Started in 2001, the HumaniTours is a project of Kids Without Borders (www.KidsWithNoBorders.org). It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to go on a vacation, and at the same time make small differences in many people's lives.
Effects of Agent Orange ‘ongoing silently’ in children
a child in Japan, Hiroko Tanaka saw a television report on Vietnamese
twins who were attached at the head at birth. The deformity was blamed on their
parents’ exposure to the herbicide known as Agent Orange.
the 1960s and ‘70s, during the Vietnam War, the U.S. military used Agent Orange
to kill trees and plants that blocked visibility from the air and provided
cover for Viet Cong fighters hiding in the jungle.
contained dioxin, which can cause cancer and is being investigated for other
possible side effects by the World Health Organization. It harmed U.S. soldiers and
Vietnamese and contaminated some areas of the country.
TV report she saw as a child made a strong impression on Tanaka and as an adult
she sought to explore the lasting effects of Agent Orange through
worked in the U.S. as a staff photographer for a Philadelphia newspaper for
four years. In December 2011, she moved Guatemala to learn Spanish and gain new
cultural experiences and now volunteers as a photographer for a nonprofit and
visiting her homeland in 2011, Tanaka hopped a flight to Vietnam for a two-day
visit. The hotel receptionist got her an appointment to visit Tu Du Hospital in
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.
other things, the Peace Village ward of Tu Du Hospital cares for about 60
children with severe deformities, many of whom were abandoned at birth, Tanaka
said. The hospital blames Agent Orange for deformities in this ward.
just live there,” she said. “They don’t go to school; they can’t leave; they
don’t go out.”
also found stillborn babies and fetuses in jars, which are kept for research to
find out why the babies were born with abnormalities. The hospital told Tanaka
that as children born with deformities skyrocketed, those that didn’t make it
were preserved. In the “reference room,” some of the jars were dated back to
According to the Vietnamese Red Cross, babies born near
lands heavily sprayed with the herbicide have illnesses and deformities at a
higher rate than normal. Adults in these areas also develop cancer and other
health problems at a higher rate, and as many as a million Vietnamese now have
health issues associated with Agent Orange, they said.
In part because of
political and logistical difficulties, there is so far no conclusive
international research showing a direct correlation between Agent Orange use in
Vietnam and health problems. Still, the U.S. government recognizes that exposure to Agent
Orange and other herbicides causes cancer and additional health problems and
presumes certain birth defects in children of Vietnam veterans.
WHO said a link between wartime use of Agent Orange and conditions like cancer
and diabetes is still being investigated.
fetuses are the most sensitive to exposure, and newborns are also vulnerable to
some of the effects, they said.
The effects of dioxin
can last for generations, said Dr. Michael Skinner, a biologist and professor at Washing
done by Dr. Skinner and his colleagues found more dramatic incidences of
ovarian and kidney disease in the third generation rats than in their
has an extremely long half-life, around 7 to 11 years, according to WHO, and
bio-accumulates in fat cells, which is unusual for most compounds.
Skinner, who has not examined children in Vietnam, said it is hard to say for
sure whether dioxin is the cause of their deformities. But, he said, “Under the
appropriate conditions, even without direct exposure, it’s a possibility.”
chemical can also be consumed by eating large quantities of fish in some parts
of the world, as well as working in environments like hazardous waste sites or
the pulp and paper industry.
seems like the problem continues forever,” Tanaka said. “It seems like it’s
over but it’s ongoing silently.”
said the children at Tu Du are more fortunate than disabled children who stay
at home without special care.
want people to know they exist,” she said.
Hiroko Tanaka is a photojournalist living in Guatemala,
where she freelances and volunteers for a non-profit.
– Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN
http://cnnphotos.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/30/effects-of-agent-orange-ongoing-silently-in-children/ Note: you can learn more about Kids Without Borders works related to Agent Orange from many of our previous postings here or via: KWB & Agent Orange
Almost always before I travel abroad, which is almost always for the purpose of eating, I steep myself in homework. In search of the best possible meals away from home, I scour websites, reach out to embassies, talk to people who have lived where I’m going, delve into relevant cookbooks and ask foreign-born chefs to spill their secrets. As a professional food writer, I often spend weeks and months planning just where I’ll be eating.
Vietnam was different. Long on my bucket list, a trip to the country was simply an impulse purchase made one evening. The only assurance I had that I was doing the right thing came from the Manhattan that was keeping me company and the name of a guide that a good friend swore by, Nguyen Xuan Quynh.
For the first time ever, I put my travel trust in the hands of one person. Equally rare for me, before I got on the plane I gave the owner of Vietnam Now Travel just a short wish list of things that I wanted to do and see: Have silk pajamas made. Take a cooking class. See if I can squeeze through the Cu Chi Tunnel of wartime Vietnam. Beyond that, all I had to do was tell Quynh (reach him at email@example.com) what cities I wanted to visit and my hotel preference.
Before I met Quynh on the last leg of the trip, which also took in Hoi An and Hue, he assigned me guides who were savvy about food. Thanks to them, I left no banh mi untasted. But they, and the man whom I later learned his clients call Mighty Quynh, also introduced me to one of the warmest cooking teachers anywhere, Anh Tuyet, whose eponymous Hanoi restaurant, below her apartment, was the scene for one-on-one instruction; a boat trip that I can still savor in my mind; and the 90-minute massage of my life, possibly the best $20 I spent all year.
Some snapshots of a trip where I let someone else do the ordering:
A history lesson with classic food
My first impression of Cuc Gach, a former French colonial house, is less than favorable. Oh, it’s a looker, this narrow restaurant that climbs three floors. But the presence of so many non-Vietnamese diners in the place feels wrong. Hadn’t I asked my guide for a taste of home — his home?
As we stroll through several snug dining areas, I figure that I can at least feast on the design during my inaugural dinner in Ho Chi Minh City. The restaurant is a beautiful tribute to recycling and nature; a trim stairwell serves as a bridge from one floor to another and looks onto a small pool animated with live koi — a touch of the country in the city, the fish a Vietnamese symbol of luck and prosperity. Whoever dressed Cuc Gach has a good eye, and an interest in history.
That someone is Tran Binh, an architect native to southern Vietnam and devoted to what he learned about his craft from the countryside. The Vietnamese have a saying: If you start something, use a brick first. Cuc Gach translates into English as “a brick.”
Our chaperone for the first leg of my Vietnamese journey, Lam Quang Huy, grins as we ease into our seats on the top floor of Cuc Gach, a peaked tile roof over our heads. It isn’t the four-poster bed frame turned into a curtained table for six nearby that elicits his reaction, but an old Lygo milk canister holding chopsticks, the container a throwback to his youth. Little stories are behind every detail in the restaurant, where bright green morning glory stems are put to use as drinking straws and the music brings back the Vietnam of the 1970s. As the owner’s grandmother did, the kitchen staff makes almost everything in-house, from the pickles to the tofu.
Unusual (and hard!) for this professional eater, I leave the ordering to Huy. He asks the waiter for soup, followed by “something salty” and vegetables, a selection of three dishes that typify the region. As we wait for the soup, Huy teaches us how to mince red chilis with the tips of the chopsticks and sings the praises of fish sauce, or what he calls “Chanel No. 5.” No meal in Vietnam is complete without a dash or more of nuoc mam.
We devour a catfish soup made sweet and sour with pineapple and tamarind, and deep-fried mackerel framed by julienne green mango. Our guide, raised southeast of the Mekong Delta, approves. “Food by my grandmother,” Huy compliments the spread.
The meal concludes with the requested vegetables: bitter melon, bok choy, pumpkin and Vietnamese greens over which rich fish sauce is spooned.
Lessons learned: Even though they might look similar, the vegetables in Vietnam taste more green, more vivid, more of themselves. Also, first impressions can be wrong.
There are dozens of other boats chugging leisurely across the jade-green water of Ha Long Bay toward the ancient limestone rock formations, hundreds of craggy towers strong, that became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. I can’t help thinking that the vessel I’m on, christened Cong Nghia, is the choicest of all transportation. The boat is clean, the crew is genial and there’s no bumping into anyone. While the vessel can carry nearly 50 passengers, today there are just two paying customers and our chaperone, Quynh, on board.
We are free to roam around; the cheery blue top deck offers sun, breeze and an ever-changing postcard view. We eventually dock and make our way to a trail that takes us deep inside one of a nearby island’s caves, illuminated throughout with colored spotlights to show off its many nature-made sculptures. “Paradise” is the contemporary (and apt) name of the enormous cave. However, Quynh points out a particularly voluptuous formation near the end of the 35-minute visit that prompted the local fishermen who discovered it 13 years ago to call it “Fairy’s breast.” No male seems to be able to resist having his photo snapped with the Marilyn Monroe of rocks. (Guilty!)
Spelunking gives everyone an appetite. No sooner do we return to Cong Nghia than lunch is served on the window-wrapped main deck in a wide booth, the table draped in a blue cover that almost disappears amid the flurry of dishes. First, a little dip of black pepper, red chilis, salt and kumquat juice appears. Next, some ocean crab, which a cook cracks at the table, and a plate of shrimp, which she deftly peels for us as well. Marvelous on its own, the sweet seafood, culled from the water we’re gliding on, becomes electric after a dunk in the citrusy hot sauce: big flavors from a wisp of a galley.
Vietnamese cooking emphasizes the balance of flavors and textures as well as the principles of yin and yang, or the heating and cooling characteristics of ingredients. The perfume of fresh ginger (considered hot) announces a big bowl of steamed elephant trunk clams (cool), so named for the long white meat inside the shells. Tender squid with crisp bok choy, and finely shredded cabbage glistening with oil and biting with black pepper, keep our chopsticks moving, too. A plate of carved, sliced cucumbers refreshes the palate between bites of the seafood and (there’s more?) herb-scattered butterfish.
Only three hours have passed, but between boarding and disembarking, I feel as if I’ve been to the dawn of time and back, a journey punctuated by the most memorable meal of a year that has been packed with them.
A three-to-four-hour tour of Ha Long Bay on Cong Nghia costs $120 for up to 48 passengers; lunch is an additional $20 per person. To make reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A don’t-miss restaurant in Hanoi
If you have time for only one meal in Hanoi, make it at Quan An Ngon. There are finer restaurants, and less crowded ones, but none that match the sheer number of dishes (200) or variety found in this aromatic and animated collection of 20 food stalls.
Quan An Ngon pays homage to rural food peddlers whose stands play the role that restaurants fill in the city. Although the dining destination, modeled after the shacks found in the Red River delta, offers seating inside a two-story building, the fun takes place outdoors, where booths staffed by dozens of cooks ring an open-air courtyard packed with row upon row of dark wooden tables. (Grab one; they go fast.)
You get a menu, but better to have your guide, in my case the Mighty Quynh again, show you around the perimeter and point out the selections. Each stall posts a woven bamboo sign announcing its specialty in Vietnamese. But you probably don’t require a translator to tell you that the tiny grilled birds at one stop are sparrows and that the fleshy steamed attraction at another stall is pig’s ear, wrapped in rice paper with lettuce, mint, scallions and noodles.
Talk about one-stop shopping! All of Vietnam — north, south, central — appears to be represented at Quan An Ngon. Smoky grilled pork on a bed of vermicelli noodles with a tuft of fresh herbs makes me sad to be saying goodbye to Vietnam, as do steamed snails enlivened with garlic, fish sauce and lemon leaves. As we put a small dent in the menu, giant fans suspended from the trees help us keep our cool and steer fragrant cooking aromas our way. Before heading to the airport and home, I manage to squeeze in some boozy fermented black rice and yogurt and make a friend of it.
Quan An Ngon, 18 Phan Boi Chau St., Hoan Kiem str, Hanoi. 011-84-4-39428162138.
Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post.