Category Archives: Reads/ Writes

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Posted on 28 August, 2014 in Reads/ Writes

This book is fairly short compared to other books of Murakami – only ~300 pages, and I actually finished in two days, so don’t fear that you’re too busy to finish it! In short, it’s about Tsukuru and his group of four close friends. He suddenly was abandoned by all of his close friends, which led him to a well of depression, but somehow he was able to walk away from it and had a decent normal life. One day, with the help of his girlfriend, he decided to dig deeper in the past to find out why he was so harshly excluded from the group.

This is probably one of the easiest-to-read books of Murakami, with a lack of  the mysterious, magical realism that we usually see in his works such as the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, or Kafka On The Shore. It’s surprisingly “normal”, yet is still beautiful in its own way. It strikes on fairly common topics: insecurity, self-deprecation, identity crisis of growing up, how unsolved problems from the past can impact on your current life.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is mainly about self-discover and finding one’s identity. Tsukuru thinks that he is “colorless”, too simple, not interesting, unlike his colorful and cool friends.  Aka was the smart, logical one who always had top grades. Ao was the captain of the rugby team, cheerful, popular, good listener, born leader. Shiro, model’s body, graceful, long silky lustrous black hair, wonderful pianist, animal lover. Kuro, eager, charming, with a good sense of humor. He noticed several great things in each of his friends, yet failed to see that in himself. His grades were just average, he didn’t really like sports, no interests in the arts, no hobbies, no special skills. It’s interesting to see how different it can be between how others think of you and how you think of yourself. Tsukuru, in the end, was surprised to learn how others thought of him. They thought of him as the handsome boy who made a good impression. They thought he was clean, neat, well dressed, and polite. At least a girl had a crush on him (without him knowing it, of course). They got from him a sense of security, “like an anchor”.

Even though this is among his most “normal” books, Murakami still left several loose ends untied for the readers to think about. For example, what happened to Haida? What was up with Tsukuru’s strange dream with Haida, Shiro, and Kuro? What happened to Shiro? If you’re the type of readers who need a definitive answer, this book might give you a burning itch at the end.

I wasn’t able to get a “Murakami Bingo”, but I definitely did check off several squares. I don’t really mind these so-called cliches though.

I’m very glad I decided to buy this book, and that I finished it before the summer officially ended for me. This book has a meh title, but I think for the most part, it’s charming, sweet, and it touches on several issues that I can easily relate to. It was a lovely read, a very subtle novel that kept me going despite the somewhat slow pace. It isn’t a mystery novel: it was much more about the journey Tsukuru took than about the answers he found. Yet Murakami delivered enough to satisfy. Tsukuru’s journey to dig up his past helped him to discover more about himself, clarify what he wanted, and gave him the strength to seek for it.

On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning

Posted on 01 May, 2013 in Reads/ Writes

By Haruki Murakami
Source: Here

But the glow of their memories was far too weak, and their thoughts no longer had the clarity of fourteen years earlier. Without a word, they passed each other, disappearing into the crowd. Forever.

One beautiful April morning, on a narrow side street in Tokyo’s fashionable Harujuku neighborhood, I walked past the 100% perfect girl.

Tell you the truth, she’s not that good-looking. She doesn’t stand out in any way. Her clothes are nothing special. The back of her hair is still bent out of shape from sleep. She isn’t young, either – must be near thirty, not even close to a “girl,” properly speaking. But still, I know from fifty yards away: She’s the 100% perfect girl for me. The moment I see her, there’s a rumbling in my chest, and my mouth is as dry as a desert.

Maybe you have your own particular favorite type of girl – one with slim ankles, say, or big eyes, or graceful fingers, or you’re drawn for no good reason to girls who take their time with every meal. I have my own preferences, of course. Sometimes in a restaurant I’ll catch myself staring at the girl at the next table to mine because I like the shape of her nose.

But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like noses, I can’t recall the shape of hers – or even if she had one. All I can remember for sure is that she was no great beauty. It’s weird.

“Yesterday on the street I passed the 100% girl,” I tell someone.

“Yeah?” he says. “Good-looking?”

“Not really.”

“Your favorite type, then?”

“I don’t know. I can’t seem to remember anything about her – the shape of her eyes or the size of her breasts.”

“Strange.”

“Yeah. Strange.”

“So anyhow,” he says, already bored, “what did you do? Talk to her? Follow her?”

“Nah. Just passed her on the street.”

She’s walking east to west, and I west to east. It’s a really nice April morning.

Wish I could talk to her. Half an hour would be plenty: just ask her about herself, tell her about myself, and – what I’d really like to do – explain to her the complexities of fate that have led to our passing each other on a side street in Harajuku on a beautiful April morning in 1981. This was something sure to be crammed full of warm secrets, like an antique clock build when peace filled the world.

After talking, we’d have lunch somewhere, maybe see a Woody Allen movie, stop by a hotel bar for cocktails. With any kind of luck, we might end up in bed.

Potentiality knocks on the door of my heart.

Now the distance between us has narrowed to fifteen yards.

How can I approach her? What should I say?

“Good morning, miss. Do you think you could spare half an hour for a little conversation?”

Ridiculous. I’d sound like an insurance salesman.

“Pardon me, but would you happen to know if there is an all-night cleaners in the neighborhood?”

No, this is just as ridiculous. I’m not carrying any laundry, for one thing. Who’s going to buy a line like that?

Maybe the simple truth would do. “Good morning. You are the 100% perfect girl for me.”

No, she wouldn’t believe it. Or even if she did, she might not want to talk to me. Sorry, she could say, I might be the 100% perfect girl for you, but you’re not the 100% boy for me. It could happen. And if I found myself in that situation, I’d probably go to pieces. I’d never recover from the shock. I’m thirty-two, and that’s what growing older is all about.

We pass in front of a flower shop. A small, warm air mass touches my skin. The asphalt is damp, and I catch the scent of roses. I can’t bring myself to speak to her. She wears a white sweater, and in her right hand she holds a crisp white envelope lacking only a stamp. So: She’s written somebody a letter, maybe spent the whole night writing, to judge from the sleepy look in her eyes. The envelope could contain every secret she’s ever had.

I take a few more strides and turn: She’s lost in the crowd.

Now, of course, I know exactly what I should have said to her. It would have been a long speech, though, far too long for me to have delivered it properly. The ideas I come up with are never very practical.

Oh, well. It would have started “Once upon a time” and ended “A sad story, don’t you think?”

Once upon a time, there lived a boy and a girl. The boy was eighteen and the girl sixteen. He was not unusually handsome, and she was not especially beautiful. They were just an ordinary lonely boy and an ordinary lonely girl, like all the others. But they believed with their whole hearts that somewhere in the world there lived the 100% perfect boy and the 100% perfect girl for them. Yes, they believed in a miracle. And that miracle actually happened.

One day the two came upon each other on the corner of a street.

“This is amazing,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you all my life. You may not believe this, but you’re the 100% perfect girl for me.”

“And you,” she said to him, “are the 100% perfect boy for me, exactly as I’d pictured you in every detail. It’s like a dream.”

They sat on a park bench, held hands, and told each other their stories hour after hour. They were not lonely anymore. They had found and been found by their 100% perfect other. What a wonderful thing it is to find and be found by your 100% perfect other. It’s a miracle, a cosmic miracle.

As they sat and talked, however, a tiny, tiny sliver of doubt took root in their hearts: Was it really all right for one’s dreams to come true so easily?

And so, when there came a momentary lull in their conversation, the boy said to the girl, “Let’s test ourselves – just once. If we really are each other’s 100% perfect lovers, then sometime, somewhere, we will meet again without fail. And when that happens, and we know that we are the 100% perfect ones, we’ll marry then and there. What do you think?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is exactly what we should do.”

And so they parted, she to the east, and he to the west.

The test they had agreed upon, however, was utterly unnecessary. They should never have undertaken it, because they really and truly were each other’s 100% perfect lovers, and it was a miracle that they had ever met. But it was impossible for them to know this, young as they were. The cold, indifferent waves of fate proceeded to toss them unmercifully.

One winter, both the boy and the girl came down with the season’s terrible inluenza, and after drifting for weeks between life and death they lost all memory of their earlier years. When they awoke, their heads were as empty as the young D. H. Lawrence’s piggy bank.

They were two bright, determined young people, however, and through their unremitting efforts they were able to acquire once again the knowledge and feeling that qualified them to return as full-fledged members of society. Heaven be praised, they became truly upstanding citizens who knew how to transfer from one subway line to another, who were fully capable of sending a special-delivery letter at the post office. Indeed, they even experienced love again, sometimes as much as 75% or even 85% love.

Time passed with shocking swiftness, and soon the boy was thirty-two, the girl thirty.

One beautiful April morning, in search of a cup of coffee to start the day, the boy was walking from west to east, while the girl, intending to send a special-delivery letter, was walking from east to west, but along the same narrow street in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo. They passed each other in the very center of the street. The faintest gleam of their lost memories glimmered for the briefest moment in their hearts. Each felt a rumbling in their chest. And they knew:

She is the 100% perfect girl for me.

He is the 100% perfect boy for me.

But the glow of their memories was far too weak, and their thoughts no longer had the clarity of fourteen years earlier. Without a word, they passed each other, disappearing into the crowd. Forever.

A sad story, don’t you think?

Yes, that’s it, that is what I should have said to her.

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I thought I’d copy the story back to my blog, just in case some time from now I’d forget the title of this short story. Thanks Caroline Vu for showing me this great piece.

DEN THANG: Teardrops on my cheeks.

Posted on 01 November, 2012 in Links, Reads/ Writes, Thoughts

 Pushing the door open, we were astonished to see over twenty little ones quietly huddling themselves up in a corner, inadequately dressed in such cold weather. Their skin were pale and slightly purple; their bodies were trembling.

 All of them crossed their arms in front of their chest. Not because they were about to greet us, but because it could keep them a bit warmer.

Without any socks, when it was only 3-4 Celsius degrees outside.

Mai Thanh Hai: The main campus of kindergarten school Den Thang (Bat Xat rural district, Lao Cai) was half-way up the path from Muong Hum to the Y Ty Peak. This path was always deeply covered with fog and clouds.

The closer it was to noon, the colder it got. Rain has been pouring down hard since the morning, helping the cold air to freeze raindrops on the leaves into tiny droplets of ice.

Sitting in the car with the heat on and covered in lots of layers, we were still shivering. The thermometer showed 3 degrees Celsius (37.4 degrees Fahrenheit), no wonder it was so cold. We stopped at the main campus right when the last of the series of shower started and drenched everyone.

It was almost noon, yet all three classrooms’ doors were tightly shut. Peeking in from a chink in the door, it looked not much different from a grain barn, since all light bulbs were burned out. The only thing that distinguished this classroom from a grain barn was the voice of the children repeating after, and singing along with the shaky hand claps of the teachers.

We entered the classroom – it was divided into two parts by a blue piece of cloth. One part was the classroom itself, the other part served as a meeting/ working place of the school administrators. Pushing the door open, we were astonished to see over twenty little ones quietly huddling themselves up in a corner, inadequately dressed in such cold weather. Their skin were pale and slightly purple; their bodies were trembling.

All of them crossed their arms in front of their chest. Not because they were about to greet us, but because it could keep them a bit warmer.

Arms crossed to stay warmer.

It was 3-4 degrees Celsius.  Even the ceramic floor released some cold air. I had a pair of thick socks on, yet I could still feel the cold air piercing through the socks, to the sole of the feet. All these kids, however, were barefoot. Only a few had socks and warm clothes on – I heard they are the children of some local administrators.

The teacher said: “Only a few have boots or sandals, the rest always walk barefoot from their homes to the school.” We pointed to the rubber mats in the corner: “Why don’t you put this on the floor to keep the feet a bit warmer?” She stumbled over her words “Well, those were sponsored by Only Rice Is Not Enough. But we want them to last for a long time, so we only use them when the children go to sleep to keep their backs warm…”

Put the mats on the floor to warm up the little feet.

Oh dear, the teachers being this thrifty was definitely a backfire to our sponsoring! Please, please, get the mats out, all of them! Put them down on the floor, we’ll replace them if they break. We acted as we were speaking: all people in the group brought the rubber mats out on the floor, and put the children in positions such that their feet rest on the mats, and they sat shoulder-to-shoulder to share the heat with one another.

Slowly and mindlessly, I touched the shoulders of the trembling children, and suddenly drew back my hand when it got to a little girl. Her wet hair was sticking on her face; her lips were completely pale.  She was as wet as a drowned rat!

I ran to our car and searched in my backpack for the only clean piece of clothing left. The little girl put it on, instead of her thin top which was completely soaked. She got a bit warmer but her teeth were still chattering. My top was a short-sleeved, thin shirt to wear inside the house; of course it wouldn’t be warm enough!

Tears were welling up in my eyes when I suddenly felt a relief: someone wrapped around her a purple big scarf. It was big enough to serve as a mini blanket, covering the tiny body.

I turned and looked behind my shoulder: Lana, the scarf’s owner, was bursting into tears in a corner.

The teacher at Den Thang told us that the little girl was Sung Thi Sua, five years old. She lives about two hills away from the school. Even in decent weather condition, it would still take an adult about an hour to cross that distance. In these days, little Sua has to wake up early and starts for school since 6 AM. When it rains, she would have no shelter to hide, and has no other options other than just keep walking to school. And that was how she got soaking wet like that.

Sung Thi Sua (first from the right), now warmer with some extra layers.

At the class for 5-year-old children, my attention kept being drawn to the pair of brother and sister Trang A Chao (born in 2004) and Trang Thi Lan (born in 2006). They both had round faces, completely resembled each other.  There was always a sad look in their eyes as if they were about to cry anytime. And it would be totally understandable if they wanted to cry. Their mother, after going to China to work in a factory, passed away a month ago (December 2011). Their father, after weeks of mourning over his wife’s death, continued her path: he also went to China to work in a factory, hoping to make enough money to raise his children up.

Therefore, during these days, the two siblings walked from one house to another in the village, asking for a place to sleep and a bite to eat. They tried to survive day by day, like swaying shadows of candles in the wind. Thus, the older brother, Trang A Chao, should have been in first grade, but the teachers had to let him stay for an extra year in Kindergarten, so he could take care of his sister all day.

Brother Trang A Chao (front) and younger sister Trang Thi Lan (first left).

I read the list of students and saw that the little girl Trang Thi Lan shared the same birthday with me(October 23rd). I couldn’t help calling home, asking for some clothes to be prepared to send for her.

Getting back inside the classroom, I saw Khanh – a volunteer with Only Rice is Not Enough, currently working for WHO in Vietnam – counting some money to give the principal. She wanted to buy a pair of socks for each kid. 260 kids, 260 pairs of socks, a total of 1,620,000 VND (~ 81 USD).

Right when I was about to thank Khanh, my phone rang again. Dr. Le Viet Duc, who lived in Sweden, just came back to Hanoi for a short visit. He asked: “It’s freezing cold in Hanoi, 9 Celsius degrees (48.2 Fahrenheit degrees). All students get a day off. Do students there get today off as well?” Choked with emotions, I told him about the children’s bare feet and their lack of winter clothing. On the other side of the phone line, Dr. Le’s voice suddenly became hoarse: “I’m flying back to Sweden tomorrow. Please let me chip in 4,000,000 VND (200 USD) to buy them each a pair of boots, okay?”

I walked back out of the door. My cheeks were all wet.  Was it from the freezing rain? No, I don’t think so. My tears fell down for the sad plight of these poor children, and also from the warmth that my friends spread to these kids of this remote area named Den Thang.

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Original post by Mai Thanh Hai: Đã bật khóc, ngay tại Dền Thàng. Translated by Nghi Nguyen.

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ONLY RICE IS NOT ENOUGH is a charity program that raises funds to provide food and cooking services in elementary schools of poor highland mountain regions. The children in these areas usually have only plain rice and salt everyday without any other sources of nutrition. Together with supplying food, the program also aims to expand its activities by aiding more basic needs, such as clean water, hygiene, books and learning tools.

“A Dime For A Meal to the little kid. Not much, but everyday.”

For more information, please visit:

Vietnamese page: http://www.facebook.com/Comcothit.Unitedstates                  http://www.trandangtuan.com

English page: http://www.facebook.com/OnlyRiceIsNotEnough

Xin cám ơn Tình Yêu – Han Nguyen Thach

Posted on 30 October, 2012 in Reads/ Writes, Thoughts

Đã đọc bài này nhiều lần từ khi anh Minh gửi cho cái link, vẫn thấy cảm động như lần đầu tiên. Đêm hôm qua ngồi nhà cùng những lo âu bão Sandy đến, mình tranh thủ dùng máy tính lúc còn có điện, hí hoáy ngồi dịch sang tiếng Anh bản thô. Vừa dịch vừa rơm rớm nước mắt. Những cô giáo trên vùng cao này chỉ xấp xỉ tuổi mình, có cô còn trẻ hơn. Sống trong khó khăn, khổ sở, thời tiết lạnh, thiếu thốn đủ thứ, xa gia đình, đường đi lầy lội và đối diện với nguy hiểm mỗi ngày, tất cả vì tình yêu con trẻ. Tặng các bạn bài viết rất cảm động này của blogger Han Nguyen Thach (link bản tiếng Việt gốc ở cuối bài, bạn kéo xuống sẽ thấy). Đây là những ghi chép rất thật về những trái tim ấp ám của những giáo viên không quản ngại khó khăn, cắm chốt ở bản xa….

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The late cooking fire.

Our car got bogged down in the mud when the trip ahead was still long, so the kindergarten teachers gave us a good two rooms with beddings – how nice! While waiting for the rice to be cooked, we all gathered around the fire and told one another about random things: our childhood memories, the potatoes and cassavas we always had for meals as kids, about the traditional Tet sticky rice cakes, about the childish pranks we pulled. The warm fire brought us – the Only Rice Is Not Enough team members – closer together in just one day.

It was muddy everywhere, no wonder our car got bogged down. I felt guilty looking at the recently cleaned floor, now dirtied with muddy footprints no matter how gently we tried to step. Tomorrow, the teachers probably would have to spend twice as much time to clean the floor.

Meal time. Bowls of rice were passed along the tables, smiles and handshakes exchanged. Our hands were freezing cold – so what? Our hearts and minds were still warm. Stories after stories were told back and forth, revealing the hardships the teachers had to face every day.

They were all very young. The principals and vice-principals were born in 1986, 1987. Some were born in 1990, 1991, so young yet they were willing to go to the furthest, most isolated places to teach. “Staying here for half a year and we’re like men already. While pregnant, we still ride the scooters like crazy. But after giving birth, it actually scared me a little bit.” – one said.

Despite their big bellies during the last months of pregnancy, these teachers still went to class to teach and also cooked for the children every day. I attempted to ride the scooter on the muddy road. Result: I fell several, several times. And every day, these teachers had to ride on this road – sometimes even in the dark, following the talus piles closely and slowly. If they fell, they would fall towards the mountain. Well, it would definitely hurt, but would also keep them alive. On the other side of the road, a dark abyss was waiting in the menacing silence.

One teacher, while going back to visit her children, got into an accident and passed away. “We have children probably only for their grandparents!”  The joke was told with a smile, yet it felt like a punch straight to the heart.

A teacher’s room at Ta Ngai Cho, Muong Khuong, Lao Cai. On the wall was a drawing of her own son.

A border patrol got married to a teacher, and he was assigned to a position all the way in Tinh Bien, An Giang – over a thousand miles away. All his money was saved up for the trips to visit his wife. Both were very young, and they were still childless after several such trips. At the teachers’ living quarters, every room’s wall was filled with babies’ photos, chubby and adorable.

Along the border, only teachers at a commune with border defense post are eligible for a supplemental allowance of 50% of their salary – although a border commune is always a border commune, with or without a defense post.

 

A corner of the teachers’ living quarter.

 

*******

–          How come you feed the children so late today?

–          Ah, if they eat too early, they’ll be hungry too soon!

It was colder than usual, some students didn’t go to class, and so the portion looked better. Each kid held tightly the bowl in the left hand, spoon in the right hand, scooped every last bit out of the bowl of rice and meat in a blink of an eye. Who even needed to be tempted to eat?

Tomorrow it would be even colder. The teachers, as usual, would follow that zigzag road which was as slippery as an ice patch, to reach the furthest places, to bring each and every kindergarten kid to class.

 

 

The Kindergarten school Sin Co, last year.

Ms. Chuyen, Ms. Thuyet,Ms. Huyen, and 13 little hopes for the future, at Sin Co Kindergarten.

About 30% of the teachers who were assigned to teach at such remote places would go back to the city right away. Another rather large percentage would take the job, teach for half a day, and go home in the evening. Only those with the biggest hearts, with the greatest love for the children here would stay.

For one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years, and even more. Who knows?

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Written by Han Nguyen Thach. Original post: Xin cám ơn tình yêu Translated by Nghi Nguyen. 

 

The Trip to Suoi Giang – Tran Dang Tuan, and A Dime For a Meal

Posted on 15 October, 2012 in Reads/ Writes, Thoughts

I’ve got a couple questions from friends who can’t read Vietnamese, about the FB links I’ve posted in the past few days about Com Co Thit – Meals with Meat – or Only Rice is Not Enough. I could have answered my friends in a few lines to summary what it’s about, but I think it’s not sufficient. So I decided to [roughly, very roughly] translate the blog post from Tran Dang Tuan, the one he wrote about a year ago, after visiting the kids in Suoi Giang. It was how he started the project, and the blog post was how I learned about it. I didn’t have much time to proof read it – will do it some time later – so please excuse any mistakes. I tried to stay as close to the original post as possible  (link at the end of Note) but I did have to make some tweaks and turns. I converted kg to lb, in case you aren’t familiar with the metric system. Money is converted to US Dollars. So here it is, and if you feel like you can help making a difference in a kid’s life with as little as a dime, donation info can also be found at the end of the blog post.

Cheers,

Nghi

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THE TRIP TO SUOI GIANG 

By Tran Dang Tuan

Today is my first trip to Suoi Giang, with the intention of visiting the ancient giant tea trees there. At my age, sometimes I’m worried that there are still so many things from my own country that I’ve heard of since I was a kid, yet never had a chance to see with my own eyes.

[…]

The van stopped at the center of Suoi Giang, and right in front of a school. Hundreds of kids were exercising together in the schoolyard. Next to the school were their residential dorms. For some reason, I’ve always had a liking for mountain kids. The owner of a little store in front of the school – I didn’t know his wife was a teacher at that school until later – told me: This elementary school had 80 kids who lived on campus. You need over 100 kids to get funding from the government. This residential area is taken care of 100% by the local people. The parents send over about 2kg of rice and 5000 VND for food every week (about 4.4 lbs and 25 cents). We couldn’t believe it, so we kept questioning him: What can they eat with 5000 VND??? He kept on saying it was the truth. Right then, a H’Mong man walked by, carrying a bucket of water. The store owner pointed to him: There, he cooks for the kid. So we followed that man. Taking a short cut across some houses on the hill, through the main door of the People’s Committee Hall, around the backyard of the Hall, we reached a small cabin whose walls were just wooden planks put together. Inside the cabin was a cooking area, outside the door was a big bath tub filled with dirty bowls. In the kitchen, except for a big pot of rice being cooked, and another pot – perhaps for the soup – there was nothing else.

Ask: 80 kids and they eat only this pot? Is it enough? The H’mong man replied: “It’s a big pot, 13-14 kgs of rice in there!” Ask: “So what do they eat rice with?” Answer: “With veggie soup.”. Only then did we see in the dark area of the kitchen sit a few tiny bunches of vegetables, half was turning yellow and wilting down. We’d no idea what the soup would be cooked or seasoned with, since there was nothing else in the kitchen. Ask: “How come there are so little vegetables?” Answer: “Yeah, it’s not enough, we need to buy more.”  “What about meat, or fish?” “Nah, rarely, only when their parents send over more money can they have a meal with meat”.

A pot of rice (hopefully big enough) and a pot of leafy vegetables soup (cooked from the bucket of water that man carried up, some small bunches of veggies, fish sauce, seasonings… ). That was the lunch for 80 elementary school kids, the young generation of Vietnam, on September 22nd, 2011. It was the second decade of the 21st century. It was one year after the grand celebration of 1000 years Thang Long – Hanoi, the first year of the 11th Party Congress term, et cetera.

We asked “Could you please buy some meat for them for today’s lunch?” and gave him some money. I was afraid it would still be not enough, so I asked him again “Is that enough?” The H’Mong man replied “Yes, yes. Come back later and see they’ll have meat for lunch.” He walked to the market right away; it seemed to be close by, on the other side of the mountain.

When we went down, the driver, usually quite taciturn, let out a curse. Goddamn, eating like this, how can the kids survive?

They can probably survive, I think, but it will be hard for their studying. When I was a kid, I always wanted to eat, even though my parents took great care of me – maybe more than what my neighbor friends got.  When I started undergraduate studying at Thanh Xuan, I was hungry constantly. Eating at the dining hall, I finished the meal, washed my bowl, and already felt hungry on the way walking back to my dorm room. A meatless-meal with rice doesn’t make any difference between “already ate” and “haven’t eaten yet”. In class, I always thought of food. At night, sometimes my friends would ask me to come along with them to the girls’ room, and I usually turned down because it’s fun to hang out with girls but it’s a turn off when I get hungry while talking to them. I thought of hunger as a detestable man living inside, always reminding others that he’s there. And while he’s residing there, your thoughts and feelings can’t be let out, words and numbers and calculations on the blackboard can’t enter your mind.

From the kitchen we walked to the residential buildings. There were signs in front of each room. There were bunk beds, dirty bamboo mats and dirty blankets. But this I’ve seen several times. Good thing is the house is decently isolated from the winds; this is the most important things when you live in a mountainous area in the winter.

We walked over to the residential area of middle-school kids (also taken care of by local residents). It looked a lot worse. The kids would die out of the cold when winter comes! The teachers lived in the same building with the kids. I almost mistook a teacher for a student since she was very petite-sized, with a white top that looked like uniform. Two pots were on the fire in the kitchen; I opened the pots and saw that one was a pot of rice, the other one a pot of squash soup. I leaned closer to take a better look and see the squash pieces kept jumping up and down (the fire was fierce – there was plenty of wood).  I could see a layer of oil on top, too.  Ask: “Is there anything else for the meal, teacher?” The teacher pointed to a small plastic bag on the table: a pack of dried fish. There are 45 middle-school kids living here, also with 5000 VND/ week. But they seem to have better food than the elementary kids. The teachers donate some money from their salary to buy food for the kids. With simple calculation, every month 45 kids = 900 000VND (about 45 dollars) from the parents, and about the same from the teachers. On average, every day each kid has 2000 VND (10 cents) for food (5 cents/ day for elementary school kids). More organized than the elementary school kids, this group has one meal with meat/ protein every week. To be precise: 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of the cheapest meat, stewed with tofu.( I know this kind of dish, since the other day I visited Meo Vac I saw the on-campus kids eating something white-ish, I examined the bowl and realized it was tofu mixed with meat and fat, in a aluminum  bowl also white-ish.  The teachers later on told us the truth that that day the kids got to eat that just because there were visitors; it wasn’t their day-of-meat yet).

100,000 VND (5 dollars) and all those kids get a meal with meat stewed with tofu. As of now, the kids only get to eat that once a week.

We put together some money and gave that to the teachers, asking them to buy more food for the kids.

This reminded me of 6-7 years ago, while working on the Noi Vong Tay Lon program for the 2nd or 3rd time, I sent some groups to distant, poor areas. My Linh (now still an MC for Culture – Events – The Character on VTV3) was assigned to the Western North area, also to a residential area of mountain students, videotaping the kids during meals. When the program was on air from Studio S9, she said, that only 2000 VND/ day for each kid will make their meals much more colorful, unlike now, there’s only one color white: of rice and of bamboo shoots cooked with salt. And she couldn’t help it but burst out crying on the spot, in front of how many millions TV audience. How many years have gone by, but today, visiting Suoi Giang, I still saw the same kind of meal, and the number 2000 VND for a meal-with-meat, but the kids still don’t have that 2000 VND yet. And 2000 VND from seven years ago is worth much more than 2000VND as of now.

[…]

On the way out, we did the calculation again. For every residential area (80 elementary school kids for one and 45 middle-school kids for the other) to have a meal with meat stewed with tofu every day, we would need 2kg (4.4 lb) meat for the elementary kids, 1 kg (2.2 lbs) for the middle school kids, with tofu that would be 300,000 VND (15 dollars) a day, or 9,000,000 VND (450 dollars) a month. We would need 108 million VND (5400 dollars) per year. If the kids were to have both meals with meat, that would be twice as much: 18,000,000 VND (900 dollars) a month, or 216 million VND (10800 dollars) a year.

If we keep counting for ten years, for these 125 kids to have at least a meal with meat stewed with tofu (and it definitely will make a difference for the kids, at this age they need a lot of protein for brain development), would call for 1.2 billion VND to 2.4 billion VND (54000 to 108,000 dollars). With that much money, 125 kids can have meals with some sort of protein for ten years! For an individual, that amount of money is very large. But to have 125 kids (well, after 10 years, they wouldn’t be kids any more, more like adolescents, or young men and women) who are smart and healthy… would that amount of money still be too much? It’s a whole ten years, and after ten years, a whole new era of technology would come to replace the current one. In those ten years, at Suoi Giang, 1-2 billion VND would help over 100 kids to grow up in better conditions to be ready to enter that new era.

I know that our country is still poor (in general, VERY general). But, are we really THAT poor?

Okay, enough with wandering thoughts. I’ve decided that when I go home, I’d contact Tien and Linh to start a Meat with Tofu project for these 125 kids at Suoi Giang. We’d aim to have one meal with meat per day for them, or the 9,000,000 VND project. If we could get our friends join us, we’d try to roll over as fast as possible to the Two-Meals-With-Meat- Per Day Project, or the 18,000,000 VND project.  Hopefully there’d be no more inflation or price increasing, that’s the lowest price for meat, they can’t go any lower than that!!!

We left Suoi Giang for a while already when we suddenly wonder whether the kids got any decent meals today. Each of us made a guess, but no one was sure.

We arrived Phu Tho when I suddenly understood the strange feeling that I had. Since I left Suoi Giang, even though what we saw was sad and depressing, I was pissed off and also angry, but somehow there’s still a warm strand of thought lingering in my mind, and apparently it came from something I heard. And I remember when I talked to the teacher in the middle school dorm kitchen: “So how much does each teacher put in for the kids’ food”? The teacher replied: “ It’s not all equal, those with higher salary, or the Communist Party members, chip in more; while seasonal/ contracted teachers chip in a bit less.” To be honest, it has been a long time since I heard something that nice about Communist Party members. Especially when it’s not from any grandulous set-up/ event/ discussion. And I could believed it right away. That thought warmed up my mind for quite a bit, because I’m also a Communist Party member, for a very long time.

I got back to Hanoi, turned on my laptop to write an email to Tien. Yes, the exact line at the beginning of this blog post “Today is my first trip to Suoi Giang, with the intention of visiting the ancient giant tea trees there…” And I suddenly remembered that this morning, everyone forgot about the ancient giant tea trees. After we parked our van and visited the kids, we were all so caught up in our thoughts about their meals that none of us remembered the original purpose of visiting Suoi Giang.

September 22nd, 2011.

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COM CO THIT – ONLY RICE IS NOT ENOUGH

Com Co Thit – Rice With Meat – is a  project that was started by Tran Dang Tuan and friends in Hanoi, since 2011, and it has supported 5000 kids under 5 years old to have meals with meat every day. This project also helps kids with blankets, warm clothes, school stationery  etc. The kids come to class more regularly, the the ratio of malnourished kids is lower. Their parents, teachers, and the kids themselves are all happier.

Com Co Thit receives donations from individuals and organizations from everywhere in Vietnam and even from other countries. Com Co Thit uses all the donated money to support the kids, and nothing for management fees.

HOW MUCH FOR RICE WITH MEAT?

10 cents/ meal, 20 cents/ day, 6 dollars/ month. With six dollars you donate to Only Rice Is Not Enough, you can help ONE mountain kid to have ONE WHOLE MONTH of meals with protein. 30 dollars helps a kid for five months. 54 dollars helps a kid for a whole academic year. Thousands of kids are still waiting to have meals with meat.

HOW TO DONATE IF YOU’RE IN THE UNITED STATES:

1. ACCOUNT to receive donation for Only Rice is Not Enough – United States:

– Acct. holder : Yen Pham, Bank of America

   Acct. No. 004629017263

   Routing No. 011000138

   Zip code 02180 (or 00000 if zip code 02180 doesn’t work)

   You can transfer via email with address: haiyen2910@yahoo.com

 

– Paypal: haiyen1029@gmail.com

 

2. ADDRESS to receive checks, money orders:

Yen Pham, Apt.10, 220 Central Street

Stoneham, MA 02180

(Please write: “for Com co thit”)

Please send an email to comcothit.us@gmail.com right after you make a transfer to confirm. After the campaign ends (November 5th, 2012), all the money will be transferred back to the main Only Rice Is Not Enough account in Vietnam, and it will be distributed to the final destination – the kids at mountain areas.

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Links:

Original post: http://trandangtuan.com/2011/09/23/t%E1%BA%A3n-but-hom-nay-di-su%E1%BB%91i-giang/

Only Rice Is Not Enough United States Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ComcothitUnitedStates