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Vietnam Elephant Whisperers Are Long Gone

May 02, 2020

Our company has had over twenty years of successful commercial involvement in Vietnam. Therefore, we decided to create a Vietnam-themed meeting room in our London office and honor distinguished Vietnamese women in the history of their country. Minh Anh Nguyen, a Vietnamese member of our staff, is shown on the far right next to Jann Brown with Mike Watts on the far left, Managing Directors, as they hosted two Vietnamese executives from Petro Vietnam.
When asked the most appropriate Vietnamese women to honor, Minh Anh immediately proposed the Trung sisters. Trung Trac and her sister, Trung Nhi, led a rebellion against the Han Chinese in the northern part of what is now Vietnam between 40 and 43 AD. China cornered the sisters in their final battle where they took their own lives by jumping into the Hat River. They organized the first resistance movement against the occupying Chinese overlords and are firmly embedded in the culture and national identity of the country. In those days, commanders of armies rode elephants as pictured below. This image has been created as the centerpiece artwork in the meeting room.
A series of images to commemorate the Trung sisters was captured last year by photographer, Hoai Nam, an example of which is shown below. These ladies may not have had the combat spirit of their historical "namesakes" though they certainly would have charmed their enemies. Moreover, the "ao dai" costume (a split dress worn over pants) they are wearing would have been the perfect attire to wear into battle on the back of an elephant.  
As we have discussed in the past, the elephants of Vietnam were essentially eradicated during the Vietnam War. The U.S. forces carried the weight of that result by air attacks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Agent Orange chemical defoliant spray which was an equal opportunity killer of man and beast with a second generation of humans still suffering. Accordingly, we thought it would be interesting to hear a story recently published by Vietnam Express about Ama Kong, shown below, who hunted and domesticated some 300 elephants.
Ama Kong was born in 1910 in the western part of Vietnam that adjoins Cambodia. Elephants agreed with him because he was involved with them for the next 93 years so they must have provided him a measure of longevity. His home in the central highlands of Vietnam would usher in the rainy season which would cause the elephant herds to move there in search of lush food. At just such a time, Ama Kong spotted a white elephant and within thirty minutes he and three other hunters had captured it. When Ama Kong's fellow hunters announced the white elephant capture to the village by blowing horns in a distinct manner, the villagers recognized the significance of such a prized catch and prepared a special "welcome home" ceremony. Shown below is the prized elephant that was given to Vietnamese President, Ngo Dinh Diem, January 1961. In return, Diem gave the elephant king, Ama Kong, a double-barrel shotgun and a pistol.
The number of elephants in this region of Vietnam has continued to shrink to a current low of less than fifty which is a small fraction of the past. Interestingly, the people continue to cherish their historical relationships to the extent that elephants are considered family members. When the elephants pass, they are buried together with their human family members. 

Ama Kong took a strong political stance against the "French invaders" who sought to return to their colonial past following the end of World War II. Despite the cooperation of Ho Chi Minh with the U.S. OSS to defeat the Japanese as illustrated below, the U.S. turned a blind eye to Ho Chi Minh's plea to President Harry Truman to support Uncle Ho's vision of a democracy for Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is shown to the left of the OSS American officer in the center while General Giap is to the right in a suit.
In 1954, Giap defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu to secure the independence of North Vietnam from the French and some 21 years later that of all of Vietnam. Unfortunately, the author had an opportunity to visit General Giap in his mountain retreat in the early 90's but had to forego the opportunity to return home.

In 1954, Ama Kong was awarded a certificate of merit by President Ho Chi Minh and a First-Class Resistance War Medal by the Party and State. Not many people have ever received awards from bitter foes such as Diem when he led South Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh when he led North Vietnam. Elephant people fight invaders but do not pick political sides within their own land.

By the way, Dwight Eisenhower supported the return of the French to their former colonial Indochina empire to thwart the threat of the Chinese Communist "domino theory." A quick study of the Trung sisters would have disproved the willingness of the Vietnamese people to subject themselves to any influence or domination by the Chinese. Sadly, over 50,000 American lives and countless Vietnamese were lost to Eisenhower's invalid conclusion.

With most of us staying at home, we have had extra time on our hands to do the things we've always wanted to do but just never did.  This seems to be the perfect time to try some of these delicious and easy-to-prepare soups from all over Southeast Asia.
Throughout Southeast Asia, soups and broths are designed to refresh the palate.  Bowls of steaming broth are often served alongside the main course so diners can taste a spoonful of soup in between your rice or the main dish.  This great cookbook will help you create some of these tasty soups!


Enjoy a sample recipe from the book!
Cambodian Chicken Rice Soup with Lemongrass
(click on recipe to download pdf)

Explore all of our Southeast Asian Cook Books.

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