Some of my most interesting conversations have been over dinner with Vietnamese friends.
Police Senior Colonels Nguyen Thanh Hung and Nguyen Duy Thu introduced me to multi-course meals that can last for hours. I met Colonels Hung and Thu when they attended the International Law Enforcement Academy-Roswell, a senior management program operated by New Mexico Tech for the U.S. State Department.
My company, The Triton Group, had been on contract with New Mexico Tech to provide community relations for the program. The first class of senior police from Vietnam was attending ILEA-Roswell when I traveled to Saigon (officially Ho Chi Minh City) for filming of a documentary about a helicopter mission I had flown in May 1967.
Colonel Thu gave me his business card — known in Vietnam as a "name card" -- so I could call his office if I needed assistance. That was in October 2008.
A little more than a year later, in late December 2009, my wife Renee and I were in Hanoi.
After the New Year's holiday, I got in touch with Colonel Thu by presenting his card at police training headquarters near our hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Captain Nguyen Tuan Anh, who serves as Vietnam Police coordinator with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, helped Thu and me communicate.
Thu said he would like to take us to dinner the following night.
We were waiting at our hotel when Thu, Hung and Anh arrived. A short drive later we were ushered into the stylish Opera Open Restaurant behind the Hanoi Opera House. Joining us was Captain Tran Thi Huyen, a woman ILEA-Roswell graduate.
The food and the company were invigorating. After dinner, we took group photos, then drove to a Highlands Coffee garden beside the Opera House.
The next day, Hung and Anh took us to a village outside Hanoi where pottery has been made for 1,000 years. Then it was back to the Old Quarter for a multi-course seafood dinner.
Later that evening — on the way to the airport — Hung took us to a large buffet restaurant where we spent several hours over dinner. We slept well on the overnight flight to Tokyo.
Before departing on this current trip to Vietnam, Hung's brother-in-law Viet Le, Anh, and I had communicated by email.
My friends Tom Krumland and Ken Fritz, and I arrived in Hanoi about 10 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 5.
After a day spent relaxing from our trip, Hung and Anh picked me up at my hotel Saturday night. We went to the same seafood restaurant in the Old Quarter and spent several hours visiting over dinner. Before returning to the hotel, Hung told me he would like to take Tom, Ken, our guide Dinh Ngoc Truc, and me to dinner the following night.
When we arrived at the restaurant, near the U.S. Embassy, Hung and Anh were waiting for us. It turned out Hung was a personal hero of Truc, who later told me how years before Hung had thwarted the kidnapping of a young Japanese girl.
We then were joined by Viet Le and other ILEA-Roswell graduates. The meal and the conversation lasted for a couple of hours.
When I returned to the hotel, I jotted down all we had eaten.
It included a salad made of bean sprouts and pork strips with light chile, honey-coated chicken, salad of pork strips and tomatoes, large box fish, soup of rice and boiled oysters and spinach, yellow beer, Vietnamese tea, chunks of barbecued pork and fish, fried shrimp, sour green tomatoes, watermelon, tomatoes with dry chile sauce, and a large grapefruit.
Tom will fly back to the United States from Saigon on Nov. 16. Ken and I will drive on to Cambodia, then return to Saigon and fly back to Hanoi.
Hung mentioned over our last dinner he would get other ILEA-Roswell graduates in Hanoi together for a party on our return. I know we have a great time in store.