I took the following photos on October 1st, 2019 but did not post them as I temporarily stopped blogging to concentrate on finishing my second book. Now, more than a year later, here they are. A large group of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets (with the black bills) was taking off at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Never had I seen so many flying together.
The Siege of An Loc is the story of the defense of An Loc in 1972 during the Vietnam War. It is also a love story between a South Vietnamese soldier, Trung, and Ly, a student, daughter of a rubber plantation owner. As Trung struggles to defend his country, he finds himself falling for the beautiful Ly, but do they have a chance for happiness in the midst of war? We also see the evil of communism especially personified in the one of the characters, and two brothers are reunited, one from North Vietnam and one from South Vietnam.
I learned so much about the Vietnam War from this book. When I was in grade school and high school in the U.S. in the 70s and 80s, they didn’t teach us much about it. I just knew my uncle died in this war at the age of 20, and I…
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Princeton University Lewis Center for the Arts was completed in 2017. Since that time, I have been meaning to go there and photograph it, but because it was so close to home, guess what, it took me three years to finally do it. The following photos show what it looked like in early afternoon last Sunday.
I did not go inside any of the buildings which were built with esoteric materials including 21-million-year-old Lecce Stone from Italy. I would have liked to see how geothermal wells have been used to heat and cool the complex, but maybe another time. This new art center took $330 million dollar to build, including costs associated with relocating the Dinky train station and a WaWa convenience store pictured below.
This week has been rainy with only one sunny day in the middle. I drove to the refuge and by the time I arrived the sun was out but the clouds were many. The Great Blue Heron that used to stand by a sluice gate was now standing by the water.
There was a flash of white among the dried reeds. A Great Egret took off as soon as it saw me, but I managed to take a few shots of it flying away.
Toward the end of Wildlife Drive one tree still had its leaves on.
Snow Geese fly south in the Fall, and a week ago some passed by the refuge. There were only a few hundred of them, not as many as during Spring migration.
There was a group of about ten Snow Geese flying in apparent perfect formation.
But, somehow something happened.
I took the following pictures a while ago but did not post them. Today I just saw the following post from Cathy and decided this would be a good time to do so: https://wordsandherbs.wordpress.com/2020/11/25/a-week-of-flowers-day-four-25th-november-2020/
All this time I have shown you the birds and animals at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Yesterday, I shot the following photos so you can see what the refuge actually looks like at least in the fall when the green has given way to brown and sepia. The same juvenile Bald Eagle from last week was also there, ruling over the fall landscape.
This is a close-up of a Star Magnolia in our backyard. I took the photo in March of this year. As the Covid-19 pandemic was starting and lockdowns were imposed, I just could not feel like posting the image then.
This is my response to Cee’s Flower of the Day Challenge at:
At the end of my drive through the refuge today, I saw a Painted Turtle ahead, in the middle of the road! I got out and took these two photos.
After that I moved the turtle gently to the side of the road. Still, it withdrew inside its shell as soon as I touched it.
Painted Turtles are small creatures and have been around for 15 million years. Today was very warm, 76 °F or 24 °C, which may explain why this turtle came out and tried to cross the road. When it gets colder, they will go into deep hibernation.
Following are three new reviews of my book, “The Siege of An Lộc”. The first review was posted on Amazon after the reviewer purchased an additional item to bring his total to $50 as required by Amazon. The second one was posted on Amazon without any problem. The third one was emailed to me yesterday and it is published here only.
Qnbui, from New Jersey, October 22, 2020.
“The defense of An Loc beginning in April 1972 against successive waves of communist attacks was valiantly carried out by the South Vietnamese soldiers with the US assistance from the air. The people of South Vietnam are always grateful to the soldiers for their heroic sacrifices and will never forget this epic victory. “The Siege of An Loc” will help us remember.
Battles around An Loc, in neighboring towns and airports, along Highway 13, and details of military planning and deployment of troops – based on historical facts – are well described in “The Siege of An Loc”. The novel vividly recounts the atrocities of war, the vast destructions of the town, the huge sacrifices of soldiers, the great sufferings of ordinary people, the relentless efforts of communist troops to take over An Loc, and the active participation of the people in the collective defense of their hometown. A teenage girl, the noodle street vendor of Chinese descent, volunteered to assume the task of intelligence gathering for the regional forces.
Against this painful background of death, destruction, and sorrow bloomed a beautiful love story between a young talented lieutenant of the regional forces and a Saigon University student coming home to her family rubber plantation near An Loc for the spring break.
Also there is a stunning story of defections of 2 communist soldiers to South Vietnam through the Open Arms program, and a moving reunion of 2 brothers, a young officer in the South and a teenage soldier coming from North Vietnam. A lot of families were separated after the 1954 Geneva Agreement, part of the family going South and part remaining in the North.
Different events are recounted in different chapters, but there is always a smooth transition between them. There is a happy note at the end of the book, after so much sorrow and pain, for the young couple, the tailor family, the street vendor family, and others, all settling down in Xuan Loc, a neighboring town. Three years later, war erupted again all over in Xuan Loc and this attested to the futility of the war with millions of people dead on both sides and a waste of precious time and resources. The final result of the war during all these years was the firm imposition of the Marxist doctrine on the society, a philosophy so foreign to the Vietnamese tradition and culture.”
rustytreasure, from New Jersey, October 28, 2020
The struggles of a people trying to get by when their country, culture and economy are under relentless attack by outside forces as well as from within. This novel accurately reflects the history and cruelty of this war as well as the hope of a hard working people at the time. A love story, a history, a lesson in family values. I could barely put it down.
Perilla, from New Jersey, November 2, 2020.
“I have just finished this new book last night. I really like it.
The author knows his materials, from the rubber business to different types of weapons to the relevant geographies, sequence of events, the Stieng minority people….. and a lot more which I forgot to jot down as I was reading. Interesting tidbits on Van Cao (my favorite composer), “Hundred Flowers Campaign”, and Shostakovich (!).
The main challenge is to weave a love story with the documented war events; this is done seamlessly. The chance meeting of two people sheltering from the rain seems natural enough, could be drawn from the author’s personal experience (?). There are tender moments in the midst of the destruction, and there is no lack of subtle humor.
One could imagine the antagonists — ideological and romantic — are destined for a well-choreographed, mano-a-mano climactic fight, but the sudden resolution is a pleasant surprise — one needs not bother any longer with such a character.
Through it all I can sense the author enjoying the act of writing — power to him and he should definitely continue to write.”
Yesterday was cloudy and cool, ending up with heavy rain. Only a few people showed up at the refuge while the birds were even more scarce. I got some lucky shots of a juvenile Bald Eagle before it flew away from its perch. It is probably between two and three years old.
Two other cars stopped by and it finally had enough of the photography sessions.
Last night was the last of three nights during which the Moon and planet Mars appeared close together in the night sky. The first two nights (October 28 and 29) were cloudy and rainy, but last night around 9 PM the full moon and Mars were clearly visible.
The red planet, however, was too far to the side for my lens to photograph it together with the Moon. It was reddish and of course not as bright as our Moon. I tried to take some shots, but I could not get a fix on it.
Mars will remain bright until the end of 2020 and I will try to get a better picture with a tripod next time.
As a follow-up to yesterday’s post of Amazon’s review policy, I asked and received the approval of two readers of my new book, “The Siege of An Lộc”, to post their reviews here, in chronological order.
Don Chalfant from Santa Barbara
“I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Siege of An Loc! I wasn’t expecting Ri to meet his end in the manner it happened! I read several chapters and then summarized them for my wife. Both of us were aware of what was happening in Vietnam during the late 60’s and early 70’s…but only in a vague sense. So much of the media’s coverage was slanted and agenda-driven. Your inclusion of the north’s propaganda versus reality paints a much truer picture than what we received in the news. Such a heartbreaking time! The research on the events must have been a mixed blessing to the author…finding out specifics yet having to relive difficult and painful memories. He certainly included lots of details! I had a somewhat hard time tracking all the various military divisions and companies and the like, including the various weapons and tanks–even with the “simplification” of terms mentioned at the beginning of the book—but thoroughly appreciated the inclusion of accurate information! This book is great for anyone interested in the events of 1970’s Vietnam.”
H.P. from Seattle
“Honestly, I don’t really like to read war stories, having lived through the Vietnam War. However, when in May this year I was introduced to the digital version of “The Siege at An Loc” by Nguyễn Trọng Hiền, whose first novel “Village Teacher” (2012) I enjoyed tremendously thanks to his artistic style, characters development, as well as the romantic plot against the background of Vietnam’s then capital of Huế in the late 19th century, I wanted to know how the author went about dealing with this much-written-about war, especially this particular front of An Loc about which I had read so much.
Before long, I was drawn into the story at the very first chapter as the author introduced the two main characters who ran into each other as both sought refuge from a tropical downpouring under the veranda of a coffee shop. They parted after the brief encounter during the rain — he, a student/soldier stationed in An Loc who was back to Saigon to pick up his class materials from the Saigon University and now returned to his unit, and she, daughter of a plantation owner in An Loc. From there, the author introduced us to an An Loc under siege by fierce North Vietnamese forces into which the only way in or out was by air amidst webs of fires from the grounds; and to a host of skillfully-described characters both good and bad. Using the same artistic skill, densed with reasearch materials yet explained in plain terms weaving smoothly into the novel narrative. I found myself absorbed in the plot, worried along with his characters despite the fact I already knew the outcome, that South Vietnam forces finally liberated An Loc – just as I had been with his first novel, “Village Teacher.”
The author’s second novel came to me as we have been in this Covid-19 pandemic lockdown on and off and on again for a good six months and continuing. I couldn’t help feel a great admiration for his achievement while we – at least I – keep on wondering when we’d be out of this realistic siege. Thank you.”
As many of you know, I recently self published a second novel, The Siege of An Lộc, on Amazon. As an independent author, I rely on word-of-mouth advertising and reader reviews published on Amazon to promote my books. My first book, Village Teacher, garnered 22 reviews, all positive. My second book so far has zero review on Amazon. I have now found out why.
Amazon has been plagued by fake reviews from companies and individuals selling their products on Amazon. There appears to be companies that hire people or even review mill companies to write fake reviews to promote their products on Amazon, without having purchased or even used those products. It got to the point where customers have complained that reviews on Amazon are unreliable if not outright misleading.
So, a few months ago, Amazon instituted a new policy which requires people who post a review to have purchased at least $50 on Amazon over the previous 12 months. Reviewers who try to post and do not meet this new requirement get this message:
“To contribute to Customer features (for example, Customer Reviews, Customer Answers, Idea Lists) or to follow other contributors, you must have spent at least $50 on Amazon.com using a valid credit or debit card in the past 12 months.”
Two readers of The Siege of An Lộc have contacted me and told me that even though they like it, they are unable to post a review because of Amazon’s new policy. One person had another member of the family purchase the book. The other person did pay for the book with a credit card but did not meet the $50 minimum requirement (my book costs $25.99).
While I understand why Amazon has such a policy, I think it is unduly harsh for independent authors like me who are not well known at all. I am not trying to mass market a consumer product through fake reviews in hope of amassing millions. I don’t have the means to run expensive campaigns to advertise my books. If people are like me, unless I know an author well, I would hesitate to buy a book that has no review and would prefer to wait until at least a handful of reviews are published before making a purchase.
I went to Amazon’s site to complain about their new policy but I did not find any place to do so. If you have any suggestion, please comment below.
I took the following photos of Ruddy Turnstones in January of this year near the Barnegat Lighthouse, but only now have I found the time to post them here.
Several groups of these birds were congregating on rocks covered with seaweed. Some slept, others were starting to look for food, but none cared the least about a photographer getting right above them. The early sun was shining bright, making it appear as if I was using a flash.
Starting in late summer, when you drive on Wildlife Drive, flocks of birds often fly in and out of both sides of the road in front of you. There could be hundreds of them, and they are mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, and sparrows, sometimes mixed together. The moment you stop your car to look closer, the birds land and disappear in the dried reed and grasses. Last week I stopped long enough to find them and take some photos.
Finally, a European Starling perched above the reeds, on a road sign.
A new sluice gate has recently been built on Wildlife Drive at the refuge to channel ocean water into and out of Vogt Pool North. As I drove by a few days ago, a Great Blue Heron was standing guard at the gate and would not budge even as I parked no more than 20 ft (6 m) away from it. There was plenty of morning sunlight and the conditions were perfect for photography.
Seven minutes later, it was still on the same rock, staring into emptiness.
Yesterday, when I arrived at the Brigantine unit of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge the tide was high and ocean water was pouring into the salt marshes, bringing with it fish and other sea creatures to feed the Egrets, Double-crested Cormorants, Seagulls, and various smaller birds. Some juvenile Cormorants were having a feast and kept diving into the churning water and coming up with fish in their hooked bills.
Another Cormorant was so happy to have caught a fish that it danced around in the water.
Suddenly, it dropped the fish and dove in the water to retrieve it. However, many Laughing Gulls were hovering in the air, and one quickly swooped down.
The Laughing Gull snatched the fish and left the young Cormorant clamoring for its lost meal.
On January 1st of this year, I went on a photo trip to the shore of Long Beach Island, NJ. As I was driving, at 7:24 AM a colorful sun rose to the East. I stopped by the side of the road to photograph it.
The sun was a fiery yellow and red, and I found the resulting pictures somewhat disappointing and did not want to post them.
Today I think perhaps nature was trying to let me know that turmoil was coming in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic was about to spread throughout the world and affect millions of people.
For the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge 114: Negative Space, here are two images I shot recently. The first one is from 12 days ago.
The second one is from yesterday at Colonial Lake In Lawrenceville, NJ when a fisherman caught a fish with the name of Crappie! He threw it back as soon as I finished taking the photo.
As temperatures dropped, a good number of birds have left the refuge. Some non-breeding Forster’s Terns remain, displaying their skills at diving and plucking food out of the water. I finally managed to photograph one of them in a successful dive.