Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Notorious Prison; Heartbreak from Home

           This weekend was a weekend to relax, but unfortunately, it wasn’t very relaxing. I had my first weekend “off” since I’ve been here. On Friday I had Japanese food with some friends, Saturday I took the day off and got some sad news from home, and Sunday I went to the Hanoi Hilton. No not the hotel, the jail.

            Friday, after I finished school, I made plans with some of my friends from school to go have dinner. We went to a nice hotel not to far from the school, where they had a Japanese restaurant. I thought it was very good; I had this bowl of chicken, egg and noodles. I had to be home by 9ish, so I took a taxi around 8 or so, to make sure I wasn’t late, because you can never really tell how bad traffic in Ha Noi is going to be. One minute an empty street can turn into a nightmarish disaster, resembling the game where you have to get the car out of the traffic jam. Luckily I made it without incident.

(aka, Larry the Spaceman)
October 20, 2003  -  September 22, 2011
            Saturday I was able to sleep in, and I made a plan to Skype back home at some point during the afternoon. So around 1:30 or so, I saw that my parents were on-line, so I gave them a call. We talked for a while, and then, of course, the connection gave out. So after a few minutes off-line, I got things running again, and dialed them up. When I started talking to them again, they had some bad news. The day before (Friday for me), Thursday, September 22, they had to put our dog, Mukluk, down. He was almost 8. He died of Lymphoma, a disease that attacks the lymph nodes, and eventually spreads to other parts of the body. We knew he had it since mid-April, when we first took him into the vet because his leg was swollen and he couldn’t move. He was at the pet hospital for a few days, and we thought he was going to die then. But they were able to give him medication, and he was able to walk again and it made the swelling go away. They said he only had 4 months at the most, but most likely less. He lived almost 6. He also had the best 6 months of his life too, even though it was his last. He got all the food and attention he could ever want. He constantly dined on steak, cheeseburgers, and his personal favorite, salmon. He also loved to travel, and he always came with us for the past few years to Salt Lake City and Santa Fe. In late summer, he was able to go on one last trip with us, and we knew he enjoyed it, even though we had to lift him into the car because he couldn’t do it himself. I got to say goodbye one last time to him just before I left for Vietnam. I knew there was no chance that he could possibly live another 9 months, so I said goodbye before I left on the train. My dad said he had the best possible ending though. He wasn’t in any pain until the day he died. He took walks on the beach every day for the last 2 weeks before he died, because our new house is so close to the beach, and he ran and played in the waves, he even went to some of the Friday Swims with SBMS this month and swam out into deep water with the kids. Wednesday night he was fine, but by the morning, the swelling was back, and he wasn’t able to move, and couldn’t hold his focus for more then a few seconds, so they knew he was in a lot of pain. My dad knew right away that this would be his last day, so they called in to make the appointment. And even though it was something that he dreaded doing, he wished they could have taken him sooner, that’s how much pain he was in. Two o’clock. With around 4 hours left in his life, my dad drove him around town to all his favorite places; the beach, middle school, and also to our old house. He said that he didn’t give too much of a reaction to the places they went to, because he was in too much pain to stand up. But when they started driving down the hill toward our old house, his ears perked up and he got really exited and even stood up. But by the time they got to the house, he was unable to stand, and had to sit back down. But if he could have I’m sure he would have loved to have seen the house. Because that was the only place he ever lived. When we first got him as a puppy, that was where he came home to, almost eight years ago. My dad and sister, Emily, were the ones who went to go pick him up in the Freight warehouse at LAX, where he was hardly bigger than a shoebox. He had just flown cross-country from Kentucky, where he was born. He was obviously very scared after being on a 5 and half hour flight, and had pooped and peed his little pint-sized kennel, but even the tough LA warehouse workers thought he was cute. When they went over to Santa Barbara Middle School, to say goodbye to my sister Claira, she was very brave, and insisted that she go with him to the vet, because she wanted to be there too to comfort him. My sister Emily was on a school trip to the Channel Islands while this was going on, so she wasn’t able to be there. The four of them arrived at the pet hospital, and they took him to the operating room. The doctor first gave him an anesthetic drug, which took all of the pain away, and said to spend as much time as they needed with him, and to let him know when they were ready. My dad said that after he got the drug, he could see in Mukluk's eyes that he was just completely relaxed. They got to pat him and say goodbye, and after 10 minutes or so, I don’t know exactly how long, they got the doctor. The next drug was one that stops the heart. And it is very painless and fast acting. They were all together when the doctor gave it too him. Mukluk was used to getting shots, because he had to get his chemotherapy shots for the last 6 months or so, so it wasn’t scary for him. It only took about 3 seconds at most to take affect. They said that when he got it, he made kind of a snoring sound and just rolled over and went to sleep, but he would never wake up. They said that the noise was just so out of place that it even made them laugh a little because he sounded so comfortable at the end. Gallows humor.

Dog friendly National Parks made him happy, too
Mukluk's favorite place in the whole world
(even when mountain roads made it a little crowded)

Sorry I wrote so much there, I know it’s depressing. But I just had to write about, it made me feel better, even though I was crying the entire time…

Standing in the Peace Garden

The Original Prison, before the high rises, I think
That's not a door, This is a DOOR
So now how about some fun stuff? Well I guess I still don’t have anything fun to talk about, unless you find notorious Prisons to be fun, but it was very interesting, and also revealed a side of Vietnam that I hadn't seen yet. Sunday my host family, plus an aunt and a cousin, took me to see the Hoa Lo prison, nicknamed the Ha Noi Hilton, not to be confused with the actual Ha Noi Hilton, which was not around at the time. First though, a brief history, I learned this while on the visit.

Just me during my watch 
 The French built the prison in the late 1800’s to house political prisoners. They operated it until WWII, when Japan invaded, and began using the prison to hold Vietnamese political prisoners. Conditions there, under both, were brutal to say the least, hardly any food, rampant disease, no medicine, etc… Eventually the Vietnamese controlled Ha Noi after ’45, but then the French invaded again, and they fought nonstop for 30 years! Eventually good ‘ol USA joined in, and fighting continued until ’75. In 1967, a pilot named John McCain was shot down, and parachuted into Truc Bach Lake, just north of present day downtown Ha Noi. He spent around 5 and a half years there. More recently, most of the complex was destroyed, and now a mall, and some high-rises have taken its place. But the main wing remains as a museum.
My mom and me 

           It’s a total BS museum though; the government, even today, says that no prisoners were ever tortured, and that the prisoners called it the Hanoi Hilton because of how well they were treated. Most of it is just propaganda to make the French look bad, and the other half of the museum is about the Vietnam War, and how well the American prisoners were treated. There’s a whole room dedicated to showing how much people in both countries were against the war, and, if the museum isn’t already corny enough, in the “dungeon” they had speakers play suspenseful music in the background. So overall, I glad I went, so I could at least see the building, even if the museum was not the most truthful. After returning home, by bus, just to try it out, I wrapped up the weekend by working on homework.

And that’s all I have to say about that.


  1. Hey Honey -- sad post :( I cried too. Muk was such a good guy -- I'm so glad that he got to visit with us on your SF trips! Thank you so much for daring to go into those deep feelings to tell us (your readers) about Muk's final day. Twelve years ago when I had to put Big down, I wrote about it too -- and it was just about the hardest thing I ever wrote. I still miss him -- still dream about him. He was another really great guy! (you probably don't remember him, but he's in so many family pictures)
    Interesting info on the prison too -- PawPaw was in the Navy back then and of course we remember the incident with John McCain very well.

    I've missed a few posts and need to catch up, but wanted to read about Muk -- your Dad told me you had written about him.

    love you Andrew,

  2. Wow, that must have ben a great experience of you.