Not too late: “Beauty Rising” still at 99 cents!

If you haven’t had a chance yet, “Beauty Rising” – my debut novel from 2012 – is still running a 99 cent sale for 2 more days on Kindle.

It’s a fast, fun, and unexpected read. You can read one of the 85 reviews on Amazon, and even pop through the first couple chapters for free. I hope they hook you in.

Get Beauty Rising HERE!

Beauty Rising Mark W Sasse

Also available in paperback:

From The Book Depository with Free Worldwide Shipping

paperback beauty rising

What Most Americans Do on 9/11

I wonder how long after December 7, 1941 that Americans stopped remembering what exactly they had been doing after they heard the news.

I suppose it was a generation or more.

9/11 has certainly become that date for me. I wasn’t born when JFK was assassinated, so there wasn’t a particular date that always made me remember a vivid event in history. That is until 9/11 – and I wasn’t even in the United States that day.

We were living in our small, two-story cement house on the outskirts of the sleepy college town of Thai Nguyen, Vietnam – north of Hanoi about sixty miles.

It was in the evening, and we weren’t doing anything particularly memorable, perhaps watching a video or something. Someone from our office in Hanoi called me and asked, “Have you heard the news?” I hadn’t. He said, “Turn the news on, something terrible has happened in America.” It was a strange call, for sure, and I can’t remember what exactly he had told me. But I got on our computer, and dialed up our connection, and I still remember the image slowly loading from – the attack, the shocking-ness of it, the misinformation, the confusion, and feeling incredibly isolated to what America was actually feeling.

We kept gathering together the tid-bits of info that we could, never feeling like we could get enough, and not having the minute-by-minute shock that the rest of America felt.

The next day as I was out and about in our Vietnamese university setting, what struck me were the dozens of sincere words and phrases of sympathy that all my Vietnamese friends and neighbors out-poured to me. It was beautiful, actually, and meant a lot.

Over the next few months, we learned more and more about what 9/11 had done to America, and how it had paralyzed the entire nation. I kept telling our family back in the states to save the news broadcasts so that we can watch them when we come home. A year later we did watch all that we could just to get a better understanding of the tremendous impact that we had not experienced.

I’ll never forget the phone call, the images, the buzz around our campus, and the heart-felt reaction from our lovely friends. But it will always be a different experience than my fellow Americans experienced at the time.

Either way, 9/11 is the date that will define an entire generation.

Can anyone else really believe that it was 14 years ago?

A Glimpse at Hanoi – Early 1990s

A friend posted this fascinating LINK showing life in Hanoi in 1990. I found these particularly fascinating because it pre-dated my arrival in Vietnam by only four years.

I first arrived at Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport – the OLD one – in August 1994, just months after the U.S. had lifted the embargo against their former communist foe. We were moving to Haiphong near the coast, a three hour train ride to Hanoi, to teach English. (I’ll reminisce more on all of that later – I need to find all my photos!)

But we would frequently take the train to Hanoi to visit the big city and enjoy the “amenities” that simply didn’t exist in Haiphong. Those amenities included CHEESE and Coca-Cola and stuff like that. Yes, that will put things into perspective as to where Vietnam was in regards to development at that point.

We would bring our bicycles on the train – the train that used to go over the oldest French bridge and actually went to the main train station right in Hanoi proper – they stopped doing that around 1997. Anyways, we would bring our bikes on the train so we could easily cycle around Hanoi.

By 1994, the trams that you saw in the pictures were already gone, but the streets you see in 1990 looked about the same when we were cycling around. There were very few cars, lots of bicycles, and some motorbikes. By the end of the decade, Hanoi changed a lot, and now here in 2015, there are many parts of Hanoi which I would hardly even recognize. I’m sure I’d need to hang out in the Old Quarter and around Hoan Kiem Lake to feel at home.

We finally did move to Hanoi in January 1998 where we studied the Vietnamese language full-time for about a year and four months before moving to Thai Nguyen in the summer of 1999.

Our house in Hanoi was off of Thai Ha Street (again, where are my photos?) and by then there was already a mini-mart across the street from our house.

Oh, and I loved the little Banh Cuon breakfast show which was a short walk behind our house.

Those were good times. I really miss Hanoi and hope to visit again at some point. Hopefully this year.

And I promise I’ll find those photos!

Me in my Former Glory: Researching on a Motorbike

Here I am in my former glory, sitting on the side of the road in Vietnam only 52 km from home.
2014-07-14 20.03.18This was before selfies. It was actually taken with a camera that had film. And look! I’m wearing a watch so that will tell you it was before I had a cell phone. I haven’t used a watch in many years. And my Nike sandals. I miss those. I even remember how they used to feel.

To my left is my trusty old Honda Dream motorbike. It had no registration papers. That’s a long story I’ll have to save for another day.

But just looking at this photo got me thinking that I was actually doing research for my novel in this picture. I just didn’t know it.

All those windy hills I sped over, all those rice paddies, all those smiling faces and boys on back of the gray-haired water buffaloes – all of those taught me how to write about Vietnam. I treasure each and every one of those experiences. And even though I haven’t been back in 5 years, I think about it often, as if you couldn’t tell from my writing.

My new novel, The Reach of the Banyan Tree, would be nothing if I had never witnessed the beautiful country of Vietnam from the back of my small motorbike.

So writers, remember that whatever you are living through now is just a slice of research for a future book.

And readers, I suppose you can expect some books about Malaysia sometime in my future.


My Top 10 Favorite Places in Asia: #1 northern Vietnam (Part II)

In Part I of my post about my favorite place in Asia Part I HERE, I took the time to talk about the Vietnamese people who, indeed, make northern Vietnam a special place. But I felt I needed another post to round things out and highlight some of the other special aspects about this incredible place. Here goes.


Northern Vietnam is home to some of the most scenic places anywhere. Let me highlight a few:

Mountainous regions 

Sapa – an idyllic mountainous region in the northern part near the Chinese border. Breathtaking vistas, gorgeous valleys, and the charming and gracious ethnic minorities, who dot the countryside. Truly an unforgettable spot.

Cao Bang – mountainous peaks, terraced rice paddies, and the spectacular Ban Gioc Waterfall which separates Cao Bang from China. Spectacular.

Hoa Binh – About six hours west of Hanoi stands the towering hills of Hoa Binh, leading into the tall foreboding mountains of Lai Chau. This is one of my favorite places – staying in a house-on-stilts in a Black Tai village. Once again, spectacular scenery.

Ha Giang – More gorgeous mountains and hair-pin turns, plus when in season, stop and pick some oranges and enjoy the picturesque provincial town.

Thai Nguyen – my old home – take a two hour motorbike ride north towards Lang Son and stop at Phuong Hoang Cave. A rigorous hour hike up the mountain will reward you with sweeping views and the massive cave, complete with cathedral like ceilings that open into the sky permitting sunshine into the cave.


Dien Bien Phu – The one spot in northern Vietnam which has yet eluded me. I shall do my best to get there someday because it was the site of one of the most important battles of the 20th century. The Viet Minh trapped the French garrison in the valley, and when the battle was over, so was French colonialism. Vietnam had their independence, the first time an Asian country defeated their European oppressor.

Hanoi – Hanoi is one of my favorite cities in the world. The Old Quarter is chaotic and charming. You can visit Ba Dinh Square where Ho Chi Minh rose to declare independence on September 2, 1945. You can see the historic Hoa Lo prison, home to many Vietnamese patriots during French Colonialism and for American pilots during the Vietnam War. Visit the Hanoi Opera House modeled after the Paris Opera House.

Tan Trao, Tuyen Quang – A fascinating out of the way place which was the Viet Minh HQ during the summer of 1945 – the very summer that OSS paratroopers came in to train the Viet Minh to fight against the Japanese. Plus, it has the most amazing Banyan Tree you’ll ever see – clearly an inspiration to me as it is the centerpiece of my 3rd novel, The Reach of the Banyan Tree, set to release in July this year.

Other Places:

Ha Long Bay – most likely the most famous tourist site in northern Vietnam. A spectacular part of the Gulf of Tonkin with limestone islands dotted throughout the region. A must see!

Phat Diem – a Catholic town – believe it or not  – visited by then Vice President Richard Nixon back in the 1950s. The main catholic complex has some fascinating architecture with a hundred year old cathedral.

Perfume Pagoda – a gentle canoe ride and a rigorous walk to enjoy some amazing scenery.

Bich Dong and Hoa Lu – the site of the ancient Vietnamese capital and the site of “Ha Long Bay on Land” – truly a special place.

If you get the idea that there are endless places to go in northern Vietnam, then you would be right.

Hop on a motorbike and explore. I’ll leave with with a few photos.

(Oh my, I realize I haven’t even talked about the food. Future post!)

Northern Vietnam – my favorite place in Asia.

lake thai nguyen mai chau rice field thai nguyen rice sheaths teaThac Ban Giochanoi opera house

Recap of my favorite places in Asia:

10. Malacca, Malaysia

9. Chiang Mai, Thailand

8. Singapore

7. Hong Kong

6. southern Vietnam

5. Sabah, East Malaysia

4. Beijing, China

3. Siem Reap, Cambodia

2. Penang, Malaysia

1. northern Vietnam

My Top 10 Favorite Places in Asia: #1 – northern Vietnam (Part I)

I’ve had a lot of fun counting down my favorite Asian places. Once again, these are only places that I have actually visited. Many of you have offered up some other incredible destinations perhaps worthy of another list. I hope to get to them all some day. But on top of my list, and it will come as no great shock to anyone that knows me, can only be one place – the place I hold dear in my heart for many, many reasons – northern Vietnam.

I shall attempt in two blog posts to break down why northern Vietnam is my favorite. I realized that I couldn’t do it in one. There’s just too much information. So here goes.


This is where it begins for me. The Vietnamese people are precious and I have been blessed to know so many wonderful people. We lived in three different locations in northern Vietnam for a total of almost 10 years and in each place we had special friends and neighbors who always made us feel welcome. Let me outline a few of the types of friends and situations I am talking about.

Neighbors – A couple across the street from our house in Thai Nguyen had a small drink shop. I could pop over at any time just to chat. I remember one time in particular that I hate translated an English article about Vietnam into Vietnamese and I wanted someone to check my grammar. I walked right over and uncle and aunt drink neighbors were ever so happy to read my work, compliment me on my Vietnamese, and help me fix my mistakes.

Students – I taught hundreds of incredible students in my years in Vietnam. They made me feel too special, really, always complimenting me about something or other. Always wanting to do things together and, especially, always wanting to speak English. I do miss those incredible students who made my years so wonderful. I remember the times I would invite them to try pizza for the first time ever. Or we would invite them to experience a typical American Christmas. I had two students who took me by motorbike about 20 KM out of the city to find these scraggly old pine trees. They climbed to the top of one and cut me off the top, then they flagged down a bus and tied it to the roof, bringing it home to our house so we could have a real evergreen in our house. Truly special.

Strangers – Strangers were some of my favorite people of all time in Vietnam. Friendly doesn’t even begin to describe it. Once I got used to the ritual of tea, and I understood the language, there was no amount of time that I couldn’t waste. Countless times I would be invited by strangers, or sellers, or whomever, to just sit down and drink strong green tea with them. Not the whoosey kind of green tea you get in the west. This is the real stuff. Thick dark yellow that will burn a hole in your taste buds. Bitter as anything, and I miss it. I miss the random kindness of strangers.

Friends – I miss playing basketball with my friends there. I was so tall I felt like an NBA star. I miss the shoe shine boy in Hanoi who used to come around a couple times weekly and taught him how to play catch with a baseball and glove. I miss the talks and invites I would get to other peoples’ houses.

I love northern Vietnam for the people, and it that was all it had going for it it still would be enough. But I’m just scratching the surface here. I also love it for its places (the raw beauty is unparalleled – Sapa, Hoa Binh, Halong Bay, Cao Bang, Bich Dong, Hoa Lu, Huong Pagoda, Hanoi, Dien Bien Phu), its food (I miss bun cha!), and the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I’ll touch on all of these in Part II.

I’ll leave you with a few photos I took of the beautiful Vietnamese people.

A friend’s father saying some prayers.
altar prayer A bird catcher.bird catcher A friend on her wedding day.friend ngoc on wedding dayA friend who later became our landlord.
huong friend Friendly kids in the countryside happily pose for the strange countryside Working hard in the rice fields of Thai Nguyen. Tam Dao mountains in the distance.rice field workers thai nguyenSome of my students.


In Review:

10. Malacca, Malaysia

9. Chiang Mai, Thailand

8. Singapore

7. Hong Kong

6. southern Vietnam

5. Sabah, West Malaysia

4. Beijing, China

3. Siem Reap, Cambodia

2. Penang, Malaysia

1. northern Vietnam

Novel #3: The Reach of the Banyan Tree – Coming Soon!

It’s done.

I spent the last couple of weeks working on a final revision for my third novel “The Reach of the Banyan Tree”.

I’ve received some helpful feedback from my beta readers.

I’ve received back an awesome cover from a friend designer of mine.

I’ve read and re-read it many times.

Now it is ready for my editor/proofreader to put the finishing touches on it.

It’s my longest novel, clocking in at just under 80,000. It’s the novel that’s been in the works for the past twelve years. I’m so excited to get it out there.

Estimated time of release: July 1, 2014.

Stay tuned, and thanks for your support.

BTW: the cover reveal will happen within the next 6 weeks. Can’t wait!


Here’s the first lines that the reader will read in my new novel:

“A banyan tree sees all, knows all, and keeps many secrets. It knows a time of bondage and a time of freedom. Its reach never stops; it keeps growing and expanding regardless of circumstances, regardless of difficulties. Time and destiny are on its side. In the end, the grand banyan tree, with its thirty-foot expanse, will once again sense order restored to the universe.”

Nguyen Van Vinh, 1945, French Indochina

Sit down, drink some tea.

“Sit down, drink some tea.”

Never was there such a dreaded phrase if I had a list of tasks to complete, and it’s a phrase I never encounter any more.

When I lived in Vietnam, completing ordinary, everyday tasks was sometimes a huge challenge. Getting something fixed or trying to find the right item to purchase took an extraordinary amount of time, but that dreaded phrase, “Sit down, drink some tea” compounded the issue on a daily basis.

For example, I would pull up to an open-air shop on my motorbike, get off, remove my helmet and sunglasses, and walk towards the shop owner. I could always see the apprehension in her eyes as this tall, big, lumbering, over-sized, freak-of-nature person came at her with all the white skin and brown hair he could muster. But I had the proverbial ace up my sleeve, and I would look at her, smile, and inquire in perfect Vietnamese, “Hello ma’am, do you have any _______ (insert item here).” Her face would light up, and she would start talking a mile a minute, and we would have a polite and friendly conversation about anything and everything except for the item that I wanted to purchase. And then she would pull out her trump card:

“Sit down, drink some tea.”

I would oblige. She would pull out a small teapot, fill the bottom with the world famous Thai Nguyen “che bup” loose green tea leaves and then pour in some steaming hot water from her red thermal water container. She would dump out the first batch of water immediately, then pour in a second, allowing the tea to blend slowly into the hot water. I would sit patiently on the six-inch-high plastic stools, knees almost at my chin, waiting for the tea ritual to end.

After several thimble-sized cup fulls, I would thank her, stand and inquire once again about the item that I needed. She would oblige and after twenty minutes, I was allowed to make the purchase.

When I first came to Vietnam, those rituals caused nothing but frustration. But I learned, eventually, that the best way to accomplish anything in Vietnam (and oftentimes Asia in general) is to sit down, chat, and have tea before doing anything else.

At the university I used to work at in Thai Nguyen, I learned how to play the system. If I had an issue that needed dealt with, I would slyly walk into the Foreign Affairs Office, seemingly with no agenda at all. I always met Ms. Lien (a wonderful woman, who has since passed on), and we would immediately sit down for some tea, chatting for 30 minutes or so until I would then stand up and tell her I had to go. But before I left, I would turn around and say, “By the way, I have a small problem with ….(insert problem).” She gladly would say that she’ll take care of it for me. I would leave. Case closed. Relationship built. Problem solved.

What’s going on here? It’s all about value orientations: Task Orientation vs. Person Orientation.  Westerners are typically taught that tasks, goals, and, achievements are the most important things in life and so we tend not to like it when people get in the way, taking us off task. Asians traditionally come from the mindset that people and relationships should take precedence over tasks. When a westerner charges in and wants immediate action, it must feel like an impersonal cowboy invasion. It can be seen as rude and uncaring. The westerner doesn’t view it that way. He or she just wants to get the task done, then it will be talk time. But for the easterner, the relationship must take precedence over the task.

If a westerner can learn to build relationships and connect with people, they’ll find their time in Asia will go much smoother.

But times are changing in many parts of Asia. I live in Penang now – a very westernized place in many ways – and many of the personal connections are not so easily established as they were in Vietnam. That is probably the one thing I miss the most about living there. I wish I could sit down and drink tea more often.