Viet Nam, Cambodia and the Mekong

Written by Harold McNeill on November 24th, 2016. Posted in Travelogue

Boy in School3

Cambodian Country School (photo by Esther Dunn):  We had the good fortune to visit an elementary school in a remote area along the Mekong River, a place where welcoming and exuberant children could barely wait to demonstrate their English language skills.
“How old are you?” and “Where are you from?” were favourites.

Lynn and I spent most of our time with a ten-year-old boy (photo above) who appeared to be the oldest in the school. Although a bit shy, he intensely focused on wording his questions, then intently listened to our answers.  Had he been born forty years earlier, he could well have been the boy featured in the story below. 

NOTE: This post and the three related posts, as well as three slideshows, have been delayed due to pre-Christmas commitments at the McTavish Academy of the Art.  Hopefully, all will be completed by December 10. Meanwhile, if you happen to read, remember that some changes have yet to be made.

Part I: An Open Letter

Dear Family and Friends,

First, the beginning of a short story from Cambodia genocide.

Standing motionless by a small tree in the middle of a rice patty, the young man’s emaciated body and ragged clothes were silhouetted by the setting sun. Perhaps darkness would bring relief from the pain of making a decision that, if wrong, might well lead to the death of his entire family. 

A kilometer away, his family – father, mother, and young sister – patiently awaited his arrival as they prepared for another starvation sized portion of rice and weak tea. To the family, that meal, the ragged clothes and the makeshift shelter in which they lived, was a daily reminder of their lost lives in the city and now, their constant companion, death.

Meanwhile, just beyond the rice paddy, the Mekong River flowed peacefully to the South China Sea as it had for thousands of years, yet there was not one thing in the lives of this boy or his family considered peaceful today.  As struggled with the decision, he began his trek towards home.

First-time travelers to Cambodia, Viet Nam or Laos today may have a difficult time believing these countries have only recently emerged from fifty years of war that killed an estimated four million men, women, and children. Of those who lived, millions were injured in the most horrible ways as a result of the war, starvation, disease, criminal acts and genocide. Others nearing their teen years might well have faced dilemmas similar to that of the boy in the rice paddy whose story I will continue momentarily.

While what happened from 1940 – 1990, remains close to the surface for those who lived through part or all of those desperate years, for the young of today, who represent a majority, choosing to focus on the present and future is their way of healing the deep wounds of the past.

When I began to gather notes and photos in preparation for writing this travelogue, it was my intention to focus on the natural wonders this part of Indochina, but after meeting so many people and hearing their stories, it did not take long to realize that as a westerner from a first world country, many of my preconceived notions about this area of the world were wrong. The story is now divided into five parts:

Part I:   An Open Letter  (This letter)
Part II:  Indochina Wars: 1940 – 1990
Part III: Resilience of the Human Spirit
Part IV  The Future Belongs to the Young
art V:   River Cruising with Uniworld  (currently being written)

In addition, three slideshows with music selected from the areas visited, as well as several linked photo albums, provide a pictorial record of the people we met and the places we visited.

There is no question we and our fellow travelers became enamoured of the people of Viet Nam and Cambodia (we did not travel to Laos). While only so much information could be gathered in a short, first time visit to another part of the world, the fact we quickly became immersed in the culture made it impossible to miss the resilience of these spirited people who have lived through the worst the world has to offer, yet bounced back without seeming to have missed a beat. Do you think we could be that strong in the Western World?  In the past perhaps, but now?

In the five posts, I have attempted explain some of the background and why I think the people have accomplished so much in such a short time (1990 – 2016) and why I think the scars of their recent past has not diminished them in any way.  While I have strived for accurate descriptions, factual errors will no doubt have crept in. Even in the photo albums, those who are more familiar with the region may notice some photos appear in the wrong album. If you think a correction is needed, please drop me a line and I will make the necessary change.

Our traveling group owes a great deal to the tour guides as well as the Uniworld team leaders and staff who spent hours and days shepherding us around and explaining the nuances of cultures that in many ways remain a mystery to westerners. Most of us in the first world take much for granted and, as well, have a strong tendency to make invidious comparisons between people, cultures and religions. We can (and did) learn a lot from the people of Viet Nam and Cambodia as they most certainly view the world in different and seemingly more positive manner than ourselves.

Perhaps one way to begin improving our own society would be arranging to have as many of our citizens as possible spend a few months immersed in another culture that exhibits characteristics we admire yet seem unable to achieve.  Now, back to the dilemma faced by that young boy in the rice paddy.

The boy was not afraid of being alone in the dark as he knew every inch of the rice paddies and many of the animals and birds became his companions.  All except the rat, as that lowly rat was the reason for his dilemma.  

through which he trudged for many hours he trapped and killed rats.  His challenge at this moment was making a life or death decision that might well be as deadly for his sister and parents as for himself. Should he keep his recent discovery a secret or should he tell them? At one point he considered running away, but that would most certainly place his family in mortal danger. No, he had to return.

An hour later, with thirty rat tails in hand (his collection quota for the day) and his decision made, the boy set out for home. Only time would tell whether he was doing the right thing.  Such were the daily decisions being made by the young and old in a country where a person could be summarily executed because they did not meet a quota.

As our tour guide, a man in his fifties told the story of that twelve-year-old boy, tears glistened in his eyes. During the Cambodia genocide, his family was forced at gunpoint to leave their comfortable middle-class home in the city to become forced labourers on one of the hundreds of collective farms formed across Cambodia by the brutal dictator Pol Pot.  They were alive for the time being, but were they the lucky ones?  

Had his father been a professional (doctor, lawyer, teacher, independent business owner) or if any members had bad eye site and wore glasses (glasses were a sign of elitism), that person and the entire family would have been marched directly to one of the re-education camps on the edge of the city. The facilities, it was learned after the genocide, were nothing more than places of execution.

At some point after the family arrived at the farm collective, the lowly rat was designated a public enemy because of the destruction it caused to the rice crops. The young boy, along with dozens of others his age, were told each had kill thirty rats a day and, as proof of the kills, had to bring the tails to the military administrator of the collective.

The first time a quota was not met would earn a severe reprimand from the commander however, a second failure would most certainly result in the offender and perhaps his entire family, being sent to a re-education facility. As the weeks slipped by, the boy, as with his friends, found it increasingly difficult to meet their quota as the rat population began to shrink. Some of his friends and their families had already been sent for re-education.

One day, good fortune fell upon the boy when he discovered a place where birds of prey were feeding upon rats. It was easy for the birds to find rats as they could silently swoop down scoop them up, then find a place to settle down for lunch. For some reason, the birds congregated to feed.  While they ate most of each carcass, they did not eat the tail.  

It was under and near the tree where the boy had one day been standing in the shade that he kicked by the soil and debris only to find dozens of tails. This enabled the boy to easily able to meet his daily quota. But, the find forced him to face a terrible dilemma. Should he tell anyone?  If he didn’t the outcome for some was clear, but if he did, the supply of tails would soon be gone, then he and his family might well pay the price.

Late that night the boy resolved his dilemma by keeping his source secret and only used it to top up any shortage he experienced. To help others he always took extra tails to share with those who who fell short.  He could not save everyone but did what he could to save a few. Such was the brutal way of life that developed under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from 1975 – 1979. The man telling the story, our tour guide, was that boy some forty-five years earlier.

Because I began writing these articles as we approached Remembrance Day, November 11, in many countries around the world, the stories are dedicated to those who died in the Forgotten Wars of Indochina – in particular, the people of Viet Nam, Laos and in the Killing Fields of Cambodia.


Hello Viet Nam:  Slide Show

Part II:  Indochina Wars: 1940 – 1990


Hello Viet Nam

The Resilient People of Cambodia




The Future Belongs to the Young

Written by Harold McNeill on November 14th, 2016. Posted in Travelogue

Young People – A Majority in Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos


The photo was taken in front of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, October, 2016. This group of young people wanted a photo with two of our group from South Africa with whom they had been speaking. Virtually everywhere you travel in Viet Nam and Cambodia you are greeted by young people who are eager to exchange a few words and to have a photo taken with a tourist. Look at those wonderful smiles.

Part I:   An Open Letter
Part II:  Indochina Wars: 1940 – 1990
Part III: Resilience of the Human Spirit
Part IV  The Future Belongs to the Young

Part IV: The Future Belongs to the Young

The title of this article is, of course, used in a figurative sense.  As I have aged and particularly over the last 25 years (50-75) I have become convinced that forging a better world must be placed in the hands of positive, forward looking young people who are willing to debate the issues and not in the hands of the old, at least the old who have become jaded and surely not in the hands of those who tend to cast the world in terms of Us versus Them. 

Each time Lynn and I have travelled to countries that have only recently emerged from war or having been controlled in whole or in part by a vicious tyrants, we have always sought out young people as our means taking the temperature of the country.  If the young people are happy and forward looking, we felt somewhat assured the country was moving in a positive direction.  If they were looking for a way out, it seemed certain the country was not doing all that well.


Resilience of the Human Spirit

Written by Harold McNeill on November 7th, 2016. Posted in Travelogue

Buddhism Dance

These young women were part of a group of Cambodian folk dancers who performed during our time in Siem Reap. The gentle movement of these dancers and their male counterparts was mesmerizing and clearly express the inner strength and peacefulness of the people.

Photos in these albums were selected from those taken mainly by Esther and Harold. In a few cases, representative photos selected from the Web.

November 11, 2016:  Least We Forget
Remembrance Day in Canada (Link Here)
Veterans Day in the United States  (Link Here)

Part I:   An Open Letter
Part II:  Indochina Wars: 1940 – 1990
Part III: Resilience of the Human Spirit
Part IV  The Future Belongs to the Young

Part V    Cruising the Mekong with Uniworld   (being written)   December 4.  This part was split off to Part V. Part IV is being readjusted.

Part III: Resilience of the Human Spirit


The Indochina Wars: 1940 – 1990

Written by Harold McNeill on November 12th, 2016. Posted in Travelogue


Photo (hdm): This group of young people was part of a crowd of some 250,000 gathered in downtown Hanoi one Sunday evening during our visit.  As noted below, an estimated 70% of the population in Viet Nam and Cambodia is under the age of 35.

November 11, 2016:  Least We Forget
Remembrance Day in Canada (Link Here)
Veterans Day in the United States  (Link Here)

Part I:   An Open Letter
Part II:  Indochina Wars: 1940 – 1990
Part III: Resilience of the Human Spirit
Part IV  The Future Belongs to the Young

Part 11. Indochina Wars: 1940 – 1990


World at War: Remembering our History

Written by Harold McNeill on November 9th, 2016. Posted in Editorials

earl and edna davis

Edna and Earl Davis (Lynn McNeill’s mother and father) at their Wedding in August 1943.  Earl met Edna while serving in England and they married shortly after. After spending one night together, Earl shipped out for combat in Italy where he spent the rest of his war years fighting in a number of bitterly won battles. The couple were not reunited until after the war when Earl returned to Canada where Edna was waiting after having emigrated with dozens of other war brides.

The World at War: Remembering our History1


Precious Memories: The West Coast Trail

Written by Harold McNeill on February 25th, 2016. Posted in Adventure

Happy Birthday Kari

Kari at Falls

The beautiful Tsusiat Falls where father and daughter took a well deserved rest.
All that is left of the father is his boots and socks. “Yaa! But you’ve made it over halfway Dad. That’s good isn’t it?”    Guess who helped him?


Dear Kari,

It’s hard to believe twenty years has slipped by since we completed that magical eight day trek on the West Coast Trail with David and Jenn.  What inspired me to prepare the following slide show and write this post was finding that old slide tray tucked away in one of the storage boxes.  It brought back so many fond memories for me and I bet it will do the same for the three of you.  As I was writing this post I spoke several times to David, as well as to your Uncle Barry and Auntie Agate.

Before getting into the details of the trek, take a few moments and enjoy the slides as they slip by.  I tried to find music that expresses the love a Dad has for his children and, as well, displays the sense of pride that comes from having one of your children lovingly act as a mentor and guide in taking on a difficult challenge.  The three songs were selected after pouring through dozens of father/daughter/son lists posted on the web.

Precious Memories, J.J. Cale
When You Need Me, Bruce Springsteen
Wildflowers, Tom Petty

The photos in this slideshow have also been uploaded link to the
McNeill Life Stories Facebook Page

Opportunities arise but once.

Life provides many opportunities for adventure, but when one declines an opportunity for any reason, it is most often gone forever.  Having achieved a Golden Age in retirement and understanding this, when our oldest daughter Kari phoned and ask if I might like to join her and a cousin from Montreal, David McGregor and his friend, Jenn D’Aoust, in challenging the West Coast Trail, the answer came without a second thought, “yes”. Sure I had concerns about my ability to tackle that particular trail, but if my daughter thought I could do it, who was I to argue?

Also, it gave me comfort knowing she was an experienced backpacker, held an Industrial First Aid Certificate (just in case pops packed it in), had tackled that trail twice before and, being an extraordinary backcountry trekker had at one time considered taking up a career in the emerging field of Eco Tourism.

When this opportunity arose I was nearly two years into retirement, in fair shape and while I hadn’t recently attempted any long distance wilderness hiking, I remember Kari’s comforting words: “Don’t worry Dad, you can do this and, besides, I’ve got your back.”  Hmmm!  Of course, it was a done deal as when someone, particularly one of your children, offers to share a moment like this, It must be taken as the memories will last for the rest of your life.


The Alt-Right and the 1488ers

Written by Harold McNeill on November 17th, 2016. Posted in Tim Hortons Morning Posts



November 16, 2016.  Until I watched the news tonight I had never heard of the ALT-RIGHT or 1488ers. Perhaps I just live a sheltered life.  In any event, media outlets across the country are expressing outrage at the racist comments directed towards any number of minorities including Muslims, Chinese, Jews, etc., by the Alt Right Group.  The following link takes to to one article.
CBC East York Alt Right Racist Posters

In order to gain a better understanding of who the Alt-Right represent, I checked out their Web Site but it was nothing like Britain First and other sites that openly preach racism and hatred.   Following that, I found an article titled, An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.  I found the article informative to say the least and have become somewhat suspicious of the media slant on this.  In post I am lead to believe the Alt Right Twitter account was suspended.

I encourage friends of every political stripes to take a few minutes to read the article and let me know your opinion. Send a private note if you wish.  I have not put in my opinion here as I don’t want to taint your thoughts with mine. Suffice it to say I was very surprised.

Note: It is a fairly long article and it would be helpful to read to the end as speaks to a group known as the 1488ers, another group I had never heard of.  Following are some of the comments on the Alt-Right poster.  I can’t find a copy of the bottom half as this stuff seems quite new to the scene.

Alt Right Comments

I have deliberately left out the location of the article and the authors name at the beginning.  Both are included at the end.



An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right (verbatim)


Open Letter to Mr. Paulson

Written by Harold McNeill on October 6th, 2016. Posted in Tim Hortons Morning Posts



Photos (Web Source)

These twenty-five faces are just a small sample of the 500 RCMP female members who joined in a Class Action lawsuit against the force. Since the first woman was sworn in as aregular member in 1974, she, and many of the hundreds who followed, were subjected to unrelenting harassment and sexual misconduct up to and including rape.

In light of the $100,000,000 settlement announced this week, will RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson
do the right thing and resign? Releases from government sources state the Commissioner was forced to accept this settlement as well as making an unambiguous apology. The alternative would have been an extremely costly and ugly trial in which the sins of RCMP senior management would be put on display for all Canadians to witness. Such a trial would have spelled the death of the RCMP in its present form.

We can only hope it’s “Goodbye to Mr. Paulson” and that the next Commissioner
will quickly establish the ways and means to end this shameful period in the forces history.

Dear Mr. Paulson,

First, a thank you Krista Carle (photo right), Janet Merlo, Catherine Galliford (Audio Link) and all those brave women from the RCMP who, against all odds, stood solid Constable Krista Carleagainst you and the old boys network that closed ranks against not only these women, but all those fine men and woman who tried in vain to bring about change in the RCMP (1).

Mr. Paulson, as the Commissioner you are the man who not only allowed this to continue during your career, but fully assisted in perpetuating a system in which the rank and file (women particularly in recent times, but all members in general), who were simply used as fodder to nourish the egos and career paths of senior members who, in many cases, expected to be treated as nothing less than Gods.

An favourite expression used my Chief Constable (a former military Regimental Sergeant Major) during the early years of my police service was: “when I say jump, you only ask, “how high“”.  Unfortunately, that saying is as true across the RCMP today as it was since the inception of the force early in the last century.

While there are thousands of good women and men in the RCMP just trying to do their job, the top-down, authoritarian approach used by management has resulted in the force reaching the crisis point in which they find themselves today. 


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  • Maurice Smook

    August 13, 2016 |

    Hi Jillian,

    I don’t know if you are still checking this site but I had to respond again. February of 2017 it will be 72 years since this battle occurred.

    What caught my attention about this incident was on the Go Deep Documentary that aired on the History Channel. First of all I never known that this battle having ever occurred.

    According to my grade 3 teacher WW2 had never occurred. That grade 3 teacher stated that the WW2 and the holocaust was all propaganda. All of my classmates they believed her. I hate to say this but all I knew was that soldiers shooting at each other.

    I almost was expelled from school. My

    Mom my Dad my brother and my Uncle would have been arrested for propaganda. I paid the price. It was ironic a grade 5 teacher told me that Smooks are all commies. Dad was Conservative.

    All the Smooks that I known are all Conservative. If I had the money I would have loved to sue those two teachers.

    As I said I never heard of this Battle. If it were not for that program I would have never had known.

    I started to do more researching to find out more about the history of this battle. The narrator of Go Deep mentioned the names of the pilots who died that battle.

    I missed 20 minutes of that program but the camera crew had the camera’s pointed towards the sign with the names of the deceits. That is how I known.

    According to the narrator There are three who are still missing. W.J. Jackson, Harry Smook and A. Duckworth. A couple of months ago the staff of Go Deep have located Harry and A. Duckworths aircraft. This is on you tube. Harry and A. Duckworth craft is approx 650 feet deep in the Fjord. The individual who is heading this expansionary mission made it known he will not rest until all three of the missing pilots
    will be retrieved. I am sure that A. Duckworth’s kin are hoping for the same.

    What really puzzles me is that I have sent emails to the Smooks. Not one ever replying. I presume its the same with you. Sad. Dad rarely spoke about his family. It appears there is a big secret of the Smooks. I too assume Harry is a kin to my Dad. Harry maybe a 4th 5th cousin to my Dad. I too would like to know. Harry and A. Duckworth served and died for our country. The other is W.j. Jackson – who is also still missing – having died for our Country.

    In conclusion I still ask myself why is this a huge secret.

    If you are still checking this site please contact me. Maybe we may be kin.

    Take care.

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  • Valerie Heuman (Roddick)

    June 19, 2016 |

    Having just returned to the Okanagan Valley from a weekend in Pibroch, I am delighted to have stumbled on your blog to see the picture of the main street. My aunt and uncle Peggy & Gordon McGillvery owned and lived in the old Post Office on the North east corner of the main intersection and my brother Adrian currently lives south a bit backing on the School yard. We are Sheila’s cousins and still have a close connection to the town.

  • Sheila(Roddick) Allison

    May 19, 2016 |

    Hi. So fun to find your blog. I remember going to school with you and Louise. I loved my childhood in Pibroch which incidentally was named by my grandfather Aaron Roddick. I will never forget the night the garage burned down. Nice to see the landmark photo before the big fire!

  • George Dahl

    April 12, 2016 |

    What a great site. I’m trying to locate a woman named Sally Jennifer who was from the Cold Lake area back in the early sixties. I met her when I was stationed at Namao air base in Edmonton. I was serving with the USAF 3955 air refueling squadron from rhe fall 1963 till the spring of 64. Sally was 22 at the time I was 21. Sally was my first love. I had orders to ship out to South East Asia and we lost contact after that.
    If any of you know the where abouts of Sally I would like to get reacquainted with her. She is First Nation, Blackfoot I believe. She is Catholic and may have attended a Catholic school in Cold Lake.
    Thank You in advance, George Dahl

  • dave armit

    March 23, 2016 |

    good old fashioned police work done by good old fashioned policemen……….in regards to mr cain..i learned a few years ago that he was born on the same day in the same hospital that i father was a close friend of the cain family…!!! interesting..d a

  • Joyce McMenamon

    March 1, 2016 |

    Haha, love it! We should probably eat rats and rabbits rather than beef. Also I’ve noticed that there are a lot less pests where dogs are not kept on leashes.

  • Kari

    February 27, 2016 |

    Thanks for a wonderful trip down memory lane Dad!!! That was an amazing trip and I am so glad that we had the opportunity to share that experience together!