Monthly Archives: July, 2003

Vietnam: A History

Being about to teach a class of Year 11s some Vietnamese history, I thought I should know a bit about it. Thankfully, we went to visit my family, and they may well have one of the world’s largest personal collections of books on Vietnam (Dad was a Vietnam veteran, and had a great interest in it). Well, that’s what it feels like, anyway. So I got Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History, since what I really wanted was an overview of everything leading up to US involvement – I’m going to be teaching the French war, basically, up to the Geneva Conference in 1954. I’m not sure where to start; I’d like to do at least one lesson on China’s 1000-year occupation of Vietnam, as very relevant background…

Anyway, the book: it’s very good. I learnt an enormous amount just reading the first 4-5 chapters. I reallised I knew basically nothing about this area, and what it had gone through. For starters, I always just assumed that Ho Chi Minh was this scary Communist guy – and maybe later on he got really nasty, I’m not sure, I haven’t read that far – but from what I have read, I have the impression that he was far more of a nationalist than a Communist: no matter that he really did believe in the Communist ideas he was far more interested in getting Vietnam free of French rule, and avoiding American overlordship as well. He did, in fact, approach the US for help, but they didn’t want to get involved in Indochina – and they wanted to keep the French happy. Plus I guess they were already worried about the ‘domino effect’ of Communism…

As an historian I am fully aware of the impossibility of writing objective history, but Karnow seems to have had a good stab at it. He’s certainly not out to lionise the US, but neither does he paint a portrait of the poor suffering Vietnamese who only want to be left in peace. He seems quite fair to both sides, and seems to have gone to great lengths to be so – being a journo helped, of course, since as a reporter he got access to important people and has included many of their comments on various aspects of the history he’s writing.

This is a very good book, as an overview of Vietnam’s colonisation history. I think I might be able to use bits of it when I teach – maybe not this time, because I’m not sure what my supervisor will think about me not using the textbook – but when I’m out by myself (ack).

Ice Station Zebra

Another MacLean Op Shop purchase. I saw the movie years ago – I’m not even sure I saw all of it – so when I saw the novel I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed, partly also because it is MacLean. And it was good: another one where I was indeed mildly surprised at the resolution. I like it when that happens.

I have to say that being in a submarine under the polar ice-cap is not my idea of fun, and I’m just as happy never to get closer to it than through this book. Hmm, interesting – two books with ties to the Arctic, this and The First Horseman. As close as I’d like to get, thanks.

The Dark Crusader

Alistair MacLean is always good for a romping adventure story. I’ve read a few, although sometimes I get confused between him and Jack Higgins, which isn’t at all fair on either of them; I think partly it’s because they’ve both written Eagle books (Where Eagles Dare and The Eagle has Landed), and they have somewhat similar styles and subjects. Guns of Navarrone (only going by the movie; got the book somewhere…) seems like something Higgins could have written.

Anyway, this was another Op Shop purchase. I was expecting a near-trashy adventure – villains get done, hero gets girl and a commendation from the tight-lipped boss – and for most of it, I wasn’t disappointed. I read it in a bit over a day; it wasn’t at all heavy going, and it just unfolded nicely. It certainly kept me interested, and I was shocked and amazed by the conclusion; it was very well done indeed – I hadn’t expected a thing. Of course, with these sorts of books, I deliberately try not to work out what will happen in the end, just for the pleasure of being shocked: No, it can’t have been him!

I must admit, though, that I’m glad this wasn’t the first MacLean I’d read, otherwise I probably wouldn’t go looking for others; it wasn’t that great, although I still would recommend it for light holiday reading.

The First Horseman

I love Op Shops, especially their book sections. The St Vincent’s in Queenscliff, on the Vic coast, has the standard arrangement of 50c/paperback, and a lot of junk that you have to sort through to find anything worthwhile. But at 50c each, I think it’s worth spending a bit of time – and for me, $3.50 went an amazingly long way.

One of the books I got was John Case’s The First Horseman. Never heard of him, or it – although he also wrote The Genesis Code, which sounds familiar. Standard blurb – why, who, what? – clearly this was going to be about some sort of plague, but it’s not for a while that you find out it’s about someone doing bad things with the influenza virus. Written in 1998, it’s still quite a relevant topic, I think – bioweapons, etc, although currently North Korea (who get a look-see in this) are threatening with nuclear arms, not bio.

I liked it; not quite as trashy as I had expected, but not exactly the sort of thing to make you think particularly hard either. A nice range of characters: the not-beautiful-yet-still-appealing female scientist, intrepid journalist, etc etc… Some nice plot developments too; I wasn’t sure whether I liked the family stuff being put in, but I think in the end it served to deepen the main character a bit, which was fine: it didn’t detract from the story, either. I do like a book that is fine with hurting its main goodies, and not giving them superhero endurance (something like McLean in Die Hard).

I’m going looking for The Genesis Code.

Holiday reading

Having been on holidays, I’ve read a fair few books. Probably the best was The Cruel Sea , by Nicholas Monsarrat. My mum recommended this to me a very long time ago, and visiting her I finally decided to borrow it and read it. I knew basically what I was getting myself in for – WWII convoy ships would necessitate some drama and tragedy, because that was simply a reality of the situation… I’ve also read MacLean’s HMS Ulysses, which is on a similar subject, so I was somewhat prepared.

Mum had said this was the first book that she had ever read where she was sad to reach the last page, and I think I had the same feeling, although it wasn’t my first time. It is astonishingly well written; there were a few points where I almost cried – and that rarely happens. I was almost heart-broken at the end, both because it had finished and because the characters had suffered so much: and I know this was reality for many, many people in war.

The characters are fantastic, well drawn and realised. Monsarrat doesn’t fall into the trap of making all the combatants heroic, bearing up stoically under pressure and always self-sacrificial, which while painful to read sometimes made it all the more gripping, because they seemed so real, I guess. I appreciated the introduction to the novel: it acknowledged that while there were women affected by the events, the novel concentrates on the men just because that’s where the story lies, for him. However, I was quite shocked that he told the reader to expect the first ship to sink; I found that quite incredible, and I’m not sure whether it changed my approach to it or not… I guess it did, because I was always on tenterhooks, knowing that this could be their last convoy, that something could happen to them any time now.

A powerful, enthralling novel, anyway. Probably something that should be read by students of WWII and naval history.

Stupid pH tests; don't know what their problem was

Have moved the sick gourami to the qt – since we’re going to be away again, it’s totally not feasible to leave the poor guy in the isolation tank. He’s not doing much better; in fact, he almost seems to be shedding, or flaking… not quite sure what to do. Haven’t got any medication. He doesn’t seem much fussed by it all – swimming around, eating a bit, etc. Sigh.

It’s odd: out of all the babies we have had, only two have been male. I wonder if this is normal? Of course, can’t completely accurately assess the latest batch yet – too small, really – but I suspect the same will hold true.

We got home today

Everything looked fine; a few plants had come adrift in the main tank, but that’s no drama. There were no dead babies, which I guess is a good thing; I’m still thinking about getting a betta.

After church, however, I noticed that one of our gourami was not looking good at all. He looked to be missing some scales on both sides, and have small reddish blotches. At least one eye looks redder than normal, too. It took quite a bit of effort, but eventually I netted the poor sod and put him in the isolation tank… I wonder if I should actually put him in the qt, since we’re not fussed about the babies… someone on TTT forum has suggested this could be flex, or aeromonas; I’m not sure. I’ve read a little and it sounds like it could be a bacterial infection, furunculosis (aeromonas salmonicida bacteria, apparently). Guess I should go and get some bacterial stuff.

Having issues testing the pH. The main tank seemed to have high pH – like around 7 – which I thought was odd so I checked the tap water, and it turned almost the same colour. This was worrying, and also odd because I would have expected more fish to be affected. So I checked the qt, and its pH seemed to be perfect. So I checked the tap water again – and it turned very blue, like 7.8. Very strange. I conclude I must have done something wrong, so I will check again soon, after rinsing the test tubes thoroughly.

Back from holidays #1

Five dead babies in the qt – not sure if this is from hunger or toxins – have done a water change and will check the levels soon. Other tank looking fine, except that there is another lot of babies. So they came earlier than expected; 2 months’ gestation was hopeful. Not sure what to do about them; James is offering to kill them, but I’m not sure about that! Maybe we really should get a betta. So, interesting… I guess… It’s nice to see the tanks after a week; I wonder if that is pathetic.

Ammonia zero in both.