Aging US ex-pat finds poetry, ’beautiful women’ in Việt Nam

March, 09/2017 - 09:00

This is the favorite poem of American poet Thomas Ames, taken from his book "Inside the Circle".

At 71 years old, he is always mindful of his past and how he has spent his time.

Thomas Ames (standing) and composer Hữu Xuân. Courtesy Photo of Thomas Ames
Viet Nam News

By Lê Hương


"Flying Away

Watch my wings

I fly away

call me back

my name is time.

Moving faster

growing older

look again

now I’m gone."

This is the favorite poem of American poet Thomas Ames, taken from his book "Inside the Circle".

At 71 years old, he is always mindful of his past and how he has spent his time.

"I started this poem in America and finished in Việt Nam," Ames told Việt Nam News.

For the past two years, he has spent much of his time travelling around Việt Nam. 

Ames retired from the marine industry as a boat captain of offshore oil field boats, carrying supplies to and from the land and oil rigs. He is from a military family and has travelled all his life. His first memories are of Japan when he was 3, 4 and 5 years old. He also lived in Germany twice and attended high school in Taiwan. His living in Thailand before coming to Việt Nam convinced him of his appreciation of Asia.

"This traveling and living in other countries has given me a way to compare Việt Nam to other places and I like it here. I see similarities and differences between countries I have lived in, places are like people, they have a personality, countries are created by traditions and culture. I have spent about a third of my time visiting and exploring places in Vietnam and I am trying to see the whole country," he said.

"I like what I see here and how Việt Nam makes me feel, this is a country not fashioned by a franchise type lifestyle, there is more than meets the eye, but finding the real Vietnam requires time. Việt Nam has many interesting sights to see, it is more than the UNESCO Heritage sites, waterfalls, caves and beautiful beaches, Việt Nam is the people, too"!

His favorite food is "phở" and in the future plans to take Vietnamese lessons to communicate better and build his vocabulary, but finds the language difficult and can only hope to be able to speak in the next couple of years.

His goal is, "to read, write and speak Vietnamese with which I can compose poetry in the Vietnam language," Ames said, "you need to live here for awhile to know Việt Nam, I see tourists come, stay in each city for three or four days as they travel the country. I wonder how much they are getting. The coffee is great, the women are beautiful and this peaceful country is an oasis in the middle of a torn world".

He started writing poems in high school and has recently published his first poetry collection titled "Inside the Circle" in Việt Nam. His collection of 50 poems in English were translated by seven poets from Hồ Chí Minh City. Some of the poems have been put to music by composers/musicians such as Hữu Xuân with "Essence of Love"; Kiều Tấn on Youtube with "Nha Trang Calling" and "Before Words".

About half of the poems in the book were written in Việt Nam, including seven poems about Việt Nam’s cities.

"I write for my own pleasure and like to write "free verse", the feeling of creating a good poem appeals to me, I enjoy this part of writing," he said, "when I retired I decided to take some poetry workshops to learn more about crafting a poem, writing is something I enjoy, so I pursue it".

Veteran composer Hữu Xuân, has translated some of these poems into Vietnamese and composed a song from one of the poems named "Essence of Love".

Xuân did not hide his admiration of the American poet when talking to Việt Nam News on the phone.

"I found his poems strange but real. He shares his interesting views on the life, on the god, on the human-to-human relationships. He especially loves Việt Nam in his poems. He has written some on Việt Nam’s landscapes, I feel as if he were a Vietnamese person writing about his country", Xuân said, "I find Thomas to be an honest and friendly person". — VNS

Thomas Ames (sitting) and poet Trương Nam Hương. Courtesy Photo of Thomas Ames
Thomas Ames on Hạ Long Bay. Courtesy Photo of Thomas Ames
Thomas Ames by Hoàn Kiếm Lake. Courtesy Photo of Thomas Ames
Thomas Ames and composer Kiều Tấn at a studio recording the song "Nha Trang Calling". Courtesy Photo of Thomas Ames