VIETNAM During my childhood, Vietnam to me had always been a place of war. The daily images on NBC News, the casualties names scrolling after each day's broadcast, the horror stories, and the controversies.

I was a kid. It was a long way away.

My father and his wife sponsored two teenage boys in the mid 70's to come to America. Thus began an insight I hadn't had previously. Over the years, they told stories of their families and country, about the lyrics to the Vietnamese pop music they listened to, and they took me to funky Vietnamese restaurants in Chinatown, NYC.

Vietnam emerged as a possible destination, but I never really took seriously the possibility of traveling to the other side of the earth. So it remained just a curiosity.

Well, this March (1996) I finally made the trip. My girlfriend, Monica, and I got on a plane and watched many in-flight movies on our way to southeast Asia. We spent 10 days in Vietnam, and 10 days in Bali. I can now recommend a visit for anyone wondering what these places are like, or anyone who just wants to go somewhere really foreign and--to my understanding of the world up to now--bizarre.