May 18, 2008

500th column - 10th year anniversary

Life is full of milestones such as 25th wedding anniversaries; first time you broke 100 or 90 or 80 on the golf course and definitely the first time you broke par. We refer to events such as these "milestones" because, like the roadside markers, they help us to know where we are going and where we have been.

It has been 10 years and one day since I first sat down to write this column for the Sunday Vietnam News and birdcages throughout the nation have not had an empty bottom since.

Truth be known, the father of Vietnam News, Nguyen Khuyen (aka the legendary "Mr K") and Terry Hartney (creator of "Dragon Tales" which should be resurrected) tried to get me to write a column for two years before I finally accepted the idea.

Much to their surprise, and mine, I haven’t shut-up since.

If you do the basic math, 10 years times 50 columns per year is 500 columns. With the average column being 725 words, that’s 362,500 words…or enough for three novels (the average length of a novel is 60,000-100,000 words).

Now, given that this is an anniversary column, I could take the opportunity to blow my own horn so loud that it sounds like a full brass band, but it seems more fitting to simply say "thank you" to the readers, to the editors and staff at Vietnam News, and to the people of Vietnam for always making me feel at home.

Vietnam is a country that very few people who have never lived here could understand and truly appreciate. There is literally no other place like it and I consider myself to have been very fortunate to have survived and (dare I say) "prospered" here for the last 16 years despite many close calls and this is where a quick thank you to G-d and Dr. Rafi Kot is in order for helping me to survive malaria, an emergency appendectomy, motorbike accident and fatherhood.

If you’re new here, you will find that Vietnam will challenge the way you think, the way you approach and solve problems. It will make you question what you learned in school. It will also force you to look at, not only the world from an entirely different point of view, but yourself as well.

Try to keep an open mind.

When I started with Vietnam News, it was six pages, if I remember correctly. We had a very young crew, but it has been a joy to watch the transformation over the years from inexperienced kids into dedicated professionals.

I remember having more than a few battles with veteran editor John Loizu back in the day over the "Vietnam vs. American" viewpoint and he came very close to putting me through a wall on more than one occasion. Back then, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the war.

Fortunately, he restrained himself and I kept my teeth. I also learned quite a bit.

I am not ashamed to admit that he knew then what I know now and have since become a huge supporter of Agent Orange victims, amongst other worthwhile charities. When I casually told John that I was seriously considering becoming a Vietnamese citizen, he appeared to be stunned. The circle is complete.

By the way, "thud" you just heard was most likely the US ambassador falling off his chair.

Over the years we lost a few very colourful characters as well…such as "Old Man" Richard, Philip and Binh, the latter of which was a truly remarkable person who demonstrated the Vietnamese spirit of remembering the past, but living in the present.

You see, Binh lost an eye in the American war, he never showed any animosity about it. I learned a lot from him both professionally and personally.

Ten years of amazing memories and I’m only getting warmed up. It’s gonna be real interesting to see what the next ten years will bring, both for Vietnam and yours truly.

If the country continues to improve at this amazing economic pace, we could be watching the birth of a real "ascending dragon" and it has been a privilege to be along for the ride.


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