November 26, 2012

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –- Henry Miller.

Why do I want to travel with Friendship Tours again? Because it is so much more than just a vacation. It is more than a cultural immersion, it’s more than a simple education or community service. Their program is an intense-insider’s experience; creating relationships with real people-facing real issues is a boundary-breaking, perspective-shattering opportunity. The teachers at Friendship Tours World Travel helped me learn how to change lives. I want to go again because my previous trip helped me find a purpose and myself.
It is hard for to put into words how significant my trip to Vietnam was in Spring 2012.  It was an experience that will follow me through my entire life, one that I could never forget. Before my trip, I never knew how easy it was to change lives. It always seemed like such an idealistic concept, something only the selected few could really achieve. But I have since learned the power of one individual, the power of education, and the power independent journalism. I want to travel with Friendship Tours World Travel because it’s not only an opportunity for me to see and to learn, but to help others do the same.
Gabi Safranivicius

November 20, 2012

Sapa O' Chau and Community Power

Read the latest Rice Roots newsletter from Sapa O'Chau, one of our amazing service learning partners in Vietnam. Sapa O'Chau provides education to the ethnic minority girls and boys from the villages surrounding Sapa who would otherwise have limited access to educational opportunities beyond the age of ten.

October 8, 2012

In Vietnam, how does a tourist cross the road?

Here’s a riddle:

How does a tourist cross the road in Hanoi? Friendship Tours World Travelers to Vietnam know the answer to this question. In case you haven’t traveled with us yet, the New York Times reports on the fun of crossing streets in Hanoi.

September 14, 2012

U.S. Pop Culture and Cultural Exchange

Walking along the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi at sunset yesterday, we were approached by a group of enthusiastic Vietnamese medical students who wanted to practice their English. Sharing their admiration of American movies and music, they inquired of us: "Why do you come to Vietnam? What do you like about our country?" 

There's something about communicating with those working to master basic English that gives one pause. While I instinctively speak more slowly and choose words I imagine they might easily understand, there's a delicate art to doing so without sounding like I'm talking to a small child. Certainly their competency with the English language exceeds that of mine with Vietnamese. I must do my best to honor their courageous invitation to connect by offering a substantive exchange. 

I tell them: "I am a history teacher. I bring students to Vietnam so they can learn about the "American War," and how our countries are now friends. The history between the U.S and Vietnam has a lot to teach young people about the need for cross-cultural understanding and good economic relations for a more peaceful world. I hope my students will learn these lessons, and apply them to their studies of other conflicts in the modern day." 

The students nod, some comprehending less than others. How will they hit that conversational ball back over the net? 

Dane, the boldest of my ambitious new friends, responds with a fascinating question:
"We know about America from the movies. What movies do you watch to learn about Vietnam?" 

This question requires a more nuanced response, as relaying the long list of Hollywood attempts to "win" the Vietnam War on screen actually says more about our national psyche than it does about our genuine understanding of anything Vietnamese.

I reply honestly: "We have so many films about the Vietnam War, but most Americans don't learn about other countries from watching movies. We only learn about other countries if we are personally interested to study, read the news or travel." 

I suddenly feel embarrassed, and then add lamely, "I'm sorry."

Either my apology made no sense to them, or it didn't matter because they only smiled in response. An awkward silence followed before the most fashionable of the group grabbed the opportunity presented by the pop culture thread of our exchange. 

"Ah. Um. Do you like the American movie Titanic?"

What a moment! spontaneously, I burst with a dramatic rendering of the soundtrack.  

"Far across the distance
And spaces Between us
You have come to show you
go on..."

amazingly, the students are uninhibited and jump in to sing together with me:

"Near, far, wherever you are
I believe that the heart does go on
Once more you open the door
And you're here in my heart and
My heart will go on and on" 

The laughter this evokes in all of us is so refreshingly unifying, I am awash with joy. 

It's true: U.S pop culture permeates the globe, creating an Ameri-centric view that may unhelpfully contribute to a sense of our own entitlement, justifiable military adventures, and economic hegemony. But sometimes it is this very ubiquity of culture that provides the lingua Franca for cross global connection between interested citizens of the planet. 

 Abstract notions of global security may not be enough motivation for the next generation of world citizens to investigate the merits of friendship. Maybe it is pop stars who create the universal language of understanding?

For now, I'm grateful that my Vietnamese student friends and I both are fluent in Celine Dion. 

September 4, 2012

Malcom Browne: Vietnam War Correspondent Dies

Malcolm Browne, an Associated Press reporter who captured one of the most iconic images of the Vietnam war, passed away Monday, September 27th.

David Hume Kennerly reflects on his work and life in an article published today in the Huffington Post.

"Once you've seen a world-class news photograph, it's impossible to get that image out of your mind. If television brought the Vietnam War into your living room, it was the still photo that transported it directly to your heart.

Associated Press reporter Malcolm Browne took one of the greatest photographs from the Vietnam War. He wasn't a professional photographer, but that's irrelevant. The image, a searing portrait of a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire on a Saigon street as a protest against the government, will always be regarded as one of the most essential and vivid landmarks along the torturous path of modern Vietnamese history.

That photograph had an enormous impact on President John F. Kennedy, and triggered a series of events that ultimately led to the overthrow and murder of South Vietnamese President Ngo Diem. The power of a picture should never be underestimated.

Malcolm Browne died two days ago."

Read the Full Story

Students analyze the significance all three photographers made to 20th century wartime journalism with our dynamic curriculum. Teachers are invited to download, print and share the Iconographic Photography of Vietnam classroom lessons.  What do your students think? We’d love to hear their reflections on the impact of these images 40+ years later.   

Contact us for the the "Iconographic Photography of Vietnam classroom lessons".

August 29, 2012

Cambodian Landmine Museum - Partner Highlight

 Laguna Blanca School 2012 Friendship Tours travelers with Aki Ra.
Our Friendship Tours students learn and fund-raise on behalf of the Cambodian Landmine Museum. CLM is an educational center for tourists to learn more about the consequences of landmines and Aki Ra’s noble work. Administrated by the incredible husband and wife team, Bill and Jill Morse, CLM serves as a global community resource. In addition to providing an interactive museum, fascinating displays, and informative guided lectures, the museum also boasts a gorgeous gift shop filled with artisan objects made to benefit landmine victims. Whether it’s a compelling T-shirts, woven textiles, books, music or jewelry made from re-purposed ordnance, the products support the self-sustainability of landmine victims-turned entrepreneurs. Jill Morse administers an exceptional onsite orphanage and school that services disabled and economically disadvantaged children. The learners range in age, though all are motivated to become proficient in all subjects in preparation for college. 

Our Friendship Tours students are lucky to engage in a conversational English and digital pen-pal communications with the students of the Cambodian Landmine Museum. 

Contact Us for information about how to connect your classroom in a pen-pal exchange.   (

August 28, 2012


On August 12, 2012 Aki Ra was honored by the Manhae Foundation, in Inje, Republic of Korea, with the 2012 Manhae Foundation Grand Prize for Peace.  It was awarded to him for his continuing efforts to free Cambodia from the ravages of nearly 35 years of warfare.  The legacy of this terrible period has been the landmine, a perfect soldier, that continues to fight and destroy lives for decades.

Akira receiving Manhae Peace Prize copyAki Ra stated that he was humbled and honored by the recognition of the Manhae Foundation.  He also wants all to know that he is only one of many working to make Cambodia a safer place for all.  Organizations from across the globe have been working in Cambodia for decades to clear these terrible weapons, and while he is overjoyed that people have recognized his efforts, he accepts this award on behalf of everyone, around the globe who is contributing to end the scourge of landmines and other remnants of war.

Manhae 2 The Society for the Promotion and Practice of Manhae's Thoughts established   the Manhae Prize (Manhae Daesang) in memory of, and for the dissemination of, the high thinking and noble mind of Reverend Manhae(1879-1944).
Manhae was born in southern Chungcheong province South Korea. Prior to being ordained as a Buddhist monk, he was involved in resistance to Japanese influence in the country, which culminated in the Japanese occupation from 1905-1945. The same year the occupation began, 1905, Manhae was ordained as a Buddhist monk at Baekdamsa temple on Mt. Seorak.

As a social writer, Manhae called for the reform of Korean Buddhism. Manhae's poetry dealt with both nationalism and love, one of his more political collections was Nimui Chimmuk(님의 침묵), published in 1926. These works revolve around the ideas of equality and freedom, and helped inspire the tendencies toward passive resistance and non-violence in Korean independence movement.

His poems mainly concern his philosophical meditation on nature and the mystery of human experience.

Aki Ra's comments on receiving the Manhae Grand Prize for Peace:

Dear Manhae Foundation,

IMG_6254I would like to thank you for this very great honor. The work we do in Cambodia to make our country safe often goes unrecognized and I am grateful whenever the world takes notice of the difficulties we, and other countries, contend with in dealing with the aftermath of wars that ended many years ago.

The many people who were forced to fight in the 35 years of war in Cambodia had no choice. The war made them become what they became. We can never forget what happened here, but we need to move forward, and make a better country for our children.

Cambodia has received a lot of help from many countries around the world. I became involved in clearing landmines because I want to make my country safe for my people. We are assisted by people from all over the world, and I am grateful for the help.

While my country is getting better, many people live without clean water, electricity, health care and most of all education. As well as clearing landmines with our landmine NGO, I started the Landmine Museum Relief Center to care for children from small villages who were landmine victims, were born with a handicap, were orphaned or come from families too poor to care for them. Our Relief Center houses them, cares for them and provides them with a university or trade school scholarship. And it is done without making them a spectacle. They live in their own village where they thrive. The Relief Center is not a rehabilitation sight. That is provided by the government and international NGOs and we take advantage of everything that is available. Our Center gives the children a solid home and a future. Tourists can support them by visiting the museum, but their home is closed to visitors.

Our country has many landmines left. It also has many unexploded bombs and artillery shells left over from the war. I will continue to dedicate my life to making my country safe for my people.

Again, thank you for the recognition and this great honor. It is with this kind of help that my country and many others can be free from landmines in our lifetime.



August 22, 2012

Phyllis Diller 1917-2012

Comedian Phyllis Diller performs during the Bob Hope show for American troops at Can Ranh Bay, South Vietnam, on Jan. 6, 1967. (Associated Press)
Today we honor Phyllis Diller, 1917-2012, outrageous comedienne who pioneered a signature style of comedy, and entertained the U.S. troops with Bob Hope in Vietnam, 1966. The Los Angeles Times offers an excellent tribute to her life and contributions to comedy:,0,4800295.story

Poking fun and laughing not at--but with—herself, Diller employed a self-deprecating style that endeared her to generations of fans and colleagues.

From the Stars and Stripes, , the official military publication of the Vietnam War, we get a glimpse into Diller’s generous holiday spirit. Reporting on Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller’s 1966 Christmas comedy appearance in Cam Ran Bay, South Vietnam, S&S writes:
Hope, always well received on his annual Christmas tours to entertain troops overseas, said he found soldiers in Vietnam even "warmer and more affectionate," than usual.
"Of course," he quipped, "I have Phyllis Diller, who is scaring both sides."
Comedienne Diller told reporters that part of her charm is due "to the fact that I know absolutely nothing."

Perhaps not coincidentally, Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller’s comedic visit to Vietnam was followed in 1968 by the release of an anti-war comedy film just two years later.   The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell gives us Hope as the Navy General engaged in a WWII fight over a cargo shipment of beer. Hoping to boost morale of his troops, he fights also to secure a group of nurses for his soldiers – all of whom are men, except the zany Phyllis Diller. Though the film was not enthusiastically received by critics of the time, the anti-war message is undeniable. Taken in context, the movie underscores the talent that Ms. Diller employed to both support our troops, and parody the pointlessness of war.

“Think of me as a sex symbol for the men who don’t give a damn.” Phyllis once joked.

Oh Phyllis. You are laughter medicine for those of us who do.