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March 25th, 2000

The Sins of Minh
I did get over to San Francisco to buy some black and white film as I was down to my last two rolls, but I never made it to the ball park. Some days are good days to go to San Francisco and some days are not and you can't really tell until you get there. For whatever reason I've learned to dislike Gasser's. Same with The Looking Glass in Berkeley. I'm not sure why, although I'll talk about it, no doubt, when I figure it (me) out. They are stores, after all. Places you go to buy camera stuff. How bad can that be? Why my reaction? Why my reaction, this morning, to the city itself. The sun was shining, but the light was harsh and the people looked hurried and distracted. So be it. Might be hormonal.

So anyway, when I got back to Oakland, I decided to check the art museum near Jack London Square to see if the local Vietnamese community was still picketing a current exhibit that had opened a week ago last Friday with a series of works using images of Ho Chi Minh . The only analogy I can think of would be a museum hosting an exhibition containing pictures of Fidel Castro in downtown Miami, although I would never have guessed ahead of time that a bunch of pictures of Ho Chi Minh would raise this much fuss.

The Vietnamese community came out in strength to protest the exhibit when it opened last week, and, when I drove over, sure enough, there they were holding forth with speeches and bottled water, leaflets and lunch, some of the men wearing tiger fatigues that looked to be in pretty good condition after thirty years, many older men in berets and military badges, younger men and women with their children taking photographs of one another in front of the statues of three South Vietnamese soldiers, two men and a woman nurse dressed in fatigues and battle gear. There were hundreds of printed cariactures of Ho Chi Minh scattered about like wanted posters on the ground meant to be walked on. Or spit on. Plenty of Oakland police. They looked friendly. There were other people with cameras. I took some pictures.

I formed my thoughts on freedom of speech in the late fifties and through the sixties and this one was a no brainer: pictures of Ho Chi Minh were not going to frighten any horses in the streets. Nothing wrong with picketing the exhibit and the people outside the gallery were doing just that, but their right is to make people aware of their position and not to shut down an exhibit. Now, of course, lots of people know where the museum is located and both parties have achieved (cough! cough!) a win win with Ho Chi Minh.

Curious feeling, looking at the crude displays that had been set up near the parking lot. (Odd protest, At lunch. it was a combination of picnic, political polemic and art exposition.) Brought back, not Vietnam, didn't go to Vietnam, but it brought back some of the sadness of that period. A little upsetting. There were older men and women who were born in Vietnam and went through the war, some of them as soldiers, most of them as civilians. Younger Vietnamese (Americans) with their children, born in California, but bringing their children here on this Saturday afternoon to remind them of this very particular piece of their history. Ho Chi Minh is just a name to me, a symbol of a troubled time in my life. It's more to them, the monster head of what must have been a monsterous past. There were many monsters then, both native and foreign.

Although I'll probably play with the web camera this weekend to see if I can't get it to feed images from home, I've decided to set it up at the office again. I can jury rig a setup that will put the JPEGs out onto my personal web site. It will be messy, but nobody in the company is going to worry about it. I learned they will start building an hotel next month on that vacant lot across the street and I think that's too good to pass up, save a picture taken at the same time every morning while it's under construction, saving them to an hotel construction page. (Whoop!) What more could a man want than an hotel construction page on his web site? More interesting than the traffic at the intersection, except we'll get a two 'fer here: traffic, construction workers and curious pedestrians. Shit, a three 'fer!. And I'll up the output rate from one a minute to one every 15 seconds!

The photographs were taken Thursday at lunch.