Although he has returned to Vietnam many times, Carl Robinson – a former war correspondent for the AP news agency in Vietnam since the 1960s – still exclaims excitedly: ‘I love waking up in Vietnam with coffee. iced milk coffee!’.
Just turned 80 years old, Mr. Carl Robinson celebrated his birthday in Ho Chi Minh City on the last day of September with his friends and Mrs. Kim Dung, his wife, on a trip to the Northwest mountains.
“The end of April 1975. We wait to see who will lead South Vietnam after President Nguyen Van Thieu resigns and leaves the country. I interviewed about Big Minh’s position and whether he would accept the presidency, but he didn’t answer. He evaded…”, Carl Robinson recalls the moment of his last photograph as an AP journalist, interviewing President Duong Van Minh .
After that, he and his family left Saigon in the last days of April 1975. It was not until 20 years later, in 1995, that he and his family returned to his wife’s hometown. Since then, every year they have spent time visiting Vietnam. The recent Covid-19 outbreak was the only obstacle that prevented Robinson and Kim Dung from returning to Vietnam. In this return, Robinson and his friends made a “trip” to the Northwest by a digital car in 4 days with a distance of nearly 750 km.
Log in the clouds
In the hands of the former AP war correspondent is an Akura cowboy hat that he really likes. Robinson bought it 2 years ago for $ 200, with indescribable love because he rarely spends a lot of money on costumes. “It makes me feel energized every time I put it on my head and go to the places I love,” says Robinson. Despite turning 80 years old, this “old man” is still enthusiastic with his friends to make a trip to the Northwest by motorbike . The old Yamaha Sirius motorbike, the tour group rented at a motorbike shop to overcome the zigzag and twisty roads on this road.
Along the way, many young people who drive large displacement motorcycles or those who ride cars often look back or have the opportunity to stop together and run over to ask: “Oh, how old are you? Is it okay for you to go with this motorbike?”. Robinson happily shared with them: “Everything is wonderfully normal. In front of the high mountains, we walked in the clouds, from early morning and rested when it was dark. Just a little bit numb in the shoulder, but it’s fine now.”
From memory to the present, it seems to be a habit that Mr. Robinson always keeps a diary with photos he takes along the way. “The difference is that as a reporter, my Leica camera only takes 36 shots, so I have to be sure what I shoot for. And now with a digital camera and even this phone, I can enjoy shooting without thinking,” Robinson humorously shared.
Mr. Dao Kim Trang, 60 years old, a professional and famous traveler in Vietnam, said about the trip: “Our group has 14 people, most of them are 60 years old or older, Mr. Carl is the oldest. There are sections to the villages to visit, the slope is 12-13 degrees, when going downhill I ask him to walk to ensure safety. Walking downhill is also a challenge for healthy young people, let alone 80-year-olds. Luckily we were safe. The day I went to Ta Xua, I was very worried because it was dark, the road was slippery, steep, and it rained again. I went up to the village and waited 20 minutes before Mr. Carl came up.”
Before that, Mr. Trang used to lead a tour for Carl Robinson to go on a trip in 2014 on Truong Son roads , Northeast and Northwest regions of Vietnam. However, Mr. Trang was still quite confused before agreeing to lead a tour for Carl this September trip. Because Mr. Carl is the oldest person Mr. Trang has ever led on a mountain tour. Phuoc, who was in the same group as Carl, also said he was impressed by the perseverance and discipline of the 80-year-old old man. And especially Carl’s understanding of Vietnam is more than a tourguide like him.
The former reporter continued to write about the journey at the age of 80: “On the third day of a 750 km trip in 4 days, we passed the southernmost point of the Hoang Lien Son range, further to Sa Pa, bordering China . Country . The day before, we went at sunset so we were quite nervous. But we were safe and down to a hot spring pool for a dip, dinner, and overnight stay in a modern Thai longhouse. After that, we continued a rather strenuous 180 km down to Muong La, had lunch at Song La, and then took the route 37 to Ba Yen and went straight up “Ta Xua rattan village”. It feels great and if you are interested in my photos on this trip, come here right away,” Robinson wrote a caption of the photos on the Ta Xua cloud at dusk.
“I found the 1.7km hike to the top of the hill a bit stressful. While my companions were downhill and taking souvenir photos, I was counting my steps for the day by “walking downhill”… But walking also gave me the opportunity to take a set. The photos are very different, in which there are Hmong women walking on a trail in the golden rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai, Yen Bai province ,” Carl wrote in his photo diary.
Turning life direction for Go Cong girl
From memory to the present, Vietnam is a part of life, like the wife that Carl had to marry with great difficulty. Mrs. Kim Dung, 74, Mr. Robinson’s wife, calls him by his Vietnamese name, “Mr. Nam”. Since then, his friends, both Western and Vietnamese, have often referred to him as “Uncle Nam” or “Mr. Nam” more often than Carl Robinson. Mr. Nam can listen and speak Vietnamese and is always interested in learning new words every time he hears us “talking” in Vietnamese.
Mrs. Kim Dung shared: “Mr Nam and I are each other’s destiny. In 1964, I was still a female baccalaureate student in Go Cong, Tien Giang . At that time, Mr. Nam worked for USAID Vietnam (an American international social security organization). I met a man who dared to look at me! But he said he’s been in love with me ever since because I have the most beautiful smile in Go Cong and speak English well!”. Mr. Carl affectionately looked at his wife telling the story and agreed: “She is still the most beautiful in Go Cong”.
The relationship of Mr. Nam and Mrs. Dung experienced many difficulties. They said that at that time, Vietnamese women who married American men were discriminated against. “When we got to Saigon, there were death threats. When I was in the countryside, my father refused to let me get married, but fortunately, Nam’s reputation for building bridges, repairing houses, and distributing food to the poor people of Go Cong was well known. Thanks to that, my father agreed to get married. On the wedding day, I was still afraid that my father would change his mind, so when I did the ceremony to bow to my parents, I kept crying. Nam saw that he did not understand anything, so he immediately bowed down and prostrated himself because he was afraid that he would not be able to get married again, “said Dung.
After getting married, Mr. Nam brought Mrs. Dung back to Saigon and he quit his job at USAID, and transferred to work as a reporter for the AP news agency from 1969 until he left Saigon in 1975. Until the time he returned to Vietnam. In this novelty, Carl always calls his wife’s hometown his second home. When asked by Mrs. Dung if he wants to stay, Carl said that he would come back, where his wife was, and he was there.
Although both Carl and his wife do not have Vietnamese nationality, for them, returning to Vietnam is to reunite with family and friends who have been with their grandparents from the last century to today.
Keyword: 80-year-old tourist travels to the Northwest with a motorcycle