the junk blue book – 2

ore pictures from The Junk Blue Book – Marion C. Dalby, more about cargo boats (the previous post presents mainly fishing boats). First image in the series: a typical ghe bầu, the main “work – horse” of Southern people in the old days, ancestor of cargo boats usually seen in the Mekong delta nowadays (though the hull shape has changed significantly with introduction of combustion engine, I suppose). At the time of The Junk Blue Book, boats of this type were usually found around 100 ton in displacement, though in previous centuries, they were often constructed bigger at a few hundreds ton to be used for both trading and naval purposes. Ghe bầu composed the ‘spiral – cord’ of Vietnamese landlords’ navies in feudal time.



According to records of Western missionaries, adventurers, soldier – of – fortunes… who worked in Vietnam in the late 18th century, the Nguyễn and Tây Sơn lords’ navies both had a few 70 – guns mans – of – war, built and equipped to Western designs, but the majority is of ghe bầu type, with 20 ~ 60 guns mounted, capable of transporting upto 700 troops. Though these facts are likely, they’re still vague descriptions, there’s a lack of details and evidences. 50 – guns warship is a very strong frigate indeed, could be classified as 4th – rate ship – of – the – line, par the Royal Navy rating system, and should have the displacement at least at 1,000 (metric) tons, a question mark whether Vietnamese traditional boat building at the time was having such a capability.



the junk blue book – 1

ore pictures from The Junk Blue Book – Marion C. Dalby. Some history background: in the early 60s, Northern Vietnam government (DRV) started an infiltration campaign to support the Southern communists by way of sea. The task force, designated: Group 579, deployed numerous boats, built and camouflaged as Southern fishing or cargo boats, smuggled weapons and war materials onto various spots along southern coast below the 17th parallel. The advantages of secret lines of boats are obvious: only need a small number of well – trained sailors, much larger cargo capacity, harder to trace and intercept (compared to e.g: transporting by trucks, which required lots of labours for road building and protecting, which is hard to keep secret).



The US Navy took countermeasures, first by carrying out a study on VN indigenous boats: designs and constructions, outer appearances, sail plans, navigational equipments, operational zones and routes, methods and habits of fishing… in an effort to help identifying which are real Southern VN boats, and which are camouflaged Northern ones. The result is The Junk Blue Book, the study was taken place at a time when the majority of VN boats (over ~ 70%) was still operating primarily on sails. Ironical facts of history, that a work conducted initially against Vietnamese people, has now turned into a record of knowledge on Vietnamese sailing tradition, a tradition that has been long forgotten by its owner, very few people still care or even aware of it nowadays!



les flots du…

Một dòng sông sâu, cuồn cuộn sóng, trôi về nơi đâu?
Gió đưa buồm nâu, mang tâm hồn, vào cõi u sầu!

ome pictures from The Junk Blue Book – Marion C. Dalby (Vietnamese title: Hải thuyền thanh thư). Despite some little efforts here and there (to recreate at least one functional Vietnamese – traditional sailing watercraft), a brilliant tradition had been lost, for more than half a century, virtually nowadays, none still possesses the full knowledge on Vietnamese sailing as it was the old days.

We now can only view these beautiful images and admire a heritage that had long ceased to exist 😢! Anyone care to know can download a PDF copy (40 MB) of The Junk Blue Book (bilingual, English and Vietnamese texts in parallel columns) directly here, lots of details on VN indigenous boats, and lots of interesting images too!

con bò tím

hi còn nhỏ, tôi có một “biệt tài” là… mài dao rất sắc 😀. Một công việc tưởng chẳng khó khăn gì nhưng thực ra cũng không đơn giản lắm, muốn mài dao cho sắc và độ sắc ấy giữ được lâu cũng có khá nhiều kỹ thuật mà tôi chỉ tìm ra được sau nhiều tuần thử nghiệm. Chẳng là trong nhà họ hàng tôi lúc ấy làm cau khô: mua cau tươi về gọt vỏ, cắt miếng và sấy khô đem bán. Người ta chẳng bảo sắc như dao cau là gì, và ai đã làm công việc đó sẽ hiểu một con dao sắc là như thế nào.

Đơn giản chỉ vậy nhưng cái “niềm đam mê dao sắc” ấy, nếu có thể gọi như thế, nó đi theo tôi đến tận bây giờ. Gần đây tôi mua con dao gốm (ceramic knife) Nhật này, với giá bạn có thể mua được 10 con dao thép tốt khác. Cực kỳ sắc bén và chắc chắn, đủ bền và bén để cắt những thứ mà dao thép vẫn thường được dùng. Đặc biệt là chất liệu gốm sứ trắng muốt, trông rất mảnh mai và xinh xắn, nên chỉ dám dùng vào việc cắt, gọt trái cây hàng ngày. Đó có thể chỉ là một “impulse purchase”, thực ra tôi muốn thử một chất liệu khác biệt.

Làm một con dao, hay mài nó cũng không phải là việc quá đơn giản. Đỉnh cao như katana, kiếm Nhật, phải mất hơn 30 năm để học cách làm kiếm, và hơn 6 năm để học cách… mài kiếm sao cho sắc 😀. Nhưng túm lại thì nó có liên quan gì đến nhan đề của post này: con bò tím – the purple cow!? Một tựa sách của Seth Godin: Purple Cow – Transform your business by being remarkable mà gần đây tôi được đọc! Một cuốn sách về marketing, 160 trang khổ nhỏ, dể đọc với một số ý tưởng và khá nhiều ví dụ thú vị.

Từ những trang đầu tiên, tác giả đã khẳng định ý tưởng xuyên suốt cuốn sách là: mô hình các chữ P truyền thống: product, pricing, promotion, publicity… đã không còn nhiều hiệu quả, chữ P mới ở đây là purple cow. Nói cách khác, mô hình dựa vào những sản phẩm trung bình, và rất nhiều quảng cáo dần lùi bước, thay vào đó là những sản phẩm thực sự tốt và người dùng tự tìm đến cái họ cần. Vai trò của luật số lớn không còn như trước, ý tưởng tốt, sản phẩm tốt sẽ lấn át quảng cáo và truyền thông đại chúng.

Tôi hơi ngạc nhiên khi đọc những dòng về quảng cáo: bạn không thể làm cho tất cả mọi người phải lắng nghe mình, hãy tìm ra những người quan tâm, và hướng các chữ P vào đó. Điều này có thể bắt đầu đúng ở đâu đó, nhưng ở một xứ như VN, khi người tiêu dùng như những con bò được chăn dắt, thì tìm đâu ra một con bò tím? Ý tưởng của cuốn sách dần lộ rõ, một trong những ý tưởng đầu tiên trong thời economic recession này, khi hướng business tới chiều giảm phát, nghiêng về chất lượng để bù lại quá trình lạm phát.

Quá trình lạm phát đó đã có lịch sử nhiều thập niên với kết quả là những sản phẩm được đánh giá very good cũng không phải điều gì đặc biệt lắm. Nên trái nghĩa với remarkable là… very good. Tác giả lấy ví dụ những loài chim di cư thường bay theo đội hình chữ V. Những doanh nghiệp ăn theo xu thế cũng giống như những chú chim bay theo con đầu đàn. Nhưng điều mọi người không thấy là trong bầy chim, định kỳ vẫn có sự hoán đổi vị trí để con đầu đàn được nghỉ sức, những con chim khác đảm nhận vị trí bay đầu tạm thời.

Tác giả dành rất nhiều trang để đưa các case study minh hoạ thế nào là một remmarkable product. Một remmarkable product cũng giống như một con bò màu tím, bạn đã thấy một con như vậy ở đâu chưa, bò tím thật sự là rất khác biệt. Là một cuốn sách về marketing, tác giả dành nhiều thời gian phân tích sự nổi trội của con bò tím, hơn là cách thức tạo ra nó. Với thị trường như VN, tôi sẽ nói bạn có thể tạo ra con bò tím bằng cách phết sơn tím lên một con bò bình thường, nhưng tốt hơn hãy bắt đầu đi nghiên cứu cách biến đổi gene loài bò!

Là một người làm kỹ thuật, Purple Cow không thực sự cuốn hút tôi lắm. Nhưng nó đánh dấu những xu hướng gần đây của nền kinh tế, bạn phải tạo ra được những sản phẩm thật sự có chất lượng và thật sự khác biệt, những sản phẩm không thể chỉ được đánh giá là very good mà tự thân nó thôi đã cuốn hút người dùng, không cần nhiều đến quảng cáo. Như khi Steve Jobs giới thiệu iPhone 4, ông ta đã cố tình liên hệ: it’s like a beautiful old Leica camera, dòng máy ảnh ít tính năng, kém hiện đại mà vẫn có khoảng giá trên $6000.

Trở lại với ý ban đầu, con dao gốm thực sự là một purple cow (hay ít nhất với tôi là như vậy). Đã đến lúc phải học cách suy nghĩ để tạo ra những sản phẩm như thế. Khi sự lạm phát đảo lộn nhiều thang giá trị, khi ngay cả chữ very good cũng không gợi lên điều gì đặc biệt, thì đó là lúc học cách làm những điều bình thường nhất, không nhất thiết phải là cái gì đao to búa lớn, một con bò thì cũng chỉ là một con bò, một con dao cũng chỉ là một con dao, nhưng hãy là những con bò, con dao khác biệt mà người ta phải lưu ý và cần đến chúng.

bare feet, iron will

ne more item in my to – be – read list: Bare Feet, Iron Will, by James Zumwalt, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, son of the Vietnam war’s time US Navy’s Admiral. The book has recently been translated and published in Vietnamese. Though I haven’t got an English copy in hand, my interests rose after reading this interview with the author. Just like Archimedes Patti’s book Why Vietnam?, I would expect stories from intermediate – level officers to contains a lot of facts, events, numbers… that gives details into the things that happened, and offers closer, truer look into the figures involved, unlike those of high – level cadre supérieur (a.k.a politicians).

The author recently gave an interview with Vietnamese presses, in which he confirmed that his book was inspired by The sorrow of war, Bảo Ninh’s novel. He loves the novel and dedicates part of his book to write about this Vietnamese fiction and its author. I knew some 20 years ago that The sorrow of war would be a very profound impact (read more about it in my another post here). It’s just ridiculous that the VN government once forbade (and still limits) the novel, permits it to be appeared on news on occasions only to serve some political purposes, this time is a step toward tighter relation with the US. Below is some notable remarks from the author, James Zumwalt interviews:

Was the loss of a loved one any less significant just because it occurred on the other side of the battlefield? …It just opened my eyes to the fact that we have to recognise that our suffering is mirrored on other side.

When I made my second trip, one of the first places I went to was the Hanoi war museum. And there they had a section devoted to war criminals – one of whom was my father for his use of Agent Orange. (Asked: How did he react to being a war criminal?) He kind of smiled and said: Well it’s a good thing they didn’t arrest me when I was there.

In one case, a doctor told his wife he would probably be gone for six months to a year. He was gone for eight years, and only got back to visit his wife once… Many of those I interviewed had difficulty pinpointing particular years, but they could tell me if it was in dry or monsoon season. That was the way they looked at it. The year didn’t matter. That shows the mindset they operated under.

There were some 1,400 mothers who lost three or more sons in the war. I think we’d be hard pressed in this country to find more than a handful of mothers who lost more than one son in Vietnam. They considered it a sacrifice they had to make.

In the interviews I did with hundreds of NVA / VC I asked them what their motivation was. It was not communism but rather it was nationalism and the desire to reunify the country… I believe it is part of the Vietnamese people’s DNA. To them, there was never any alternative, they just had to prevail.

Look at the Vietnamese who defeated the Japanese in 1945, the French in 1954, the Americans in 1975, and again the Chinese in 1979, I don’t think we realised we were probably fighting against Vietnam’s own Greatest Generation. (yes we sacrificed our best seeds in those wars, you know what the sh… is left as of today! 😢)

the world is not flat

The book title reminds me of the same stupid question: how to put an elephant into a refrigerator. I still insist that you can not put a normal elephant into a normal refrigerator, no matter how people is arguing about that! The question: how to eat an elephant (answer: one bite at a time) actually makes more sense to me!

Friedman is right that there have been dramatic changes in the global economy, in the global landscape; in some directions, the world is much flatter than it has ever been, with those in various parts of the world being more connected than they have ever been, but the world is not flat… Not only is the world not flat: in many ways it has been getting less flat. (Nobel Prize – winning economist Joseph Stiglitz)

The popular expression that a capitalist will even sell you the rope you need to hang him with seems to be becoming increasingly true. Aronica and Ramdoo’s book is an important addition to the literature of globalization and a necessary therapy for all those whose minds have been in touch with Friedman’s glib phrases. (blogcritics.org)

would tell you how I usually encounter a dialogue taken place in Vietnamese, a pattern that repeats over and over again, and people never learns a thing, neither do they actually have a little sense about real things behind it. Here’s how the dialogue would go on, taken an example to describe the pattern: A (a certain person): I’ve recently read the book “The world is flat”, and really love it! Ah ha, the world is truly flat!   Me: No, the world is not flat!   A: I would suppose you don’t mean it geographically, think about it like a metaphor to get the philosophy of the book, man!   Me: No, the world is not flat!   A: You never get a thing, you crazy!

By now, anyone with a second thought should recognise my meaning either geographically or metaphorically. After that I asked him something into the content of the book. It turned out he knows almost nothing of the book except its name, and parrots the name as if he had found a “holy truth”! Yes I would certainly understand, while everyone was reading and everyone was saying the world is flat, he wouldn’t dare saying (or even thinking) the opposite. My opinion about the book could be right, or it could be wrong, but actually I won’t argue on the surface of phrases, flat or not flat is just a matter of words, what important is the book’s content.

I’d read through the more than 300 pages of the book which takes its examples, facts… exclusively in the Information Technology contexts, either in India, China or other Asian, Latin countries. It is full of details of only the IT industries, details about out – sourcing, internet, software work flow, email, network phone… the things usually seen in outsourcing service. Obviously the author meant a similarity for other fields, other industries, which seems to be a too restrictive point of view, we all know that IT in fact is only a very small fraction of the economy (taken the VN textile industry alone for an example, its estimated yearly revenue is roughly 12 ~ 15 times bigger than the IT counterpart).

The book concentrates on globalisation: the trends of out – sourcing, the way people communicates, the way firms process information… The author propagates it as “a way to be”, a trend, a life style that is absolutely irreversible. Also Friedman considers open source software the most disruptive force of all of the trends since it allows knowledge to be freely distributed and decentralised efforts could be cooperated. Friedman also encourages young American to become scientists, engineers, mathematicians… leaving low – level labour jobs to other countries. The author also tried to relate those vast details with other profound social and political problems.

I have never read anything so “colonial” like that book. It takes a lot of facts, truths… in a small sector of the economy and tries to provide a biased and exaggerated point of view. To exactly quote the author: When the walls came down, and the windows came up, windows can not come from thin air, there’re always “invisible” walls somewhere, and most of the times, those invisibles are much more overwhelming than the visible ones. In fact the book only receives “warm appreciations” in the field it’s related with, and aiming to, that is IT, it does tremendously receive negative reviews right in the country of its author (you can easily check out the web for that).

The world has never been flat, anywhere, anytime. It’s not flat in the sense of people about their living conditions and standards. It’s not flat in everyone’s mental and psychological status. It’s not flat in different life styles, in people’s hugely diverse definitions and pursuits for happiness. It’s not flat even in the American (or any Western) societies, whose tradition has always been the supporting for personal values, think and do differently. It’s not flat as human as a physical and mental objects are bounded to geological and social constraints, and human is more a complex creature rather than, over copper wires, a piece of (possibly cleverly falsified) transmitted information.

un vietnamien bien tranquille

aving a time to read some notable documents: The spy who loved us – Thomas Bass, and The perfect spy – Larry Berman. At first, I’d thought: oh, all these stories I’ve knew quite well already, there’s no need to read more. But then I considered it’s good to be reflective, reading the same stories in another language, from other points of view.

I’d read these two books (in English), which contains quite some interpreting errors (most of them are unintentional I think) then I proceeded to their Vietnamese translations (which are really bad, lots of linguistic mistakes), but again another reflections of reflections. All readings confirmed my understanding about the Vietnamese legendary intelligence agent Phạm Xuân Ẩn, whose role is now recognized as crucially decisive in the second IndoChina war.

Espionage and Journalism

As the first IndoChina war was approaching its end, the Việt Minh leaders knew that it’s just a matter of time before the American get their hands in. They had lived and fought with the French long enough that they had extensively well understanding on their enemy, the same is not true for the Americans. During the 9 years of the first IndoChina war, Ẩn had already worked against the French, under his cousin Phạm Xuân Giai, head of South Vietnam’s Cinquième Bureau – department for psychological warfare, who was working for the French’s Deuxième Bureau.

In 1957, Phạm Xuân Ẩn was ordered to go to the States, studying journalism (as a cover), learning their language, culture, their way of thinking… a preparation that later turned out to have devastating effects. During the time in America (and even long before), Ẩn has developed a sympathy (if not admiration) for American people and culture, and at the same time, touting his horns in a war to come against them.

These two professions were very contradictory, but also very similar. The intelligence job involves collecting information, analyzing it, and jealously keeping it secret, like a cat covering its droppings. The journalist, on the other hand, collects information, analyzes it, and then publishes it to the world. (Phạm Xuân Ẩn)

Information and disinformation

Upon coming back (1959), Ẩn worked for several presses: Việt Tấn Xã, Reuters, Time… Among all journalists in Saigon at the time, Ẩn is considered to be the best informants: new – comers introduced with him for guidances, seasoned ones seeked him for tips. He had various sources in the governments, army officers, secret polices… he had the best ears on the ground for everything. He is dubbed: “the weatherman” who foretell the political atmosphere, generals consulted him before planning coup d’état, the Buddhist monks informed him in advance if they prepare a protestant self – burning.

He made very good friend and closed cooperation with Edward Lansdale, head of IndoChina CIA division, the legendary agent nick – named: the king – maker, who manipulated every puppets on the Southern political stage, yet Lansdale had never doubted it. People was thinking he could be a CIA agent, a French sûreté, a South VN secret police, or he could be both. But none ever thought of him working for the Red NLF.

After the war, upon learning about the fact, some of his colleagues have tried to prove that Ẩn could had been giving disinformation at times. In fact, all his written records at the Time magazine (where he worked for 10 years) proved the opposite. Had he done it, with all the overwhelming clandestine agents among the presses, things could have easily been cross – checked and that would betray Ẩn, the espionage. And he of course hadn’t made those preliminary mistakes.

The source had given me the story on condition that I shouldn’t reveal it before it happened. These are the ethics of the press. You have to observe them, no matter how tough it may be. These are also the ethics of an intelligence agent who knows the propaganda value of burning monks. (Phạm Xuân Ẩn)

Balance and Objective

One thing Ẩn learned in American news career is that: a writing must be well – balanced, not biased in any directions, and at the same time it has to be objective, giving useful information to help coming to some helpful conclusions. Yet the two are usually contradictory. Similarly, questions have been raised about the nature of a man who lived an extremely dangerous double life for 30 years, about the one who deeply admires American culture but fiercefully fights against them.

In fact, Ẩn made true friend to many American journalists, help them in many cases, many of whom still love him even after learning that he was a spy. Many would recall how he saved the life of Robert Sam Anson, the war correspondent who was arrested by the VC in Cambodia. Ẩn came closest to getting discovered when he promised to Anson’s wife (who was begging for help) that he would do everything he could, a dangerous remark which implies he really could do something. Anson was later released as per request Ẩn made to his superiors, a truth Anson would only know for sure years later.

He was a man of wisdom, courage, and clear – headed patriotism. He was also – even if it seems ironic to say this under the circumstances – a man of extraordinary integrity. He loved us at our best even while confronting us at our worst. (Daniel Ellsberg)

Strategy and Tactic

A pattern in Ẩn’s stories, as usual, as an amusing raconteur: I’m a strategic analyst, I was concentrating on background information and situation assessment. Yet it’s a reason he gives in order not to get into too much details that he wouldn’t want to release even in the next 50 years: that’s related to too many people, many have died, but some still alive with their relatives, there’s no reason to cause harm to them anyway (Ẩn has always been loyal and protective to his information sources, from either sides, many of which is built upon personal relations).

But Western researchers found this an “undeniable fact”: he’s been awarded with 16 medals, among which 2 are general (one “Hero of the People’s Army” medal, the highest military award in VN, and another medal for “50 years of Party’s service”), the other 14 are all credited to specific battles, 4 of which is apparently known: the Ấp Bắc battle (1963), the Tết offensive (1968), the Lam Sơn 1972 operation, and the final 1975 campaign. That gives some obvious hints on his role as a tactical adviser who devised detailed tactics to be used in various battles.

He would have had enough knowledge of the battlefield tactics, rules of engagement, logistics and battle – readiness of both the Vietnamese and Americans in that area at that time to give pretty good advice on the way to set up a trap for them. Certainly Ấp Bắc had the hallmarks of a trap. (Nick Turner)

Nguyễn Văn Tào (nom de guerre: Tư Cang), head of the H.63 spy ring, direct ‘boss’ of Phạm Xuân Ẩn, famous for his ability of pistol shooting with both hands, and never miss a shot.

Phạm Xuân Ẩn (nom de guerre: Hai Trung), the strategic analyzer whose information, documents, assessments… greatly changed the pace of war.

Nguyễn Văn Thương (nom de guerre: Hai Thương), one of the couriers who run Ẩn’s messages. He was arrested, tortured, both his 2 legs were cut off six times, each without any narcotic. He could had saved his life, but he chose to save the network.

How could someone so voluble and open about his life be a spy? How could someone so funny and pointed in his remarks about human stupidity be a Communist? …He was a divided man of utter integrity, someone who lived a lie and always told the truth. (Thomas Bass)

Communists and Nationalists

This is the point of hatred conflicting among Vietnamese communities for so many years. My point of view, which is also reflected tho – throughly throughout the books (can be seen as 2 American views) is that: the communists, they had an ideologue (no matter right or wrong it could be), and they had determinations. On that basics, they’d had detailed planning and extensive efforts to carry it out, and they’d made sacrifices to carry it out to the end. The same is not true with the so called southerners’ nationalism.

As long as the Americans were pumping money in, the Southern government staffs were trying to steal as much as possible, and pretend to be supportive to the Americans’ causes while avoiding fights and casualties on the battle fields. They’d lost, as they presented nothing, not nationalists, not even anti – communists, but only their own personal and family’s interests. The consequence can be seen clearly: the majority of southern people took side, they have always been sympathetic to the Communists’ national independence causes, although they’re not communists.

Communism and Patriotism

It would eventually become clear why so many people have made extreme efforts and sacrifices, it was not because of any ideology. Of the total 43 members of the H.63 espionage network, 25 were captured, tortured, many of them chose to die, but the network remained unbroken. They were couriers, who in 15 continuous years, ran the total 498 messages (reports) from Phạm Xuân Ẩn to the Iron Triangle Củ Chi, from where it would be delivered directly to the Politburo in Hà Nội. Ẩn always kept an poison pill in his pocket, ready for a death that was hanging over him for those 15 years.

Many who survived the war found themselves disillusioned with the post – war living, finding that the new regime has become even more corrupted than the previous one, and that is not what they were fighting for. Yet they were fighting not for any individual, any ideology, any government… Many failed to realize it is patriotism in the truest and deepest meaning! Phạm Xuân Ẩn to the last year of his life, works as an consultant to TC2 (the Vietnamese equivalence of Deuxième Bureau), who doesn’t understand and doesn’t trust him, but badly need his razor – sharp analyses and assessments.

Lessons learnt

If something can be learnt from Phạm Xuân Ẩn’s life, it’s something about cultural understanding. While most VC has very limited knowledge about American culture and values, they’d succeeded in cultivating at least one spy who could think like an American, a spy who loved Americans and was loved by them in return. That way he can get deep into the adversary’s mind and soul, and know the way to defeat them.

It’s all about understanding, the French had stayed in Vietnam for a considerable amount of time, they’d learnt to divide and conquer the Vietnamese, a job they’d done excellently. It took a few generations to absorb their culture, to gain enough understanding to have successful retaliations. What the American had done in Vietnam to some extent was repeating things the French had done already, in a far larger scale.

Those above are indeed the small part of the lessons. Ẩn said: the American are very good at collecting and analyzing information, but they don’t know what to do with them (at least in scopes of the Vietnam war). Similarly, we can say: the Vietnamese know how to obtain a victory (or it supposes to be called so), but then they don’t know what to do with it. Phạm Xuân Ẩn in person is a talkative one, he can talk about his thinking all day.

But as a spy, a strategic analyzer, he is actually a very quite Vietnamese, who had much more profound thoughts and understanding but can’t say it out. Lots of our own problems are briefly reflected throughout the American books, but they’re not recognized tho – throughly by our own people… Things get passed silently in our sleeping – pleasing minds until another war, another revolution that is… just pending.

The spy who loved us – Thomas Bass (pdf.tar.gz) (mobi.tar.gz)

Perfect spy – Larry Berman (pdf.tar.gz) (mobi.tar.gz)

fooled by randomness

sually on my birthday, I would receive messages like: Congratulation to the Party! Congratulation to the government! Congratulation to President Ho Chi Minh! (the day happens to be also the Man’s birthday) 😬. But last month, I received this book, a nice gift from a friend, a soft – paperback hard – copy of the famous writing: Fooled by Randomness! I’m now half – way through the book, a bit difficult for non – English – native readers, but really interesting in every details!

My major hobby is teasing people who take themselves & the quality of their knowledge too seriously & those who don’t have the courage to sometimes say: I don’t know. You may not be able to change the world but… (www . fooled by randomness . com)

As with every outstanding thinkers and thinkings, the book’s caused controversies since it was first published (2001), written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a skeptical scholar and at the same time, a successful trader. I’ve been for long, looking forward to these types of cognitive thoughts! It’s too soon to have some comments on the book, but for now, the debate between Einstein and Heisenberg, between determinism and un – determinism would just go on!

the sorrow of war… film?

“Better to die than surrender, my brothers! Better to die!” – the battalion commander yelled insanely; waving his pistol, and in front of Kien, he blew his own brains out through his ear. (The Sorrow of War)

An un-put-down-able novel. It should win the Pulitzer prize, but it won’t. It’s too gripping for that. (The Guardian)

Dramatic… Will force American readers to acknowledge how little they still understand of the long war that left such a legacy of grief and guilt in their own country. (The Washington Post)

The Sorrow of War has won worldwide acclaim and become an international best-seller. (Amazon.com)

good news: 8th, May, 2008, The Sorrow of War novel will be turned into movie by an American director: Nicolas Simon. After 10 years of discussion and negotiation, Bảo Ninh, the novel’s author finally permitted making of the film based on his famous book. The producer, Dominic Scriven, a very passionate admirer and friend of the author, who now holds the book copyright and want to transfer it onto the silver screen. An even better news: 9th, Aug, 2008, author of The Sorrow of War novel stated that he wouldn’t have any further connection with the The Sorrow of War movie project.

The reason given is: film’s script is not aligned with the author’s ideas. In fact, many people is doubtful that an unnamed director would be capable of working on such a great novel, although the producer (Dominic Scriven) ‘s goodwill is widely recognized! The movie project is now paused, in searching for another director! That’s a very good thing in my opinion, in the fear that we would have another history distortion (or even worse)! A picture is worth a thousand words? That’s not always true, think twice (or read the book)! In this case, words are worth thousands of pictures (or a movie)!

The novel is, more or less, an semi – autobiography. Bảo Ninh himself (or the protagonist Kiên in the novel) was a soldier in the 24th battalion, a special formation commissioned to the B3 front (central highland) in 1969. Of the unit’s 500 man, he is among the only 10 survivors. The story is an nonlinear scatter of memories, mixed the past with the moments of post-war time: childhood, a high school’s love story, the battles, and importantly lives after war.

The Sorrow of War is without doubt timeless. Perhaps it is one of the world’s greatest war novels ever written. Imagine the film Apocalypse Now and increase its effect, say by a factor of a thousand – this is the power of Bảo Ninh’s writing. I remember shivers in my spine when first reading the book, some 15 years ago! Just surf around some online bookstores, to see what readers have said about the book:

  • If this book doesn’t make you cry, you have no soul.

  • It’s definitely not a book for everyone, and I nearly put it down during the first 50-60 pages. But, I soon became wrapped up in the story and the language.

  • Books usually lay with me on my bed and after their formal end we sleep together for a few days but after the last sentence I promptly put this right back on my shelf and am having trouble thinking about it again. I had horrible nightmares during the read.

  • This book is amazing. The story progresses thematically rather than chronologically, and leaves you piecing together historical non-fictional events… He succeeds in taking the reader on a difficult journey of emotional and spiritual crisis, right to the core of the human condition and captures a sorrowful despair like no other literature I’ve ever read.

  • Like pouring acid on your moral center…

  • Just an excellent novel. To everybody who considers The Things They Carried the penultimate work of fiction about the Vietnam War: pick up The Sorrow of War and be prepared to be blown away by the stories of a Vietnamese.

  • In fact, my view of just about everything I thought I knew about North Vietnam from the mid-60’s to the mid-70’s was altered by this book.

  • This book is unbelievably emotional. The style of writing is unique: it is not linear or chronological in any way. It is chaotic, a reflection on the subject of the book. The writing style, though chaotic, seems to be a perfected style. The book was written with total disregard to order; there is no doubt that all was deliberate.

for whom the bell tolls

Men of five still alive through the raging glow.
Gone insane from the pain that they surely know.

(Metallica)

xcerpts from the 1943 film following Hemingway’s novel. In some aspects, this is a great film, highly symbolic and dramatical, beautiful staging and casting, but still nowhere closed to the book. So read the book here (zipped text file)! It’s said that Hemingway handpicked the actors and actresses himself for the roles, but he greatly disliked the film due to it’s political content removal.

Excerpt 1: The old guerilla man of El Sordo and his last four men make their last stand on a dead-end hilltop. They’re waiting for their fate to come, and the young Joaquin does the praying when the Russian machine gun barrel turns hot on his shoulder as the planes approach: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen!.

…Dying was nothing and he had no picture of it nor fear of it in his mind. But living was a field of grain blowing in the wind on the side of a hill. Living was a hawk in the sky. Living was an earthen jar of water in the dust of the threshing with the grain flailed out and the chaff blowing. Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond…

Excerpt 2: Robert Jordan, severely wounded on the way retreat after the mission, says farewell to his lover María. He stays behind to cover the enemy for others to safely escape. The scene removes the detail of Agustín asks if Jordan need a shot or he can manage himself once left behind. Counting the last minutes of his life, in such moment, one can hear the bell tolling for his soul!

Lieutenant Berrendo, watching the trail, came riding up, his thin face serious and grave. His submachine gun lay across his saddle in the crook of his left arm. Robert Jordan lay behind the tree, holding onto himself very carefully and delicately to keep his hands steady. He was waiting until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow. He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.

Robert Jordan, as illustrated on this Vietnamese translate book cover, using a Lewis gun, or just called a mácquina as in the book.