the most luxurious setting, we were all fairly comfortable and certainly tired enough to go to sleep quickly. About 3:00 a.m., however, our sleep was interrupted by the crowing of a rooster in the open area below the house. His internal clock must have been upset by our presence, because he kept this up intermittently until we all finally got up at 6:30 a.m.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

A full day of work in the forest today. The weather is cooperating!

We worked our farthest transect. We were far enough from the open space that we had to split up for lunch and eat separately.

My wife measured circumference, and I measured light intensity. I tried to practice my language skills by calling out the readings in Vietnamese—khong (zero), mot (one), hai (two), ba (three), bon (four), etc. I did pretty well with this simple task. I have no head for complex sentences, however.

This area was not so steep, and we were able to cover a lot of ground quickly. We cataloged a total of 162 trees during the day. Unfortunately, this is our last day of work. We will be going to the Muong village the next day to spend the night.

This evening after dinner, we had tea at the guesthouse. We exchanged small gifts. Dr. Nguyen gave us a desk ornament with a hand-painted picture of the One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi, a set of chop sticks, and a Cuc Phuong National Park button. Hien, the botanist, gave us a bell ornament. We had brought dream catcher ornaments from Utah and distributed them to Han, Dr. Nguyen's assistant, Hien, and Dr. Nguyen. The entire team exchanged addresses and other contact information. Dr. Nguyen also showed us his collection of photos from the four previous team sessions. He has quite a collection with some beautiful landscape shots.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

It rained during the night and into the morning. It looked like we wouldn't be able to work in the forest, at least right away (the equipment would be effected by the moisture), so we head along another path from Bong. This trail runs along the valley through thick stands of bamboo. Dr. Nguyen tells us that there are hundreds of species of bamboo—some six-to-nine feet (1.8 to 2.7 meters) tall and others reaching as much as 80 feet (24 meters).

Our group is met by small swarms of butterflies again. The variety of their colors seems endless. At the end of our walk, we arrive at the Ancient Tree. The sign says it is about 150 feet (46 meters) tall and has a diameter of five feet (1.5 meters). The diameter is measured above enormous buttress roots that are characteristic of the Sau tree. These roots have openings in them large enough to allow a person to pass through. When you pound on the buttress, it sounds hollow. However, it provides support for the trees, which have very shallow root systems.

We ate lunch and then worked a plot near the trailhead at Bong. Donna and I stayed at Bong to measure and record light intensity in the open area that will soon be an expanded parking area. The others are close enough so that we can hear their voices, but the forest is much too thick to allow us to see them. We are interrupted by more rain but continue after a brief break. We catalog more than 50 trees, so it isn't such bad work for such a short time.

Today is Ho Chi Minh's birthday. Officially he was born May 19, 1890 (there is some question about the actual date). He died in 1969 before the realization of reunification and independence in 1975 that he had worked so hard to achieve. The night before, we had asked whether there would be any celebration of his birthday, and Dr. Nguyen had indicated that, while this wasn't a national holiday, we could probably do something special.

This morning at breakfast he told us that we would be eating dinner early so we could attend an event at the Visitors' Center. It turned out to be a very well organized pageant of songs and presentations put on by the young people of the park and community under the auspices of the assistant park director, who is also the chairman of the local communist party organization.

We were given a place of honor right in front of the ceremonies with a large drawing of Ho Chi Minh looking down on us from our left. This center is used for sports, and Ho has a bar bell in each hand. We think the slogan printed beneath admonishes people to exercise for their health. We didn't understand any of the songs or presentations, of course, but Dr. Nguyen provided a small amount of commentary. At least one of the songs celebrated Ho's early life when he joined a merchant vessel and traveled around the world, stopping in Europe and the United States. Another was sung in honor of the minority tribes of Vietnam.

This also happened to be the occasion for an official signing of a cooperative agreement between Cuc Phuong community and the park. Additionally, there were a number of presentations apparently recognizing certain people in the community and park for their achievements. With each presentation of a gift, there were flowers. At one point, we were asked to say a few words to the group. We selected our ranger-in-charge as our spokesperson. With Dr. Nguyen translating, Andy expressed our appreciation for the hospitality of the park and community and commented from his experience [park (Australia) to park (Vietnam)] on the importance of a close relationship between the two.

They then asked us to sing a song in return for those they had prepared, and Hiroshti sang a very nice Japanese wedding song (he received two roses). The assistant director left, and the party began. During the ceremony, a group of young women dressed in the Vietnamese ao dai (pants with long blouse) had served us tea, fruit, and candy. We had expected them to join the young men when the dancing started. Instead, they disappeared. Apparently it is not customary for young men and women to dance together. The nature of this ceremony involved men, and so they danced to popular music. They seemed to like the faster beats and wanted us all to join them. Eventually we did. They seemed to especially enjoy having a chance to dance with the American and Australian women.
The last thing the Vietnamese women had done before they left was to set out a bottle of rice wine at each table. In between dances, the men crowded around our tables to toast with us. It turned out to be a late night for us—we didn't leave until 10:30. We had a really great time!

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The transect today is not far from the area where we were working yesterday.

We passed another bus of high school students today. Dr. Nguyen tells us that Vietnamese people in groups are, as a rule ,very noisy, and you would certainly believe that to hear these kids. They are all very interested in foreigners and, it seems, particularly in Americans who they see less frequently. Most have some English in school and seem to want to practice it on us. The communication usually ends, however, with "hello."

We worked a transect at the base of a steep mountain. At one point, we were climbing a 40% slope—not very easy. I was measuring light intensity according to a schedule that was coordinated with those measuring light intensity in the open area not far away. My measurements will have to be adjusted with those taken at one-minute intervals there. This allows Dr. Nguyen to quantify the light available to the forest tree in relation to the overall light intensity.

We did well today. We gathered data for 144 trees (same as yesterday). That is a good number based on past experience!

We quit early today to go swimming at a Vietnamese resort located just a short distance from the entrance to Cuc Phuong National Park. It was a welcome relief from the humidity that we had experienced in the forest. We met a young man named Dum who works at the Sofitel Metropol Hotel in Hanoi (one of the best and most expensive hotels) and returns to Cuc Phuong (his home town) every three months. Again we were impressed with how friendly and outgoing the people are. He invited us to visit him at the hotel when our group returns to Hanoi.

After dinner, we spent time over tea learning more about each other. Hiroshi is an engineer with Canon and manages a department that works on developing systems to reduce environmental pollution. Andy Miller is ranger-in-charge at the Lake Eildon National Park in Alexandra, Victoria, Australia. Naomi is a botanist working for Alcoa and living/working in Perth, Australia. Han is a former student now working with Dr. Nguyen at the university and involved in this project. Hien is a botanist and a participant in writing a book about the flora of Cuc Phuong. He is presently engaged in writing another book and frequently stops to cut samples of trees and fruit, which he then puts into his backpack. He has worked at the park since 1966.

Dr. Nguyen is quite remarkable. He has two advanced degrees that he received after completing university in Vietnam. He received one Ph.D. in Germany and a second in Russia. He has been working hard to learn English as well and enjoys the opportunity provided by the volunteers participating in this project. At Dr. Nguyen's request, we spent the evening swapping songs and poems from our countries. It helped us to get to know each other better and to come to appreciate the good will and humor that seems to make our team special.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Torrential rain all night, but it cleared up just before breakfast. After breakfast, I tried to connect to the Internet again (I had tried the night before), but encountered the same problem. I can dial into the access number in Ninh Binh, but it can't process my user name and password before it times out. I guess I will have to wait until we get back to Hanoi.

On the way to work today, we had to stop the van three times to clear branches off the road. I can't imagine it was a very comfortable night for the road workers who camp out beside their work areas.

No trouble once we got to Bong. The transect today was located just a short distance from where we worked yesterday. Dr. Nguyen has determined to work transects at 50-meter (55-yard) intervals along the trail that circles through the park.

Today we worked 12 plots between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Work was more interesting as Donna and I were working with the team. My jobs today were to measure or estimate overall tree height and stem length. It sounds easier than it actually is in the field. It is necessary to move over and around obstacles to get to each tree. It takes a little counseling to understand exactly where the stem ends and where the tree height should be measured. Many of the trees are too tall to measure with a tape, so we use a three-meter (3.3-yard) pole with visible markings at 100-centimeter (39-inch) intervals and estimate height for those that are larger than the pole. Others in the team measured the tree circumference at a height of 1.3 meters (1.4 yards), or took light intensity readings at 1.3 meters, or moved the equipment outlining each plot. Dr. Nguyen, Hien (a biologist permanently attached to the project), and Han (a former student and now colleague of Dr. Nguyen's) distinguish trees from shrubs, identify species, and determine the overall health of the tree. The work was more interesting because we were busy the whole day.

Dr. Nguyen has found it difficult to use the global positioning system to track altitude and exact location, apparently because of the tree coverage and the often-overcast skies. The terrain may not help as it may block direct line of site to specific satellites. His solution is to mark off transects at 50-meter intervals along the path and use a compass to ensure the integrity of the transect.

Today our group moved through an area that had a large population of terrestrial leaches. One attached itself to my ankle, and we had to burn it off. Anything short of fire doesn't seem to make a big impact on these creatures. I found three more in my shoe at intervals during the day. I wasn't the only victim. It is interesting how some areas seem to have a large number and others don't. We thought it would help to roll our socks over our pant legs, but the leach that attached to me did so through my sock. Perhaps it's better than nothing, though.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

This morning, just as we were about to head down for breakfast, it started to pour. I don't mean rain like we see in Utah—I mean RAIN! It lasted long enough that Dr. Nguyen made a decision to take the morning off and have us visit the Cave of Prehistoric Man.

This cave has a number of chambers, in one of which three tombs were found in 1966. The tombs contained shells, animal teeth, stone tools, and human remains, apparently placed in a way that resembles other ancient ritual burials. This indicates that early man was an established inhabitant of this area. Now, its only inhabitants are bats that didn't seem to mind our presence.

From the cave we traveled to Bong, where we ate lunch and waited for the weather to improve. We finally made it to the clearing near the transect. My wife and I had the responsibility of remaining in this clear area a short distance away and taking light intensity readings at one-minute intervals. In case you weren't aware of this, the road to scientific knowledge is not filled with bells, whistles, and a lot of hoopla! Sometimes it is just plain boring, and this was one of those moments. But we did our job and the others did theirs, and we were all done by 4:00 p.m. and ready for the trip back to the guesthouse. It may not have been exciting, but we made our first contribution today! Trees were cataloged on six plots along a transect.

After dinner, we spent time talking with Dr. Nguyen about Vietnamese history. What an amazingly resilient people the Vietnamese are. With limited technology, they were able to defeat the French and Americans and unify their country over a prolonged period of conflict lasting 30 years. They now have an economy that has begun to open up, and dramatic change has taken place, particularly in the last 15 years.

While we were measuring light intensity in our open space near the transect, the director of the German development effort in Vietnam (responsible for a number of projects throughout the country) stopped to ask us what we were doing. He was taking a portion of his weekend to visit Cuc Phuong National Park. He is enthusiastic about the activity in this country and is trying to develop better ways to apply the assistance his country is able to provide.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

We were able to sleep in until 7:00 a.m. today. Breakfast was noodles and egg with some excellent bread. This was not a normal day—our days will start earlier for the remainder of the week.

Because this was our first day, we began at the visitor's center with an introduction and then spent the rest of the morning at the primate rescue center. It is interesting that Vietnam used to be home to leopards, elephants, and other animals that are no longer present because of poaching and the conversion of their habitat for human use, such as agriculture.

They have three types of primates at the Rescue Center—gibbons, langurs, and loris. Some of these are found no other place except Vietnam, and all are threatened. One species has an estimated population of 50. The primates in the center are confiscated from poachers or purchased in markets. All are initially housed in large cages where they are kept until they are determined to be in good condition. They're then moved to a fenced forest area where they learn to live more naturally before they are released to the wild. Though that is the ultimate intention, none have yet been released because the park rangers do not have control of hunting and poaching in the park. They don't know when that might be the case. I guess that's one of the reasons why the park focuses so much attention on education. They are trying to change attitudes and a way of life, particularly for the younger generation in local community schools now.

This afternoon we traveled to Bong by van. Bong is located in the north central part of the park and is one of seven villages that were relocated after the park was established in 1963. We saw a plaque that seemed to indicate this particular village was relocated in 1988. It is the jumping-off point from which we will walk to the areas where our transects are located.

The number of butterflies we encountered during the drive amazed us. Just on the road we must have passed tens of thousands gathered in large groups at irregular intervals. As we passed, they would swarm upward to avoid us. They are unbelievable—intricate patterns and beautiful colors. An earlier Earthwatch program involved studies that were intended to help protect these insects.

Today we were getting acclimated, and Dr. Nguyen took us to see a couple interesting sites before we practiced the work we will be doing the coming week. The first stop was the Thousand Year Old Tree. It is really massive. Much of the primary (or old growth) forest has been cut in the northwest and eastern part of the park. This tree is located in the central area, and logging is now prohibited.

Because this was a weekend, many students were there from the university in Hanoi. One group asked us to pose for a picture with them in front of the tree since they had never seen an American before. We noticed as well that there haven't been other Americans. We've seen Australians, British, and Germans. Except for the Germans, everyone seems to be here on vacation. The Germans, however, have helped establish the Primate Rescue Center and are involved in other development projects in Vietnam.

We made a brief stop at one of the many caves in the hills that surround the valley that comprises most of the park. This was the Palace Cave. It was small but made a big impression on us—the humidity was very high, as usual, and the climb to the cave was very steep. The cave, however, was very cool and refreshing.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Today we took a walk through the market located next to our hotel—a hundred small, open shops located under a long metal roof. Not many buyers at the time, but a lot of activity. We had to watch out for the motorcyclists using the narrow aisles to get from one street to another.

When Dr. Nguyen arrived at 1:00 p.m. to pick us up, we headed to another large lake (West Lake—the largest in Hanoi) where he had lunch ready for us. That fortified us for the long trip to Cuc Phuong. We left about 3:30 p.m. and didn't arrive until dark. The busy streets of Hanoi soon gave way to the rice fields and small towns. The style of driving didn't change.

Along the way we were struck by the amount of construction activity. There seems to be building going on everywhere—roads, homes, large buildings, all in some state of construction or repair. It was interesting to note that much of the work is done with manual labor, which is plentiful and cheap. Many of the safety requirements found at Alcoa facilities are not present at these work sites, however. We noticed several situations where people were working at some height without fall protection and several occasions where welders were not using eye protection.

As we approached Cuc Phuong, we could see the limestone mountains jutting up into the skyline—very pretty. We finally arrived at dark to strange sounds of insects and frogs. Not much like Utah—humid and green everywhere! The steps that lead to the guesthouse are lined with oriental carvings and overhung with lotus and jasmine. It is very beautiful. We are greeted by enormous grunting from a small fishpond. It turns out to be a very tiny frog with a big, big voice.

After putting up the mosquito netting around the beds and organizing our things, we gathered for dinner in the park restaurant. This was traditional Vietnamese food with pork rolls, two types of cooked greens, chicken, rice, and tea. It was great! We also got to try some very strong wine made right here at the park. That did us in—we headed for bed about 9:00 p.m.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

We just arrived in Vietnam after flying for 31 hours, the biggest chunk of which was 15 hours non-stop across the Pacific. What can you do to keep yourself busy for that length of time? We didn't find a good answer. We slept through most of it and still arrived with jet lag.

The trip in from the airport might not have been a good start for our visit except for the intervention of a friendly policeman who directed us away from a taxi driver who apparently would have overcharged us and/or dropped us off some distance from our hotel. We find we like the people very much but are very turned off by the street sellers who latch on to you and don't want to let go without a sale. They sell everything and anything that might be attractive to a tourist.

The ride from the airport was exciting, and not just because of the strange sites. We had read that driving conditions are poor. Most intersections have no stoplights. The flow of traffic is governed by the horn, which must be the first thing on the car or motorcycle to wear out. Drivers are very aggressive, weaving in and out to avoid water buffalo as well as other vehicles and people.

Hanoi is a bustling city of approximately four million people. We have read that 15 years ago it was a quiet place, but that has all apparently changed. The first thing we noticed was the number of scooters and small motorcycles—and these things carry everything including the kitchen sink! These have not yet replaced all bicycles, but they are by far the favorite mode of transportation for most people, apparently because they are relatively inexpensive. The number of cars and trucks is, by contrast, very small. Many of the cycle drivers wear covers over their noses and mouths. It is apparently an attempt to filter out exhaust and dust.

After arriving at the hotel, we decided to take a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake (one of several large lakes found in Hanoi). It is amazing how many people use the area around the lake as a gathering point. The park was full of people from noon, when we arrived, until late at night. Vietnamese legend has it that one of the early kings received a magic sword that he used in the resistance against the Chinese. After successfully defending his country, he took a trip to the center of the lake to return the sword to the Divine Tortoise who had given it to him. In the center of the lake sits a small 18th century tower called Thap Rua (Tortoise Tower) that is intended to honor him.

At the end of the lake is Den Ngoc Son (Temple of the Jade Mound). It is reached from shore by means of a brightly painted red arched bridge called The Huc, or Sunbeam Bridge. At the entrance are brightly painted panels. Not far from the entrance is a statue of a woman and what appear to be two soldiers. We think it has something to do with the long struggle against the French to establish independence. This year is the 50th anniversary of the battle at Dien Bien Phu that ended French colonial authority over Vietnam. Apparently Hanoi is a gathering point for veterans of that war and what they here call the American War that followed. In the airport, we saw a number of older men in uniform shirts with medals on their chests. Perhaps they are arriving for some sort of commemoration of that period.

Tomorrow we head to Cuc Phuong National Park!

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Four more presentations for sixth and seventh graders at Goshen School—I'm drained! These are great kids, but it's tough staying up with them. If I ever do this again, I need to include more pictures of cute monkeys—this really seemed to get their attention. (Cuc Phoung National Park has an Endangered Primate Rescue Center that promotes contributions through an Adopt-A-Monkey program. I included a picture of the center's "poster monkey," named Stick Face.)

I'm glad I did these presentations. We've reached almost 180 students and a number of teachers. They all seem excited about the chance to follow our progress daily while we're in Vietnam.

Donna and I are appreciative of the opportunity being provided by Dr. Nguyen to participate in his project. We have been trying to find a way to show our gratitude. We heard earlier this week through our contacts at Earthwatch that Dr. Nguyen was having serious problems with his computer and would have to send it to England for repair. In the meantime, he will be severely limited. We have older equipment at the Spanish Fork plant that is being replaced with Alcoa-compliant computers, and our plant manager agreed to offer him one of the older computers. We received word from Dr, Nguyen today that he would very much appreciate this support. We'll carry it with us when we leave next Tuesday. That will mean the impact of Alcoa's involvement will go well beyond our actual participation in this project!

Thursday, April 29, 2004

I've raised the possibility of using some of our Alcoa grant money to support a local high school student to participate in an Earthwatch program that focuses on this age group. I think it could have a tremendous impact. It appears from the literature that the students are awarded positions through a selection process following recommendation by a teacher. I wonder if our financial support would allow one of our students to participate.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

I made the first presentations today at the Spanish Fork Junior High School. The teachers were appreciative and gave me good support. I wasn't sure how much of an impact I had made or how interested the students were. Some of the students were obviously more interested in the person sitting next to them—this wasn't something any of them had asked for. At the same time, there were good questions and some discussion, especially when we got to the portion that dealt with the project methodology. I was appreciative when one student came up to me afterward and expressed a real interest in a career in an environmental specialty. Eighty students this week, and about one hundred next week. (This may be the toughest part of the lead up to the project!)

Friday, April 16, 2004

The preparations for this trip are amazing.
  • Shots

  • Prescription medication in anticipation of travelers "disorders"

  • Vietnamese phrase books

  • Planning accommodations and an itinerary for traveling in Vietnam after the project is over

  • How much can we really see in such a short time—where should we concentrate

  • Passports/visas

  • Clothing/boots

  • Power converters and adapters for outlets

  • Are all of our electrical devices compatible with the power sources that will be available?

  • My phone won't work there—can I get a different phone?

  • What about currency?

  • Reading all the information we can find that will help us make our trip comfortable

  • What can we do to show Dr. Nguyen our gratitude for allowing us both to participate?

  • I've re-read one of my books on Vietnam (Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald). I've got two more that I want to read again (one is a biography of Ho Chi Minh). I also just finished the book that former Alcoa Earthwatch participant Frank Cicela (ACSI, Crawfordsville, Indiana, USA) sent—Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I appreciate his willingness to reach out to other Alcoa participants in Earthwatch projects and share something that had such a great personal impact. It makes me think more broadly about this experience and what I need to do to really make a difference. I'd like to keep in touch.

I just hope we can get this all pulled together in time!

Thursday, April 1, 2004

I've finished my draft of the presentation for the students and sent it off to the teachers. It's a challenge since the age groups vary considerably. I'll have to make adjustments in the classroom. I'm not completely satisfied. I think I need to focus more on the project itself. At the same time, I want to put my participation in the context of the efforts being undertaken by Alcoa and Earthwatch. I've also begun to think that I would like to try to make contact with the students each day from the field. Perhaps I can send my journal with some photographs and maybe even answer questions that the students send me through the teachers.

Friday, March 26, 2004

After a little confusion, I finally had a chance to meet with Jay Cornaby (teacher at Spanish Fork Junior High School) and Brian Frankowski (teacher at Goshen School). They're excited about the chance to expose their students to a real scientific project through a local participant. There is a third teacher who is also interested. Richard Trimble (Spanish Fork Junior High School) has two honors classes that are studying the "scientific method" and would find the methodology of this project interesting.

I thought I would talk about the project itself, but also about Alcoa's effort to proactively manage its impact on the environment where our plants are located and our products are used. I'd also talk about Earthwatch Institute and its variety of projects that are intended to support sustainable economic development. The vision of a balance between the needs of people, economic development, and the environment makes sense to me. I see that in each of these three areas. In particular, I think Alcoa is doing something substantive that deserves visibility.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Donna and I have been talking about a possible opportunity to expand the visibility of our participation in the project. Last year, the Spanish Fork Operation supported two local teachers to attend the Keystone Center in Colorado to participate in training to help them introduce environmental issues into their school curriculum. I'm going to make contact with them to see if it might be possible to do some sort of a presentation for their students about the trip.

Monday, February 9, 2004

We had a little scare. We understood that Donna would be able to participate in this project with me at our expense, but we received word back that, with the two Alcoans slotted to attend, the project was full. Pat Atkins (Alcoa organizer) was supportive, and Earthwatch just sent word from Dr. Nguyen that it would work out fine!

Friday, January 30, 2004

Nothing for what seemed like such a long time, and suddenly there it is! I received word today that we're going to Vietnam May 14 - 22. That doesn't give us a lot of time. I thought we'd do this in September, but, after looking more closely at the project dates, it looks as if this is the last session for this year. Donna and Nancy (my daughter) will be excited, of course, but so will Anita, Brent, and my brothers! Sixteen years ago Donna and I traveled to England, but that's our only trip outside North America. What do we know about getting ready for a trip to Southeast Asia?

What a tremendous opportunity and how grateful I am to Alcoa. I've been blessed with many good friends, tough challenges, and great opportunities. There's so much to be thankful for!

In applying for this project, I guess my first thoughts were selfish. I was EXCITED to travel so far from home, to a country that had some emotional (distant) attraction for me, to see and learn more about such a different culture. But I also wanted to make a contribution—even if it is small. It amazes me that information we take for granted when we make a trip to a nursery is simply not available to the Vietnamese in a fashion that can help them make good economic and ecological decisions. I am excited about helping gather information that may provide the foundation for successful efforts to reforest areas of Vietnam and to make life more rewarding for rural Vietnamese.

Tuesday, December 14, 2003

My application is ready. I've tried to keep it brief. Anita Patton, EHS manager, and Brent Johnson, operations manager, have given me good references (better than I deserve). That may help a lot. I hope all goes well.

Sunday, December 5, 2003

Donna's supportive. It looks as though we may be able to do this together. When I told her that we had this opportunity and that one of the projects was in Vietnam, she was as enthusiastic as I was.

It seems strange how things cycle in a person's life. In 1969, I had just graduated from the University of Vermont (UVM) with a bachelor's degree in history and political science. I'd been accepted at the University of Hawaii for graduate school at Hawaii's East-West Center. My contacts at Bennington College and UVM and the excitement of the times pointed me toward "something" to do with Vietnam. I attended an intensive summer language training program in Vietnamese as a prerequisite for graduate school that fall. Then the draft lottery took place, and I had number 36! (The lower the number in the draft, the sooner you would be called into military duty.)

Things worked out so I didn't have to go to Vietnam (lucky, since I was infantry). When I got out of the service, I had a young family and wasn't sure about what direction I wanted to take. I never really considered picking back up the threads of that Vietnam interest—for a vocation, I mean. So, we took another path, and I ended up eventually working for Alcoa.

And now there's a chance to work (briefly) and travel in Vietnam. What do you make of that?

Sunday, November 21, 2003

I received a bulletin today about Alcoa's relationship with the Earthwatch Institute. The company is supporting 15 Alcoans to participate in projects around the world. I can't believe I would have much chance being selected, but it can't hurt to apply. I'm not sure I can convince my wife Donna that this would be worthwhile and exciting, but I'm going to try.

Related Sites

"BioBulletin" of Vietnam's Forests
The American Museum of Natural History explains how the current stable political environment in Vietnam is enabling scientists to inventory and study this nation's diverse biological resources.

Pressures Facing Vietnam's Forests
A section of the 2001 State of the Environment Report for Vietnam, published by the United Nations Environment Programme, assesses the pressures facing Vietnam's natural forests.

Photo Gallery

View the images from Jim Durand's diary.

Earthwatch Institute

Learn more about this international nonprofit, which supports scientific field research worldwide.

Restoring Vietnam's Forests

Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.