Newbie.

(written on March 1, 2007)

Newbie. Up until that moment, I had never been referred to as a “newbie” and didn’t quite know if I liked the connotation the word had for the situation I was in.


I was only about a year old when the American soldiers pulled out of Saigon in 1975, leaving the South Vietnamese to fend for themselves against the Vietcong soldiers, who were quickly making their way down towards the once-powerful capital city. Being as young as I was, my still developing mind merely took in the sensations and stimuli of the events unfolding before me, storing them in my subconscious with the possibility of never resurfacing again. At the age of 23, my consciousness never knew that those infant eyes once watched as grown men ran crying out of their homes and into the streets in search of their wives and children; American soldiers pushing past Vietnamese citizens to get to their helicopters or ships that were quickly abandoning the city; mothers grasping their young ones and what little possessions they could carry in hopes that some way, somehow, they would safely get out of the city before the Communist North arrived. My mother was one of those women and as I innocently sat in my mother’s arms, I did not know that what I was looking at was the scene of great terror and turmoil that would overcome the city — and eventually the whole country — for twenty-plus years to come.

In 1997, my mother asked me if I wanted to go with her back to Vietnam to see our family again. She had gone back once prior to that moment but the city of Saigon (now renamed Ho Chi Minh City) was still a poor struggling country and the experience was very difficult for her at that time, having been away for so long. This time though, with news that the country of Vietnam had been slowly evolving into a more civilized economy, with hopes of becoming more advanced and connected to the rest of the world, my mother wanted her closest child to return with her in this time of growth for the country.

newbieI had not considered going back to Vietnam up until that point. I never had any desire to do so. I grew up in America and having been raised by American television and radio, I only knew how to be cool like Fonzie and to talk like Mork from Orc. What could a struggling third world country ever offer me? But each time my mother asked about going, I could see in her face the deep, deep emotional scarring that had affected her through her journey from Vietnam to America. Those dark pupils held the remorse of a woman who was left to care for herself and two young children while waiting to learn of her family’s uncertain future in a Korean refugee camp. Each line on her forehead marked the torments that went through her mind when we were transferred to America to live once more in yet another refugee camp. The frown that had become a permanent part of her everyday expression reflected how she felt about her new life in America, after leaving the camp, knowing that she had an old life back in Vietnam that she may never get to see again. More important than my own selfish fears of going back to a country I never knew was the very fact that my going back may not only help prevent any more lines from breaking my mother’s gentle face, but there was a chance that this trip would also open areas of my mind that I had never bothered to explore before.

The city of Saigon was dark when our plane arrived. It was nearly midnight and having never been in an airplane for more than three to four hours at the most, the thirteen-plus hour flight had made me restless and anxious to get back on the solid ground. My already squinty eyes narrowed more as I tried to shake the sand from my eyelids and focus on anything that could be seen out the window from where I was sitting. The moonlight twisted and coiled as it reflected off of the barbed wire that lined the tops of the thick concrete walls that surrounded the landing grounds of the Ho Chi Minh City airport. The occasional flash of a military truck peeked out of the blackness, just barely under the sporadically spaced lamp posts, reminded me that this was a country that was once living day-by-day under the oppression of war and conflict and even now, was considered not entirely safe.

My fingers caressed the buckle of my seatbelt, as I patiently waited for the seatbelt light to go off. My mother’s face was the same intense, serious face that I had grown accustomed to over the years. It was only when she looked over at me when I was able to see that warm smile that was often hidden away, along with most of her pains and memories of the time past.

“You are back home.” Her voice was quiet, soft. Barely audible over the hustling of anxious passengers rummaging through the overhead compartments, frantically grabbing suitcases and bags, ignoring the fact that the plane had not completely come to a full stop, the flight attendants did not notice, though, due to their own anxiousness to get off of the plane themselves.

“Yes,” I hesitated. “I’m back home.”

The ping of the seatbelt light going off told me that it was time to step out into the Vietnamese air and take in the hot, humid breath that was only last taken twenty-two years prior to that trip. A nervousness overcame me and I recall getting up then sitting back down, hoping that the seatbelt light would come back on and the plane would turn itself around and go back to the States. Fortunately, the sea of black hair and almond-shaped eyes that filled the cabin of the plane reminded my stubborn self that I was not in Kansas anymore and the very fact that my skin color did not stand out in this crowd reminded me that this was something that I needed to do.

Once out into the open air, something in the back of my mind awoke. I can’t entirely say what it was and what went through my mind at that very moment, but I can say that it was a good feeling. What was once fear and nervousness became comfort and calm. Whether that was simply a reaction to actually being on the ground after the long flight or something deeper, like the lost memories that were last explored at the age of one and a half coming back to the foreground, I will never know. Alas, my stubborn self pushed its way back to the inside of my forehead where my consciousness dwelled, and that feeling of calm and contentment, just as quickly as it had come, began to fade as I was reminded of where I was and how little I knew of that place.

The box-shaped bus that arrived to shuttle us to the terminal brought to mind the image of a laboratory cage. The kind that scientists kept mice in just before performing insidious experiments on the poor rodents. I became anxious and played back in my head all the stories of the Jewish prisoners during World War II and the gas chambers that killed so many of them. I looked to the reflection on the large glass windows of the bus and suddenly the anxiousness once again subsided. This time, it wasn’t just the inkling of a possible childhood memory that calmed me but the image of my own self in the glass, dark shadows in place of eyes, strongly mirroring that of my mother’s face. I saw for the first time an expression that I had always had in me but it wasn’t until I came back to my place of birth that I would realize what that expression meant. There was a piece of my soul missing, buried deep with the memories of a baby, now resurfacing and bringing me back to that day when my mother said goodbye to her closest sister, making my aunt swear not to tell their parents and other siblings that she and her two young children were leaving Vietnam. It was that feeling that made climbing onto the bus a little less scary.

Once inside, my mother stood quietly next to me. She smiled once again and the tightness of her lips told me that she was proud of me for taking that journey with her. Something in her eyes told me that having me walking next to her back into Saigon was the perfect compliment of the memory of her carrying me out of Saigon in 1975.

I looked around me as the bus stammered forward and everyone’s arms tensed up to keep from falling back onto each other. I saw many older Vietnamese men and women, who, just like my mother, had a strong desire to be back home and was relieved to be living at that moment. Just a mere three to four feet away from me were two teenagers, about twelve and thirteen in age. I hadn’t really spoken to anyone besides my mother during the whole trip but seeing the highlighted streaks of red in the girl’s hair and the Green Day logo on the boy’s shirt gave me the slightest feeling of still being in touch with America, and so I awkwardly tried to break the serious silence that was enveloping the bus inside.

“First time in Vietnam?” I had forgotten that being the age that I was, even trying to talk to teenagers was like when an old uncle or your grandfather is trying to rap. As my words reflected off the humid atmosphere and ricocheted back into my own ear canals, I realized how incredibly dorky I must have sounded to those teenagers. Alas, they were kind enough to spare me any humiliation and actually responded.

“Nope. My sister and I have been back twice now.”

“Wow. Twice? So this is your third time?” And it was at that point when I realized that it only seemed like the teenagers were trying to spare me any embarrassment but in all actuality, they were really just patronizing me. “Third time to go back.”

“Yeah. That would make three.”

The girl was a bit nicer. “Is this your first time?”

“Ha. Is it that obvious?”

The boy, not so nice. “Very.”

“You’re a newbie,” rounded off the conversation, the girl’s calm voice echoing in the back of my mind. Her tone was very confident, as if she had just discovered a new species of butterfly or unearthed a new type of dinosaur bone.

Up until that moment, I had never been referred to as a “newbie” and didn’t quite know if I liked the connotation the word had for the situation I was in. But as I choked down the last bit of pride that was lodged in my throat and realized that the bus was slowing down to let us off at the terminal, the word began to make sense. And not just because this was my first time back in Vietnam but because this was my first time fully realizing that part of me that I had forgotten about — or had chosen not to think about — was coming to light. But being in the humid Vietnam air with its dark starless sky above me and the contrast of the people-filled terminal ahead of me, lined with military police and airport officials, a voice in my head was telling me that this was the right thing to do and that after the next three weeks, the word “newbie” would no longer apply to me.

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The Busy Streets of Saigon

*(originally posted at boyatlarge.com in 1997)

…in Saigon, the main form of transportation is two-wheeled vehicles such as scooters, motorcycles, and bicycles. There were cars and military trucks but these vehicles had a harder time maneuvering in and out through traffic. There are street lines and lights and signs but nary did I notice them being used.  People would swerve in and out between each other. It was pure chaos but in an organized way. These people have been at it for years and knew how to do it with little to no accidents at all. As for us foreigners, well, one day of this would prob kill us…


streets1 …one of the few accidents that I did see involved a young girl on her bicycle. We had stopped at an intersection (I was on the back of my uncle’s motorcycle) and I noticed a girl in her teens waiting on her bike along with all the scooters and motorcycles. Suddenly, this man on a scooter came up behind her a little too fast that he was not able to stop on time. His front tire rubbed up against her back tire causing her bike to flip forward and throwing her off her bike. It looked quite painful and I winced at the sight of the accident but she, apparently too angry to care about pain, just picked herself and her bike up and turned and began scolding the man — of course, she did it in Vietnamese, so, I didn’t understand most of it because she spoke too fast but I did catch a few choice swear words that I knew really well…streets2

…one of the main forms of transportation for me was the xich lo which was basically a carriage (usually able to carry two to three people depending on your size — three average-sized Vietnamese or one average-sized Vietnamese with the uncommonly tall Vietnamese/Korean that I was) on a bike. The xich lo drivers would usually ask for about 10,000 to 15,000 dong (which is the Vietnamese dollar) for a ride depending on how far and how many were riding — this is equivalent to about $1.00 to $1.50 in American dollars. Anyway, sometimes, they would have to take you across town in rough traffic. Sometimes, they would not be able to make it up a hill and would have to get off and push it up (there were many times I would want to jump off and help them push the bikes up the hills but my mom advised me against it because “it was their job”). In other cases, it would rain (I visited Saigon near the rainy season) and the riders would have shelter from the rain but the drivers would just get soaked. Countless times, I would try to give them more money in these unsavory situations but, once again, I was advised not to do it — these people work hard and are very appreciative of what they are paid but if you tip them they will grow accumstomed to it and expect it (tipping is notconsidered proper in Vietnam), thus, making tourists target for price hikes and what not, so, I decided, when in Rome, do as the Vietnamese do…

streets4…I wanted to video tape the experience of being in Saigon traffic on the back of my uncle’s motorcycle so my friends back home could experience at best what it was like to ride in traffic there but, as always, my plans were shot down due to Vietnamese culture. I was told the moment we got into traffic, my camcorder would be snatched right out of my hand — either instantly without warning or someone clubbing me and grabbing it. The only way I was able to do it was to take a taxi, which didn’t give the full effect because the taxi couldn’t weave in and out through traffic as a motorcycle could but the shots weren’t bad. I still would’ve rather tried it out in the open but seeing how I just heard that one of my other uncle’s had his motorcycle stolen right out in front of a shoe store, in broad daylight, in front of hundreds of witnesses, without the keys in it, and there was nothing he could do about it, I guess it was good I followed that advice…streets3

…I wish I had taken pictures of the streets of Saigon at night. This was my favorite time to be out because people would just take to the streets and “cruise” Saigon. The image of all the lights from the scooters and motorcycles rushing past each other in front of all the brightly lit parks and restaurants and hotels and karaoke bars and pool halls and ice- cream parlors just got my adrenaline running. The night life is so beautiful and was one of my favorite times to be out.

Welcome to the Jungle

*(originally posted at boyatlarge.com in 1997)

…while visiting Vietnam, I took a trip out to the country where my grandparents lived in a city called Sa Dec. They had come up to Saigon to see my mom and me into the city but after a week, it was time for them to return home and see to their farm. This gave me the chance to meet the rest of my family (who, all but 25% of them, lived in the country) and a more natural part of Vietnam…


landscp…it took about three hours to get to my grandparents’ place from the city. We had to rent a van and a driver to take us out there. As we drove, I noticed that there was a lot of construction going on, thus, the streets were of very poor quality, so, the three hours seemed to take even longer through all the bumps and holes. The city almost instantly vanished at the end of the city limits and suddenly (after passing the military posts on the outside of the city) the landscape became beautiful countryside. Occasionally, there would be strips of shopping centers that sold mostly fruit and vegetables and rice. We would stop on many occasions to pick up bags of lychees (a sweet tree fruit) and sau rieng (also a sweet tree fruit known as durian in America. This comes in a spiney shell covering but once opened, emits a horrific odor resembling that of sweaty old gym socks. Not a terrible tasting fruit if one can get past the smell) and lots of fresh coconuts, which I drank a lot of the juice (straight out of the fruit) because the water in Vietnam is highly advised against for foreigners whose bodies haven’t been adjusted to their nontreated waters. Even the native Vietnamese rarely drank it (bottled water is the preferred drink)…grpahous

…my grandparents’ house is a modest home — nothing fancy — but a bit more high standard compared to most country homes (the majority of the homes out there consisted of wooden walls and straw roofings. There was no floor in a lot of the homes — just dirt). Their house is made of brick and wood and some straw. The floors are concrete. No shoes were allowed to be worn into the house. There was a water basin out by the front that you washed your feet with upon entering. There isn’t any electricity in the country (unless you live closer to the villagecenters) — they had a battery that they used at night to run lamps around the main entrance of the house. There isn’t any running water. They kept huge water barrels outside the house and when it rained, the barrels would collect the water and it would be saved for later use. There weren’t any roads that led out to my folks’ place. We had to park the van at the nearest village center and take a boat out to the house…

boatwman…the boats used to get out to people’s homes were long, narrow, and almost flat. I, not being used to riding in one, almost lost my balance many times trying to get in and out of the boats. The rest of my family had no problem at all. In fact, they walked on and off of them as if they were just as steady as walking on the ground. I never got the hang of it but I know that these things were safe seeing how they could easily transport our group of nine back and forth numerous times…boattr_1

…these boats could even transport tilling tractors back and forth. Actually, the boats to do this were wider but almost just as flat…speaking of tractors, one moment, while I was in the country, one of my uncles said he had a surprise for me. I went with him and one of my cousins out to his home, where I helped him load his tractor onto his boat and we took it out to one of our rice fields. We then pushed the tractor out onto the rice field and he gave me a ride around in the field on the tractor. It didn’t go very fast and it was flinging mud all over everything (including me). I wasn’t very happy about the experience at the time (because of my impulsive hate for mud) but now that I can reflect back on it, I am glad I did it…

girlwlk…most of my family (aunts and uncles and cousins) live out in the country. While I was there, I was able to meet practically all of them (on my mother’s side). I think I counted about 10 aunts and uncles and two to three times as many cousins. It was funny because, customarily, the oldest cousin is to give money to all the younger ones as gifts upon meeting them. I, being the oldest of them (next to my older brother who didn’t come with me), had that responsibility. I gave out 50,000 Vietnamese dollars to each of them (which is equivalent to about five American dollars). I felt like I was giving out a fortune but in actuality, I only gave out about $200 (that would be 2,000,000 Vietnamese dollars)…

ducks…as I was riding the boat out to my grandparents’ place for the first time, one of the most peculiar things I had ever seen was my uncle’s herd of ducks. I saw this huge crowd of ducks swimming along the edge of the river and on the shore was a man walking alongside them. My mom told me he was my uncle and those were his ducks. Every morning and evening, he would take the ducks out for a “walk” and then they would return to their “bin” which was a small pond off to the side of his house connected to the river. I was told that the ducks were like dogs and cats in the fact that they knew who their owner was and they never tried to escape. Unfortunately, these ducks were being raised for sale at the markets for food but it was still quite a sight to see them swimming along next to my uncle…

umbrel_1…anytime we went out on the boats, my family would bring umbrellas with them — even when it was bright and sunny and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It proved handy because, on occasion, it would start to rain without warning but more frequently, the umbrellas protected them from the sun. I refused to use one because I wanted to experience the full effect of the Vietnam countryside — sunburns and all. Even when it rained, I enjoyed feeling the rain on my face and watching the strong winds blowing on the trees and tall grasses of the river…

…the river would be at its fullest level in the afternoon and evening but at night and early morning, it sank down to a very low level. I noticed one morning that it looked almost completely drained and all that was left of the river was numerous, muddy puddles. But as the day went by, the river would fill itself up again. Many of the villagers bathed in the river (I saw many a topless old lady or naked children splashing in the water). treerootMy grandparents, on the other hand, had a makeshift bath house, which was about the size of an outhouse and made of concrete. It had a basin in it which you filled with water from the water barrels and you would use a bowl to pour water on yourself while you bathed. I wasn’t too fond of bathing in it at first because I was a lot taller than most of my family and the bath house was built for their average sizes, so, I had to crouch a bit while bathing but I got used to it.

All In The Family

*(originally posted at boyatlarge.com in 1997)

…I lived about 22 years of my existance never actually meeting any of my family members because I grew up in America and the rest of them, with exception to my direct family, were still in Vietnam. I was much too young to remember what Vietnam was like (I was about 6 months old when my mom, brother, and I left the country in 1975). When I finally got to return to the homeland this past year of 1997, I got to meet practically everyone in my family…a good portion of whom was at the airport the first day I arrived. They had not seen me since 1975 and it was very important that they got to see me when I first entered the country. It was quite a welcome…


annvrsy…that’s me in the center of the pic waving. While in Vietnam, one of my aunts and uncles had a celebration party for their 10 year anniversary. It was quite the party. A lot of my family and their friends were there to congratulate Aunt Hue and Uncle Hoang. It was kind of a weird situation for me because the restaurant that the party was held at also had a wedding reception going on there on the other side of the restaurant — which was
just the other half of the room (there were a few situations where guests ended up sitting on the wrong side of the room and not realizing it until they noticed that they didn’t know any of the people sitting at the table with them). The restaurant was in charge of entertainment and one of the most out of place acts there that night was this sparkling, bikini clad girl spinning, eating, and blowing fire off of these sticks while dancing to some techno music (her dancing assistants added to the crazyness of the whole routine). The whole room enjoyed watching the act and I guess I was the only one that thought it was way queer for this kind of an act to be at an anniversay/wedding reception (I was also embarrassed because I was asked to video tape the anniversary party for my aunt, so, I felt like a real sicko standing there video taping this girl in her shiny underwear all the while this absolutely adorable girl on the other side of the room — whom I was falling for — watched me video taping the whole thing). Oh well, at least the restaurant band played a few recognizable polkas that night…grandma

…that’s my grandmother (a sweet and spunky ol’ gal) and my cousin My. In Vietnam, disposable diapers are nonaccessable. Instead, they pretty much begin potty training the babies when they begin to sit up on their own. My is only a year old. Every morning when she wakes up, my Aunt Tuyen or someone would set her down on this little bowl and start making this hissing sound, “sssssss”. They do this in order to encourage the baby to pee. They would keep doing it until she was finished and then let her be on her way. This would be done about 4 or 5 times a day. Every once in a while, I would help out and sit with My and hiss for her so my aunt could work on her sewing (she makes customized women’s clothing for a living). Everytime I did it though, My would also make poopies. So, my family started making jokes saying I had the power to make babies poop (I also did it for another lady’s baby and the same result happened). I thought about how funny it would be to have this superhero that his main power was to do this. He would be in the middle of a confrontation and then he would start hissing and his foe would poop. Imagine how disoriented his enemies would be (“I will destroy this pathetic mudball of a planet and rule over all of these worthless — oops! Excuse me…”)…

grndpa…my grandfather is a quiet, soft spoken man. At first glance, I was a bit nervous being around him because he rarely smiled and didn’t say much. I was afraid that he was one of those extremely traditional old men who refuses to accept change and that maybe he found some of my mannerisms to be uncouth and unorthodox. But as I got to know him, I found out the reason he was so quiet was because he was content with the situation. He was happy that his family was together again (with exception to Aunt Tu who just came over to America a few years ago and couldn’t afford to make this trip back) and that he finally got to see his second oldest grandson again. I know now that he is just the opposite of his angry physical appearance and, in fact, he’s very kindhearted and sensitive — especially about his family…five

…in Vietnam, you address your family members by a numbering system. For example, this is my Aunt Lan, which I called Di Nam which is roughly translated as “Aunt Five”. I had an “Aunt Ten” and an “Aunt Nine” and an “Uncle Six” and etc…there were a few exceptions for the younger aunts. For example, there was my Aunt Tuyen whom we called Ut U which means “chubby child” — she got the name because in her earlier years, she was quite obese compared to how incredibly thin she is now. Then there was my Aunt Thanh who we called Ut Chi because she was the youngest (Ut Chi is roughly translated as “baby daughter”). It seemed cruel to have these names but they were just nicknames and there was more love to them then there was any intent to hurt. I, on occassion, was called dau dien which means “crazy head”…

nhuong…this is my cousin Nhung (pronounced “yuung”). Out of all my cousins, she was the one I got along the most with. Her mother and some of my other aunts constantly got on to her for being too outgoing and too annoying and trying to be tough all the time but it was these qualities that I think made her and I get along so well. She would come over to the house after school (she was in the 3rd grade) and then head up to my bedroom, where I was usually working on my artwork, and start teasing me for my silly haircut, or bad pronunciation of Vietnamese words and phrases, or how she couldn’t understand me when I spoke English, or what not. In return, I would tease her for being too dark skinned for a Vietnamese girl (she got a bit too tanned from being outside so much), or for being so short, or for not being able to understand me when I spoke English. We would just pick on each other (sometimes she would hide my art supplies while I put tape in her hair or what not. Her best prank was when she put a cricket (which everyone knows I am deathly afraid of) in my pencil box and when I opened it, it jumped out at me and scared me senseless). Anyway, I think one of my favorite moments with her was when my family and I were waiting at the airport for my departing flight to arrive and the whole time, her mother kept telling her to give me a goodbye hug and kiss and she would refuse, as if doing it would kill her, but when it was time for me to go through the gates for the last call, she ran up and hugged me for a long time and gave me two kisses on the cheek. I guess she wasn’t as tough as she wanted everyone to think she was…hanhshrt

…my cousin Hanh. I rarely got to see her because she worked at a clothing store from 8 in the morning to 10 at night. I was usually asleep when she left for work and then she would spend some time with me at night after
she got home from work. She really wants to come to America but her chances of getting to go are very skim and almost next to none because the priority ranking for bringing over family is usually spouses and children first, next parents, then siblings, and possibly cousins later, so, if I were to try and sponsor her over to the States, it would take forever for the paperwork to go through (it took my mother 10 years to finally get my Aunt Tu to America). I jokingly told her I would hook her up with one of my friends from America so she could come over. She joked about it, too, but I think that she actually considered that option. Anyway, I hope that she can finally get to America someday while she is still young…

momboat…before ever meeting any of my family back home, I could go days — months — without ever thinking about them. They were like strangers to me and I just didn’t know who they were, so, out of sight — out of mind was the case. Now, having met them and spending a mere month with them, I can’t stop thinking of them. I miss them all very much and I hope to be able to make as many trips back to see them as possible.

The Firegirl and Her Dancers

*(originally posted at boyatlarge.com in 1997)

…at my Aunt Hue and Uncle Hoang’s 10th anniversary party, I saw the most awkward but, yet, interesting bit of entertainment.  At the first of the show, a lovely young lady, who I was a bit smitten to at the time, was on stage singing. After her song, she went offstage and then two very energetic gals in little outfits came on and danced spasticly all over the stage to some Vietnamese techno music. To finish it off, the first girl came back onstage but, this time, with less clothing but more of a — pardon the pun — spark to her act…


dcrs…after the first girl walked off stage (after singing a beautiful Vietnamese song) the speakers blared some fast-paced techno jolts into the room and then two adrenaline-rushed girls came onstage and were literally all over the place. This took the audience by surprise because, after all, it was an anniversary / wedding reception. The audience wasn’t offended by it, though. It actually brought the mood in the room up a few more notches (not that it was a bad mood in the air in the first place — everyone was having a lot of fun — but after this act, everyone’s reservations dropped and people were a lot more energetic and pumped to dance and sing and have a good time). But, this was only the beginning…fg3

…as everyone watched, we all suddenly realized that the two dancers were a cover-up for what was to come next. While the two ladies danced and distracted the audience, the previous singing girl had gone to the backroom to change into a less — ahem — modest outfit. As soon as she was ready, the two dancers ran off stage to make room for a sparkling, bikini-clad fire twirler — and the fires did twirl. She danced to the same music the two girls had danced to but, only now, rythmically waving and throwing the fire batons around her. And to prove she wasn’t just another pretty face, she also put the burning ends of the batons into her mouth, on her tongue, and seductively across her arms and thighs. She even encouraged the men offstage to come on stage with unlit cigarettes which she would light with one of the burning batons in her teeth. This definitely wasn’t the usual fare you see at an anniversary party…it felt more like a bachelor party…fg4

…much to many of my family members’ surprise, I was quite embarrassed to be watching. My aunt and uncle had asked me to videotape the evening for them so they could look back on the night, and, so, I was responsible for recording our risque little show. Normally I wouldn’t have minded but, earlier on in the evening, my girl-radar tuned me in on this lovely little girl in a pink dress and white blouse. It was one of those moments where I knew nothing would ever become of the situation because of the language barrier, the distance of our homes, and mostly,my spineless nerves but I was going to at least try to impress her that night so she could go home and wonder who that keen-o, neat-o guy was at the party. Well, by the time the firegal had started her act and I had begun taping it for my aunt and uncle (I originally planned on leaving it out but my Uncle Hanh, being the joker he was, pushed me into filming it while he teased me as I was filming), I noticed that I was in clear view of the girl I was trying to impress. I was so embarrassed because I had spent the whole night not paying much attention to any of the other girls in the room (although there were many other beautiful girls there) and just looking over at her and smiling when we made eye contact…and now I had my full attention on the next-to-naked girl on stage…and even worse I was videotaping it (if I had my way, I would have followed the cutie gal around the room all night and videotaped her but I think that might have scared her off). Oh, well, I did get to catch her on video later — she was standing in the background when I was taping my Uncle Hoang at the door wishing everyone a goodnight…fg2

…so, what was one to think of a culture that encourages scantily-clad firewomen to dance at anniversary parties? What kind of an image did I get from a bunch of grown, married men running onstage to have cigarettes lit by the human torch and tipping her while doing so? What does one make of a room full of men and women drinking heavily and just being themselves around each other and less reserved as they seem to out in the streets? I think they are all human just like the rest of us. The Asian cultures are usually seen as quiet and very mannerly and and not the types to expect to “have a good time”…and this is almost very true…but they do have a good time. They just do some a bit differently in different situations, as everyone does. My family has the most fun sitting on the floor in the living having dinner with each other and talking and just being with each other. Others like to sit on their porch on a warm day and just watch the children play in the streets and hear the hustleof the marketplace around the corner. I like to sit back and watch life and capture it on film or in my drawings…the important point is everyone is having fun and everyone is happy. So, whether it be fishing or walking in the country or singing karaoke or even twirling fire in your underwear, the people of Vietnam are just like the rest of the world and they’re having fun.