Monday, April 25, 2016

GIRAFFES, BABY LIONS and More at the Wildlife World Zoo Aquarium and Safari Park, Litchfield, AZ

A giraffe enjoys a snack at Wildlife World in Litchfield, Arizona (near Phoenix)
What could be more intriguing than a giraffe's blue tongue or more enchanting than two tiny lion cubs? The two lions, brother and sister, born in January 2016, and housed in the baby animal nursery at the Wildlife World Zoo Aquarium and Safari Park in Litchfield, Arizona (just west of Phoenix) were the motivation for a trip to the zoo with friends on my recent visit to Arizona. 
Lion cubs in the baby animal nursery
We found the cubs cuddled together in their nursery home; just as we arrived they woke up from their nap and began to play. What I had forgotten is that lion cubs are spotted when very young–an adaptation that helps protect them from possible predators in the wild.
The baby tapir (6 weeks old) will lose its stripes as it matures
Also in the nursery was a baby Brazilian tapir, and a young Patagonian cavy. It is baby animal season at the zoo! Outside we passed young zebras and antelopes with their mothers and a goose with her flock of goslings.
A mother Addax antelope and her calf
As we walked along the shaded paths to see the animals, everyone--people and animals--seemed to be enjoying the beautiful weather. The scope of the park is large and we didn’t have the time or energy to do the entire tour. We chose a circular route that took us past the tigers, lemurs, wallabies and other Australian animals, ponds with various exotic waterfowl, lots of bird exhibits and more.
A curious ostrich
At the giraffe enclosure I climbed the steps to the feeding station, where the animals stuck out their long blue tongues for treats from visitors. (A giraffe's tongue can be 20 inches long and the dark blue or black color protects the tongue from sunburn while feeding in tall trees.) We then followed the train tracks past some curious ostriches and other African animals back to the entrance and Dillons Restaurant for lunch.

Looking at the shark tank from inside Dillons Restaurant
While we ate, giant sharks cruised the waters in the huge tank between the restaurant and the Aquarium. Smaller tanks with tropical fish surround the patio and bar area. Inside the Aquarium I saw an albino alligator and watched children reaching into the touch tank to feel the rays swimming by.
Two lemurs out for a stroll
There is something for everyone at Wildlife World–animals, birds, and aquatic animals, plus rides, bird and animal shows, animal feeding and more. We enjoyed our visit and someday will have to go back to see more.

Information for Visitors:
Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park is located at 16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park, AZ (SE corner of state route 303 and northern Ave.) It is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, including all holidays.

Zoo exhibits are open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (last zoo admission is at 5:00 p.m.) Aquarium exhibits are open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Daytime admission includes access to the zoo, aquarium and safari park. Special reduced evening admission to Aquarium-Only is available after 5:00 p.m.
For more information go to the Wildlife World website.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Remnants of the American War in Vietnam: Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

War Memorial in the Vietnam Countryside
My friend and fellow children's book writer Gretchen Woelfle recently returned from an exciting 18 day trip in Vietnam, a combination of cycling and sight-seeing. Here is the last of three installments about her trip. (The first two posted April 4 and April 18.)
I arrived at the University of California at Berkeley in 1964, just in time for the Free Speech Movement and big rallies and protests against the Vietnam War.  In 1966 I moved to London for five years, where the war was not front-page news. We had anti-war marches though, filled with Brits and ex-pats, including some draft resister friends of mine. I still feel guilty about Vietnam and so, on my recent cycling trip, I sought out a few remnants of the war. (There are many museums I didn’t visit.) BTW, it’s called the American War over there.

Entrance to a tunnel at Cu Chi
Cu Chi Tunnels
Our group visited the Cu Chi tunnels not far from Saigon. This 250 kilometer (155 miles) network contained three different levels of tunnels that housed soldiers and materials, and contained meeting rooms and hospitals. Crawling through a few short stretches of the tunnels, now covered in concrete, lit with electricity, and housing a few bats, I couldn’t imagine how people lived there for years. American troops carpet-bombed the area and used grenades and other means to try to destroy the tunnels, without success. The Cu Chi tunnels remained in use until American troops left Vietnam. Part of the tunnel system penetrated directly beneath a U.S. Army base.
Inside a tunnel at Cu Chi

Giant Buddha at Long Son Pagoda in Nha Trang
Cycling through the countryside we passed many military cemeteries and memorial monuments. Not all of them are anti-American. An historic Buddha at the Long Son Pagoda in Nha Trang, damaged in bombing raids in 1968, has been rebuilt, adding relief sculptures of seven Buddhist monks who immolated themselves in 1963, in opposition to South Vietnamese government persecution of Buddhists. A car owned by the monk, Thich Quang Duc, is on display at the Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue.  He drove the car to Saigon in June, 1963 before he set fire to himself. The photo, published worldwide, helped bring down the corrupt regime of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.
Remembering an Immolated monk at Long Son Pagoda

Video image of captured Americans at the Hanoi Hilton
The Hanoi Hilton
In Hanoi we visited the Hoa Lo Prison, now a museum. It was built by the French to imprison Vietnamese dissidents, and later dubbed the "Hanoi Hilton" by captured Americans. While much of the museum displays ill-treatment by the French, a couple of rooms are dedicated to the Americans. John McCain’s flight suit hangs there, along with various artifacts of the prisoners’ lives.  Photos and videos show “happy” GIs eating, playing chess, etc. The official line is that they were well-treated “and even had turkey for Christmas dinner.”  They weren’t, but neither were northern prisoners held in South Vietnamese prisons.
Captured USAF helicopter
It’s hard to gauge the legacy of the war. The horrific consequences of Agent Orange are still there. We visited arts and crafts workshops where some of its victims are employed. Every family has stories to tell.  Our cycling guide grew up in the Mekong Delta, which was heavily bombed by the Americans. During one raid, four of his family members were killed, and his mother moved the family to Saigon. Another guide is forbidden to hold a government job because his father had joined the South Vietnamese army. That restriction lasts for four generations. Another slap dealt by the government was the renaming of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City. Imagine renaming Atlanta “General William T. Sherman” after the Civil War.
Poster of captured Americans
Yet Vietnam has a young population, with most of its people born since the war. As the years pass, and the free market economy continues to grow, people live in the present, not the past. The tourist dollars are welcome, and I was happy to add my pittance to their prosperity.


Books about Vietnam
Pham, Andrew, Catfish and Mandala. NY, FSG: 1999. Vietnamese-American who fled as a child, returns to cycle through Vietnam in his 20s, with flashbacks to his history. Excellent book.

Dang, Thuy Tram, Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: Diary.  NY, Harmony Books: 2007. Diary of young Viet Cong woman doctor killed by Americans in 1970. Powerful.

Dinh, Linh, Love Like Hate. NY, Seven Stories Press: 2010. Multi-generation family novel, from 1960s to the present.  Good look at life in postwar Saigon.

Monday, April 11, 2016

SAIGON, HOI AN, AND HANOI, VIETNAM: Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Bicycle vendor, Hanoi, Vietnam
My friend and fellow children's book writer Gretchen Woelfle recently returned from an exciting 18 day trip to Vietnam. Here is the second of three installments about her trip.  Note: Although Saigon was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1976 at the end of the Vietnam War, it is still commonly referred to as Saigon.
My cycling tour of Vietnam [see post for 4/4/16] included free days in several cities. I arrived early and stayed a few extra days to see a bit more of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi.
Saigon traffic--what pedestrians face
My first impression of Saigon was of a swarm of wasps furiously buzzing and zipping through the streets.  For wasps, read scooters and motorbikes.  Just as wasps would, these buzzers ignored all traffic conventions – traffic lights, stop signs, even traffic lanes.  Crosswalks were worse than useless, for they gave you a false sense of security. The only way to cross the street was walk purposefully across without stopping, letting the wasps zip around you. By the end of the trip I was striding forth almost confidently.

Safely landing on the sidewalks we discovered that they are not walkways, but parking lots for aforesaid scooters and motorbikes, so we often ended up walking (carefully) in the road. Sidewalks were also home to vendors of all sorts, making walking even more difficult.
Street vendor making a call on the job
Maps, even an iPhone GPS didn’t prevent us from getting hopelessly lost. Trying to walk from the Fine Arts Museum to our hotel in the humid heat, and passing the same roundabout not once, but twice, we finally gave up, and jumped in a cab. The driver headed in the opposite direction from where we had been walking.

On Saturday night one of the wide boulevards (lined with upmarket stores) was closed to traffic and filled with crowds of all ages.  Musicians set up here and there, performing hip hop, pop, karaoke, and traditional Vietnamese music. At the end of the long avenue a bronze Uncle Ho stood overlooking the whole scene.  What on earth was he thinking?
Guardian dragons at a Hoi An temple
Hoi An
Midway through our cycling trip, we had a free day in Hoi An. This beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site contains many old buildings that reflect its 500-year-old history as an international trading port. Both sides agreed not to bomb Hoi An during the war. Museums, temples, and workshops displaying fine crafts (beyond the usual tourist tat,) kept us walking and shopping all day long.
Tea set for sale in Hoi an
We reached Hanoi via a twelve-hour overnight train from Hue: 5 pm to 5 am. (I actually slept better than I thought I would.) First thing to notice – many more cars than in Saigon. Crossing the streets required even more courage, dodging cars and buses, as well as motorbikes.
Saturday night in Hanoi
We stayed in the Old Quarter, a maze of narrow streets with small shops and street vendors selling all sorts of produce and street food, interspersed with tourist shops. Our guide told us that northerners are much more conservative than southerners, and Hanoi youth who want unconventional partners move to Saigon. But on Saturday night we saw restaurants and clubs full of hip young people, spilling out onto the streets and alleys.
Dragon dancers, Hanoi
The Museum of Ethnology offers a view of another Vietnam: the dozens of tribal peoples who live in remote rural areas. Clothing, musical instruments, tools, and other artifacts are displayed inside the museum. Their traditional houses and compounds are recreated on the grounds. A performance of water puppets, with music and narration, gave a glimpse of a charming folk art performed primarily for tourists. Groups of schoolchildren bypassed it altogether.
Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
Sunday dawned foggy and full of atmosphere: a perfect day to stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. Families joined us in enjoying the buskers and artists plying their trades. A spring equinox festival with raucous colorful dragon dancers filled a park near the lake. We found a delicious retro café in the French Quarter to savor our last day in Vietnam.
Park cleaner at Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
Having filled my suitcases to bursting with various arts, crafts, and silk scarves (all remarkably cheap,) I gave myself one last indulgence at our hotel:  a three hour body scrub, massage, and facial, all (including tip) for $47.

I chose to go to Vietnam, rather than another Asian country, because of the war that loomed so large in the lives of my generation.  Next week I’ll cover some of the remnants of the war I saw on my journey.

Pham, Andrew, Catfish and Mandala. NY, FSG: 1999. Vietnamese-American who fled as a child, returns to cycle through Vietnam in his 20s, with flashbacks to his history. Excellent book.

Dinh, Linh, Love Like Hate. NY, Seven Stories Press: 2010. Multi-generation family novel, from 1960s to the present.  Good look at life in postwar Saigon.

Monday, April 4, 2016

CYCLING THROUGH VIETNAM, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Vietnam: Ha Long Bay on a foggy day

My friend and fellow children's book writer Gretchen Woelfle recently returned from an exciting 18 day cycling trip in Vietnam. Here is the first of three installments about her trip.  
Gretchen cycling in Vietnam
Vietnam is a beautiful country and I recommend seeing it on a bicycle. Our group (with Exodus Travels) rode a total of 506 kilometers: out of cities, along the coast, past back road villages and endless rice paddies, down mountains. One 30 kilometer steep downhill ride was most thrilling! We shared hundreds of "Hellos!" with hundreds of kids as we rode along.  
Mekong Delta
It’s a watery land. We traveled on ferries and a sampan, and cycled past rivers, streams, lakes, canals, and the South China Sea. Our group was a lively and fit mix of Americans, Aussies, Canadians, and Brits. And the food was fabulous – huge buffet breakfasts, multi-course lunches and dinners, many snacks en route. (I was lucky not to gain weight!)
Village fish market
We enjoyed excursions off-cycle as well: caves, snorkeling, kayaking, a cooking class (four-course dinner,) dance performances, visits to see workers making bricks, coconut products, rice paper, ceramics, paintings, embroidery, etc. 
Painting a traditional landscape on a large pot
We saw rubber plantations, cashew orchards, dragon fruit, tea, and coffee fields, local markets selling seafood and produce. We spent a night on a boat in beautiful Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
Planting rice
But it wasn’t all bucolic. We lingered in cities as well. Next week I’ll talk about my visits to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi.
Fishing boats and coracles

Recommended reading:
Pham, Andrew, Catfish and Mandala. NY, FSG: 1999. Vietnamese-American who fled as a child, returns to cycle through Vietnam in his 20s, with flashbacks to his history. Excellent book.

Dinh, Linh, Love Like Hate. NY, Seven Stories Press: 2010. Multi-generation family novel, from 1960s to the present.  Good look at life in postwar Saigon.
Oyster beds and fish shack along the South China Sea