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The Value of A Life

My wife looked up me after checking her phone and I immediately knew something was wrong since she must have had a dozen missed calls in the past hour.  I too had a few.  It was her mom, her brother, and sister calling one after the other as if they were saying to drop everything and just go.  Her grandmother had passed away and she needed to get back to her parent’s place in the countryside as if nothing else needed to be explained.  My wife and daughter packed a bag to leave early the next day and I would join later in the evening after finishing work.   The next evening I finally arrived at the funeral, I noticed that the immediate family members were all dressed in white robes and wore head wraps that symbolized rank according to the proximity to the deceased as well as age.  Other close relatives wore white headbands, the younger children in orange headbands, and everyone else wore dark clothing and black headbands. A funeral band played traditional Vietnamese music with the droni
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Rainy Season in Saigon

Rainy season in the southern part of Vietnam lasts for about half of the year from about March until October. Each day has occasional rain showers passing by with people taking shelter and others just going about their daily routine. By the way, this is the first video I've ever tried to edit and post on my blog so I hope you like it.

Who are you?!

Just the other day I sat in one of my regular joints where I grab a bite, escape the oppressive Saigon heat and ponder life. I sat in my usual area at the back wall where I usually camp out for a few hours, eating lunch, having a cappuccino, and using my laptop. I couldn’t help, but overhear a group of women on the far end of the room. The head of the group was a middle-aged woman who unmistakably spoke in a firm American professorial style at a level the dining crowd could easily hear her annunciate as if she were giving an important commencement speech, Dear class of 2009 it’s with great pleasure and pride that I say, “please order anything on me, there’s a wide selection of menu items ..American, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese; you’ll find the selections have funny names like the Elvis or Halle Berry.” Great marketing pitch I thought. After finishing my Romeo sandwich and catching up on some office emails, I paid attention to the professor again now talking about inequality for

Nurture versus Nurture

We cannot definitely say what part of us is biological and what part is a product of our environment is, but for some adoptee friends coming back to Vietnam has resolved some of these issues and helped us figure out ourselves. Being able to look at your biological family might answer a lot of questions for who you are, but take this away and then you can only go back to the environment you originally came from. When asking Kai what part of him is Vietnamese, he confidently says that he can relate to how people here share, especially in the family. For Kai, there’s no doubt that he’s willing to share and take care of those around him which is obvious by his generous and friendly nature. What brought Kai back to Vietnam was a gradual process of learning Vietnamese culture, first back in Munich and continues in the present now living in Ho Chi Minh City. Unlike my experience in the US, Kai did not have the same early opportunities to attend adoptee reunions to learn about Vietnam and meet

Turn of Events

Through chance encounters while living up in Hanoi about 6 months ago, Tiffany had met someone who was interested in her story of her search for her birth mother. This acquaintance just so happened to know the host of the TV show ' nhu chua he co cuoc chia ly ,' a show based in Saigon about people trying to find long lost relatives. After months passed and a few failed attempts, Tiffany finally was able to contact the host and arrange to be on the TV show. Just this past weekend I had made plans to meet Tiffany and another Viet-American adoptee Brent, who like Tiffany, is also from Minneapolis, MN. Tiffany was passing through town as she was planning to travel the region before departing back to the US in the fall. We met at Brent’s regular hangout, the Trung Nguyen Café across from the Tan Dinh Market where Tiffany and Brent had been catching up at the café before I had arrived. Tiffany and I were going to get a quick bite before her TV show interview when it started to po

Crash Course to Living in Vietnam

Everything I ever needed to learn when first coming to Vietnam, I learned from my good buddy Tim Holtan . Before coming back to Vietnam for my first time in 1996, I had lots of questions and luckily Tim was there to answer them. We were also roommates in Hanoi back then so it was good to have him show me the ropes while I got settled in a strange place. While some of these rules to live by might seem insensitive I can only say you have to live here to understand. 1. Don’t ask, just accept it When Tim and I were studying Vietnamese, another student Ong Lou (Mr. Lou)would often interrupt the class excusing himself, “xi xi xin loi” usually asking what everyone deemed as a stupid question like why do Vietnamese shake with 2 hands to show respect? Tim’s response was don’t ask, just accept. While it’s interesting to learn culture and tradition, some things you just gotta accept! 2. Don’t watch them wash the dishes Many times eating Pho or rice at a street stall, I was often told not to

Someone Watching Over Us

This article is about the re-found connections between Vietnamese adoptees and the orphanage workers who took care of us during such desperate times from the early to mid 1970's. Through various traces to our past, we have found the orphanages where we are from. For many of us, this is as close as we can get to our origins. Even more amazing was meeting the social workers who took care of us more than 30 years ago, familiar faces who we were too young to remember, but very well remember us. It's almost impossible to explain how grateful we are to these beautiful women who seem so familiar. Visiting their houses is the same closeness anyone would share with their own family. Like our very own aunts would, they still want to visit as much as possible, feed us and ask make sure we're okay. Despite the many years that slipped away when we were all sent to our unknown destinies , the meaningful bond we have with the social workers is timeless. [T