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Posts Tagged ‘making memories’

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Exactly three weeks have passed since the girls (my daughters and my nieces) and I made the journey back from Vietnam. It feels like a dream, those days walking through Saigon and feeling the energy of the city. The beach city of Nha Trang is my new favorite spot, and I’ve been to many wonderful places in the country.

One of the things I noticed about the trip was that I didn’t have much time alone, and yet I was not torn between solitude or not solitude. I relished the hours spent with my family. We traveled together well. We shared a similar sense of adventure.

I would love to share in this blog post a story or two about our trip, but I’m in the middle of writing a print publication essay about exactly that. So I’m at a loss of what to say. Unfortunately, I need to save all my best words for the essay.
 
I can share this screen shot below from the last essay of mine that was published, this in SAGE, a monthly magazine for women that appears as part of the Albuquerque Journal. It came out while we were in Vietnam, which was fun timing since the writing happened to be about one of my previous trips to the country. You might recognize the photo from one of my previous blog posts. It was especially cool that three of my photos got published along with my writing.

The country has become as much a muse for my writing as my art. That’s a recent shift. I wonder, when I sit down and think about it, how many essays about my travels there I have in me. Maybe quite a few.



Let there be Pampering (from SAGE)
Let there be Pampering, by Roma Arellano, screen shot from SAGE, The Albuquerque Journal, July 2010, © 2010 by The Albuquerque Journal.

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Our guide was named Anh. Like Anne, but a long a. Ah. Ah-n. She had the look of a backpacker. At first. When I took in the rucksack and light jacket, I thought maybe she was a trekker who’d landed her dream job. Tour guide on a medium-sized wooden boat, fits about 20 passengers, floating up and down the Mekong Delta.

But first impressions are deceiving. Anh was from Hanoi originally, now living in Can Tho. She wore thick flesh-colored socks with sandals. A face mask and a traditional Vietnamese hat to keep the sun off her skin. In Vietnam, the women want to remain as fair-skinned as possible. Stark contrast to the Norwegians who shared the boat with us. The two women in that group tied silk scarves over their bathing suits and sat in the hot sun until the silk turned dark with sweat and their skin a sort of freckled orange-brown.

My friend Marcia says that eventually, given enough time, we will all evolve to look like one another. Vietnamese women will get lighter; fair-skinned Norwegians will turn a crispy brown. We’ll all go after the universal beauty ideal. Add a KFC on every corner of every city in the world and Wham-o!, we’re all the same.

Until then, I will enjoy our differences. And prawns with attached heads, which we had for lunch. And cuttle fish, passion fruit, rice. Meals on the Bassac II are gourmet. How it turned out to be just me and the girls plus a Norwegian family of four—I don’t understand. This is the best boat ever, the best crew. The captain is the same one who steered the boat the last time I was on it, and both times he masterfully navigated our vessel through narrow passages where barges carrying silt dredged from the bottom of the river came within a foot of boats that are floating fish farms. And us.

As we gawked at other people’s lives, all while eating steak and fish for lunch or sipping Tiger beer, I imagined we were a nuisance on this commercial waterway. The Vietnamese float by with all their worldly possessions contained in boats only slightly larger than canoes. And yet, they are so tolerant, even nice to us as we float by in all our laid-back luxury.

The crew of Bassac II recognized me when I boarded, and I reminded them that I said I’d return and bring my girls next time. Dee was enamored by the boat immediately, the cool of the cabin and its smell of hibiscus and lemongrass. She wandered around the boat as if under a spell, that slow walk from this end of the deck to that one, all the while tracing her hand along the deep brown wooden railings. The place suited her internal clock, slow and content to not do much.

Em explored every corner of the boat she had access to, bouncing a few minutes around the upper deck, then a few more on the deck below. “Mom, I’m going to check out the front of the boat,” she informed before shooting off again. She waited impatiently for hours, unable to just rest, before we finally boarded the canoe and made our way to a village along one of the canals.

Not being from Can Tho, Anh didn’t know the off-the-beaten-path spots where you could find a temple that wasn’t officially on the tour. Nor did she have the same sense of adventure that prompted our last tour guide to stop in at a Cao Dai temple while making our way back to the boat from the village.

But that was fine. Anh was calm and friendly, and she loved the girls. She spent a generous amount of time in the floating market, took us to a cottage factory that produced soy sauce and salt, and let us sit for almost an hour eating exotic fruits while she showed the girls how to make jewelry and animals out of palm leaves.

When I asked her if she liked her job, she smiled, shrugged her shoulders, and then looked out in the distance. “I miss my children,” she said, “when I come overnight for the tours.” Believe me, I wanted to say, I can relate. Instead I looked over at my own girls and said, “Bring them with you one day, Anh—they’ll never forget it.”

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vietnamese children (one)
 
 
                   vietnamese children (two)
 
 
                             vietnamese children (three)
 


Here I am, crouching in front of a temple in Hue, surrounded by children. They squeal, I smile. They tug at me, I hug them. When my guide enters the courtyard and sees me, he marches toward me, beside himself. He pulls me up from the spot where I am, a small child like them. “Watch your purse,” he hisses.

He’s not unkind. He just knows how children can be with tourists. But I’m not afraid. If they take something from me, more power to them. I shouldn’t be such a naive soul, should I?, for letting them dupe me like that. It’s the price I’m willing to pay to be with children, even if they’re not my own.

But the truth is, these kids don’t even try to take my things. They want to test their broken English and throw me some universal signs. Peace, love, all that. At this point on a trip to Vietnam, I need all the peace and love I can get. I notice children everywhere I go. I am beyond homesick.



child monk




Fast forward to today. Em packs Froggy and Meow. Froggy is a frog pillow that presently rests in the space between me and Em. His green warmth at my side assures me as our plane lifts from the tarmac and begins its bumpy ascent. Dee packs no stuffed toys, although this morning she took Merry, the horse she’s had since age three or four, to stay with Jim for the almost three weeks we’ll be gone. We’ll be gone. Me and my girls. Finally. In Vietnam.

This is something I’ve always done with my girls. Not the international travel, but whisking them away, the three of us sans Daddy. I’ve taken them to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, where we tried unsuccessfully to put up a tent in the wind and ended up walking into the administration office and sheepishly asking for a room. We’ve been to Santa Monica, at the Hotel California, and when we drove into the parking lot from the airport—you won’t believe it!—that Eagles tune was playing on the rental car radio.

We’ve gone to Denver, with my sister and her kids, and also taken a road trip with them to San Francisco via Las Vegas. In Taos, the girls and I stayed in Mabel‘s room at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, and I didn’t tell them that my blog partner had once seen the ghost of Mabel in that very same room.

But those adventures pale in comparison to the three plane rides it will take to get us to Ho Chi Minh City. One of the flights is 13 or 14 hours long. I try not to dwell on it but wonder if I’ll be able not to when I have an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old sitting next to me. Not to mention Froggy.

And this is just the beginning. I can’t wait to see my girls’ reactions when I take them to the crowded colorful market where women tug at your sleeve and say “Madam, Madam!” or when we eat a steaming bowl of rice noodles and chicken for breakfast or morning glory sauteed in garlic for lunch. Will they agree that Vietnamese food is the best in the world?

We’ll float down the Mekong Delta, travel by domestic plane to a beach town I’ve heard about but never been to, stay in a luxury two-bedroom apartment right in the heart of bustling Saigon. All month long as the trip looms closer, I drive them around our hometown and tell them that driving on the streets of Saigon is nothing like Corrales. I want them to feel the chaos, the aliveness of it all. To see how a place half a world away wakes up, eats, lives, go to sleep. Is.

We are on the plane now. Em shows me a photo she just snapped with her cell phone camera of the landscape out the window of our plane, somewhere west of the Grand Canyon. The image on her small screen resembles those photos of Earth as seen from outer space. There’s the curve of the terrain, layers of atmosphere growing from light to dark blue as you move away from the land toward the expansive sky.

This is like us, I think, in the world, high above it all. On our way to places beyond.


safe travels


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By Louis Robertson

 
 

This list is a work-in-progress and represents some of the lessons life has taught me. I started it as a “gift” to my children and wanted it to be something they could return to again and again to help put things into perspective and to add focus to their lives. QuoinMonkey, whose opinion I have always trusted, encouraged me to share it with a larger audience. I agreed hoping that the readers of red Ravine may find something in this they can use.

 
 
 

Things I Wanted You To Learn

 
 

1 – As long as you remember me I will stay alive in your memories. You are my legacy, my magnum opus.

 
 

2 – I am very proud of the person each of you has become. Although I did not say it as much as I felt it, you are the source of my joy and pride as a father.

 
 

3 – You can achieve anything! If you can imagine it, you can do it, but it will take hard work. It will not come easy, but if you believe in your ability to achieve, know you have the desire to see it through and persevere, then it can happen. Oh, and a good plan helps.

 
 

4 – Everyone has worth! Even the marginalized — especially the marginalized — have something to contribute to your life. You need to work beyond the visceral feelings, put yourself in their place, and look for the lesson.

 
 

5 – You are constantly being presented with opportunities to learn and grow. God doesn’t give things to you, rather he allows opportunities to be presented to you and it is your responsibility to recognize them, learn from them, and grow.

 
 

6 – Don’t get stuck in the past. What happened, happened. No amount of rehashing, bitching, complaining, or wishing will change the fact that it happened. Look for the lesson and move on, but understand that sometimes it may take years for the lesson to present itself to you.

 
 

7 – When someone has the ability to really irritate you, either by their actions or beliefs, step back! Try to identify what is bothersome and put a new face on it. For example, that person who is always butting into your conversations? Ask yourself, What purpose does this serve to them? Are they lonely, feeling marginalized, friendless, or just trying to get noticed? Then wonder what their self worth may be to have to do this to feel alive, noticed, or a part of something. Maybe even wonder how things must be at home for them. Now ask yourself “How can I help them feel better about their life?” But also remember, sometimes people are just jerks.

 
 

8 – Always remember that you are loved and have a large family to fall back on when things are tough. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; it is not a sign of weakness. It took me 43 years to realize that allowing people to step up and take some of the burden from me is often a gift to them.

 
 

9 – Remember the lesson I taught you as a kid about power. You have a reservoir of power that you control. Be stingy with who you give it to. That kid that knows he can make you mad by calling you fat is taking away some of your power. To get it back you need to be aware of your reaction and change it. This will not only help you with your personal interactions but is essential when trying to break a cycle of reactionary behavior. Once you fall into a pattern, the pattern will repeat itself until something changes. Changing your reaction will make the interaction more real and will cause you to look at it from another perspective. Once you change the pattern it will either fall apart or create a new trigger to a new pattern. Listen to that little voice that says, “Why do we always have the same argument over and over?” and use that pause to look for the pattern, and then change it.

 
 

10 – Make at least one person smile every day. Find something to compliment them on. Do something unexpected for them. Tell them they are important to you. Some days it may be the catalyst that changes their lives or the start of a chain reaction of passing the smile on. When you are given the choice, make a positive impact rather than a negative impression.

 
 

11 – Challenge yourself to be the best person you can be! Don’t settle for okay, strive to be great! Do each task to the best of your ability. Make it a game or a challenge. Don’t just do the job to check it off a list, do it so you can stand back and say out loud, “I did that!”

 
 
 
 

∞ ∞ ∞

 
 
 

About Louis: Louis Robertson (R3) is a divorced father of two teenage children who lives in South Central Pennsylvania. His day-to-day life centers on his children and teaching them about responsible living. He earns a living as a computer systems consultant.

Louis has experienced medical challenges since he was a teenager. After his first liver transplant in 1993, his perspective on life became more focused and his appreciation for the little treasures life grants increased. When he learned he needed a second liver transplant, his focus moved to preparing his family and children for a future without him. He now is a candidate for a third liver transplant and lives his life watching for life lessons he can pass on to his children.

 

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Riding in the front of the bus, shrine on the dashboard of a bus I rode from Delhi to Agra, India, 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by ybonsey, all rights reserved
Riding in the front of the bus, shrine on the dashboard of a bus I rode from Delhi to Agra, India, 2006, photo © 2006-2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



In 2006 I took a trip to Bangalore, India for work with several colleagues. Two of us decided we couldn’t travel all that way without an excursion up north to see the Taj Mahal, so we decided to fly into Delhi and do a side trip to Agra before our work schedule began.

The morning we left for the Taj Mahal, we got to the train station in Delhi late and in our haste to find the right spot to buy our tickets, we allowed a little man to take us by the elbow to what we thought was the train ticket window. Instead he led us to a bus ticket office where they convinced us that the train to Agra was sold out. The only option, they insisted, was to go by bus, which they said was also almost sold out.

Fortunately, they had two tickets left. Four chaps from Hanover, Germany, were also in the office buying tickets on the same bus; we figured that if they were doing it, it must be the right thing to do.

The little man guided the “Hanover boys,” as we called them, and us down an alley and up a side road to a busy street where the bus was to pick us up. I bought dried fruit from a vendor while we waited in this unconventional loading spot.

The bus arrived, pulled over, and up the steps we climbed to the main cabin. We spied the passengers already seated. Men with turbans and women with braids turned our way with blank stares. Not a single empty seat on the bus. That’s when the little man directed us to go left, through a little door—similar to the door of a cockpit on a plane—into the cab where he and the bus driver sat.

And that’s where we rode, all the way to Agra. Almost all the way to Agra. Once we got close to the bus station, the driver pulled over again and this time the little man kicked the Hanover boys and us off the bus. By then we knew we’d been sold rogue tickets, and the driver did not want any officials at the bus station to see a bunch of naive tourists who’d paid too much money (under the table, I’m sure) crammed into the cab.

I wrote about this experience—or, rather, one piece of the experience— in my Writing Practice on Writing Topic – Feet & Toes. If you look closely at the top photo, you can see the shrine that I wrote about and the Hindu goddess covered by marigolds. I offended the bus driver, and presumably the goddess, when I crossed my legs and showed the bottom of my feet to the shrine.

You can also see the reflection of my journal in the windshield glass. The cover of my journal depicts traditional Japanese woodblock art. And in a baggie next to the shrine is the dried fruit I bought for the road.




        View of the Taj Mahal from the entrance, photo © 2005-2009 by Robin, all rights reserved
                                         View of the entrance to the Taj Mahal, 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by Robin, all rights reserved

Two Views, view of the Taj Mahal from the entrance and the entrance from the Taj Mahal, photos © 2006-2009 by Robin. All rights reserved.





Our first full day in Agra, I got up at three in the morning, dressed in the dark, and met my work colleague in the lobby of our modest hotel. A rickshaw carried us through the cool twilight to the temple. We stood in the short line, which got longer as we got closer to the hour of 6 am. We paid our dues and spent the entire day wandering those sacred grounds.

I recently had a flashback of a place I went during my travels, but I couldn’t remember where it was. I saw myself and another person walking among ruins of red brick. I saw workmen rebuilding walls, and what looked like Sanscript writing in stone. It was only after I looked at these photos that I recalled that the place had been an area outside of the Taj Mahal.

My work colleague and I eventually did get to ride the train—something we wanted to do—from Agra back to Delhi. In hindsight I would have preferred riding in the cab of a luxury bus. The train was cramped and the rocking motion made many people sick. The bus ride afforded us a rare up-high view of India, whereas in the train my view was of slum kids begging for money and the woman across from me in the tiny cabin becoming increasingly pale as the train lurched from stop to stop.

I haven’t written much on red Ravine about my trip to India. Once, before the blog was even a blog, I wrote a poem called Cracker Jack that held imagery from the train ride, but mostly my writing goes to the present or the distant past. Rarely events from just a few years ago make such a central appearance.

Maybe it’s come on as I look to an upcoming trip to Vietnam. I’ve become comfortable in my lush Rio Grande Valley haven. It’s odd to think that soon I will in another part of the world, living a parallel life where flowers grow, vendors sell fruit, and enterprising fellows supplement their incomes by giving unsuspecting tourists new adventures that soon become crystallized memories.



View of the second-class cabin, train ride from Agra to Delhi, 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by Robin, all rights reserved

View of the second-class cabin, train ride
from Agra to Delhi, 2006, photo © 2006-
2009 by Robin. All rights reserved.

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