May 25, 2002

Arlington, VA
Out of habit, I almost typed Sai Gon - and stopped myself. Much like writing the wrong year for the first week of January on your checks - as if anyone ever writes checks anymore for anything. But you get the idea. It's a remnant of my year spent abroad. The thing is, as each day passes, I begin to feel such odium for Vietnam. Maybe my emotions are running high, but - you know - my body is becoming reacclimated to dry vs. humid, winter vs. tropics, day into night and night into day. Physically, I'm living in my polar opposite. I'm dealing with a bit of adjustment here. Emotionally, I'm thrilled to be home and I'm happy to be out of Vietnam, and those are not the same thing - there is a nuance in those two statements.

Being home is something of a comfort, always has been. I'm in the house I grew up in, hanging out with dad, doing as I please, relaxing, eating, reading, writing, surfing the net. There's nothing pressing, no deadline, no place to be. There are places to go and people to see - when I feel like it. There's the familiar 2 Chefs down the street, the bike path, the things that made home home to me. Deadlines? Nah. Make phone calls? Can do that tomorrow. Life is at my leisure.

Being out of Vietnam is almost like I've escaped again only this time, I'm old enough to know it. Twenty-seven years ago, when we first left Vietnam, I was merely 18 months old and probably didn't care where we were going, even if it was on a DC-9 cargo plane, so long as I had a bottle of milk with me. Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration in comparison, but really - it's as if I've been suddenly thrust free again. I have a CHOICE! I'm around people who have opinions! I can read whatever I want. Travel whereever without reporting to the neighborhood police of my whereabouts.

I go into a retailer and the music is different than the previous dozen venues, unlike in VN where every cafe, hotel, shop, or office has the same soundtrack playing over its p.a. system. As if the government has distributed a nationwide box set and everyone agrees that it's the best music available on earth. And every book store carries the same books. Why? Because the government permits those books to be sold.

I go to the grocery store and I get to buy a loaf of bread for $2.49. So does the white guy behind me. So does the asian in front of me. No more haggling for Vietnamese-prices since I looked mixed and/or don't speak Vietnamese like a native and therefore must pay double for everything.

I walk into a museum and I am mindful of the personal space of those around me. I step back to have a better look at a painting and the people around me respect that. In Vietnam, a family of five would have stepped right in front of my view and a dozen more would shove me from either side. Then they'll touch the canvas and flash photograph it despite the signs that ask you not to.

I drive down the highway and there aren't young children playing on the street shoulder, nor is there a truck oncoming in my lane to overtake the bus he's passing, and there should be seatbelts in the car, including the back seats, and there is law and order to driving and traveling. There are no educated medical professionals throwing plastic bags and litter out my car window here, and I won't get pulled over by a corrupt cop who wants an extra bribe to help him through the New Year.

When I apply for a job here, I won't have to tell my employer my religion, my age, my health status, my siblings names and ages, what they do, what my mother did pre-1975 and post-1975, what my father did pre-1975 and post-1975, and then include a color photograph of my mug. Yeah, that's exactly what my prospective employees in Vietnam had to tell me on their resume when I interviewed them for positions - by LAW. And I said to them, Look, I don't care what the hell your parents did before the war. Are you capable of learning? And all too often the answer was No - because the education system requires everyone to revere their professors - to worship them and to love them, and above all, to NEVER QUESTION THEM so they are all taught to think inside of the box like their professors before them. To the Vietnamese, life beholds what your professor tells you it beholds.

And though I found these events and actions difficult to tolerate while living in Vietnam, my return to the U.S. has only magnified these faults that I find in the Vietnamese culture - and magnified my love of America, my relation to America, and my self-definition as an American. Of course, offer me Italian culture and citizenship and I'll bite. At least I'll have health insurance.

I'm sure that over time, my love of Vietnam, its extraordinary landscapes, hospitality, character, and tradition will draw me back to re-visit. The explorations and adventures I beheld while I lived there are unique and treasured. It's just that - well, I'm glad I'm back.

Not much to blog about till I get back to NYC on March 8th so for the best things to read, click on my Year in Review Letters (the last three years), the Normalcy Debate among the Hong siblings, and my Alaska AIDS Ride newsletter. That is, of course, if you have nothing better in the bathroom (none of them can be described as compendious so you might want to harm a sapling and print them out).

And for my favorite photo collections, try these:
Phan Thiet
NZ South Island Scenic Drive
although I had a tough time leaving out Sydney (on New Year's Eve) and the Glacier Hiking. Actually, I love all the photos, so just go to the links on the right and start clicking down the list - from Australia to New Zealand to Vietnam and even some shots of our crazy and funny family.

There are many many many photos I still haven't posted from Vietnam, and none of those of which I photographed at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom among the many other temples I visited in Cambodia. Eventually I'll get those up.

Arlington VA
I've been asleep pretty much for four days, hence no blogs as I wouldn't want to bore you to death. I have with Timmi, however, managed to spark a series of hilarious communications between my cousins and sibs and well - it looks like normalcy expands beyond my immediate family. I like to think of it as Family Insanity And I guess for a lot of it, you had to be there - but I find it still fairly amusing.

Tomorrow evening, if I'm awake, Mike is making me a five-course Italian (Tuscan) dinner and Eileen is supervising. We're his guinea pigs, he says, but I'm sure tossing all those things in a pot can't come out all that bad!

Oh, and since we're on the subject of COOL, go to Aural Delight, Lisa's new site related to all things music. And send her feedback! She's just starting it up!

My other brilliant sister (I have a few), Kiki, got written up in Atlanta Business Journal "20 Techies to Know". She's the Cathy Hong from UPS at ATV that you'll read about whose quote about "dodging bullets" is apropos of her personality.

Since we're mentioning sibling press appearances, I should also give a shoutout to Souris who was recognized in January's GQ magazine and Silvio (my super brother-in-law) who was quoted in The New York Times Toy Story. Tokion, mentioned in the article, is none other than the super cool Japanese pop culture mag where Souris works.

Oh, and my brother Lobo is thanked in the liner notes of Puddle of Mudd's first album release. And if you didn't catch it earlier, Kaly published a CD review: here's the blog on it
Do I have a cool family or what?

The United States of America
It is sooooo good to be back on US soil. I nearly cried when I could see the snow on the ground from the airplane. When I arrived at the airport, I was welcomed by Uncle 7 and dad (who smartly remembered to bring me a coat because he knew I was coming from spending a year in the tropics) and temperatures of oh... -4C! That's 21F for those of you who need conversion. I can't describe how good the brisk air felt. I love sitting on the sunny side of the car on a blustery cold day - it just feels good.

So first stop from the airport, I tell dad "let's go have a steak and cheese." And we went to 2 Chefs at about 10:50 and I realize - it's CLOSED! And it's closed because in America, it was President's Day! So dad and Cau 7 took me to ... um... Little Saigon restaurant. Yeah. I just flew in from a year in Vietnam and we go to a Vietnamese restaurant. So I had a seven dollar bowl of duck noodle soup which in Vietnam costs $1.30.

This morning I got up and had to make my own coffee and toast my own croissant and this afternoon I had to cook my own food and clean my own dishes and IT FEELS GOOD. And this afternoon, Dad and I went to 2 Chefs and had our steak and cheeses and it tasted so GOOD. And they were open at 11 yesterday but we had just missed them. For shame.

I'm so happy to be back. IÂ’ve talked to all my sisters, I hear English everywhere, I get to chill out with dad and not get bitten by mosquitos. I could even drink the tap water if I wanted to. I feel FREE FREE FREE. I am happy appy appy.

Yup, getting closer and closer to the end... and the beginning. Everyone keeps asking me what I'm going to do and where I'm going to live and the answer is - who knows? I ask that too. Goodbyes were relatively easy, fairly spaced apart, and thankfully not tearful! In about 3 hours I get on a flight to Japan and then spend another 3 hour layover there where I might check in again. I'm really racking up my number of countries visited with this trip, I think Japan will be the eighth country since January 2002.

All right. Logging off. I have a lot of layovering to do.

No comments: