Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chapter 8...Autobiographies of Hanoi

Chapter 8…Autobiographies of Hanoi

In America, after WW II was over, there was an explosion of births between 1945-1950; “The Baby Boomers,” of which me and my siblings are part of. In Vietnam, after that war ended in 1975, there was a similar birth boom for the next 10 years. 70% of the population of Vietnam are under 35. Whereas our baby boomers were born into a prospering economy, Vietnamese boomers were born into a country that was racked with devastation, hunger and want.

Most of my students, were born between 1975-85 and the first assignment I give them is to write a brief autobiography. It serves two purposes; to assess their level of writing and to help me get to know them as individuals. Almost all of them tell about how hard their parents struggled after the war, the war they call “The American War.”

Here, in their own words are their stories. I present them here, just as they wrote them. You will see various degrees of fluency…but more, you will see Vietnam in those early post-war years.

The first presented here was written by Huong, the girl who wrote the letter of encouragement mentioned in chapter 2. She was the first student I had who “graduated,” to our higher classes and was given the name Ruth by Morris after her choice.

Huong's Autobiography:

Sunday July 11, 2004

I’m sorry for not sending my auto. on time . this is it .
IT seems not much of an autobiography . It is merely what I want to say to you.
Well, I don’t know where I should start .
I was born on January, 30th , 1984 into a middle class family. Both of my parents are teachers in high schools. My hometown is a small city which is 90 kilometers away from Hanoi. It takes you 4 hours to travel around the city, I suppose. We left for Hanoi 16 years ago. Sometimes, we go back to see our relatives in Thai Nguyen ( my home town ) by bus, by train, or by motorbike. Normally, Hanoi - Thai Ngueyn is a 2 hour trip. You can't drive with breakneck speed because the police will stop you and ask for your driver's license.
I’m a young person . But I look older than my age. Although 20 years is not a long time , I've experienced the fruits of life. they are sometimes sweet, but sometimes bitter and sour.
My mother is a Hanoi Ian. She graduated form Hanoi National Univ. She was sent to a high school in Thai Nguyen to teach. MY father worked there before. They met each other and fell in love. They got married in 1982. That time ( from 1982 to 1995)was a difficult time for a young couple. There were many burdens because Vietnam was in the period of changes. Life is so hard. Earning meals and necessary demands became strains. For each child , we were rationed a bottle of milk and a kilo of sugar. I was too small to know how hard my parents worked. Grandma told me..... They had to do extra work. They brought garments and the cigarettes home , wrapped up until midnight- everyday. My mother also worked at a hairdresser's and sewed clothes . My father took photos. they had to worry about their new born child - my bother in 1987.
When they decided to move to Hanoi, looking for a better life , my mom and my brother went first. I continued living in a living quarter with my father. He went to school and cooked the meals. I started to learn how to wash dishes 'n clean the house when I was 5 .Time passed.... They were such happy days when my mom and my brother came to see us. in the beginning of 1990s my papa and I came to Hanoi to live with mom and my brother. 4 people lived in a 30 sq. meter house. And we faced with another difficult period. My parents continued with extra work they had done in Thai Nguyen: sewing clothes, taking photos and working at hairdresser's... When all the work could not satisfy the demands for life, we tried in other ways.... We bought second hand clothes from many foreign countries and sold them to people. in the afternoon I brought 2 reed mats to the sidewalks , put the clothes on them and classified them into types and prices...
There were many people who sold clothes like us on the street. The police didn’t want us to do so . They arranged troops of cars to collect clothes. When somebody saw the police , they would shout to everybody and we moved quickly with clothes and mats. I did it with my parents. After selling second hand clothes , we began a new job - selling sweetened porridge. My parents cooked and I helped them to sell on a small place on the sidewalks. Life is really hard.
But these petty things couldn’t defeat us. We kept our ambition...... and worked hard. .I learned to cook , to wash clothes for the whole family and do housework when I was 8 maybe younger. That's why we treasure our life. Like Hung ( a refugee` who is now an American citizen) said, Vietnamese people have a strong survival instinct . We work hard , we value food and drink, accommodations... and we find it easy to sympathize with poor people because we know how hard they have it.
NOW life is more and more comfortable and we are not poor( not rich), but we have had such a hard time to live.
Everybody has their own worries and I don’t want to bother them. I just want to share with you my childhood 'n my life… life is in our hands. The crucial thing is you yourself. Forgiveness , tolerance and ability to forget small unimportant things are your strength.
Your Student

Huong, who was a sophomore at Hanoi Univ. of Technology (HUT), majored in English. Her level of English, when she wrote this was between upper-intermediate and advanced. I divide my students into 5 skill levels: (1) beginner, (2) lower intermediate, (3) intermediate, (4) upper-intermediate, and (5) advanced. The next autobiography is by Mai, who was lower intermediate. You can understand what she means but much of her syntax and grammar are faulty. I am leaving it here just as she wrote it.

Mai’s Autobiography…

My name is Nguyen Thanh Mai. I was born on October, 30th 1979 in a poor officer family in Hanoi. My parent told that when I were born, my family is so poor that there were no rice, no milk, no food unless sweet potato in my home. But at that time, no one can helped my family because they were also poor, some of them were even poorer than my family. My parent have 2 children, my litter brother and I. My father is intelligent and strict while my mother is so gentle. They both love their children. When I was I litter girl my parent used to say to my brother and I that: �We are so poor that we can bring you neither delicious food nor nice clothes but we try our best to earn money for you to go to school. My children, please remember that there are no way to become rich unless learning�. Now, my family is not poor but my father often say that �my daughter, do not satisfy with what you have, keep working and learning if you don not want to let behind the development of society�.
I love my father, my mother and my litter brother very much. They are always present in time of my need. They are my first love. I love them so much that I can sacrifice everything I have for them.
My second love is a dog which I feed. I named him A Bear because he is black, very big and looks like a bear. Some of my friends saw him and thought that he was a real bear. However, he is very clever, friendly, harmless and as meek as a lamb. He loves me very much. I love him, too. I used to embrace him and said to him �my Bear, I wish you were a man�. My mother laughed at me and said how silly I were.
The third time I felt in love with a really man. He looks tall and handsome. I like him at the first time I saw him. I made friend with him and I found that we had same hobby and viewpoint. He is really intelligent, kind, humorous and manly. And above all, He loves dogs very much. I have felt in love with him just after several time talking with him. Happily, he loves me, too. One year after being lover, we got married. Now, I have my new family. We have not got any child yet and we are looking forward to have one soon. My husband and I try to work to make our life better. We love each other and love everything we have. We feel lucky and happy to be husband and wife. We also feel lucky to live in Vietnam, a friendly and peaceful country with many good traditions such as: patriotic, venerating teacher and crazy on learning.
In addition, Vietnamese people love peace and freedom and ready sacrifice their own lives to fight for it. I proud of being Vietnamese citizen.

It is not unusual for students to study 2 foreign languages at the same time. Here, Thu Huong explains why she must learn German and English. She attended the top high school in Hanoi, Amsterdam HS which requires an entrance exam and all the instruction is in English. Most of the students who graduate from Amsterdam are the cream of the Hanoi crop. Thu Huong tells a common tale; parents too busy to spend much time with their children so grandparents do most of the childcare and raising.

Autobiography of Thu Huong

My name is Bui Thu Huong. I was born in Hanoi in 1979. I live in Tran Quang Dieu street. I am the youngest member of the family. There were 5 people in my family: my grandmother, my mum and dad, and my brother, who is 2 years older than me.
When I was small, my parents were scientists at the Vietnamese Academy of Science and Technology. We lived in a flat in the collective quarter of the Academy in Hoang Quoc Viet Street. At that time, my brother and I were not healthy. We could easily fall ill, and had to take medicine all the time. So my parents didn’t let us go to the kintergarden like other kids in the collective quarter. Instead, my grandmother took care of us. And because my parents were always busy at their office, they didn’t have much time to stay home with us. My brother and I spent most of our time with my grandmother.
In 1985, when I was 6 years old, my parents bought a new house, and we moved out of the collective quarter. Then I went to the local primary school at the new place, not far from my house, just a 2 minute-walk . It was called the Thong Nhat Primary and Secondary School, a small school in Doi Can Street. I was so timid at that time because I had never gone to kindergarten. I was afraid of going to school, meeting many people or standing in front of the whole class. Gradually I got used to it and began to love my school. Finally I became the monitor (president) of the class. Again, my parents were too busy. Thus, my brother had to help me with my homework. I spent 9 years at the Thong Nhat Primary and Secondary School, until 1994, when I graduated. Also in this year, my mother died of cancer. That was really the worst thing ever happen in my life. There were only 4 persons left in my family.
My senior secondary school was Hanoi – Amsterdam High School which is located in Nam Cao street. It’s a specialized School in Hanoi. In 3 years from 1994 to 1997 I studied in the English specialized class. There was an international school next to my high school, so we often met and played with foreign students, which was very interesting and was good chances for us to practice English. I graduated from Hanoi – Amsterdam High School in 1997. During these three years, many great changes happened to my family. My brother went to study in Texas, USA in 1997. Later that year, my father remarried and moved out of the house. From this time on, I lived with my grandmother.
In 1998, I began my university study. I spent 5 years at Hanoi University of Foreign Trade, studying economics, foreign trade, and business English. Studying at the University was really hard. It was much more difficult than studying at the primary and secondary school. I had to change the way of learning, did more reading, more homework, and more research. My most difficult subject at university actually was gymnastics. However, I was finally able to graduate from the university in 2002.
From August 2002, I worked for the sales department of a joint stock company. Its name was The Investment and Construction Commerce Joint Stock Company. The company engaged in various fields including construction, real estate, and foreign trade. My department dealt with importing and selling chemical substances, laboratory materials and machines. The job was really complicated as it related greatly to chemistry and physics. In addition, you had to be patient and very careful because the goods ordered were precise to every milligram or millilitre, and even some chemical substances were very dangerous. Moreover, I also had to travel a lot due to the customs formalities and the delivery of goods. I was so busy at work that I didn’t have enough time to take care of my grandmother, who was really over 80.
In 2004, I decided to spend more time with my grandmother and to prepare for my postgraduate study. I quit my job and began studying German. It was for my master study in Germany, which requires certain level both in German and in English. Since I finished my German course early this year , I’ve been preparing to take the Toelf course.

In the last semester that I taught in Hanoi, before coming home to take care of my mother in Mar. 2007, I had an exceptional “C-level,” class which are students at upper-intermediate and advanced levels. In this class, the caliber of autobiographies was pretty high. Here is Huyen Tam’s autobiography.

Huyen Tam’s Autobiography…C-2007

Before starting doing this assignment - write my autobiography , I felt
slack in writing and thought that I couldn't do anything well without
inspiration ... Furthermore, I found out lots of reasons for delay the
assignment. But, by contrast, I find this very interesting, fascinating.
Although, I don't write either much or nicely, I feel very warm as
I sit back and have a better time in order to think of my family.

My family has 4 people, including my parents, my elder sister and me -
a typical example of a modern nuclear family. My father was brought up
in Nghe An central province. After he had graduated at a university, he
was sent Hon Gai town ( Ha Long city nowadays ) to work. Because at that
time, Vietnam and America were still at war. Vietnam's economy was
centrally planned. In that period, everybody was dispensed from a needle
to cloth or food, etc. That's why like other people , my father didn't have
the right to decide where to work or whom to work form. During his period
of working and living in Ha Long city, he casually met my mother.
There is an old saying that: " you can't tell a book by its cover".
As my father's telling, she didn't look beautiful by appearance . However,
she possesses good qualities and has a great inner
beauty. (^..^) But my father's from time to time kinda complainted about her
jealousness. They were in love with each other and married on January
1st in 1981. At the end of the year, my sister was born without my father's
care until 1985. Because he was away from home in order to take another
long-term course in Ha Noi at the time. Luckier than my sister, as my
father had finished his study and got back to Ha Long, I was
brought into the world in 1987, a year later " Doi moi " reform in
Vietnam. We don't have a lot in common, rather we are very different
to each other from appearance to interests, personalities. For instance,
I'm fond of swimming, dancing, jogging. She likes none of sport...pretty
lazy to excersice. She spends much time on reading Fashion magazine,
shopping, etc. On the contrary, I care far less for that than
learning new things. Black and white which are 2 contrary colors, still
are a good match. So, when we both are adults, we not only
understand deeper but also care a lot more for each other. Now she's 26
years old. She lives at home with my parents. She has a job with a stable
pay. As far as I know , she was in love with 3 men. There were
many reasons to break up. I consider that she did the right things
because I don’t want to have a brother-in-law like one of them. She's
currently single and getting old...that's why my parents are worried
about her. (^..^)

As I said above, I was born as my father was at home. I was the
smallest in my family so that I was a little more humoured than my sister
(^..^) and became quite stubborn. I was closer to my father when I
was a little girl until I started my live away from home . Therefore,
my father's characters, habits partly had an effect on me.
Unlike most of other kids, I began school a year sooner than them. When
I was in the fifth grade, I looked like a boy with very short hair.
By appearance, I seemed to be pretty reticent and quiet. But, on
my brain, I actually had a question which was how could my mother love
my father only and conversely ? Because I liked 3 cute boys in my class.
Yesterday, I like this one who was considered as the most handsome in
my class. The following days I didn't like him anymore and started much
more talking to another one who sat next to. In conclusion, my
' love affair ' lasted longest in less than a week. Also, all results of
my study were just so-so in primary school as the fact was that my parents
didn't care as much for my study as they should.
However, things were changed when I started junior high school. Fortunately,
I had a friend, ( Lien- my closefriend ), to compete with in study. After
the first year , we were in top 2 of class. My parents began
distinguishing my ability and paid much more attention to my study. Since
that time, I enjoyed studying maths and some subjects of natural
sciences. In the last year, I spent more time on studying and passed
the entrance exam of the only gifted high school in Ha Long.

Luckily, I'm rich in happy memories. However, it's hard to tell precisely
what the happiest one is . So, I'm going to tell you about a memory associated
with my closefriend , Loan. We were 2 first-year students in a room of 10
in hostel. We hadn't known each other previous to getting here, Ha Noi.
We became closer after a short time...before our final exam started few days ,
I'd had a fever. I still remember her care for my health. I would never forget
her worried face as she wanted to do something in order to help me get better...
but she lacked experience to look after the sick. she did spend a sleepless
night on watching my sleep ...I was really happy to be cared and be loved
by her.

Let me share with you though I do know that I'm digressing. I want to
touch on my views instead of my saddest memory. Many people
prefer taking or recieving something such as gifts...It sounds
uncommon to hear that I feel inversely. I feel happier to give. I like
bringing happiness to my parents, friends, teachers... or giving nice
surprises to them . In my opinions, once I help people and make them
happy without conditions, they would do good deeds for others .There is a
simple saying which I like very much :'let share to be shared '. The world
would be better if we didn't keep things to ourselves and were open with

The next autobiography was written by a gifted 16-year-old in the “C” class, Jade. After her junior year of high school, a year after Jade wrote this, she got a scholarship to come to America and finish her senior year at Kingsford High School in Tenn. She is currently in her freshman year at BYU in Provo, Utah.

My autobiography Jade
I’d like to start my autobiography with the self introduction : My name is Nguyen Ha My, people usually call me Jade, my English name. People describe me in many ways , each one has one side right , but I will give u here the avarage description of my appearance, a 1m62 girl with long black hair, just quite pretty face , and friendly. I hope u will find it the same when u see me and talk to me in person.

My childhood was cemented with many awesome memories along with my whole family including grandparents, uncles, my parents two more brothers , my brother and I. We used to live in a large house designed in a classical French architecture. While parents were busy with their work, all kids gathered to play hide and seek, rode bicycles on the streets. Every afternoon , we were obsessed with climbing up trees, picking fruits in sneak and eating them even still sticking upon the tree until we got full then came home and told lies to my parents that we had just played with flowers so the dust had clung on our faces and our hands. I still remember not only the taste of early morning air when we got up to do exercies but the pure feelings coming from breezes in the late evening when we rode our bicycles around on the pavement. On Tet holiday( a tradditional New Year occasion in Vietnam) the slightly cold weather with drizzle made me so excited and contented. We sat around to talk, to wait for the first Square cake to be cooked.I was always so excited that I couldn’t sleep , just thought of having a bath in the special weed with a nice smell.

At 12 years old, my big family got into trouble in finance, we couldn’t live on each other and stay there anylonger. All the family( the adults) decided to sell the old house with regret and each member had to find himself a new one. We left the house with all sadness and regret but as people say: “ come what it may” We finally moved to a new smaller one in the classical street in Hanoi. Having so upset because of having no friends while mom and dad were always away from home, I started to be absorbed in studying and found it so interesting. With the little knowledge I had acquired when teaching myself, I went to my secondary school and soon became confident and more interested in learning.

It was such a luck that my new house was near the lake so I used to walk alone or sometimes with my friends , which was the most enjoyable habbit making me relax and it is still being kept until now. Besides, I loved riding my bike around some streets near by which helps me feel less lonely and at least, I found this place quite interesting. Later then, I soon became an amateur “ explorer” an spent two hours a day finding new roads, letting myself lost and trying to come back the start until the cows come home. After one afternoon being expressed, I returned home and wrote all my description in a diary with the thought that It would be my will for my offsprings! One of my best friends for ever is my dad, he poured into me the love for this life and pepole around me with a warm heart. My father and I used to sit around to talk for hours, he told me about his bussiness trips , his deep knowledge and life experience expressed me much.
One event in my life that had changed me a lot and given me a great lesson was that:
Once in the winter afternoon, while walking around with my girlfriend in the Square 10/5 , we ran into a stranger , an old man with a skinny and moody appearance. He was sitting there with depressing eyes full of paint, looking through the air. “ so sad” I though and felt sorry for him, He looked so miserable, but he didn’t seem to be a beggar . No one told, I wanted to help him and came to talk to him. We kept talking and knew that he had been upset about his children, they competed and tried to take the lion’s share in his inheritance. After that, every afternoon , when finishing my school, I came there to talk to him. As a very small girl, I told him about evrything, even my little trouble in my daily routine, My quite , levelheaded and imperturbable friend always sat there , listened to me carefully with affectionate eyes. Time passed and the chances I got to visit him became so slight. I didn’t see him nearly for a month. One day, when nohing could delay from visiting him, I returned with an glinting thought that we would compensate for him. But It was too late, he had gone away without any clue, nowhere could we find our olf friend. We went to the stations, bus stops but all came into nothing. I stood there, felt like my heart falling down to my stomach and burst into tears. That was the moment I had to regret most for what I had done. Since then, I have had no chance to see my friend anylonger, the person who had ever said to us that “ I wish to have grandchildren like u. I would be so proud of !” .

At the age of 16, I attended foreign language specialing school, had new friends, new teachers which made me anxious. Finally, I got familiar with everything and became independent in my thoughts. One of my favourites is learning History, following historical events and analysing them attracted me a lot, I usually asked myself many questions such as “ If I were there at that time, what would I do” , “ How can I change the present now, It’s impossible” all of which helped me live in harmony with the present and love my life much more.
One day, I returned the square and the corner near the fountain, I realised that there were still a lot of things in my life I had to try harder to get and then when looking back, I would not regret . I told myself that I need to try my best to fulfill my dream not only for me, for my family but for one more person , my old friend, who is now somewhere in the world or maybe not will smile with me in satisfaction.

Mai Thuy was one of the most motivated students I had. She tried very hard in spite of not having a gift for language like other girls.

The autobiography of Mai Thuy…C-2007

I was born in peaceful and quiet village. At that time my family is very poor, I lived in my parents 's love and felt happy. I am a small girl of very few words and my parents called me Kitty that mean "small cat". I love this name.
Everything changed since my father got a sirious desease he became a hot_tempered person and was allways geting angry. At that time my mother had a baby boy. The baby is a pretty and lovely boy and intelligent and restless also. My mother wanted to spent time to look after my farther so my brother and I lived with my grandparents. In morning, I went to primary school in village and in the afternoon I went to a field to feed the water-buffalo.
On this field the kids and I used to fly kites in the wind summer afternoon . My childhood bound up with sweet memory.
When I went to secondary school my father recovered from illness, he had to go away to earn money. He wanted my family had a comfortable life. I went to Son Tay town to study and say goodbye with peaceful village. At school , I tried to learn well because I wanted my parents pride of me. My father rarely went home and I could meet him 4 or 5 times a year. My mother was always busy. Sometime I felt lonely but I knew all things they did because of their love they spent for my brother and I.
15 years old I failed the entrance examination to go to Hanoi National University.
I learnt in high school in town with wonderful class. I have sweet memory in here. I had my fist love when I was 18 years old. He is my classmate. He is very intelligent but very mischievous...I didn't know it is love or not. But I always missed him so much...I went to National Economic University with the memory of my fist love. It was a sad memory???
My grandfather passed away, I could'n meet him the last time before he died. His sudden death is emotional shock with me...I went to Hanoi after my grandfather's funeral. I need a friend besides me I wish I could cry on someone's shoulder...but nobody. Maybe someday I meet my true love.

This girl, Minh Trang, does a little apple polishing at the end of her autobiography…

Autobiography of Cat Minh Trang… “C-Class)

My name is Trang, and my family’s name is Cát. Many people say that :”I’ve never heard your surname before,it’s really strange” This made me proud and happy. According to my grandfather, he said that the origin of this surname is Mac.As a political reason,it was change into Cat. My full name is CAT MINH TRANG.
In autumn of October of 1984 , the weather was cool, my mother was cooking , suddenly, she feel in labour, she tried her best to call my father and imediately he came back home to take my mother to A maternity hospital.After time , she gave a birth in the evening. A litlle baby is me. I was the oldest of 2 children. My younger sister is 12 years younger than I. My mother was pregnant late from when I was born because my family is in difficult before ,so my parents didn’t want to have more kids. I still remember that day when I was reported by cousin that my mother was being pregnant . I was very surprised and happy and little afraid of that my parents wouldn’t love me as much as baby. And then I asked my mother that I would still be loved ? Many people joked me “They will not don’t care you and they want good things such as cakes, sweets belongs baby, not you” Sometimes I cried for things, but now it makes me smile and happy for those.
I’ve lived and smiled , enjoyed and come into life for 22 years. The life bring me many happiness and also many sadness . I am more determined to become meaning person when I see poor people or old beggars with hard faces . Easily smile at little things I meet, I see around in the morning . So my friends say that” you are romantic”. The romantic person may be easily disappointed with things not as she expects. May be…
In free time , I always listen to music especially when the lights go out , close my eyes to enjoy melodies. Sometimes , I read famous classical novels , or go around by bicycle alone .
I have black eyes , brown skin , wavy naturally hair .I’m a small girl , it’s disadvantage point to apply some jobs required height , especially banking. I’ve studied in academy of bank , at 4th year . It’s last year of student , pupil to come into adult next period. This university is not my choice when I went out high school . My first choice was medical university. My dream is that become a doctor . But , my will (may be is also ability) is not enough to turn my dream into reality , even may be unselfconfident . Although I won 1 sty prize in biology for pupil of all Ha no high schools , but I think it’s lucky not my ability because I didn’t spend much time studying for it . Sometimes when you understand your self too much is not good, you easily lose faith in you. It’s was very strange , I had never dreamed , thought that I would pass medical university , and it happened. I failed that exam and the third I took exam, the result is like the first time although with high marks ,because of too high standard mark of medical university. The second year , I registered 2 university, they were medical university and academy of bank . Ones is B group with 3 subjects: moths, chemistry, biology. Ones is A group with moths, physics , chemistry. Finally, I passed the second not dreamed ones with surprising mark . The third , although I was studding in second ones , I still tried to drill in subjects of B group. But , I still failed. Every time I remember these things , I feel pity for not trying my best to fulfill my dream. Or dream never comes true? It comes true when you aren’t non cease-afford. You muster up all your strength . Until now , I really don’t do meaning things that I am proud .I always think I’ll but my action is contradictory . My actions show me wreaked-will. When you lived with wreaked- will or without will , you are not to be.( base on “ to be or not to be”). In my heart has little fire but I can’t burn it up. Now , I am on the way to find myself and try to do my best to become active, dynamic citizen belong 1980s generation.

Dear teacher!!!
I have not ever heard name like you-Goss, but David is popular name that I ‘vet known in English books in Viet Nam . But the first lesson you taught , I don’t remember exactly your speaking but I understand that you always want us to keep our faith in our heart ,”smile on your face” “ never give up”. Although I see things too much ,when you talk those I realize I don’t really understand them before . You’re right , we and yourself is teacher of ours, you are like our parents and only push up us. I hope through your lesson I will be better and then best that I am able to become by my endeavors . The teacher not only gives our knowledge , but also teach us to become real person .
Wish you :good health , happy in life and teaching career and success in journalist, love teaching , keep smile on your face .It’s beautiful and nice. Your smile made us happy.!!!

Thu Hien, like so many of the young women in Hanoi, are not only focused on English but on finding love also…not just any love but “truth love”!

My AutoBiography…Thu Hien…C-2007

I was born in Ha Tay, at the end of spring when “Gao” flowers bloom blazing red.
My family has 5 people : my parents, my older sister, my older brother and me. My sister has married and had a daughter. She is 3 years old. They live near my house and at weekend they visit us. I am living with my parents and my brother’ s family. My brother has married, too. He has a 2 year-old son.
My sister is older than me 10 ages and my brother older than me 8 ages. That is the reason why I can’t confide to them, when I growth up, they have had their own family so they are very busy, they hardly have time for me. If we talk together, they only care about my study. About my parents, they are retired.They are really good parents, they sacrificed their life for us and I am really respectful what they do for us. But they are only parents, they can’t become friends with me. I can’t tell them about my thought or my problems. Sometimes I feel alone in my family. However, I have some friends who always listen to me and share me many problems. I love them very much.
When I was 3 years old, my family moved to Hanoi. At that moment , my house was small, it was 10 square metre but it was an interesting place. Neighbours were very kind and friendly. Especilly, there were many children in there and I spent a wonderful childhood with them. Every evening we gathered in the small yard in front of my house, we played many games. For example : hide and seek, police catch spies and so on. I remember that we liked to have take a bath in the rain very much, wore clothes to bath, both boys and girls, to play while bathing. Beside, we pretended to hold Miss World. I even was very sad and cried and cried because I was not became Miss World. What is a funny!
When it was occasion like mid-autumn or Tet, we holded parties, we sang and danced. What is an enjoyable! I will never forget that time.
When I was 11 years old, my family moved again to other place. It was a block. When I lived there, I was very boring. Every neighbour rarely opened their door. After school, I came back home and played alone. It was very sad at that time.
When I was 18 years old, I failed the exam entrance University. It was the sadest time for me. I had to stay at home for 1 year while my friends went to school. I was really sad because made my parent disappointed and worried about my future. I hardly want to meet my friends, I felt very shame. However, every things was ok when I passed the exam in next year. I became more happy and had some close friends. And I met a guy, he was leader of basketball, I like him but he didn’t pay attention to me, this made me sad for 1 week. What’s funny but it was the truth, After only 1 week, I hardly remember him. Perhap because it was not truth love.
Afterward, I met some guys and they loved me but I loved nobody. I don’t know why but I didn’t feel stirred. Then my friends have sweetheart, I was still lonely. Every Saturday night, they went with their partner and I stayed at home to watch T.V. It was very sad. I want to have boyfreind, too but it was difficult for me to love someone. Why is that? I don’t know. As a result I was lonely during 5 years in University.
But one day, love came to me. That day, I met him when I traveled with my sister’s company. He is my sister’s coworker. At beginning, I didn’t pay attention to him at all. But when came back, he sent me messages and we become friend. I feel very self-confident and comfortable when talk with him. Gradually I fall in love with him. Finally, he said that he love me. That is great , I waited this for a long time and I’m really happy. But my happy didn’t last long, he has to go abroad to work for 2 years. At that moment I am really disappointed. 2 years is too long to wait. There are many things will change for 2 years. But I decided that I will wait him. At first, I missed him so much. Althought we still chat together , it is very different. I have to go to parties alone. When I have a problem, he is not beside me. When I feel sad, he is not here. But I get used to his absence gradually. I took a part into alone club where everybody have not yet sweetheart or their sweetheart go to abroad like me. We often gather to play cards or go to cineme or go to karaoke at weeken. Thanks to them, I feel more happy.
Now I’m 24 years old, I’m preparing graduation, then I will find a job in a foreign company and wait him come back, marry and have 2 babies. This is a simple life but I wish,I will tried my best to my dream come truth. And I NEVER GIVE UP.

Hoa, in her autobiography claims she can remember being born. Perhaps what she means is she can remember previous TET (Lunar new year, usually called Chinese New Year in America).
I was born in Hanoi. I still remember the day when I was born: It was a speacial day that we call New Year Eve's Day. It was on February 11 th, 1983 which was on December 30, 1982 in lunar calendar. My mom went to Cay Da Nha Bo hospital few days ago, waiting for me, her new baby. My dad was at home, preparing for the Tet , and, ready for the baby. Everyone was hurry to finish their work and went home. Tet is an occasion for everyone coming back home and gathering their families' members. However, these days was not the days like ussual in my family. Mom was not at home cooking for the new year's Eve party. And dad didn't go to the market to buy firecrackers for the Tet. The only thing they did was just only preparing for the coming baby.
8 am, December 30, 1982 in Lunar calendar, Mom felt strange in her stomach. She kept rubbing her belly, talking with her baby in sweet words. Suddenly, she felt a pain in her stomach and couldn't stand it. Doctors came in and tried to help her to bear.
8.30 am, there was a phone call from the hospital saying that my mom was going to bear a baby. Dad came to the hospital as soon as possible to be with my mom. Everyone was ready for a new born baby. Mom had a very bad pain in her belly and she kept calling my dad's name. " anh An, anh đâu rồi?" ( Mr An, where are you?). Dad was beside my mom, holding her hands and said that he was here with her. Mom smiled. Doctors said fathers must go out in order to make the mother bear easily. Dad had to go out, still worried about my mom. Few minutes later, a loud crying baby's voice raised. Doctors came out and said with Dad that he had a new baby girl. He rushly came in and hugged mom and me – a new baby. Everyone said the baby was born in Tet and she'll be happy and funny like Tet always. It was a very happy time for mom and dad.

Huong of Hanoi Univ. of Technology (HUT) wrote one of the best autobiographies.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chapter 7...Hoang and Other Treasures

Hoang (Alan) is his first suit.
Chapter 7…Hoang and Other Treasures…

A tremendous stroke of good fortune came my way a few months ago; Hoang, who’s English name is Alan, asked if he could move in with me. I’ve known this boy since I came here, almost a year ago. He’s a good-hearted lad, about, as he says, “21 or so.” It makes it difficult to judge ages here. And it doesn’t help that the Vietnamese consider their birth the day they were conceived and when they are born, they consider that their first birthday, which, if you think about it, they’re right.

On our first birthday, there is no cake, no candles, no presents for us except that great big gift called LIFE! When on the next anniversary of their birth, the Vietnamese claim to be two, we Americans claim our first official birthday. I am always asking my VN students, what YEAR were you born…on this there is no mistake.

Alan was born in Hung Yen Province, about a 2 hour bus ride NE of Hanoi. His mother and father are both poor rice farmers. Alan, along with his younger brother and sister, worked with their parents in the rice paddies ever since they could walk. At 14, his mother brought him to Hanoi with her for the first time. Once Alan saw Hanoi, he was hooked. Shortly after returning home to Hung Yen, he ran away from home and stayed on the streets working as a shoe-shine boy. He picked up English from his foreign customers and somehow, someone at our school took note of Alan and it wasn’t long and he was given a scholarship to come learn English formally.
When I first met Alan, he was working as a combination doorman and bell-hop at a hotel that catered to foreigners. Alan never could get the terms doorman and bell-hop straight so, when asked what he did, he said he was a doorbell. No matter how often I corrected him, it was futile…he was a doorbell.

When he lost his job at the hotel, he also lost his quarters there…which was a large closet he slept in so he needed somewhere to lay his head at night. When I took him in, he was as thankful as a lost dog taken off the street. The first night, before I retired, he brought a tub of hot water for me to soak my aching feet in. He repeated this unselfish act of service each night for weeks. However, both Alan and I got some stark reminders that we had come from vastly different cultures.

After his first few days with me, I went to take a shower one afternoon and found my towel sopping wet. I called to Alan and asked if he had used my towel. Without hesitation, he said “Sure!” as if there was no alternative. I told him that I would get him his own towel and I explained that in our culture, you don’t use other people’s bath towels…they are like personal property.

Somewhat puzzled, Alan looked at me quizzically and said that in his family, they only had one towel for 5 people so they all used the same towel. WOW! Culture shock afresh! Moments later, after I had handed Alan a towel of my own and I went to brush my teeth. No way!!!! My toothbrush was wet!!!

“ALAN!!!” I screamed. “Please don’t tell me you used my toothbrush!!!” Again, a dumbfounded look and he said, “Of course I used your toothbrush. I don’t have one…and besides…” I cut him off. “Don’t tell me…you only had one toothbrush for your whole family.” He nodded yes.
In great detail, and with slow speech and very clear words, I let Alan know that I would get him his own toothbrush…that this was very improper to use the same toothbrush as someone else. He got the message although at the time, he likely thought I was rather strange and picky.

Although Alan constantly tried my patience with unpolished ways and crass manners, he was a sweet, loveable boy and I could never find it in my heart to ask him to move out. Even when I discovered my underwear drawer was empty…and what a shock because my waist is at least double his…well, I had to start locking my bedroom door when I went out. I told him, “Alan, don’t tell me you and your family only had one pair of underwear between the 5 of you because I am NOT going to believe it!”
Wednesday, August 11h , 2004...“Flowers…”…

The lyrics of one of my favorite folk songs, called, “Give me roses” has the words:

“Give me the roses while I live, trying to cheer me on,
Useless the flowers you shall give after the soul is gone.”

Downstairs, in my living room, on the desk are 3 bouquets of flowers. These all came from students. Flowers are a very important part of Vietnamese culture and society. Last week when I was sick, I had to cancel my Thursday night class and just spend the day and night in bed. The next day when I came downstairs there were these beautiful flowers that the students of the class had brought. Alan, the young Vietnamese man who now lives with me, let the students in and accepted their get-well gifts and put the flowers in vases while I was asleep upstairs. That touched me so deeply. Flowers here are the expression of care and love.
For a society where there is no outward physical affection (no hugging, no kissing, no hand-holding) the Vietnamese show their love with flowers. I ask the question to all my students: “Do you ever tell your parents that you love them?” They answer always the same, a resounding “NEVER!” They tell me it would be inappropriate to say such a thing. You show it, they tell me, you don’t say it. And often times, they say it by buying their parents flowers. In the year that I’ve been in Hanoi, I’ve never had one student tell me “I love you.” It just isn’t done here. However, they demonstrate it by bringing flowers and food.
The Vietnamese are a very warm-hearted people with ready smiles and a cultural reservoir of love overflowing from their generous hearts. They feel very secure in their family relationships because their parents nurture them so totally and love them so completely. The divorce rate is less than 1% because they don’t want to break up families. Adults sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of the happiness and security of their children. In fact, the word “sacrifice” is a huge part of Vietnamese cultural mentality and society. A wife would never even think of divorcing her husband even if he was habitually unfaithful to her, especially if she had children.
After researching and reading about the low divorce rate in Vietnam, I mentioned this statistic to my boss, Mr. Lam, who is the managing editor of The Vietnam Economic News, the weekly magazine that I am foreign editor for. Although serious, his reply made me laugh aloud. He said, “That is incorrect. It is much higher than 1%. It is at least 4 or 5%!” He didn’t see the humor in his statement, but compared to our country where the divorce rate has now exceeded 50%, the relatively low figure of even 5% paled in contrast. No matter how poor a family, there are flowers in every home.
Now, when I see certain kinds of flowers, I think of certain people. Lynelle often brings me a bouquet of huge sunflowers. I will never see a sunflower without thinking of my cheerful, bright, bouncy little Canadian “daughter.” She will return to Victoria on Saturday after being here teaching for a year. I am really going to miss her. My Vietnamese “daughter” Ruth brings me yellow roses once a week. Alan brought a gorgeous array of lotus. Ha brought a vase full of cat-tails and water reeds. Students brought a rich array of flowers.
Although flowers fade and die within a week, the love behind them remains. It is such a small expression of love and yet, it is these small things in life that added together, contribute to the richness and color of this wonderful culture. Culture is in people. People maintain and preserve culture. As the little plaque on a friend’s wall states, “Friends are the flowers in the garden of life.”

Thursday, Sept. 2nd , 2004...“Vietnamese Ants…”…

Today is Vietnam‘s National Independence Day. It is the second biggest holiday in Vietnam after TET, the lunar new year. Today Vietnam celebrates its independence not from one country but from many. In their 4,000 year history, the Vietnamese have never been dominated for long. France conquered and occupied Vietnam for 100 years but 50 years ago this year, in 1954, the famous battle of Dinh Binh Phu took place in which the smaller, ill-equipped army of Ho Chi Minh’s loyal followers totally licked the French and drove them out of Vietnam. In 1973 the Vietnamese drove America from it’s soil as they have done China, Japan, and Mongolia thousands of years before. If there is one word that characterizes the Vietnamese people it is “tenacious”. Tenacious is defined by Webster as the quality of being able to overcome any obstacle with fierce determination. The Vietnamese have fierce tenacity. They are like little bulldogs that grab a hold of your leg and will never let go. Don’t ever get in an argument with a Vietnamese person. You will lose.
Other qualities of the Vietnamese include, but are not limited to, warm-hearted, friendly, kind and generous. For example, one night of the week I teach a group of army doctors at a military hospital. After the class one night I invited one of the doctors home for a meal with me. I had a persistent cough and couldn’t shake it. During the meal, the doctor told me he’d take care of me so the next day he brought medicine to my home. He called each day to see how I was doing and informed me, “I am your family doctor. Whenever you have any health problem at all, call me and I will come to your home to take care of you.” He would not accept payment…he said, “Just keep teaching us English!” In Vietnam doctors DO make house-calls! Incredibly kind people these Vietnamese.

I’ve mentioned in a previous email about the Vietnamese being curious. Remember “Curious George?” Well he is pretty typical of the Vietnamese and curiosity is a wonderful quality when harnessed. I use teaching strategies that utilize student’s curiosity like, “Guess what is in the box.” I usually have a vocabulary word on a flash card and they have to guess clues to find out which word it is. You would be surprised how much their vocabulary improves when their curiosity is peaked. This week the word in the box was “tenacious.”

The most common question the Vietnamese ask me and other foreigners is; “What do you think of Vietnamese people?” I usually tell them that the Vietnamese are friendly, kind, curious, survivors and as mentioned, most of all they are tenacious. I think I have really got this point of being tenacious across to the students. This past week, I’ve been having a real problem with ants. They even got in my air-tight sugar container. I don’t know how. I put the container in a bowl filled with water and a few hours later I saw ants crawling up the sugar container. In amazement, I called some of my students over to witness ants swimming in the water to get to the sugar container. I said, “I want you to see this for yourself. If I told my friends in America about this they will never believe me. Only in Vietnam will ants swim in water to get at sugar.” One of them said “Of course they can swim. They are Vietnamese ants! They are tenacious!!!” I have been chuckling all week long over those words!

Sunday, Sept. 12th , 2004...“Cherry Pie Will Have to Wait…”…
I love America. In America you can buy anything you crave, day or night, providing you have money, it is not illegal and you have the strength to get out of bed. I also love cherry pie. Last week I had a dream about eating cherry-pie. I awoke craving cherry-pie. The only problem was there is no cherry-pie to be found anywhere in Hanoi. ...not in a bakery, not in a home, not even in restaurants. Yes, I can bake a cherry-pie Billy Boy, Billy Boy but the problem is there is no oven in my home nor in most homes in Hanoi, just a couple of butane gas burners, much like cooking on a Coleman stove. So I forgot about the cherry-pie. It was just wishful thinking.The next night, I had a dream that I had made a trip to America and yes, you guessed it, the first thing I had was a piece of cherry-pie and a cup of coffee. I think my blood sugar is getting too low. When I awoke I was now drooling for cherry-pie. Normally I don't have much of a sweet-tooth but now I was getting desperate. My visa is coming up for renewal the end of this month and the thought even flittered thru my mind: "Maybe I won't be able to get my visa renewed and I'll have to go back to America and YES! Eat cherry-pie!" I banished this childish and gluttonous thought from my mind never to have it return again, except once every few minutes. This was starting to get to be an obsession.What does one do when one has irrational and impossible obsessions? I started to scheme how I could make a cherry-pie in my microwave. Then there came another problem. There are no cherries in Hanoi. Here there are fruits I've never heard of. In addition, there are some I have even never heard of until I came to Vietnam and now that I have tasted them I wish I had never heard of, like durian.Durian is a fruit that you either love or hate. Rex loves durian. Morris loves durian. .Most Vietnamese love durian. If someone wanted to get secret information out of me, all they would have to do is threaten me to eat durian and I'd tell all. There is absolutely no way I can describe the taste of it. The closest I can come is to say it is like eating solid lighter fluid, only it isn't flammable. Then again, I'd dare not light a match within 30 feet of it. Then again, I try not to get within 30 feet of it.The first time I am aware of ever having heard the word "durian" was in a going-away poem that Sharon Farnell from California composed before I left for Hanoi. She had a line, something to the effect of "from durian you will be a scurrien," or something to that effect. I thought durian was like a motor vehicle. I was wrong, it is more dangerous and lethal. How people can eat it and still live to tell about it is a miraculous feat to me.Well now, I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, cherry-pie! Wow, talking about durian has taken my appetite away for everything, including cherry-pie. However, if you have a good recipe for making cherry-pie in a microwave, please send it on. When was the last time you had dreams about cherry-pie two nights running? Oh the things we take for granted in America. God bless America, mothers, baseball and of course, cherry-pie. I guess cherry pie will just have to wait until I come home in December. Next time you have a slice of pie of anything, take an extra bite for me…and be thankful you live in America next time you crave something in the middle of the night. As our dear departed Marilyn Wheeler might advise, “Forget the cherry-pie and pick up your chop stix again!”

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chapter 6...Growing Pains...

Water buffalo graze on a foggy hillside near Sapa

Chapter 6 …Growing Pains…

When the school closed, Roger, the principle, told me that I could buy any and all of the schools supplies and resources in order to start my own English center. On my budget, all I could afford was a portion of the books in the school’s resource center. I couldn’t afford to buy any of the tables, chairs, desks, or whiteboards. When new students called the school to enroll in classes, the secretaries, Minh and Thuy would take down their numbers and I would call them and invite them to come to my home to take classes. Looking back on my journals from that time period, I shake my head and am amazed at my insane optimism. My first class started out with 2 students on the steps of the home of friends where I was staying. The journal for that period was surprisingly cheerful.

Thursday, May 13, 2004…My First Class…

Tonight I had my first class with two students, Hung, a 27-year-old software engineer and Hanh, a 25-year-old sales rep with LG-Vietnam. Since I haven’t found a house yet, I held the class on the steps of the home of friends where I am staying temporarily. I told the 2 students the first class is free…and once I find a house, we will begin officially. Truth is, I enjoy teaching so much that I would actually do it for free. Thanks to the job as foreign editor for the Vietnam Economic News, I really don’t need additional income from teaching to make ends meet. Since students can only learn after work in the evenings anyway, the News job fills my otherwise empty days.

As a paraphrase of the whisper in “Field of Dreams,” the still small voice keeps saying, “If you teach them, they will come.” Even if I only had one eager student, that would be enough. Teaching is not about numbers but about giving. Probably, for the first time in my life, I am starting to get a feeling of finding my niche and being fulfilled after a lifetime of failures.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004…The class is growing…

Tonight I had my first class in my new home, around the dining room table. Now there are 6 students. Again, I told them, since 4 of them are new students, that the first class would be free and we will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 7 to 8:30. This is an intermediate conversation class. Hung is the most advanced of the 6 but I will have to shoot for middle ground so all can enter in. At our school, we had 5 levels: beginner, lower intermediate, intermediate, upper-intermediate, and advanced. VN taught the beginners and then we NES taught or co-taught the other levels. If I get many more students at different levels, I am going to have to divide them up into skill level classes.

Thursday, May, 20, 2004…Class has doubled…

12 students show up tonight. I don’t know where they’re coming from…like ants, they come out of nowhere. A few of these were more advanced and a few were only at lower-intermediate. I’m going to have to divide the students up into skill levels.

Also, tonight, I came to the painful realization that if the amount of students increases, I am going to have to hire help, especially for the lower level students who need more of the basics. It frustrates the advanced students to have beginners in with them. Also, after working all day at the News, I don’t have the stamina to teach every night.

Friday, June 11, 2004…Maxed out…

Tonight I started a class of army doctors at the Hanoi Army Hospital. 7 doctors, primarily in nuclear medicine. They need English for their jobs and to get further training abroad. Now I have classes each night except Sundays. Next week I am to make a trip to Hue for the VN Cultural Festival and am looking forward to the break in the routine. Feel I’m in over my head. Fortunately, I’ve hired Huong to teach the beginners so that will be a big help. She and a few other students will go with me to Hue this coming week.

Asked each of the doctors to tell a little about themselves. Also in the class is Viet, one of my students from Duc’s class on Tuesday nights. Viet is a physician’s assistant and is the one who told his supervisor, Col. Bao about me. When he brought Col. Bao to my house to meet me, and request English lessons for the doctors, I was surprised to see she was a woman. Didn’t expect a woman, colonel, army doctor. She had to get approval from her superior because I was an American. They’ve never had an American come to the army hospital before. My dad, veteran of WW II and the Korean War era, would turn over in his grave if he knew I was working for a communist government’s army! My conscience doesn’t bother me tho…teaching English isn’t exactly like selling nuclear secrets to Russia.

Always, starting a new class is exciting and it revitalized and energized me after an exhausting week. It was funny…one of the doctors, Dr. Son, who has a high squeaky voice, when I asked him when he first started to learn English, said that the first word he ever learned as a child was the word, “OK.” He said he was watching Vietnam TV and there was an ad for “OK condoms,” and that was what he first learned. I was a little stunned to think they were showing ads for condoms on the state-owned TV station. Then I got thinking…almost all Hanoi families only have 1 or 2 children in the family so they had to start practicing birth control a few decades ago. Dr. son gave me a ride home on the back of his motorbike and he is by far the most advanced student in the doctors class.

Friday, June 25, 2004…Motivation…

Fridays are our busiest day at the VN Economic News. We have to finalize the weekly English edition for publication. The files are sent to the printer in HCMC and printed and distributed on the weekend so they will be in the hands of thousands of English speaking companies by Monday. I go by xe om (motorbike taxi) right from the office to the army hospital. Unfortunately, the doctor’s class only gets my leftover energy from the week but I motivate myself by reminding myself that English is a tool the Vietnamese use for a better life.

I just finished reading Bill Bryson’s book, “The Mother Tongue,” and there is a shocking statistic in there. Bryson writes that of the 1.2 billion people in China, more either speak English or are learning English than all the NES in America! Given the influx of illegal immigrants into the USA, that is probably a fact.

When tired, exhausted and depleted of energy, I can usually motivate myself to teach by remembering that English is the road out of poverty for many of my students. They are so eager to learn; it lights a fire under me…and in my heart.

Sat. July 3, 2004…The Advanced Class
Tonight I had my first advanced class. These students are all the best from all my classes combined. Dr. Son, from the doctor’s class, Huong, my beginner class teacher, Ha, who made an attempt to teach me Vietnamese, and a handful of some of the other advanced students.

I gave the students a listening test, reading an article out of the VN Economic News about the monk I’d gone to interview. Afterwards, I asked 35 questions to see how well they could retain information and Ha got 33 out of 35 right. The next best was Huong at 27, then Dr. Son, 25. My intermediate students got less than 10 right a few nights ago. Dr. Son has a delightful sense of humor and always makes me laugh.

Of the 5 skills in English, the most important is pronunciation. All my students, whether lower intermediate to advanced have one thing in common; they’ve all been taught English initially by VN English teacher, which means they’ve all been taught incorrect pronunciation. Listening, speaking, reading, are sequential in difficulty with writing being the last skill to develop in English.

What a crazy, messy language we have; a conglomeration of Latin, Greek, and Anglo-Saxon. Take a sentence like, “To become a doctor, biology is vital.” We had “bio,” from the Greek root for life and “vita,” from the Latin root for life all in the same sentence. I’m surprised that English has become the language of commerce, travel, and the universal language of the world in general. Little did I ever realize how valuable my mother tongue would become.

I teach my smaller classes, 10-12 or less around my dining room table. I teach the larger classes, more than 12, upstairs in the big room. I have yet to have enough stools for everyone so the students in the larger classes sit on mats on the floor. I apologize for this, but they don’t seem to mind.

Chapter 5...Reverse Culture Shock...

Friday, Feb. 20, 2004…Going Home or Leaving Home?…

Noi Bai Airport…Hanoi…11 AM…sitting in the VN Airlines boarding area awaiting my flight for Hong Kong. Mixed emotions. Three months ago I was marking the days off the calendar until this day was to arrive…my day of departure for the USA.

Chi and Huong rode with me in the taxi. They were gabbing all the way to the airport and Chi brought me a pink string to tie around my finger, so as not to forget to return to Hanoi.

“Chi,” I said firmly, “I’ve already got a huge ribbon tied around my heart…I don’t need one on my finger!” I had to turn away from Chi and Huong because I felt a lump in my throat and eyes beginning to water. How is it that a few months ago I couldn’t wait to leave Vietnam and now I wanted to stay? What caused these changes in the heart?

Now on the plane…noon…VN Airlines flight between Hanoi and Hong Kong. Visited briefly with a middle age couple sitting next to me from Canada. Asked them how they liked Hanoi…they were there for 5 days and said they hated it…traffic, noise, culture shock. Sounded like me after 3 months. To see true beauty in any culture you have to look below the surface.

In Hong Kong airport…2 PM…will board Cathay Pacific flight in about 30 minutes for SFO. 14 hour flight ahead of me and I’ll arrive in Calif. about the same time, same day I left Hanoi.

Friday, Feb. 27, 2004…at my mom’s in Denver…Reverse Culture Shock...

It seemed so strange stepping on American soil again. When I handed the agent my passport to clear customs in San Francisco, he asked me what I had been doing in VN for 6 months and when I told him, he handed back my passport, smiled and said, “Welcome home!” That felt good.

After renting a car, I drove to Santa Clara to see my youngest son Galen and his family. The first thing he noticed was that I had lost weight. “Looks like Vietnam agreed with you pops,” he announced.

After spending a few days with Galen, Shelly and my grandkids, Caden and Macy, I headed east on I-80 toward Denver. Stopping constantly to take pictures of the American landscape, as if I were seeing it all again for the first time, I especially lingered in the Sierras to get pictures of the snow. This would wow the students back in Hanoi.

In Utah I stopped at my first McDonalds. When I ordered a Big Mac, I told the kid behind the counter the last time I had a Big Mac was in Guangzhou, China. Obviously impressed, the kid’s response was, “Do you want fries with that?” So much for global consciousness in America.
Now, on my bed downstairs in the bedroom I occupied when in high school, I am typing my handwritten Hanoi journals into my laptop.

My mom, now 87, has really gone downhill since I last saw her before going to Hanoi 6 months ago. The house is a disaster. Piles of newspapers cover every inch of the kitchen table, over a foot high. It took me 3 hours to wash all the dirty dishes in the sink. My unemployed brother Danny, who lives here, spends every waking moment at the bar and only staggers home long after everyone is in bed. After I take care of filing my income tax and a few other items of business, I will be glad to be going back to Hanoi. Besides the homes of friends, I have no other home except this one here in Denver. Tomorrow I’ll drive down to Colorado Springs to visit my oldest son Jason and his wife Cat and my other grandkids, Carson and Kai.

Friday, March 12, 2004…58 in Denver

Turned 58 today and feel still wet behind the ears. Yesterday I got an email from Roger in Hanoi telling me not to return to Vietnam. He said the school was closing down in April so I won’t have a job to come back to. Also, he and the other teachers are all leaving to return to their homelands after the school closes so I won’t have a home to come back to either.

Although a bit surprised, it didn’t shock me. I knew I was going back to Hanoi anyway, because I left something very important there I have to go back for; my heart. So, I plan on returning the middle of next month.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004...Reflections on America…

I’ll be returning to Vietnam tomorrow.

Now, there are some things I must write before I go back to the other shore. I must write what is on my mind about America. After 6 months in Vietnam, I’ve come to appreciate my homeland like never before. For all of America’s faults and failures, it is still the greatest nation on the earth. What do we have that Vietnam doesn’t? I’ve been thinking about that ever since I’ve come home and there are three things about the home of the brave and land of the free that have come acutely into my focus. The three things that are in greatest contrast to Vietnam are LIBERTY, OPPORTUNITY, AND PROSPERITY.

There are things that I don’t have the liberty to write about in Vietnam. On the other hand, we have freedoms here that permit people to burn our flag, an act that infuriates and saddens me…but such is the freedom of expression in this country. In Vietnam it is illegal to own or carry a gun. In America someone would kill you for trying to take their gun away from them! We have so many liberties here that we take for granted. Maybe, just maybe we have too many liberties. However, liberty leads to opportunity.

For example, Colin Powell, a poor Jamaican youth rose from poverty in NY City to become the US Secretary of State. Quyen Lee, a refuge from Vietnam, worked in an LA bakery and even slept there at night, working 16 hours a day until he was able to buy the bakery and now owns a chain of donut shops and is a millionaire. Ken Hamblin, a fatherless black grew up as a gang member but after getting drafted, took advantage of the GI Bill and went to college to improve his station in life and became a talk show host on a prominent Denver radio station, as well as a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist. Opportunity breed prosperity.

America is the most prosperous nation on the planet and in the history of the planet. My Vietnamese students tell me they want Vietnam to be more like America and I caution them and explain, “I want America to be more like Vietnam!”

I’ve come to love Vietnam, it’s people, it’s culture, and it’s beauty. Tomorrow I will be returning to Hanoi for an indefinite period of time. I’ll not be able to write about the things that are most precious to me…the beauties in God’s Word, the beauties of His people there or the beauty and power of His handiwork there.
Sat. April 17, 2004...Go with the flow….

At this moment I’m at Morris and Chu-han’s and it is 11:30 AM. They are in their rooms studying with Tan. It was so good to see her again.

My first official journal entry of my “2nd Tour of Duty” in Vietnam. Roy took me to the SF airport on Wedns. Nite and he went as far with me as he could go before I waved him goodbye. He is such a good man. He is the kind of man I want to be. He is like Jesus. That’s the perfect pattern When Roy waved me goodbye Wedns nite and I walked to the gate, I felt so all alone. I felt so utterly lonely, yet I know in the depths of my heart God is with me. We can feel all alone, even when we are not. Not being with people can make us feel alone but the true loneliness is being without God. When we come to the end of life’s journey I don’t want to be outside the presence of God. When I took my seat on the plane I felt so totally and utterly alone and in a sense, wanted to stay in America. I know these feelings are normal.

Opportunity missed: When I checked in at Cathay Pacific to come here, the ticket agent asked me if I would volunteer to give up my seat as the plane had been overbooked. They would give me $400 and get me on the next plane the next night. When I hesitated, she added, “And we will upgrade your seat to First Class if there are any available.” What a difference it would have been to travel richer and better. My main reservation for not doing it was because I was to meet John in Hong Kong to get the mail. However, where there is a will there is a way. Maybe John was just an excuse because I didn’t want to inconvenience myself. Ironic, one more night in America would have rewarded me with $400 and a possible First Class ride to Hong Kong! I need to me more flexible and more aware of and willing to take advantage of Opportunities.

I sat next to Jennifer, a young lady of Chinese heritage who was born in Taiwan but grew up in Calif. and got her BS degree from UCLA in psychology. She was on her way to Thailand to visit her sister and we had a nice chat for about an hour but after a time we seemed to run out of things to talk about. She was a world traveler and had been to many countries all over the world. As Jennifer and I chatted, I realized how much I love people and draw comfort from getting to know people. As soon as we started to talk my loneliness seemed to dissipate. She used the word “privilege” often and I commented to her how seldom we hear that in our country. Often times we hear people in America talking about “their rights” but not “their privileges.” Jennifer is an exceptional lady and I feel she has a bright future ahead of her. She’s been working as a marketing research consultant for 8 years in the Bay Area.

Yesterday I did have a very brief visit in Hong Kong with John M. and got the mail for the workers. The flight from HK to Hanoi was most enjoyable. There were very few people on the plane and I had the luxury of having the whole back of the plane to myself. Only Roger was there to meet me when I landed and I got a hug from him, just as I did when I first came 8 months ago. He will always be like a son to me.

Roger and I got a taxi and had a lively visit on the way to Morris and Chu-han’s. I learned later that Van Ahn and Tan took the bus to the airport to see me but arrived too late. What a pity! I laid down for a brief rest and felt very thankful to be back in Hanoi. After Chu-han made us a good Vietnamese lunch of rice and stir-fry veggies, Lynelle came and it was so great to see her again. Now all we need is Brandon!!! Lynelle took me to the school to see Thuy…now all we need is Minh! Lynelle’s bedroom ceiling was leaking from all the rain…took a xe om to the Hoa Binh Hotel so see Darlene and spent the evening with her. Took her out to the “wrong” Little Hanoi for her birthday dinner and then we went back to her hotel to wait for the others while I had such an impossible time trying to stay awake! Len, Robert, and Marcus from Australia arrived with Roger. Lynelle and Thuy had come too so we had quite a reunion there in the hotel lobby but I was just wasted so couldn’t wait to get back to the bach to crash!

Slept soundly thru the nite and awoke refreshed today. I checked my email a little while ago and it was great to hear from Chi via email finally. Lunch again with the boys and Tan joined us.

The thing that has impressed me the deepest today is when Chu-han was offering thanks for breakfast this morning and it touched me so deeply I got teary eyes. I felt so incredibly thankful to be back here in Vietnam! I really love being here! There is no place I’ve ever been in my life where I feel more a sense of belonging than here. Darlene can fully understand my feelings!

Sunday, April 25th, 2004...Good Morning Vietnam!

On Wednesday nite, April 14, my dear friend, Roy drove me to the San Francisco airport for my return to Vietnam. As we walked together down to the security checkpoint, I said goodbye to him and told him he had gone as far with me as he could go. The rest of the way I had to walk alone. It was at that time that a strange and sad loneliness came upon me. As much as I had wanted to return to Vietnam, I was sad to leave a newly discovered America.

After having been in Vietnam for the previous 6 months, America seemed such a prosperous and wonderful land during the 2 months I was there. I rediscovered our hard fought liberty, opportunity and prosperity. I traveled over 6,000 miles during that time, visiting friends and relatives in the western states. I ate all the foods I couldn’t get in Vietnam. Packed into those 2 months were many memorable visits and sharing pictures and stories about Vietnam. In one sense I was more than ready to come back to Hanoi but in another sense I wanted to stay in my homeland. However, 2 overwhelming factors made it easier to leave America: (1) knowing without the shadow of a doubt this is where I am meant to be and (2) the people here in Vietnam have won my heart.

It makes matters a little more difficult coming back to our school which will close on May 1st after having been in operation for 3 years. On top of that I am homeless. While I was in America, Brandon, Roger and Rex, my room-mates moved out of our house. Rex went back to New Zealand and Roger will soon be returning to his native Australia after the close of the school. Brandon just returned from a 3 month trip thru China, Mongolia, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. While he was in Laos, last week, he was robbed twice and barely made it back to Hanoi. That is another story, best left for Brandon to tell. Anyway, for a few brief weeks, I am with my 3 “kids” that I traveled to Hong Kong and China with in January, Lynelle, Roger and Brandon. It is likely the last time I will be together with these 3 incredible youngsters at the same time. This privilege in itself was worth coming back to Hanoi for! Lynelle will stay on here in Vietnam, likely teaching Kindergarten after the school closes.

As for me, only One knows what the future holds. Roger, Brandon and I are camped in Morris and Steve’s 2 bedroom home on the outskirts of Hanoi. I’ve been actively looking for a house or apartment. I’ll just have to keep looking. However, I do have a job. Actually, 3 part time jobs. I still work for the Vietnam Social Sciences Journal as their English editor. Also, I will take over Roger’s morning editing job with the Vietnam Economic Review when he leaves, and I have formed a class of my own. Last nite was my first nite to teach a class of seven. Between all 3 jobs, I should be able to make ends meet here.

“Any kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted” Aesop

Yesterday 2 of my students took me house hunting. Out of the kindness of their heart they paid for 2 real-estate agents to show us around. That touched me deeply. They wouldn’t let me repay them. After looking at a couple of houses, we followed the agents on motorbikes to a third house. The house owner was not there to let us in so the agents phoned him. He said he’d be there to let us in and show us the house in about 30 minutes. I could see the frustration on my student’s faces. They were very apologetic for the delay but to me this was all just part of this new adventure of hunting for a house in Hanoi.

While we stood outside chatting, the next door neighbor came out and asked us what we 5 were doing standing around this empty house. When the agents explained we were waiting for the house owner to come and show us the home, he insisted we come in and sit down in his house and wait. We did so. While we waited, the neighbor poured us tea and shared hospitality with us. Here we were perfect strangers to this man and all of a sudden we were sitting around his table drinking his tea and receiving this great kindness. In Vietnam, this is the kind of hospitality that is standard. And, hospitality is instant.

As we 5 were seated around the neighbor’s table, one of the agents, a young lady about 30, took some hot water from a thermos and poured it in one of the small tea cups. She then poured it from cup to cup, almost ritualistically to clean all 5 cups before tea was poured in. The neighbor then put tea leaves in a tea pot and added hot water from the thermos. This is the way the Vietnamese always have hot water for tea ready for unexpected guests. As we sipped tea, I was deeply touched by all the kindness of the day…my students paying the agents to show us houses, the graciousness of the neighbor and the agent cleaning the cups before we shared tea together. By the time the owner of the house had arrived, I had already had a most delightful visit, thru the interpretation of my students, with the agents and the neighbor. Kindness is deeply imbedded in this culture.

Next week when I write, I hope I can report on finding a house. None of the houses I looked at yesterday were suitable. The average price of the homes we saw was a little above my budget at $300 per month.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004...“Moving Days…”…

Laying on my bed, I’m writing you after over a month of being back in Vietnam. Looking around my bedroom here I have to confess that this place is a disaster area. After staying with 2 of our teachers, Morris and Steve for 4 weeks, I found a place of my own and have been in the process of moving in here for the past few weeks. Last Saturday 2 of our teachers, Lana and Debbie moved out of their apartment for HCM and I inherited their furniture so I have plenty more boxes to unpack downstairs.

My house is quiet by Hanoi standards. It is far removed from horns and busy streets and is tucked away in a maze of lanes and alleys. The little lane I live on is so narrow that a petite taxi is unable to back down here. This was a problem in moving Saturday as the little moving truck had to park about 80 meters away and we had to carry boxes from the truck to my house. Luckily we had a lot of help from former students.

This house is typical Hanoi architecture; long and narrow and high. It is 11 feet wide by 50 feet deep with 4 stories. On the first floor is a small kitchen, living room, motor-bike parking area and guest toilet. The second floor is where my bedroom and bathroom resides. The 3rd floor is a room and bathroom the same size as on the 2nd floor but I use it for a classroom. On the 4th floor is another bedroom and a place for a washing machine, which I inherited from Lana and Debbie on Sat.

Work is plentiful here for Native English Speakers. During the weekdays I work as English editor for the Vietnam Economic News which is published weekly and is the official publication of the Ministry of Commerce and Finance for the nation. The working conditions and the staff, as well as the pay, are all excellent. This job just fell into my lap when I returned here. They hired me sight unseen on the sole basis that I was recommended by Roger, whether I cud rite a sentence or spell a single word in English. In addition, I’ve got another editing job with the Vietnam Social Science Review but it’s only published once every 2 months so I only correct articles for it a couple of weeks bi-monthly.

The biggest serendipity however, isn’t the blessed job with the Economic News but the number of students who have signed up to learn English. The demand to learn English in Hanoi is unreal. It is like there suddenly is this mass explosion to learn our mother tongue.

Saturday, June 5, 2004 “A Room With A View”

When you look out your bedroom window, what do you see? Have you ever lived somewhere where you had a room with an unforgettable view? I do.

It is unlikely I will be able to recall years from now my view from my front window from my second floor bedroom here in Hanoi. It looks out on a solid brick wall. However, I’ve spent hours looking out my back window night and day. It is a scene I will never forget…no matter how long I live.

I thought about taking pictures of it with my digital camera and sending them to you. Then my conscience got the best of me. Perhaps, instead of a picture, I will try to describe it.

The first thing you see looking out my back bedroom window is the back of a tenement building with what I estimate to be about 40 apartments in one long building. Laundry hangs on lines in back of each apartment. Sometimes at night I stand at the window and watch a microcosm of Hanoi city life take place. People preparing and eating dinner…watching television…chatting with neighbors. During the day there are mostly women and children as the men have gone to work. The tenement is about 40 yards from my house.

Between my house, which is attached to a long row of townhouses where we all share common walls with the neighbors on each side of us, and the tenement building across from me, are other dwellings, if I can call them such. They are temporary. They are tents. Made out of plywood and cardboard sides with visqueen plastic for a roof, they are the homes of construction workers, the lowest paid city dwellers. They are temporary because they will move on once their current project is completed and they are temporary because they can’t afford anything else.

I watch the worker’s wives cook on charcoal burners and go to public water spouts to get water to cook with and wash clothes and dishes. This is a view that both mesmerizes me and makes me cringe at the same time. I have never lived so close to abject poverty in my life. What is worse, I am powerless to do anything about it. Someone once said that we will always have the poor with us. Always. There will never be a world without poverty. For all its natural beauty, Vietnam is still one of the poorest countries in the world.

After having worked at The Vietnam Economic News for a month now as the English editor, facts and figures of the economy of this country flood my head. The gross domestic product (GDP) last year, the most prosperous in its history, was $40 billion. This stands 131st in the world economy. In 2002, the average per capita income in Vietnam was $241...less than a dollar a day per person.

All is not gloom and doom however. The good news is in 2004 the average per capita income is expected to be $431 for city dwellers…much less for the farmers who make up 80% of the country’s population. One popular indicator that the country is on the rise is that everyone owns a TV…almost everyone. There are some of us who opt not to have them.

Other than when I look out my back window, the only other time the poverty of Vietnam struck me so hard is when I crossed the border between Vietnam and China, coming home from our China trip in February. Leaving the prosperity of China and crossing the Red River into Vietnam reminded me of the time I crossed over into Mexico from the United States, only here is was more stark. However, there is something you see in the United States that you don’t see in Vietnam; homeless people wandering the streets. No matter how poor or makeshift, everyone has a roof to come home to. And usually under that roof is a wife and loving kids.

I watch the construction workers interact with their wives and children and they seem so happy to me. In fact, the whole citizenry of Vietnam seems happy, almost as if having money is NOT the key ingredient to happiness. There may be less dollars per capita here than anywhere else I’ve been but I can promise you there are more smiles per capita than anywhere else I’ve ever been or will likely be on this planet. Smiles come quickly and easily and are genuine and heartfelt. It is easy…so easy to love the Vietnamese.

Everyone says I am charging my students too little…about $1 per person per lesson, yet when most people only make that much in a day, how can you have the heart to charge more? Most of my students are still in college so they are trying to pay for tuition and books also. I have 52 students and what I charge them doesn’t even cover my rent of $260 per month. But I can’t in good conscience charge more. I have classes 6 nites a week.

Learning English is one way to escape poverty. There is this huge explosion in Vietnam to learn English as ours is the language of the future and the language of finance. Today, while on the back of a motorbike traveling to my class, 2 different people pulled next to me on their motorbikes and wanted my business card in order to call me and learn English. I have hired Susan Tche to help me with my classes as my enrollment is increasing.

Susan is a recent graduate from UC-Berkeley and I met her here in Hanoi about 6 months ago. Her father and mother were born in Hanoi and moved to San Francisco after the war. Susan was born in SF and had never been to Vietnam before so her father brought her here on his first trip back in Nov. to rediscover his roots. They had read the Mercury News article and figured since they knew no one here it would be a possible contact. Now Susan has come back to Hanoi for the summer and needs a job before returning to Calif. in Sept. She has the distinct advantage of speaking fluent Vietnamese as well as English without an accent. She will help me with classes that I will be splitting in 2 because they are getting too big. I am meeting people who are enriching me and expanding my heart. Yes, English is a way out of poverty…for both me and the Vietnamese.

Friday June 18, 2004…Hue…Move over Hanoi, you've just been replaced as the most beautiful city in Vietnam by your Central sister, Hue. After 4 days in Hue, it has now become the crown jewel of the country according to the unofficial vote of my heart. Not even the constant downpour could soak my impressions of this gorgeous ancient city.Having come to Hanoi to teach English 10 months ago, I fell in love with the capitol city and didn't see how any other metropolis in Vietnam could surpass Hanoi's serene beauty. With Hoan Kiem Lake at the center and many lush lakes and parks abounding, Hanoi captivated my heart. I had been to Sapa. I had been to Ha Long Bay. I had been to HCM City. However, they didn't have the romantic chemistry of Hanoi. No place came close until I went to Hue.Leaving Hanoi by train Friday night, June 11, I was traveling with a couple of my dearest English students to Festival Hue 2004. Khoa had been to Hue several times and Huong had gone once when she was in high school. They both promised me I'd be impressed. That was an understatement. I was mesmerized!Blurry-eyed from the 17-hour ride on hard seats, we rested a few hours in our hotel on Saturday afternoon before attending the opening ceremony that night. Colorful hot-air balloons were tethered near the stage. They had to constantly gobble fire to stay aloft in the pouring monsoon. Like the balloons, I felt my spirit soar. Traditional Vietnamese songs and dances highlighted the initial ceremony. The rain came down harder but couldn't discourage the hearts of thousands of celebrants who were there to enjoy Vietnamese culture and cuisine.The next few days, as well as take in different aspects of the Festival, we toured Hue and the surrounding countryside. We walked all around the ancient citadel and we even spent the better part of one of the days going to Minh Mang Palace, which remains one of the most idyllic spots I've seen in the entire world, much less Vietnam.Nature blessed us this day with the rare appearance of the sun.One evening we took a boat-ride on the Huong Giang, (The Perfume River). On board with us were 7 musicians who played and sang traditional Vietnamese folk music and gave quite a performance, if judged by the hearty applause. Even the handicap of not understanding the language couldn't stop me from enjoying this experience immensely. These musicians were all attired in traditional ao dais. Their enthusiastic performance was brilliant. In order to make our dreams come true, the musicians encouraged us to light candles and put them afloat in little lanterns of the river. Mine went under the boat instead of floating out into the river so I think my secret wish got snuffed out. Even if my wish is gone, my memory of the evening remains vividly intact.However, my most unforgettable memory while in Hue is one I will forever cherish. In an effort to avoid crowds and noise, I told Khoa and Huong I wanted to go someplace quiet for breakfast where we could visit over a leisure meal. Khoa knew just the spot. Not far from the wall of the Forbidden City was a little restaurant out in the middle of a pond, surrounded by water-lilies and lotus. The Huong Sen (Perfumed Lotus) was a place I could have stayed all day. Sitting out on the balcony, safe from the downpour all around us, we ate a delicious breakfast in the most tranquil setting imaginable. I noticed how the raindrops turned to little diamonds on the lotus leaves. It was at that moment that I fell in love with Hue. Toi yeu Hanoi… but I love the gorgeous city of Hue just a little more.

Sunday, June 27, 2004...“Viet Kieu…”…VN#37

“Viet Kieu” (pronounced Viet “Q”) is a term the Vietnamese give to Vietnamese people who have left the country and are permanent residents of other countries now. There are more Viet Kieu in America than any other country. In fact, there are more Vietnamese is California alone, than in any other country outside Vietnam…over 1 million. There is an estimated 300,000 in San Jose and over 800,000 in Orange County. No country appreciates the transplanted Vietnamese community more than America does.

The crime rate here in Vietnam is very low and this is reflected in the Viet Kieu communities around the world. They are an honest, industrious, and a respectful people in general. Since all guns are outlawed here in Vietnam there are few murders. There are even fewer rapes and other violent crimes. According to UN statistics, and as reported in most guide books, Vietnam is the safest country in the world for a single, unaccompanied female to travel alone in. You may recall in November that I wrote about Chantal Charbonneau, traveling alone for a month in Vietnam. After completing her one year tour around the world with stops in many other countries, she reported when she got home that she felt safer in Vietnam than any other country.

The reason I’m writing about the Viet Kieu is because this month I have run in to scads of them. One is even staying with me right now, a man named Hung, from Huntsville, Alabama. It is really something to hear a Vietnamese, who can speak fluent Vietnamese, speak English with a southern accent! Also, one is working for me, helping me teach English, Susan, who is in her final semester at UC-Berkeley. While in Hue, I ran into 3 others. Many Vietnamese are returning here to try to make a connection to their roots and also to make a contribution to the society they are so much a part of. Many keep their Vietnamese names, such as Quang, Trang, and Chi.

While we were in Hue, we were in a little street restaurant and I heard English being spoken perfectly. I looked around me but all I saw were Vietnamese. Where could this perfect American English be coming from? I strained my ears and found a table near us where 3 young Vietnamese were conversing in English with no accent. I introduced myself to them and asked them where they were from. There were 2 girls and a boy. Bob was from Texas and he was just working for the US Embassy as a summer intern and would be returning to Texas to resume college in August. Quang and Trang were both graduates of Harvard and were working for the UN Population Fund for the summer. They were both born in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and left when they were small with their parents for America. They were enjoying every minute of being back in Vietnam.

Susan, who is working with me teaching English, was born in San Francisco, but her parents were both born here in Hanoi. They are some of the very few Viet Kieu who have migrated to America from the north…as most Viet Kieu left Vietnam from the south in 1975 after the communist reunification. Susan’s father brought her with him to in his very first visit to his homeland in Dec. She was so enthralled with Hanoi and the country that she wanted to come back for the summer. Speaking the perfect northern dialect, my students are stunned that Susan can speak to them in both Vietnamese and English and they prefer her voice to mine as they tell me it is more suitable to their ears and easier to understand. I think the boys like her because she is prettier! She keeps their attention.

Perhaps the most interesting Viet Kieu I’ve met yet is Hung, 28 whom I just met yesterday. He was traveling on the bus with Roger, up from Hoi An and they got talking and Roger knew I would be thrilled to meet him. Roger invited Hung to come and stay with me here at my place during the time he will be touring in northern Vietnam. Born in Saigon in 1976, Hung and his father left Vietnam in 1989 and spent 3 years in a refugee camp in Malaysia before they moved to America where his uncle lived in Huntsville, Alabama. Hung started 9th grade there knowing no English. By the time he graduated from high school in Alabama he was prepared for college and on the math section of the SAT he scored 790 out of a possible 800. His English score on the SAT was 500, about the same as mine…passable. He just completed his master’s degree in chemical engineering from the Univ. of Alabama-Huntsville and is now touring Vietnam for a month. He wants to live and work in Vietnam.

Last night I had my class interview Hung and they so enjoyed getting to know him. It is a dream for young Vietnamese to travel abroad, especially to visit America but it is almost impossible for them to get a visa to leave the country. We are so fortunate in the US to be able to get visas to travel to almost everywhere in the world. If a woman is unmarried, it is virtually impossible for her to get a visa to leave Vietnam as the government feels they will not return. Vietnam is afraid of the best and brightest leaving the country and creating an intellectual void and technological poverty. I love Vietnam, as you are aware of by now, but like any country, there are some things that need to change and will change in due season. However, instead of the brightest and best leaving, something else is happening in reverse. The brightest and best Viet Kieu are returning to Vietnam!

More and more Viet Kieu are overwhelmed with a feeling in their heart to return to Vietnam to help the country. Quang, Hung, Trang, Chi, and Susan, are here to contribute their energy and intelligence to the enrichment of this beautiful society. When they come, they come to give, not to take. They are investing Yankee know-how, generosity and American good-will when they step on this shore. They are making a difference to Vietnam, to America and themselves. They make me proud to be American and I am proud of them, as they are some of the best and brightest that America has to offer Vietnam.

According to the Vietnam Economic News that I work as foreign editor for, the largest group of American tourist here come from the ranks of returning GIs, coming to see their old battlefields and to heal old wounds and exorcise demons of their past. The next largest group of visitors from the US to Vietnam are Viet Kieu, coming to bring help and hope and to visit relatives. Then there are the sightseers.

A Viet Kieu friend of mine in Denver, Hinh, hopes to move to Vietnam and teach English when he retires in a few years. He exemplifies the spirit of service and the desire to reinvest his life in his homeland. Is it the country of their nativity that produces this philanthropy is some Viet Kieu or is it an overflow of generosity that is nurtured by the most giving country in the world? No matter what the answer, these Americans who were born on Vietnam’s soil are exemplary of the best of both worlds, and they are the past and the future of Vietnam.

Sunday, July 4th , 2004...“Curious George…”…VN#38
The Vietnamese are very curious people .especially about foreigners. Take the case of my next door neighbor, who I've come to call "Curious George" because of his almost neurotic examination of every aspect of my life. He wants to know the name and business of each person who comes to my door. When I first moved into my house 2 months ago, he told the landlord that it was a mistake for me to rent this house because there were no foreigners near here and that I would be lonely and homesick here. No one would come to visit me he told the landlord. Boy oh boy was he in for a shock!I think the first week pushed him over the edge. On my first Monday here, 3 of my students and Lynelle came to visit. He wanted to know their life history and how they met me and what business they had coming. Then Chi came with a stack of papers for me to correct. Curious George wanted to see the papers and he was frustrated when they were all in English. He asked Chi what they were about. She told him they were for the Vietnam Social Science Review, a bi-monthly publication I work for as a side job. I asked Chi what Curious George wanted. She told me in English. Then he asked her, since he speaks not even a word of English, what I had asked her. She laughed. This 3-way dialogue was starting to get comical to Chi. The more she laughed the more frustrated he became, getting left out of the joke…and the more frustrated he got the harder Chi, who has a very sharp wit and sense of humor, laughed. Then Alan, one of my students, showed up and Curious George turned his attention to Alan. Chi came in while CG interviewed Alan outside my door. Then Nhet showed up and I asked Nhet to talk to him for awhile so I could visit with Alan and Chi without CG wanting to know everything we were saying. Curious George invited Nhet into his house for tea and after about an hour with this lonely old man, Nhet emerged chuckling, saying, "He is 80% off his rocker."The first Friday in the new house, some of my friends had a house warming party in which there were about 20 people. Curious George was livid. There were too many to interview each one. It was about this time that he threw his hands up in despair and went into his house and locked the doors. He still walks by my open door every day and stands and looks in to watch me putter around in the kitchen. Now that I have 6 classes and 52 students coming and going each week, he has given up trying to keep a score card on who is who. He can't differentiate one group of students from another. Which is OK by me.A few weeks ago, I made the following entry in my daily log about Curious George:Chu-han wanted me to meet his Japanese classmates from his Vietnamese university class. We met at Capitol Gardens, a nice restaurant in a swanky hotel that serves a dynamite lunch buffet for 40,000 VND (a little less than $3.00) Alan went with me and actually took me on his motorbike. Now Alan and his motorbikes are "pieces of work" as my departed buddy, Tom Fredgren would say. Alan drives a 30-year-old Russian-made MINSK motorbike. It is the biggest, loudest, clunkiest, ugliest motorbike in Hanoi. When we started to leave my house, my neighbor, Curious George, who speaks no English, told Alan in Vietnamese that "his piece of junk belonged in a military museum as a lethal weapon." And I was crazy enough to ride on the back of it. Every time we stopped at a stop light...and Alan is one of the few people who actually stop at stop lights...even when they are green...but anyway when we stopped, people would look around and retighten the breathing masks everyone wears against pollution here.Another way that the Vietnamese manifest their curiosity is wanting to know what I buy and eat. Once, while walking home from the market with a plastic bag of fruit and vegetables, an old lady stopped me on the sidewalk and went thru by bag to see what I had purchased. Very curious people, these Vietnamese.There are no rules here about asking personal questions. I've been asked things here that would make most people in the states blush to think about, little less ask. I've been asked about my age, weight, salary, rent, eating habits, relationships, laundry detergent, shoe size, number of plates and dishes I own, toothpaste, meat preference, methods I use to wash and peel vegetables, medications I take, why my nose is so big, and on and on and on. You get the picture. Actually you don't…so come visit me and see for yourself...and be prepared to blush.

Sunday, July 18h , 2004...“Bits and Pieces #1…”…

This week an old friend, Richard D. a teacher from Calif will be with me for a few days. He has been teaching in China for the past 10 years and is making his first visit to Hanoi. He is here for a special conference that we have each July. It will be good to see him again. I saw him at a conference in Hong Kong in January and we caught up on the news while I was there.

Since I don’t have a particular subject or theme to write about today, perhaps I can share with you a few bits and pieces of information about Vietnam that I have found either striking or interesting.

Hair…Most women here keep their hair long and many never cut it. I’ve seen women with braids to their knees. Few women dye their hair. When we were in China I noticed many Chinese women who had dyed their hair every color of the rainbow and it looked terrible. There is nothing so unnatural as an Asian woman with blond hair. I am thankful the Vietnamese respect their bodies and don’t do body piercing, tattoos or hair coloring. Their rich, thick, long black hair is beautiful. The men here rarely grow facial hair and most are very clean shaven. The men keep their hair short. Few have long hair. Men here look like men and women look like women. Unlike America, you rarely mistake one for the other.

Saunas…Saunas abound here. Every house has one. All I have to do is step out of my air conditioned bedroom into the hall way and I am in a sauna. The heat and humidity here is worse than anywhere I’ve ever been in the US, including San Antonio. The other day after a shower, I opened my bathroom door to let the steam escape and more steam rushed in than what left the bathroom. This summer Hanoi has recorded record high temperatures. The humidity is worse here than in HCM City so we are the recipients of both heat and humidity making the summer months a constant sauna…that is one of the few negatives about living here…the other is…

The Traffic…
I’d love to read Shakespeare’s description of the traffic here in Hanoi. I’ve tried to write about it but to me it is beyond description. It is like a motorbike ballet where at first you think it is mass chaos and then you see a sublime and subtle order in it all. There are few cars and millions of motorbikes and bikes. I’ve seen very few accidents but know they happen. The colleague of one of our friends was just hit and killed by a truck so each time I get on the back of a motorbike, I am reminded of those words of David…“There is but a step between me and death…”
Now this is interesting…just as I wrote the word “garbage” above, I heard the garbage bell go ding-ding-ding outside my front door.(6 PM each night) Garbage ladies come down each lane pushing an oversized wheelbarrow ringing a bell collecting each persons garbage for the day. I am an American trash generating machine and am always embarrassed to take my huge bag out to the cart whereas my Vietnamese neighbors have a sack of garbage that is so small you can hold it in the palm of your hand. I can’t understand how they can generate so little garbage and they probably don’t understand how I can generate so much…neither do I. These city servants who collect the garbage are usually little bitty women who are smaller than their push-carts and yet they are incredibly strong. They make 30 cents a day, the lowest paid of any city employees but they are thankful to have a job. They push their carts to a central location each night where garbage trucks come in the middle of the night and haul it away. As well as collect garbage, these ladies also sweep the streets and gutters with little hand-brooms. These garbage ladies, always cheerful and pleasant make me think of a proverb I recently read that said, “The richest person in the world is not the one who has the most but the person who needs the least.” Another proverb that goes along with this: “Happiness is not having all we want but being thankful for all we have.” And I must admit, the last 2 months have been the happiest 2 months of my life. Now, if I can just figure out how to stop generating so much trash…

PS about Curious George…I think I was a little too hard on Curious George, my neighbor last week. He really isn’t as bad as I might have made him out to me…he helped me negotiate with a street vendor who came to my door selling toilet paper and helped me save 2,000 dong for 12 rolls of TP (about 17 cents) so he did that either out of the kindness of his heart or because he likes to haggle…which I don’t. I pay whatever they ask. Negotiating for 15 minutes to save 17 cents is not my idea of a profitable way to spend my time.