Dear Sombath…from Truong buu Lam

Dear Sombath,

You were no rabble rouser nor were you a fierce revolutionary bent on bringing radical changes to the world or to your own small country.

I remember, during the Vietnam War, people in Hawaii were demonstrating, some ferociously for a complete withdrawal of American troops, some as vehemently for the Republic of Vietnam survival, you, alone, quietly and efficiently, raised fund to buy seeds not for the Royal Government of Laos, nor for the Pathet Lao, but for the peasants of Laos.

After your training at the University of Hawaii was over, you simply and as quietly packed up, said good bye to your friends and returned to your country.

We lost touch for several years until in 1991, I was working in Hanoi and received one day a message from I don’t recall exactly whom or where that you would come to Hanoi for a conference. On the day, I rode my bicycle to meet you at your hotel which I had presumed to be some lavish resort befitting a foreign expert that you have become!! Little did I expect to find you in a modest inn. In your room was a single bed with rumpled sheets, a bedside table full of documents and a chair. For restrooms, you had to walk down a short corridor.

I was so happy. I wouldn’t know what to do with a foreign expert from the UN, the IMF, the World Bank or any other powerful countries. Instead, I have found the real expert: my Sombath, a soft-spoken friend, always smiling, warm, affectionate.

We ran down the flight of stairs. Sombath sat comfortably on the seat over the back wheel; wobbling in the beginning, I steadied myself after a couple of minutes: in that way, we discovered hidden charms of Hanoi, …not mentioning the flat tire we had, exactly the one on which sat Sombath.

Sombath, come back to us. We all miss you.

Truong buu Lam