Song of the Buffalo Boy - Novel Study Unit


This unit has been designed to be used in the Grade 9 Transition class with a novel. The emphasis of the novel study is plot, atmosphere, character, theme and setting. (PACTS) Although part of the focus of the unit is based on Pacific Rim literature, it could be adapted for any novel. It includes a variety of teaching strategies and evaluation modes some of which include group work learning, contract learning, media study and presentations.

Unit Outline:

1. Introduction: Personal Response to questions on PACTS and/or responding to media using the writing process ( 2 classes)

2. Assign reading of the entire novel (3-4 classes)

3. Content Test ( 1 class)

4. Group Work Project ( either presentation or product ) ( 4-6 classes)

5. Independent Learning Contract (3-4 classes)

6. Personal Response ( 1 class)

Responding to Media Using the Writing Process:

A. Before studying this novel, that takes place in Vietnam, examine the picture on the title page of this study guide. It comes from a South Vietnamese stamp issued in 1969. Notice that the woman is holding rice stalks. From this you might guess that rice is an important crop in South Vietnam. In your notebook, make two other observations about the picture and use them to make educated guesses about the climate of Vietnam. Explain your guesses.

B. Read the newspaper article that follows about Canada's relationship with Vietnam. As you read the article take point form notes in your notebook to answer the questions that follow. Make five notes about other details you read. These notes will help you remember your reading later.

Questions: "Forgotten Vietnam Attracted Chretien"

from the Calgary Herald , Friday November 18, 1994, p.A3

HANOI -- Prime Minister Jean Chretien reached out to one of the least developed nations in Asia during a two-week trade trip that ended today.

``Vietnam is one of the forgotten nations in the Asian area, and it's why I put it myself on the list,'' Chretien said Thursday. ``I could have gone to many other bigger countries, but I'm a Liberal and I thought that I don't want to be only with the big all the time. I'd like to be with those who have real difficulties.''

Chretien spent two days in Hanoi, the capital of a country that is rapidly opening up to the world and trying to rebuild after a succession of wars lasting almost a half century. It was the last stop for Chretien on a tour that also took him to China, Hong Kong and Indonesia. He was returning to Ottawa today.

In Hanoi, Chretien officially opened the Canadian Embassy. He announced Canada will boost development aid to Vietnam by $36 million over the next four to five years, and he witnessed the signing of an accord that will see Canada trade with Vietnam on the same basis as with GATT nations. He also attended a signing ceremony for about $95 million in commercial agreements involving Canadian and Vietnamese interests.

The Vietnamese have shown great appreciation for Chretien's trip, repeatedly noting he is the first North American leader to visit. Chretien said Canada is well positioned to do business in Vietnam -- with 180,000 Vietnamese living in Canada.

His trip to Asia was designed to spur Canadian involvement in the booming Asian markets. Canadian businesses reportedly signed about $10 billion in commercial arrangements with Asian partners during the trip. ``I feel that we are in a position to benefit very substantially from our participation in the Pacific because it's where the growth will be in the years to come,'' Chretien said.


Commercial deals signed in Hanoi:

* SR TELECOM: $13.6 million contract to provide telephone switching equipment in rural Vietnam.

* DGB Systems Integrators: Multimillion-dollar contract to provide ship traffic management system for Vietnamese waters.

* Technophar Equipment and Services Ltd.: $6.5-million deal to supply equipment to produce pharmaceutical capsules in Vietnam.

* Harris Farinon Canada: $26-million deal to provide microwave transmission systems.

* Montreal Tankers Repairs Inc.: will invest $19.5 million in a joint venture to repair ships in Vietnam.

* Canadian Occidental Petroleum Ltd.: $26-million oil-production sharing contract with Vietnam's state petroleum company to explore for oil in the South China Sea.

* Vinatech International: A joint venture to construct an office and residential complex in Ho Chi Minh City.

* Manulife Financial: A licence to open an insurance office in Hanoi, the first Canadian company to provide life insurance in Vietnam.

* Safetek Ltd.: An agreement to provide a radio-communications system for the Vietnamese government.

* Dessau Inc.: Provide engineering services for Vietnam's main north-south highway.

* Sodexen Inc.: Will study solid-waste disposal systems for Hanoi.

1. According to this article, what is the cause of Vietnam's difficulties?

2. What other countries did Prime Minister Chretien visit?

3. What four things did the Prime Minister do while he was in Hanoi?

4. Why did the Vietnamese government appreciate the Prime Minister's visit?

5. Why is Canada in a particularly good position to do business with Vietnam?

6. a) What was the purpose of the Prime Minister's tour of Asia?

b) Make a chart and place the business deals signed during the Prime Minister's visit into the best category:

Transportation and Communications

Construction, Engineering and Mineral Exploration

Banking and Insurance







7. Complete the tasks on the map sheet which you have been given. You may write on the map sheet. Put it in your notebook when it has been completed.

B. Read the following article about the life of a Vietnamese refugee family in Montreal.

"Living: Entre Nous"

One family's journey; When Hong Huu Huynh set out with his wife and six daughters for Canada 19 years ago, he told them they would have to work hard - very hard

by James Quig

The Gazette (Montreal)

Sunday November 27, 1994 , p. C1

They were all together now. Gathered in a small room in Hong Kong. Frightened, but safe and free. The man, his wife, their six daughters.

He told them it was all over. Vietnam, as they knew it, was no more. He'd lost all hope when the communists took Danang and Hue. That had been the signal for his wife to flee with the children.

"Don't wait for the fall of Saigon," he'd warned. "It will be too late."

He was already in Hong Kong when the family arrived. A South Vietnamese diplomat, he'd been posted there just a few months before his country lost the war.

They would have to find a new homeland, he told them that day in the small room. It would not be easy. They would have to learn new languages, and the ways of the people would be different.

He was not a rich man. All he had was $4,000 - for all eight of them. They would have to work hard.

Very hard.

* * *

"Don't put your shirt on yet," said the technician. "The doctor will want to see for herself."

It was a short wait. "Hi, I'm Dr. Huynh."

To tell you the truth, the patient wasn't expecting anyone quite so young. This was a matter of the heart and, right or wrong, you expect a cardiologist to show a few signs of mileage. Some people feel the same about airline pilots.

The short blue dress was another surprise - not that there was anything wrong with it! Cute little blue flowers. Times do change. Who says the cardiologist has to be an old guy in a white lab coat!

She sat down in front of an ultrasound screen that allowed her to see and hear the comings and goings inside my pump.

"May I watch, too?"

"Sure. It's your heart."

"That wiggly thing. One of the valves?"

It was. She turned the volume up and our little space was filled with a gurgling and whooshing that sounded like a cross between one of those automatic cappuccino machines and the tidal bore at Moncton. People don't realize how noisy it gets in there.

The patient mentioned that he was a reporter - "but I walk to work and I don't smoke."


"I also ask a lot of questions."

"Go ahead," she said. "I have a little time."

"How's the heart?"

"It's fine."

"Great. Now tell me about you. Who are you? And how did you get here?"

Her name is Thao Thanh Huynh - pronounced win - and at 31 she is a wife, mother, cardiologist, the recently-appointed director of the coronary care unit at the Montreal General Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at McGill. She also sees patients at the Royal Victoria and Jewish General.

"I was 12 when we arrived in Canada from Vietnam in 1975."

"With your parents?"

"Yes. My parents and my five sisters."

She said her father had been a diplomat. But that all changed when they arrived in Montreal. Though highly educated and fluent in French, he washed dishes and bed pans here to support his family. Two jobs at a time. He worked all day and then he worked all night.

"My father is a very extraordinary man," said Dr. Thao Huynh. "I owe him everything. You'd enjoy meeting him. He's a nurse now."

"And his six daughters?"

"Two accountants, one nurse, one dentist, one surgeon - and me."

They had worked hard.

Very hard.

* * *

Hong Huu Huynh, 61, answered the door: "Come in. Welcome. No, no. No need to remove your shoes."

He said he's lived in east-end Anjou since they came here. Canada was home now but he'd grown up on a rice farm in Can Tho province along the Mekong River about 160 kilometres from old Saigon.

"My grandfather was a pioneer. He cleared the jungle and planted rice. My father was a very rich landowner - but we lost everything when our land was confiscated in 1945."

In the living room were two small shrines he had built to honor his ancestors, and those of his wife. Beautiful black-and-white photographs of parents and grandparents in very formal poses.

He explained that tradition demanded that the shrines be positioned so they could be immediately seen by anyone entering by the front door.

On another wall he'd built a glassed-in display case that held his father's favorite tunic and hat. He called it a turban.

Photographs of his six daughters were spread across the dining room wall. There is an Oriental proverb that says one son is worth 10,000 daughters, but you don't feel that here.

They'd arrived on Victoria Day. Two days later he and his wife got a job running a Perrette's store. But what he really wanted to do was teach, perhaps at a CEGEP.

It was not to be.

"The school people told me I couldn't get the job without a government permit. And the government told me I couldn't get a permit without a job."

So he worked with his wife at Perrette's "until she kicked me out of the store after six or seven months. She didn't need me any more."

He sold shoes in Verdun and he collected soil samples at a construction site in St. Laurent.

"When I got laid off from the construction job I applied for unemployment insurance and received a cheque for $200 for two weeks. The next day I received a job offer as an orderly in a hospital. The job paid less than unemployment - $160 for two weeks, but my wife said `take the job and return the cheque.' She was right, of course, and that's what I did."

He worked as an orderly at night and washed dishes in restaurants by day. In the summer of 1976, still working the night shift at the hospital, Hong Huynh took a computer course in the daytime. He graduated at the top of his class in data control.

"I applied at 60 places," he says. "Sixty. They all said `we'll call you.' But they didn't. I was very depressed. My wife said I should stick to hospital work. There was less competition for hospital jobs then. She'd left Perrette's to work as a sewing- machine operator and one day she met a nurse on the bus who said `your husband should study nursing.' So I enrolled in the nursing program at Dawson. If I didn't make it in nursing, at least I'd learn English."

In order to get to school on time in the morning he had to trim a few hours off his night shift at the hospital. He made up the lost time on weekends.

"I worked seven days a week for three years and slept a lot on the bus and Metro. But I'm very thankful for my nursing job and to my wife for choosing it for me. Nursing wasn't my first choice but it fed my children and gave me peace of mind.

"I worked full time at the Royal Victoria and part time at Grace Dart Hospital until five years ago. When Grace Dart offered me a full-time job, I took it. I like the hospital and the people. The patients even enjoy my English accent."

He says his wife supervised their daughters during their school years. "She made the rules, enforced the 10 p.m. curfew, met the teachers. My daughters learned very fast. Too fast for me. I'm slow. They worked for the money to go to school, too. I thank my wife and daughters for all their work."

* * *

She came down the hall with her son in tow. The weather was terrible and so was traffic in from Laval. Mother and son were running just a little late. The boy spends the day in the Montreal General's daycare centre while his mother works on hearts upstairs.

Dr. Thao Huynh and her husband - he's an electrical engineer - have two children - Minh, 3, and his sister Thi, 18 months.

"Minh means brilliant," she explained. "Like the sun. Thi means poem."

"What does Thao Thanh mean?"

"Thanh means green and Thao is grass. That's right - green grass. My father really liked green. It's supposed to bring good luck."

Her sisters are all Thanhs, too: Green bamboo, green swallow, green heart, green violet. . . .

"The teacher says Minh is quieter than the other children in the class because his English isn't very good yet. But I tell her that's OK. We speak Vietnamese at home but he learns French from the babysitter and English in daycare. He'll soon be noisy, too. And he'll speak three languages."

"It's important for him to learn Vietnamese?" asked the reporter.

"Oh yes. To speak it and read and write it, too. Vietnamese culture is evolving every day and much of it is transmitted by written language. Video will never replace the book. We want the children to be proud of Vietnam and proud of Canada, too."

She talked about speaking with an accent.

"French is my second language. When I give conferences in English I try to talk more slowly so people aren't confused. But most people are prepared to work around accents because they know how difficult it is to learn new languages. People who laugh at accents are rarely bilingual."

She remembers some of her mother's rules: In by 10, no lipstick before 18, no TV after 10. . . .

"She wouldn't let us wash dishes - even though she worked in a factory all day. Our job was to study."

"All work and no play?"

"Oh, no. I went out a lot. There were lots of boys around. My sisters are very beautiful. I went out with Canadian boys but our upbringing was Oriental and some things are different."

"Like what?"

"Like kissing. A kiss was just a kiss to the Canadian boys. To me a kiss is something you give to someone you really care about. Not just a date. I didn't find it pleasurable. I married a Vietnamese man I'd known for more than 10 years. We laugh at the same jokes. I couldn't do any of this without his help and support. He's special. In Oriental countries the men don't stay home and babysit while the wife is out at a conference, you know."

She mentioned her older sister, Truc Thanh, (green bamboo). "She was very bright and could have been a doctor, too, but she finished CEGEP and went to work as a nurse to help my father so we could stay in school. I owe her very much. Later she went to McGill and got a degree in nursing."

She also talked of the support she gets from her male colleagues. "Canada, McGill and the Montreal General have given me a great opportunity to help people but cardiology is still a man's world and my colleagues sometimes have to compensate when I'm at home with two babies.

"But my babies are my biggest achievement. They make me human and that helps me with my patients. Still, we can't schedule meetings too early in the morning because I have to wait for the sitter. There are 300 cardiologists in Quebec. Only about 20 are women."

Her mentors were Dr. Phil Gold, chief of medicine, and Dr. Michael Rosengarten, the cardiology chief at the Montreal General, and Dr. Allan Sniderman of the Royal Victoria Hospital. "Dr. Sniderman taught me to love cardiology."

Sniderman says it's nice of her to say so "but I didn't do it - she did. Her gift is the ability to apply medicine intelligently to individual human beings. With the care and respect they deserve. It isn't easy to deal with a family and a hospital, too, but cardiology needs all the talented people it can get - and not all of them are men."

* * *

Hong Huynh remembers the trip he made back to Vietnam last year.

"I visited my father's grave and saw my brother and two sisters again. But I felt lost in Vietnam. Everything has changed. Getting to Canada must have been a reward for something good I did in my life."

He says he'll retire at 65 to have more time to study and write about his Buddhist faith, and enjoy his grandchildren.

"I tell my children to believe in God and be thankful for the land they live in."

They already know about the hard work.

In a group, prepare a chart on poster paper showing the following information from the article:

Details About Vietnamese Life and Culture

Hardships in Canada

Accomplishments in Canada


C. With your group, discuss the questions that follow. Remember to support to your opinion with at least one fact that you learned from the video and to listen to the comments of other group members. Every person in the group should make at least one contribution to the discussion of each question. Take turns being secretary and writing down your group's answers to the questions.

a) What was the key to the success of the Huynh family? Why was it the key to their success?

b) What would be the disadvantages of being a teenager in the Huynh family?

c) What would be the advantages of being a teenager in the Huynh family?

d) If you were in Truc Thanh's position of either continuing your education or going to work to help support your younger siblings what would you do? Explain your answer.

D. On your own, write a "hamburger" paragraph (at least 150 words) about the life of a family immigrating to Canada from Vietnam. Remember to include a topic sentence that indicates in a general way what the paragraph is going to be about, at least three developing sentences that explain the topic or provide examples to prove your point and a concluding sentence that summarizes what you have said in your paragraph.

E. Exchange your paragraph with a partner to have it proofread for spelling and grammatical errors and to make sure you have explained your topic clearly. Get suggestions for improvement of your paragraph.

6) Rewrite your paragraph and hand in your polished copy.

Pre-Reading Activity for -Song of the Buffalo Boy

What would you do if . . .

1) . . . your mother seemed to have a terrible secret that she wouldn't tell you about?

2) . . . you had to depend on relatives for food and shelter and they did not treat you very well?

3) . . . you had to choose between a comfortable way of life and your boyfriend or girlfriend?

4) . . . you were travelling and you got separated from your companion and you didn't know where you were going?

5) . . . your friend got a chance to go somewhere that you desperately wanted to go to but your friend didn't want to go there?

6) . . . you had a chance to improve your standard of living but it would mean leaving your native land forever.

General Reading Questions - Song of the Buffalo Boy

1. a) From what point of view is this story told?

b) Why do you think the author chose this point of view?

c) From what other point of view could the story have been told? How would this have changed the story?

2. Loi tells Kai, "Whether they like it or not, my umbilical cord is buried in the earth of Vietnam just like theirs,"(273). What decision does she justify with this statement? How is this decision foreshadowed earlier in the novel?

3. What is the meaning of the simile, "Her voice cut into the air like the edge of a dagger" (81)? What does this reveal about Mrs. Truong?

4. Explain the metaphor in the statement, "Any quack doctor's knife can make slanted eyes round, if his palms are greased with enough money." (161) What does this reveal about life in Ho Chi Minh city? What other example is there of this problem?

5. What is the "Song of the Buffalo Boy" in the title of novel? What does it symbolize for Loi?

6. Raymond Smith and Office Hiep are examples of archetypal characters. This means that similar characters are often found in the literature of many cultures. Name a character similar to one of these characters in another story and identify as many similarities as possible.

Creative Writing Ideas - Song of the Buffalo Boy

Write at least one page about one of the following topics (include at least five details from the novel):

• a diary entry written by Loi after she and Khai returned to their village with detail about life in the village.

• an American newspaper account of Joe's struggle to get to the United States.

• a newspaper story about the downfall of Officer Hiep for corrupt practices.

• an editorial for the newspaper discussing the problems of Amerasian children in Vietnam (this could be a North American or a Vietnamese newspaper).

• a newspaper interview with any inhabitant of Ho Chi Minh named in the novel.

• a storyboard with at least ten frames telling about Loi's experiences in Ho Chi Minh City.

• a cartoon with at least ten frames telling the story of life in Loi's village.

Reading Test - Song of the Buffalo Boy

1. The story begins in ________________ in _______________.

2. Loi's _______________ would show that she was a con-lai.

3. Khai carved the teakwood into the shape of a ____________________ ___________________.

3. Officer Hiep came at ____________________ time.

4. Officer Hiep carried the medals he had won when he was a __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ soldier.

5. Khai wanted Mr. Tran and his wife to be ___________________________.

6. Malformed babies were blamed on __________________________ dumped from U.S. planes.

7. Loi's mother had wanted to marry the son of a __________________________.

8. Hiep did not consult the _______________________ to find out a good date for the engagement.

9. Uncle Long fought in the war because he believed in ________________________.

10. Hiep threatened to have Long sent Long Binh for ___________________________.

11. Dinh was a _____________________ fight champion.

12. Loi planned her own _______________________ death.

13. Emperor Bao Dai would go to Da Lat to hunt _____________________.

14. Loi was born in the Year of the ___________________.

15. Raymond Smith told Loi about the _______________ ________________ ________________.

16. Khai told everyone that Loi had drowned near the _______________ outside of town.

17. Saigon was called _________________________ after the war ended in 1975.

18. Hung picked Loi up at the bus station on his _______________.

19. "Joe" claimed his father was an __ __ __.

20. _________________________ worked on White Tiger Street.

21. Loi knew Kai was in Saigon when she saw ____________________ on Hoa Binh Street.

22. Loi gave Joe the ____________________ to use as proof that he was an American child.

23. Raymond Smith gave Loi and Khai _____________________as a wedding gift.

24. Loi wanted to return to her village to _________________________.

25. Loi would stay because her _________________________ was planted in Vietnam's earth.

Group Work On the Elements of Fiction

Students will make a presentation to their class or prepare posters from which their classmates will take notes on each of the elements of fiction (Plot, Atmosphere, Characteriation, Theme and Setting) in Song of the Buffalo Boy The information to be provided by each group is outlined below:


#1 Plot

1. Identify ten to fifteen important details of the novel and plot them on a plot graph.

2. Identify the main conflict and explain what kind of conflict it is.

3. Explain how the conflict is resolved.

4. Identify other important conflicts.

#2 Atmosphere

1. Divide the novel into five sections of approximatelly equal length.

2. Provide three adjectives to describe the atmosphere(s) in the novel for each section.

3. Provide specific examples from the novel to justify your choice of each adjective.

4. Explain the importance or effect of atmospere in each example.

#3 Characterization

1. Choose five characters from the novel.

2. Provide three adjectives to describe each character you have chosen.

3. Justify each adjective you have chosen by showing what each character says or does or what other characters say about the character.

4. Identify each character as static or dynamic, round or flat or major or minor and explain your answer.

#4 Theme

1. Identify five ideas or topics that are important to the novel.

2. Show how these ideas or topics are developed in 10-15 specific incidents in the novel.

3. Explain the point the author is trying to make or the lesson the reader learns from each incident.

#5 Setting

1. Identify the settings of the novel including places (both general and specific) and times (year, season, duration).

2. Provide 15 adjectives to describe the settings in the novel.

3. Explain the effectiveness or importance of each setting to the novel.

Contract Learning-Independent Study

All students must complete the level "C" contract requirements by the due date. This is the minimum requirement for this independent study project. Completing the minimum requirements at this level, in a satisfactory way, with guarantee a final mark of 65%. If the work submitted is of poor quality, but all requirements have been attempted, 10 marks will be deducted from the satisfactory grade to result in a grade no lower than 55% Similarly, if a student completes all required tasks and the work is of good to high quality up to 10 marks will be added to the satisfactory grade, or 75%.

In order for a student to move on to the next level of the contract all requirements for level C must be met and approved by the teacher before the student may move on to level B of the contract. If work is unsatisfactory students must make all corrections and follow all suggestions for improvement before upgrading.

Level "B" of the contract, completed by the due date will result in a final grade of 75%

+ or - 10 marks dependent upon the quality of the work submitted.

Level "A" of the contract will result in a grade of 85% + or - 10 marks, once again dependent upon the quality of the work.

Contract C

Students will prepare a five paragraph report on their novel using the notes from the PACTS group work. Each paragraph will be between 8 -11 sentences, include a topic sentence and concluding sentence. Paragraph one will be on plot, two on atmosphere, three on character, four on theme and five on setting. The report will follow the stages of the writing process beginnning with brainstorming, continuing with a double-spaced rough draft, and showing evidence of editing and revision. The final copy will be neat ( typed, if possible), error-free and double spaced.

In addition to the report, students will complete an expository paragraph of 8-11 sentences , explaining the techniques used by the author in the novel. This should include things like: point of view, foreshadowing, flashback, etc. The explanation should include evaluative comments about the effectiveness of these techniques .

All level "C" contracts will include a title page with art

Contract B

In addition to meeting all the requirements for level C, this level includes an interview with the main character of the novel. It should include a minimum of 10 questions, answered in character. The finished product will be no less than 250 words. Students will use the writing process to arrive at the polished product.

Students working at this level will also complete the writing of a newspaper article, with a picture , map or diagram. a caption and a lead paragraph which identifies the who, what, where and when of the story. The newspaper article should be about the place where the story is set, or an event directly related to an issue that is dealt with in the novel. The layout of the final product should imitate what one would find in a newpaper.

Level A

Students working at this level of the contract may choose any two of the following assignments:

a) Prepare a poster or brochure about the country. Include a map, 10 key points of interest and a minimum of three pictures

b) Prepare a vocabulary dictionary on 25 challenging words from the novel. Include part of speech, pronunication key, definition and a sentence that demonstrates understanding . Also, include a crossword puzzle for 10 of the words from your dictionary.

c) Write your own story or myth from the same country. Your story should contain five facts about the country ( underlined). The story should be a minimum of 250 words.

d) Read a short story or myth set in the same country as the novel. After reading, prepare an 11-15 sentence paragraph that reviews the key details of PACTS.

Post-Reading Activity for Song of the Buffalo Boy

Review your answers to the pre-reading activity and then do one of the following:

a) Describe the narrator's reactions to the situations described in the pre- reading activity and explain why you agree or disagree with his reaction.

b) Having seen these situations described in the novel, state whether or not your reaction to the questions has changed and explain why.

c) Answer the questions about the North Vietnamese stamps pictured below:

i) What attitude toward the U.S. in this 1967 North Vietnamese stamp?

ii) What three facts from the novel explain this attitude?

iii) Uncle Long says, "We fought and bled and died because we believed in Uncle Ho." (86) Who was Ho Chi Minh? Why did the Vietnamese people believe in him? (Use an encyclopaedia.)

Supplementary Reading and Writing Exercise:

"The Trail revisited; Route named for Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh is a masterwork worthy of Caesar"

by Mort Rosenblum

from The Gazette (Montreal) , December 04, 1994 B5

A SHAU, Vietnam - Here it's a dirt track, unmarked and unmapped, lazing through lush green like any Carolina country lane except kids know better than to kick at odd bits of metal in the grass.

High up the mountain, it is a widened rut in the rocks and mud where drivers stop their trucks at precarious turns, night or day, to light incense at roadside shrines to the unrecovered dead.

In Hanoi, the thought of it is enough to moisten the eyes of an aged general who relives for visitors the relentless air strikes that took perhaps 30,000 souls.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail, a simple jungle footpath that grew to a 20,000- kilometre invisible interstate system and defeated a superpower, is now emerging as the last indelible trace of the Vietnam war.

Today, almost 20 years after the war's end, the old supply routes penetrate Vietnam's wild west, opening rich new areas to coffee and rubber planters and farmers desperate for land, as well as smugglers and timber thieves.

But to many Vietnamese, the economic benefits are a side issue. More, their trail is a military masterwork worthy of Caesar or Alexander the Great, a monument to a people's determination.

It was the reason for all of those names behind America's "Vietnam Syndrome" - Ia Drang, Khe Sanh, Hamburger Hill and the rest. After every battle, the trail brought more men and arms.

In the once-famous A Shau Valley, just below Vietnam's old north- south dividing line, only an archeologist could figure out where U.S. troops sank their roots. But the trail remains, the original crater-pocked track paralleled by a newer paved highway.

Americans pounded away with twice the bomb tonnage used in World War II, using space-age gimmickry against a no-tech ant column. They tried everything, once considering drops of Budweiser beer so trail drivers would party instead of drive.

"It was not a road but a state of mind," said U.S. army Major Robert West, who combs the dramatic Truong Son range for pilots still missing.

"To get an idea of it, just study the veins on your arm."

In the end, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was four north-south routes through Laos and Cambodia and a fifth within Vietnam, all linked by 21 cross tracks and countless detours under jungle cover.

From North Vietnam, it funnelled down toward Vietnam's deep south, to the tangled riverbanks of the Song Be, Apocalypse Now country near Loc Ninh, just 130 kilometres north of Saigon.

Colonel Xuan Van Tien spent 10 years among the snakes and malarial mosquitoes, supervising various stretches of roadway.

"We built the trail in co-operation with the Americans," he recalled with a chuckle.

"They bombed and we went another way. They bombed again and we moved again."

Two million people moved up or down the trail during the war, the Vietnamese say. Peak traffic ranged above 20,000 tonnes a month of arms, food and other supplies.

Freight went by six-wheel-drive truck, reinforced bicycle and elephant. But the mainstay was a steady stream of human beasts of burden, men and women humping 45-kilogram packs.

Nguyen Viet Sinh, a slender man with the mien of a retired schoolteacher, was a Hero of the People's Army. Over six years, he carried his weight in cargo a distance equal to the circumference of the globe.

Soldiers and porters slipped along ancient smugglers' routes and freshly cut paths, sometimes climbing ladders on trails so steep that marchers were often kicked in the face by the person ahead.

At the trail's start, in North Vietnam's southern panhandle, trucks lurched up three Truong Son mountain passes into Laos, over open ground exposed to bombers. During the rainy months, they stalled axle-deep in mud or slid down steep canyons.

Drivers inched along at night behind a tiny pool of light, guided by helpers perched on a fender, ready to leap for cover whenever helicopter gunships screamed out of the mists.

Where bombs and defoliants parted the triple-canopy jungle, the camouflage of tree branches could not mask the convoys. People died, cargo was lost, and yet more trucks rumbled southward.

Plenty got through. One pilot looked down to see a brilliant white, 18- metre yacht headed down the trail. It was a gift from China to Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The pilot missed it.

North Vietnam's Group 559 not only rebuilt and restored the roadways but also defended them, claiming 2,458 U.S. aircraft kills. The Americans admit to about 400.

The unit's name stood for May 1959, the month the trail was blazed. The 559 grew from 400 hand-picked men to a force of 75,000, including the women who repaired roads and strung phone lines.

The watchword was secrecy. No foreigners used the trail. The first motto was: move with no road, live with no roof, cook with no smoke. Messages went by field phone and whisper, seldom by radio.

In hindsight, strategists on both sides say the supply line determined the war's outcome.

At the Ho Chi Minh Trail cemetery, 10,330 graves near Con Thien in the Demilitarized Zone that separated North from South, words carved on an imposing stone monument say the same thing.

"The Truong Son Road was the turning point in our struggle," wrote General Vo Nguyen Giap, the supreme commander, using Vietnam's name for the trail.

"And it is the key to our future prosperity."

A mustard-yellow statue at the cemetery depicts three warriors who symbolize the spirit of the trail. Two brandish weapons. The third holds a crank for kicking over truck engines.

In 1959, five years after defeating France and three years before U.S. advisers appeared, Ho Chi Minh ordered Colonel Vo Bam to find a secret route so North Vietnamese could infiltrate the South.

Through the mid-1960s, newly available records show, U.S. forces in Vietnam had only a sketchy idea of the supply network they faced. With the 1968 Tet offensive, Vietnamese tanks materialized out of the jungle and overran the astonished Special Forces camp at Lang Vei, near Khe Sanh, set up to watch the trail.

Vo Bam, now 82 and still sleeping in his Truong Son campaign hammock in a Hanoi tenement, laughs when he talks about how his men outwitted the overconfident Americans.

"At first, we suffered heavy losses because we had no logistics experience, but we learned fast," he said.

"Once we figured out that the Americans always bombed on a schedule, it was easier."

After the 1968 offensive, bombing intensified. But it was too late. The "trail" was an impregnable fortress, with service areas, field hospitals and a fuel pipeline that stretched nearly to Saigon. On a single day in December 1970, U.S. surveillance counted 15,000 trucks and jeeps on the trail.

U.S. commanders made a last desperate stab in 1971, sending 17,000 South Vietnamese troops toward Tchepone, the trail's chokepoint just inside Laos. It was a debacle.

Now that it is over, returning American veterans shake their heads in disbelief at what went on under their noses.

Tran Van Tra, the Viet Cong chief who took Saigon, summed it up:

"For me, it was very simple. No modern weapon can defeat human will. Committed people can outwit anything devised by man. The Ho Chi Minh Trail proved this time and again."

1. What was the Ho Chi Minh trail?

2. What was its importance in the war?

3. How did the Americans try to destroy the trail?

4. Why did the American efforts fail?

5. Do one of the following:

a) Write a five sentence paragraph to explain the success of the Vietnamese "mouse" over the American "elephant." (You may use that metaphor in your paragraph.)


b) Find one of Aesop's Fables that has a lesson similar to this story. In a five sentence paragraph, explain the similarity.

Crossword Puzzle



2 former name of Ho Chi Minh City (176)

6 tripped (149)

7 beg or make a humiliating request (78)

8 wild pig (60)

10 behaving in a way that differs from the way one talks (88)

14 mixtures (204)

15 where rice is grown (26)

16 colour of Joe's hair (257)

18 of mixed American and Asian blood (178)

21 bird symbolizing good luck (40)

22 punishment for people who spoke against the Communist Party (180-181)

23 summer homes of the French in Hue (107)


1 Vietnamese currency (136)

3 people who predict the future based on the stars (76)

4 god of many Vietnamese (144)

5 fine foods (80)

9 noisy and disruptive (55)

10 imperial capital of Vietnam (71)

11 perfect place (262)

12 three wheeled bicycle used as a taxi (184)

13 wealthy oriental scholar (69)

17 wide leafed tree bearing yellow fruit (140)

19 mixed breed dog (208)

20 plant used for a living fence (57)

21 government controlled by a foreign government (34)

Crossword Puzzle Answer Key


2 saigon

6 stumbled

7 grovel

8 boar

10 hypocritical

14 concoctions

15 paddies

16 orange

18 amerasian

21 phoenix

22 reeducation

23 villas


1 dong

3 astrologers

4 buddha

5 delicacies

9 boisterous

10 hue

11 paradise

12 cyclo

13 mandarin

17 banana

19 mongrel

20 bamboo

21 puppet

Background Information on the War in Vietnam

Vietnam - A Short History of a Long War

from The Princess of Wales Theatre Magazine, vol. 6, pp. 55-60.

From the 2nd century BC until the 10th century AD, Vietnam was a province of the Chinese Empire. In the year 939, the Viets broke free to establish an independent kingdom.

China made two attempts to reconquer its lost province, but the Vietnamese defeated them in jungle guerrilla wars.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Vietnam was embroiled in a dynastic war. The Prince Nguyen Anh accepted military assistance in this struggle from France.

Nguyen Anh triumphed and was proclaimed Emperor of Vietnam. In the succeeding years, the French became major figures in Vietnamese govemment, business, trade and military affairs.

In the 1850s, the Emperor Thieu Tri, alarmed by European colonial adventures in Asia, sought to limit the activities of foreigners in Vietnam. These limitations included restrictions on Catholic missionary activity. These restrictions became the pretext for a French invasion.

In 1883, the emperor was forced to sign a humiliating treaty. Although he remained titular head of state, Vietnam had become a French colony. This is what happened next:

• 1885 - 1916 - Vietnamese mount a series of unsuccessful rebellions.

• 1919 - At the Versailles Conference, a Vietnamese delegation presents a petition for an end to French colonialism. It is barred from the conference. • 1920 - Ho Chi Minh joins the French Communist Party. He later travels to Moscow, where he receives approval to lead a Vietnamese Communist Party.

• 1932 - Bao Dai becomes Emperor of Vietnam and seeks reforms. He appoints Ngo Dinh Diem his prime minister.

• 1933 - Diem resigns. Fearing arrest, he seeks political asylum in Japan.

• 1939 - Nationalist groups unite in Viet Minh (Front for the Independence of Vietnam), under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh.

• 1940 - 1944 - Vietnam is occupied by Japan. Viet Minh fights a guerrilla war against the Japanese.

• 1945 - July: Allied leaders debate Vietnam's postwar future. They agree to a temporary partitioning, with the south under British control and the north under the Chinese. August: Viet Minh captures Hanoi and proclaims the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). Bao Dai abdicates. The Chinese withdraw. September: British troops occupy Saigon. October: British retum control of southern Vietnam to France. French troops arrive in U.S. naval vessels.

• 1946 - Viet Minh war against France begins.

• 1949 - France offers Vietnam limited independence and asks Bao Dai to form a government. Viet Minh refuses to recognize Bao Dai.

• 1950 - U.S. grants France $10 million in mili tary aid.

• 1952 - U.S. establishes a 35 man military mission in Saigon.

• 1953 - French concentrate troops at Dienbienphu.

• 1954 - February: U.S. grants France $785 million in military aid. The U.S. is now pay ing 80% of French war costs. March - April: The Battle of Dienbienphu. May: Dienbienphu surrenders. Of a French army of 16,500, only 3,000 survive. July: Viet Minh and France sign an ammistice. All combatants withdraw to either side of a line of demarcation. All French troops are to leave Vietnam by July 1956, when elections are to be held to choose a national govemment. The accord states that "the military demarcation is provisional and should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a tenitorial or political boundary." August: U.S. military staff increases to 200. Bao Dai names Ngo Dinh Diem his prime minister.

• 1955 - July: Diem calls a referendum on the future of southem Vietnam. October: Referendum results in the creation of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam ), distinct from the DRV (North Vietnam ). Diem deposes Bao Dai.

• 1956 Diem assumes dictatonal powers. Viet Minh forces in the south begin an uprising.

• 1960 - Viet Minh and other anti-Diem forces ally in the National Liberation Front (NLF). Diem dismisses the NLF as Viet Cong (Vietnamese Communists).

• 1961 - 900 U.S. Special Forces (counterinsurgency) troops arrive to act as advisers to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).

• 1962 - February: U.S. troop strength increases to 8,000. June: U.S. begins aerial spraying of herbicides (defoliants) over large areas of rural Vietnam. December U.S. troop strength increas es to 11,000.

• 1963 - May: Buddhist clergy lead a protest against the Diem government. Diem responds with mass arrests. Buddhist monks begin publicly burning them selves to death. October U.S. troop strength increases to 17,000. November: ARVN stages coup d'état. Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, head of police, are murdered. U.S. president John Kennedy is assassinated.

• 1964 - August 2: U.S. president Lyndon Johnson announces that the destroyer Maddox, on patrol in international waters, has been attacked by DRV torpedo boats. August 4: Johnson alleges a second attack against the destroyers Maddox and C. Tumer Joy. He orders a strike by American aircraft against the DRV. August 7: Congress grants Johnson the authority to "repel aggression." The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution will be cited as the legal authority for all future U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. November: NLF shells U.S. bases at Bien Hoa and Pleiku, the first direct attacks against American forces. NLF now controls 75% of South Vietnamese territory.

• 1965 - March: U.S. strategic bombing campaign against the DRV begins. First U.S. combat troops arrive. U.S. troop strength increases to 82,000. June: U.S. soldiers go into combat. U.S. troop strength increases to 125,000. December U.S. troop strength increases to 200,000.

• 1966 - Aprll: U.S. troop strength increases to 250,000. December U.S. troop strength increas es to 375,000.

• 1967 - June: U.S. troop strength increases to 463,000. General William Westmore land asks for 70,000 more as minimum essential force.

• 1968 - January: The Tet Offensive. NU launches attacks against 100 towns and cities in South Vietnam. February: Senator William Fulbright reveals that investigation has established that the destroyers Maddbx and C. Turner Joy were in DRV waters and engaged in combat support of South Vietnamese gunboats when attacked. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, having been obtained by misrepresentation, is declared null and void. President Johnson no longer has legal authority for military operations in Vietnam. General Westmoreland requests 200,000 more troops. Westmoreland is recalled. March: U.S. soldiers destroy the village of My Lai, in South Vietnam. 100 to 200 villagers are executed. Johnson announces that he will not stand for re-election. He offers to stop bombing if the DRV will agree to peace talks. April: DRV agrees to peace talks. November: U.S. bombings of DRV cease. There have been 107,700 bombing raids, dropping 2,600,000 tons of explosive–more than twice the tonnage dropped by all Allied air forces in Europe during WWII.

• 1969 - January: Peace talks begin in Paris. March: U.S. president Nixon orders secret bombing of Cambodia. June: Nixon announces a plan to shift all responsibility for the war to the ARVN. He increases aid while withdrawing U.S. troops. 25,000 American soldiers are shipped home.

• 1970 - April: U.S. invades Cambodia. Peace talks are stalemated on issue of the sovereignty of South Vietnam. May: Ohio National Guardsmen fire on anti-war demonstrators at Kent State University, killing 4 students. U.S. and ARVN troops invade Laos.

• 1972 - With most U.S. troops withdrawn, the DRV invades the south. U.S. responds with renewed bombing.

• 1973 - January 2: U.S. Congress announces that it will approve no further military aid to South Vietnam. January 27: U.S. negotiators abandon demands for guarantee of the sovereignty of South Vietnam. The peace treaty is signed. U.S. participation in the war is now over, but fighting continues between the DRV and South Vietnam. March: Last U.S. combat troops leave Vietnam.

• 1975 - 8:00 a.m., April 30, Last U.S. nationals flee Saigon. Troops of the NLF and DRV capture the city. The long war is over.


58,135 American soldiers died in Vietnam. 2,500 were listed as missing in action. 35,000 U.S. civilians were killed. 303,616 American soldiers were wounded. Vietnam, north and south, counted 2 million dead and more than 3 million wounded. 10 million Vietnamese, one half the population of the country, were homeless in 1975. 18 billion gallons of herbicides were sprayed across South Vietnam, destroying approximately 200,000,000 acres of forest and farm land. The direct costs of the war to the United States totalled $168.1 billion.