Filming for ‘Welcome Back!’


Panky and Sheelu

Panky and Sheelu

This day was quite something…. Sheelu and I had driven down to Danang from Hue, which was completely flooded, water up to our knees, even in the beautiful old Imperial temples and tombs. (Why did all these Emperors want to stay in and be buried in Hue, where everyone agrees the weather is absolutely diabolical?)

In Danang, Manus told us about this wonderful old hotel on the beach, wooden furniture and marble floors with windows looking out onto the sea, still a bit rough from typhoon Haiyan. Tiles were still missing from the roof and a couple of guys were fixing new ones with ropes round their waists as they perched precariously six stories up.…

We had arranged to interview Chuck next morning, the only free time he had, so we were tourists for a day, and visited the museum of amazing sculptures from the Champa kingdom with its strong Hindu influence in a beautiful old French colonial building. Rode from the museum back to the hotel in 2 cycle rickshaws – Sheelu’s guy had been fighting on the ARVN side, had a very hard time after the communists won, lost his house and was sent to a reeducation camp for many years and now drives a cycle rickshaw. But his wife had just won $5000 in a lottery, so he was pretty happy.

Hindu temples of My Son

Hindu temples of My Son

In the afternoon we visited Ma Son, a collection of ancient temples from the Cham period – similar to Angkor Wat, though much smaller and more in ruins – of course many huge craters left by the American bombardment didn’t help! I filmed the stream which I used at the end of the film while Manus reads his poem, there.

I was continually having to rush back to the hotel to recharge the batteries for my camera. Left them recharging while we had lunch at a restaurant run by an Australian couple which they had started in order to train deaf children to have a job, e.g. cooking, waiting etc…lots of hamburgers, but nice people.

Sheelu had a rest, because she’d been feeling a bit sick the previous day, and I went off to meet Manus in his house in Hue, which is about half an hour from Danang, clutching camera, tripod, batteries… Lovely to see Manus again. His new house, the previous one had been flooded out, was big new, dry! Thought he road outside was just mud. We had to go to the top floor again for more light. His meditation room is a lovely clear, empty space, with Buddha statue, tanka, meditation cushions – he has a meditation group which meets there once or twice a week.

In this meditative, silent space he spoke in a very moving way about the experience of being in the middle of a war – never knowing from one instant to the next whether you are going to live or die, whether you are going to kill another human being or be killed yourself. And then he read his beautiful poem in which he describes coming across 60 of his fellow marines who had been caught in an ambush and were lying dead and dying in this stream, – an image which had haunted him for decades. It felt quiet inside the room, but I realised later that the garage outside had been making a huge noise banging and shouting…and the noises seemed to fit very well with the horrors of the poem.

Manus Campbell wuth Buddha statue

Manus Campbell

Manus put me in a taxi to go back to the hotel – where I had to pack before we caught the night train down to Nha Trang to meet Shakyamuni on Teacher’s Day. As soon as I got into the taxi the driver’s girlfriend popped into the front seat, without letting anyone else see her – obviously not allowed!

I was so tired having had two very intense sessions of filming in one day, that I didn’t say anything – but after driving for about half an hour it turned out that the driver didn’t know the way! I didn’t either, and was furious with him, because I didn’t have much time. He turned the taxi round without looking where he was going, hit a motorbike (not very hard, the guy fell off but wasn’t hurt and the bike was not badly damaged) but I just got out and jumped into another taxi. It turned out we weren’t very far from the hotel, and I managed to get there, sort out camera and tripod, pack – and we made it to the train station in time.

Pity in a way that we took that journey at night, because it is meant to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. But with help from friendly locals we managed to drag our suitcases over a few train tracks, and find our berths which were quite comfortable!

Arriving in Nha Trang we were met after by Shakyamuni and taken to a nice hotel (actually called the Nice Hotel) and I passed out, totally exhausted. I stayed in bed for the next 24 hours. I missed the celebration for Teacher’s Day, but it didn’t sound too great, as at the karaoke restaurant where they were having their dinner there was a Heineken beer promotion, so there were continual interruptions from girls dressed in Austrian costumes trying to sell beer!

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