WHAT THE BAMBOO WHISPERED

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The bamboo talk is performed with unique instruments, made by the artists themselves.

Today, I hand over my blog to Ms. Nguyễn Thị Ninh, logistics officer in Mascot Int. Vietnam, winner of the first prize of our company essay contest.  Here is her reflections after seeing “The Bamboo Talk” – an intriguing performance at  Phu Sa Lab, an experimental music center in Hanoi.

 

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Nguyễn Thị Ninh

“Mother, Is it possible that the bamboo can talk?”

My 6-year-old son wondered when I told him I was going to watch a play called “the Bamboo talk.”

“Mother, you go to see and tell me later, please. I am eager to hear more about this.”

“Son, the performance included 18 instruments, including the Goong, Đàn Đó, Saxophone, and Đàn Nhị …. They all took the audience through the story of the bamboo. All are harmoniously combined creates many levels of emotions, low, high, peaceful, noisy, fun, gentle and like a rapid fire.

My son, you are too young for me to express the whole performance for your understanding.  But I want to tell you that you should share and love nature from small jobs such as planting trees, caring and protecting trees around the house, saving paper when you write and draw like the other children.”

I said that to my son after I came back from Phu Sa Lab.

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Water ressources are being depleted, people are dying of thirst in the Bamboo Talk. 

When I saw the performance, I came to think of the famous words “art is not what you see but what you make others see” by Edgar Degas, a famous French painter and sculptor. I found myself coming back to my childhood in my hometown, to hear the sound of bamboo like the sound of the wind, the sound of the woodpecker, the sounds of insects bouncing on the bamboo body, joking and tugging, peaceful and in amazing serenity.

The big Đàn Đó seemed to be the most utilized in this performance.  I was thinking of cats, bamboo treble, roasted chestnuts and children playing around the neighborhood. Then the  skillful performance by the artists through juggling with bamboo tools brought me back to Phu Sa Lab. There is a couple, loving each other in the bamboo forest. People live together, share and love beside the village bamboo clusters.

“Art is nothing without talent, but talent is nothing without labor,” said Emile Zola, a practical author who is considered the pioneer of naturalism. It is the truth. The artists at Phu Sa Lab not only create amazing instruments but also create the sounds in the way they want. Độp … Độp … Độp…….Sound combining image is always a great tool to influence the human brain to communicate.

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The powerful voice of Mai Khoi brings new emotions.

The torment of water-sun-fire-thirst. The powerful singing voice of Do Nguyen Mai Khoi with the sound of the Goong piano resonates and brings new emotions. People have forgotten the value of what people have, forgotten to see the value and respect it. People need to come back to spirituality, the pagoda and faith. The sound of the saxophone by the artist Quyen Thien Dac is louder and louder enough to make the chest burst, combined with the jew’s harp of Mr. Nguyen Duc Minh, making my heart sobbing. All the sounds are blended together to awaken the mind, the acknowledgment and face of the truth of life. It finishes resoundingly and immediately make me wake up from the mysterious things.

Trống Chum, if you already know the drum made of leather, then you will encounter a strange drum at Phu Sa Lab. A string of shrunk cloth is placed in the middle covering a third of the clay jar, the sound will emit as you tap on the other string and jar body. The juggling drummer made me anxious and I asked, “What happens when they throw away the tape? That’s the precise gravitational pull to every centimeter, where every artist contributes to create a cheerful rhythm.  I came to think that these people have realized what is important in their lives.

The show ended with short Đàn Đó perforance by the artists. It reminded me of the wind, the sound of leaves and bamboo, the sound of bamboo colliding in the peaceful and cool moonlight. It is peaceful place when the nature is quiet.

I admire the meticulous training, creative and full of enthusiasm by Phu Sa Lab artists to create a special work “The Bamboo Talk” like that. I would like to thank Mr. Thomas Bo Pedersen and the company for facilitating this performance so that we can better understand art and improve our knowledge. Over all, I feel excited, happy, love life and nature, dare to express and contribute my little to do meaningful things in the community.

The Bamboo Talk is a live performance of  a journey imagined by artists Nguyen Duc Minh, Dian Anh Tuan, Tran Kim Ngoc, Nguyen Quang Su, Nguyen Duc Phuong, Quyen Thien Dac and Do Nguyen Mai Khoi.  Director: Nhat Ly. 

In July 2018, Mascot Vietnam and Mascot Laos´celebrated our historic productivity output in several ways, including a two day beach trip.  We invited our nhan vien staff to experience The Bamboo Talk and encouraged them to participate in an essay contest.

Ms. Nguyễn Thị Ninh essay was written in very eloquent Vietnamese. Translation into English does not reflect the actual beauty of Ninh’s language skills. Here is the original text for the benefit of Vietnamese readers:

Tre có nói được không mẹ ?
cậu con trai tôi 6 tuổi của tôi băn khoăn hỏi khi tôi nói cho cậu bé nghe rằng tôi sẽ đi xem một

chương trình có tên “lời của tre”
Mẹ đi xem về rồi mẹ kể cho con nghe nhé.
Tôi háo hức lắm và càng háo hức hơn vì còn mang thêm một trọng trách to lớn như thế.
Con trai, buổi biểu diễn là sự thể hiện kết hợp nhuần nhuyễn của 18 đạo cụ trong đó có Đàn môi, đàn Goong, đàn Đó, saxophone , kèn nhị…. đưa người nghe hành trình về miền tre. Tất cả được kết hợp hài hòa, dung dị tạo ra nhiều cung bậc cảm xúc, lúc trầm, lúc bổng, lúc thanh vắng, lúc ồn ào, lúc vui vẻ, lúc nhẹ nhàng thanh tao, có lúc lại thúc giục dồn dập. Con còn quá nhỏ để mẹ có thể diễn tả hết buổi biểu diễn ấy cho con hiểu. Mẹ muốn nói với con rằng hãy biết chia sẻ và yêu thiên nhiên từ những việc làm nhỏ như trồng cây, chăm sóc và bảo vệ cây xanh quanh nhà, tiết kiệm giấy khi con viết và vẽ con nhé. Tôi đã nói như thế với con trai mình sau khi tôi trở về từ Phù Sa Lab.

Tôi rất thích câu châm ngôn “nghệ thuật không phải điều bạn thấy mà là điều bạn khiếnngưới khác thấy “của Edgar Degas một họa sĩ và nhà điêu khắc nổi tiếng ngưới Pháp để nói về chương trình này. Tôi thấy mình được trở về tuổi thơ quê hương , được nghe tiếng tre tiếngtrúc âm vang như tiếng chuông gió, tiếng chim gõ kiến, tiếng những con côn trùng bám vàothân tre đùa giỡn và quấn quít, bình yên và thanh thản đến lạ lùng. Cây đàn đó lớn dường nhưphát huy công dụng tối đa trong màn trình diễn này. Tiếng đánh khăng, tiếng chuyền tre, tiếng rang hạt dẻ, tiếng trẻ con nô đùa quanh ngõ xóm. Sự thể hiện khéo léo từ các nghệ sĩ qua cáctrò tung hứng bằng các dụng cụ tre trúc đánh thức tôi quay trở về sân khấu của Phù Sa lab.Lấpló đâu đó cả những đôi nam nữ yêu nhau bên rừng tre rừng trúc. Bên lũy tre làng, con người sống quần tụ, sum vầy, chia sẻ và yêu thương.

Emile Zola-nhà văn hiện thực pháp được coi là nhà văn tiên phong của chủ nghĩa tựnhiên, từng nói “Nghệ thuật chẳng là gì nếu thiếu tài năng, nhưng tài năng chẳng là gì nếukhông có lao động” .Quả thật đúng như vậy. Những nghệ sĩ ở Phù sa Lab không chỉ tạo ra những nhạc cụ tuyệt vời mà còn sáng tạo ra các âm thanh theo cách mà họ mong muốn. ĐỘp,ĐỘP, ….ĐỘP ….ĐỘp…….. độp ………độp độp….Âm thanh kết hợp hình ảnh luôn là công cụ tuyệt vời tác động đến não bộ con người để truyền đạt thông điệp một cách hiệu quả nhất- sự hiếm hoi của nước-nắng lửa- khát cháy. Giọng hát mênh mênh mang mang của nghệ sĩ Đặng nguyễn mai Khôi cùng âm thanh của chiếc đàn Goong để lại dư âm và mang đến những cảm xúc lạ. Ngưới ta đã quên trân quí những điều người ta từng có, quên nhìn thấy giá trị để trân trọng. Người người lại tìm về với tâm linh, chùa chiền và đức tin. Tiếng kèn sắc xô phôn của nghệ sĩ Nguyễn Quang Sự vang lên dồn dập to dần, to, TO, TO đến vỡ lồng ngực, kết hợp với kèn môi của anh Nguyễn Đức Minh da diết, thiết tha làm tim tôi thổn thức. Tất cả các âm thanhđược kết hợp nhuần nhuyễn làm bừng tỉnh cái tâm thức, cái sự nhìn nhận và dối mặt với sự thật của cuộc sống. Kết thúc VANG DỒN và dứt điểm làm tôi choàng tỉnh khỏi những điều huyền bí.

“Trống Chum”, nếu bạn đã biết trống được làm bằng da thì ở Phù Sa Lab bạn sẽ gặp một loại trống cực kỳ lạ mắt. Người ta dùng một dải dây bằng vải chun đặt ở giữa che 1/3 miệng chum sành, âm thanh sẽ phát ra khi bạn dùng dùi gõ vào bản dây kia và thân chum. Trò tung hứng dùi trống khiến tôi lo lắng hướng mắt theo mỗi hồi trống, rồi tự hỏi “điều gì xảy ra khi họ ném dùi lệch khỏi dây băng kia? Đó là lực hấp dẫn chính xác đến từng centimet, ở đómỗi người nghệ sĩ như những phù thủy khéo léo nhẹ nhàng điều khiển mỗi chiếc dùi theo từng nhịp điệu đều đặn tạo ra sự rộn ràng vui vẻ. Con ngưới đã nhận ra điều gì là quan trọng trong cuộc sống của họ.

Buổi biểu diễn kết thúc bằng màn trình diễn đàn Đó ngắn của các nghệ sĩ. Nó gợi cho tâm trí tôi tiếng gió, tiếng lá lao xao và tiếng trúc, tiếng tre va vào nhau trong đêm trăng thanh gió mát, tĩnh mịch. Chốn bình yên khi thiên nhiên yên ả.

Tôi cảm phục về sự rèn luyện tỉ mỉ , sáng tạo và đầy nhiệt huyết không mệt mỏi của các nghệ sĩ phù sa lab cho ra đời một tác phẩm đặc sắc “lời của tre” như thế. Tôi xin cảm ơn anh Thomas Po Pederson và công ty đã tạo điều kiện tổ chức buổi cảm thụ này để chúng tôi hiểu biết hơn về nghệ thuật và nâng cao kiến thức. Hơn hết thảy,Tôi cảm thấy thích thú , vui vẻ ,yêu cuộc sống, yêu thiên nhiên , dám thể hiện và góp phần nhỏ bé để làm những điều có ýnghĩa trong cộng đồng.

Ghi chú.

“Nghệ thuật chẳng là gì nếu thiếu tài năng, nhưng tài năng chẳng là gì nếu không có laođộng” (The Artist is nothing without gift, but the gift is nothing without work”.
“nghệ thuật không phải điều bạn thấy mà là điều bạn khiến ngưới khác thấy “ (Art is not whatyou see, but what you make other see)

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE AGENT ORANGE TRAGEDY

A new must-read book for decision makers, donors and everyone else dealing with one of the worst man-made disasters in modern history.

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How do you cope with a tragedy of epic proportions – a tragedy engulfing some four million people, who have been exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam? How do you bring an end to a manmade disaster, which erupted five decades ago and still claim victims among the poorest of the poor in Vietnam as well as among veterans and their families from the US and other foreign troops serving during the war in Vietnam?

The answers to these complex questions are now at hand from two key actors in the efforts to secure assistance to victims as well as cleaning up the remaining dioxin hotspots in Vietnam.

Vietnamese toxicologist Le Ke Son and US Dr. Charles R. Bailey have joined hands in producing the most comprehensive account so far of the Agent Orange issue in their new book: “From enemies to partners – Vietnam, the U.S. and Agent Orange.”

During the war,  some 72 million liters of herbicide were sprayed by the US Airforce in order to defoliate the jungle and destroy the crops in areas, where the farmers were suspected of supporting the insurgents and the North Vietnamese troops operating in the South.

Son and Bailey have been deeply involved in the efforts to deal with all aspects of the deadly legacy of Agent Orange – Dr. Son as a leading medical expert on the Vietnamese side, Dr. Bailey as director of Ford Foundation Vietnam, distributing millions of dollars in support of Vietnams Agent Orange victims.  Bailey is also well known for his successful lobbying efforts in the US congress to secure financial assistance to deal with the Agent Orange issues.

So far the US has provided USD 231 million in direct financial assistance, since Agent Orange ceased to be a taboo issue in the relations between the US and Vietnam. Most of the funds have been spent on cleaning up two of the three heavily contaminated hot spots, the former US air bases in Phu Cat and Da Nang.  The worst and biggest hotspot at the former airbase in Bien Hoa remains to be dealt with.

In 10 chapters Son and Bailey provide well founded answers to the questions, most often asked about Agent Orange. Here are some of them:

  • Is there still dioxin pollution in Vietnam?
  • Does dioxin exposure lead to birth defects and reproductive failures?
  • What have the US and Vietnam done so far?
  • What do the Agent Orange victims need?

The approach of Son and Bailey is factual and somber – no pointed fingers or dramatics are needed here. The facts themselves are frightening, indeed.

Daunting task ahead

The book stands out as unique and important documentation how Agent Orange is being dealt with in Vietnam and in the US.  The cleanup of Phu Cat and Da Nang has been succesful, and some assistance has reached victims, primarily in the more easily accessible urban areas of Da Nang and elsewhere.

Ahead lies the daunting task of cleaning up Bien Hoa, now a densely populated area,  including 20 lakes with persistent high levels of dioxin contamination in the food chains. The US has committed to assist in the clean-up, which is expected to take a decade at a cost of USD 800 million.

Son and Bailey also point out a very important shortcoming in the assistance: That little or no assistance reaches the most vulnerable victims in remote rural areas in the Central Highlands. I saw exactly the same during a number of visits I have made over a recent five year period to the victims.  More info on this aspect is available in my essay: Letter to Obama.

With their book, Son and Bailey have not only delivered very important documentation on the tragedy of Agent Orange. They have also included suggestions for future systematic action to deal efficiently with the aftermath of the ecocide, which descended on Vietnam during the war.

Therefore, “From enemies to partners” deserves the widest possible reading among decisionmakers in Vietnam and the US, the donor community and everyone else for that matter.

THE ‘LAST VISIT’ OF A GREAT POET

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John Balahan/Tao Te Ching: “Be as careful of the end as you were of the beginning.”

John Balaban is back in town
One of the greatest things about living in Hanoi is the fascinating visitors who come back again and again. Yesterday, American poet John Balaban stopped by at Nguyen Qui Duc‘s Tadioto on ‘his last visit’ to Vietnam.
“I am in reasonably good health, but I got one machine now running my heart and another one running my knee,” John said with a very healthy grin and added a quote from Tao Te Ching: “Be as careful of the end as you were of the beginning.”
Like most of us in the audience, John got Vietnam under his skin as a young man, starting with being a conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam. He went on to become a relief worker during the war, taking care of wounded children, getting himself wounded in the process.
Balaban also set out to collect and preserve the Vietnamese folk tales, which have been handed down verbally from generation to generation. Through Balaban’s translations some of Vietnam’s finest poetry have become available to all of us.
His own 12 works of prose and poetry are legendary gems in world litterature. ‘Remembering Heaven’s Face’, and ‘After Our War’ just to mention a few.
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John and Duc co-edited ‘Vietnam – A traveler’s Literary Companion´.

At Yesterday’s Hanoi event, John’s long time friend, journalist et al, Nguyen Qui Duc displayed his excellent interviewing skills in prompting John on a far reaching adventure into war, peace and poetry of the finest kind, throwing in some Gloria Emerson and her love for Graham Greene – and a spice of sexual connotations in fluent Vietnamese.
Romania encounter
My personal clue yesterday flashed like a tracer round, when John spotted me with a “We have met before!”
We had indeed met, 29 years ago during the Romania revolution (or whatever it was).
John and I had ended up in the city of Cluj, where angry people were stringing up members of Securitate, dictator Ceausescu’s hated security forces. I still have the shoulder strap from one of the Securitate uniforms, given to me by one of the anti-Ceausecu activists ‘as a souvenir’.
John and I bumped into each other in front of the house of a famous Romanian writer, who had just been released from jail. We must have exchanged a few words, but I only remember how it incredibly cold it was that day in Cluj, and how good half cooked potatoes taste for dinner, when you have not eaten anything serious since yesterday morning.
John collapsed a little later and ended up in surgery at the hospital in Cluj.
“I got the best of care, because the doctors were too scared to have an American die at the hospital,” John says with that healthy grin, he is wearing these days.
Yesterday, John Balaban offered this exit advice, a quote from Vietnamese poet, Hồ Xuân Hương: “Where is Nirvana? It is here – 9 times out of 10.”

VIETNAM’s CRYSTAL CLOUD

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A manmade, magic cloud has descended in Yen Bay, among the mountains in a remote province in Northern Vietnam.

It was like the ancient rainbow legend come true: At the end of a long, dusty drive through northern Vietnam the Crystal Cloud was waiting for us on a plateau, built on Mam Xoi Hill.

The beauty of the landscape itself is absolutely breath taking – so much that the manmade Crystal Cloud has become a subject of controversy.

“Why spoil the beauty of our homeland with this kind of foreign invasion?” That’s just one of many facebook comments, after the Crystal Cloud became accessible to the public this weekend.

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The Crystal Cloud is created by two young landscape artists,  Vietnamese-American Andy Cao and French born Xavier Perrot.

After exploring the Crystal Cloud in early morning and late afternoon, I see it differently.  I see it as a gift to Vietnam, a token of admiration for nature itself, given with respect for the Vietnamese people, including the Hmong tribes who have cultivated and shaped these mountains for centuries.  In a sense, the Crystal Cloud is not the first manmade intervention in Nature’s beauty, it is a continuation of a long Hmong tradition.

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The Crystal Cloud is created by two young landscape artists,  Vietnamese-American Andy Cao and French born Xavier Perrot.  They used galvanized wire mesh, adorned with 58.000 Swarowsky crystals. Whenever the sun rays hit the crystals they set off a firework of colors.  So beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes.

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The Crystal Cloud came into being with support from Vietnamese architect Pham Duong and the Architects Association of Yen Bai province.  According to the local villagers, it took about a month to build the installation.

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My Nikon and I have no chance to recreate the beauty, but I did what I could with these images. I hope they can inspire you to go see for yourself.  The Crystal Cloud will be waiting for you until 5 October. Then it will move on to a new destination.

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THE AMBASSADOR SPEAKS OUT

Today, I hand over my blog to Ted Osius, former US Ambassador to Vietnam. Here is why he decided to leave the foreign service  after a distinguished 30 year career – and found a new way to contribute to the development of US-Vietnamese relations. 

BY TED OSIUS

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Ted Osius being sworn in by Secretary of State, John Kerry as ambassador to Vietnam. Center is Clayton Bond, the ambassador’s spouse. 

When John Kerry swore me in as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam in 2014, I said it was a “dream come true” to be able to serve as America’s representative in a country I have loved for more than two decades.

A three-year tour as ambassador in Hanoi was the high point of my 30-year career in the Foreign Service and the honor of a lifetime. The high-water mark of that tour was hosting President Barack Obama during a history-making visit to Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh City one million people turned out to welcome him, and I knew we had done something right.

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Millions of the  Vietnamese took to the streets to welcome President Obama on his historic 2016 visit.

I am deeply grateful to the Foreign Service, not only for the privilege and joy of three decades of adventures (mostly in Asia), but also for my family. Thirteen-and-a-half years ago I met my future spouse in a business meeting of GLIFAA (formerly Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies), an employee affinity group. By extension the Foreign Service gave us our 4-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.

A diplomatic career also allowed me the great privilege of serving something bigger than myself: the United States of America. So it was with mixed emotions that I decided in 2017 to resign and join a number of other senior Foreign Service officers headed for the exit. While each of us has a different reason for departing, many of my friends and former colleagues are deeply worried about the policy direction of the current administration, as am I. I fear that some policies are diminishing America’s role in the world, and decided that I could not in good conscience implement them.

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Osius on the TPP: “Many of us who were determined to strengthen America’s role in Asia considered that abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement was a self-inflicted wound. “

Many of us who were determined to strengthen America’s role in Asia considered that abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement was a self-inflicted wound. America left the playing field to those who do not share our values, and left American jobs there, too. Others grieved the U.S. abdication of responsibility regarding climate change, especially in a year marked by multiple storms so immense that they are supposed to happen only once in 500 years. A large number of colleagues voiced their dissent regarding the so-called “Muslim travel ban,” abhorrent in a country whose true strength derives from its diversity. What happened to the nation that welcomed “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”?

Closer to Home

And then the outrages came even closer to home. I was asked to press the government in Hanoi to receive from the United States more than 8,000 people, most of whom had fled South Vietnam on boats and through the jungle in the years immediately following the war.

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 Osius: I was asked to press the government in Hanoi to receive from the United States more than 8,000 people, most of whom had fled South Vietnam on boats.”

The majority targeted for deportation—sometimes for minor infractions—were war refugees who had sided with the United States, whose loyalty was to the flag of a nation that no longer exists. And they were to be “returned” decades later to a nation ruled by a communist regime with which they had never reconciled. I feared many would become human rights cases, and our government would be culpable.

I assessed that this repulsive policy would destroy our chances of success in pursuing President Donald Trump’s other goals for relations with Vietnam: reducing the trade deficit, strengthening military relations and coping with regional threats to peace such as those emanating from North Korea. I voiced my objections, was instructed to remain silent, and decided there was an ethical line that I could not cross if I wished to retain my integrity. I concluded that I could better serve my country from outside government, by helping to build a new, innovative university in Vietnam.

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The Osius-Bond family is staying on in Vietnam. 

At a ceremony in the Treaty Room at State, with a portrait of Thomas Jefferson looking on, I had the opportunity to reflect on three decades of service, behind me the flags of countries where I had served as a junior-, mid-level and senior officer. My spouse, an African American man, stood at my side. Our children, Mexican-American, rode on our shoulders while Deputy Assistant Secretary Constance Dierman acknowledged the sacrifice of service, including the sacrifices that families make. My mentor of 26 years, Ambassador (ret.) Cameron Hume, presented a U.S. flag to my spouse.

I reminded the mentors, mentees, colleagues, friends and family members attending of what another departing diplomat, Tom Countryman, said at his retirement: “We [must be] firm in our principles, steadfast in our ideals, and tireless in our determination to uphold our oath—to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’”

Now more than ever. The challenges to the Foreign Service, and to our democracy, are existential. Some who remain at State feel besieged and demoralized. Yet I urge those Foreign Service officers who believe in making a difference to remain, if possible, because it is still a privilege to serve our country. I continue to believe the experienced diplomat’s language, regional expertise and deep understanding of a global challenge will pay off, and give that individual the chance to change a bit of history.

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Osius: “A three-year tour as ambassador in Hanoi was the high point of my 30-year career in the Foreign Service and the honor of a lifetime.”

The Power of Respect

For those who choose to remain and who love diplomacy as I do, I offer a few thoughts on what can be done to best serve the United States, even in difficult times. I learned in my last three posts—India, Indonesia and Vietnam—about the power of respect, trust and partnership. The United States casts a long shadow, and when we show respect it has a big impact. Showing respect means figuring out what is really, truly important to our partners and taking that seriously. It costs America almost nothing and gets us almost everything.

Showing respect builds trust. Real, powerful partnership comes when you build trust. And you build trust by finding where interests converge, and then doing things together. The diplomat’s job is to find those shared interests and make them the bases of our actions. All those cables, all that contact work, the outreach—all of it should lead to action.

India. India’s nuclear tests put it outside the nonproliferation regime. A real partnership was only possible if we ended the ostracism. So the United States showed respect and built trust by pursuing a civil-nuclear initiative with India.

Indonesia. Indonesian special forces committed atrocities during the Suharto regime, so we didn’t engage them. A real partnership was only possible if we ended the ostracism. We showed respect and built trust with Indonesia by re-engaging with the special forces, while respecting international human rights norms.

Vietnam. The war left massive scars. A real partnership was only possible if we dealt honestly with the past. We showed respect and built trust with Vietnam by pursuing the fullest-possible accounting of those lost, removing unexploded ordnance and cleaning up dioxin. And we were honest and respectful about even our most profound differences over human rights.

Building a Partnership

When I first visited Vietnam in 1996, the year after we normalized diplomatic relations, our countries could hardly envision a partnership. The past was a heavy burden, and the differences in our political systems were irreconcilable. But Vietnam had, and still has, leaders who are committed to finding where interests converge and then doing things together. And the United States had leaders like Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Secretary of State John Kerry and, later, President Obama, who were also committed to our comprehensive partnership.

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Osius: “The United States had leaders like Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Secretary of State John Kerry and, later, President Obama, who were also committed to our comprehensive partnership.”

So, together, our two countries deepened trade and security and people-to-people ties. During my tour as ambassador, we prepared for not one, but two presidential visits to Vietnam, as well as visits to the United States by Vietnam’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Building trust wasn’t easy, because we had to keep earning it. We had to do what we said we’d do. For example, we promised the Vietnamese people we would continue cleaning up dioxin, also known as Agent Orange, left from the war. Because the process for cleaning up dioxin is very expensive, it took three years to find the resources to remediate the largest, worst hot spot. That we are proceeding is a result of determined, persistent leadership spanning several administrations. And by keeping our promise, we strengthen trust, to the benefit of Vietnam, the United States and the world.

Respect and trust are not zero-sum, nor are they transactional. They involve relationships, not just money and power. Military dominance alone won’t build the strong alliances and partnerships that we need in the Indo-Pacific region.

Those partnerships provide real, tangible benefits to the United States. Strong partnerships with India, Indonesia and Vietnam create jobs for Americans, contribute to regional stability and help us address global challenges to human health, the environment and international security.

When we commit to these partnerships—and I have seen this again and again—we facilitate commercial deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars and boost educational exchange, creating or supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs in the United States. We form security partnerships with countries that share our interest in open sea lanes and upholding international law. We create a more prosperous and safer America.

Don’t Give Up

Before leaving post, I urged my embassy colleagues not to give up. Even if as ambassador (and therefore the president’s personal representative) I could not in good conscience implement certain policies, I thought my younger colleagues might face a different choice. Early in my career, I had considered leaving State when, serving on the Korea desk, I disagreed strongly with the administration’s approach to North Korea. But I held on, believing that the pendulum would swing again and that I could do more good by remaining with the department than by quitting. There have been many difficult periods for the Foreign Service, and we have ridden through the ups and downs.

Now, from the perspective of a former FSO, I offer the following suggestions to those who continue to pursue diplomacy:

• As long as you can remain true to your beliefs and ethics, don’t give up. We’ve been through tough cycles before. This will end.

• Develop language and regional expertise. It continues to matter.

• Show respect in ways large and small. It matters when a representative of the United States—no matter what rank—shows respect.

• Build trust by engaging with counterparts in endeavors that are of mutual interest.

• Build partnerships based on respect, as they are essential for America’s future and will enable us to recover when the clouds pass.

• Keep relationships going. Those who argue that only interests matter, and that relationships don’t, have been proven wrong by history before and will be proven wrong again.

When the United States shows respect and builds trust, we build relationships that benefit enduring shared interests. After 30 years in Asia, I know that is the only way to make America even greater.

Ted Osius is the vice president of Fulbright University Vietnam. He served as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam from 2014 to 2017. A founding member of GLIFAA, he was a U.S. diplomat in Indonesia, India, Thailand, Japan, the Vatican and the Philippines, and worked on Asian challenges from the White House, the United Nations and the State Department.

Ted Osius’ reflections has previously been published in the journal of The American Foreign Service Association.