Category Archives: Thoughts

Drive responsibly.

Posted on 18 August, 2016 in Jabbers, Thoughts

Harming another life is among the most horrible things a person can do. I can’t even imagine the pain the Tesla driver’s family is going through.

Please, don’t drive under any sort of influence. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t get high and drive. Don’t text and drive. Don’t drive when you’re sleepy. It’s not worth it.

405 HWY crash

Posted on 24 May, 2016 in Emo, Jabbers, Thoughts

The other night I had a nightmare that was ridiculously vividly realistic that I woke up trembling for a good few minutes. It was a combination of two separate segments. In the first one, I was at some sort of water park. Obviously I wasn’t riding any turbulent rides but was just chilling on a buoy in a small pool. There were gentle waves. I was dreamily thinking of what cocktail to order: a pina colada, or a Long Island Ice tea? And suddenly, out of nowhere, this weird wave was approaching us. It’s skinny and tall instead of… short and fat like the usual ones. I was still mesmerized at the strangeness of the wave when he suddenly grabbed my buoy and screamed: RUN! (I guess he meant “SWIM”?) It was only seconds later when this wall of water erupted from that seemingly gentle wave and collapsed on us. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t even have time to feel scared. My last thought was: Can I ride this wave to the land just like in movies?

FLASH.

And somehow, we were strolling on the street of a pretty small town. It was a beautiful day. And out of nowhere, that beautiful blue sky was no longer beautiful nor blue. There were several columns of dark, ominous smoke shooting up from the horizon to the sky. People were screaming, and we were hustled to some sort of safety room in the basement of a house. (And I was like WTF why does this peaceful town have such safety rooms???). There were a couple one-way windows in the room, so we could see the outside, but couldn’t be seen. The door to the safety room was shut, locked, and chained. I looked outside, and one of the smoke columns started to wiggle. I couldn’t believe in my eyes… it was a freaking dragon, like the one in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Several people were panicking. Some babies started to cry. Then my companion decided to open the one-way window so he could run outside to take a clearer look at the dragon. And that’s when I started to panic. I called out for him but he was already too far to hear me. I tried to open the window but several people held me down. As I was lying on the floor, I suddenly smelled something so bad ; and somehow I knew it was the dragon coming near. Oh my gosh, did it eat him alive?

I’ve always wondered how our brains generated dreams. Some dreams I can kind of get why I had them because they would be linked to an upcoming or recent event. But this kind of ridiculous nightmare with dragons and some weird Tsunami-wave on a Lazy pool??? Maybe I should pick up a book about sleeps, dreams, and nightmares.

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And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about. – Haruki Murakami

 

Beauty standard and the measure of success for women

Posted on 01 July, 2015 in Thoughts

A couple months ago, I came across a Facebook post by Elle Vietnam Magazine as follows:

Screenshot (40)

Phụ nữ nhất định phải nỗ lực giảm cân, chăm sóc da thật tốt và kiếm thật nhiều tiền.
Khi bạn vừa gầy vừa xinh đẹp, trong ví toàn là tiền tự mình kiếm được, bạn sẽ chợt phát hiện ra, làm gì có thời gian để mình suy tính thiệt hơn, làm gì có thời gian để mình đi tò mò chuyện người khác.
Đàn ông có thể là của người khác, nhưng tiền nhất định phải là của mình. Không có việc gì khiến bạn thấy vững vàng hơn bằng việc tự mình nỗ lực kiếm ra tiền đâu. Phụ nữ tuyệt vời nhất chính là người có kinh tế độc lập.

Translation:

Women must work hard to lose weight, to take great care of their skin, and to make a lot of money.

When you’re skinny, beautiful and your wallet is full of your own money, you would realize that you have no time to compare yourself with others, no time to gossip.

Your man can become someone else’s, but your money is yours and yours only. Nothing can make you feel as strong as earning and spending your own money. The most wonderful women are those who are independent financially.

The post was hashtagged #Opinion, and the source was given as “Translated by ABC” (What on earth is that kind of a source????). I’m not sure if it was translated correctly, but boy, I can’t believe a magazine like Elle can publish something like that, even though it’s only on their Facebook page. Really, Elle? Women must lose weight? And make a sh*tload of money? How much weight should they lose? What’s the beauty standard you’re holding here? How much money is enough? What about a person who has curves on their body and no thigh gaps like the girls on your cover? What about a happy stay-at-home mom who made that decision to step back and take care of the kids so her husband can focus on his work? Also, what does being skinny and beautiful has to do with “not gossiping about others”?

It was even more ridiculous once I get to the comment section, with so many people agreeing with the post. Thankfully, some people chimed in that they would prefer if “losing weight” were changed to “staying healthy/ fit”. One person commented “A woman with everything but isn’t skinny is merely an ordinary one with a mediocre lifestyle”. WTF. Seriously, WTF. I think the idea that a person must be skinny and rich to be worthy is absolutely sick. Since when has a woman’s worth been measured by certain characteristics? Women of all sizes, weight, height, races, and social classes are worthy human beings. This is nothing but a ton of fatphobia masqueraded as a liberal ideal standard of successful women.

It brought back memories from 2005, or 2008, I can’t quite remember. I came back to Vietnam to visit after some time in the US, and with all the food I consumed in the winter I naturally gained some weight compared to myself before leaving Vietnam. The popular comment I received from many people, especially older people, was “wow, American butter and milk make you so fat and chubby”. They said with a warm, hearty smile and a pat on my shoulders, which made me wonder whether they’d ever considered my feelings upon receiving such comments. I remember some of my friends who starved themselves to achieve that thigh gap, to get down to 43kg (95 lbs) when they’re roughly 1.65 m (5 feet 4 inches) tall. There were several diets that circulated among them: some only ate an apple a day, when others opt to drink some vinegar three times a day. They tried diet pills, diet teas, slimming belt, etc. Fortunately none of those friends had any serious problems from those extreme measures of losing weight. I guess my love for food is so strong that I’ve never quite got involved in such extreme diets. I learned to eat things in moderation (obviously with a few exceptions haha), to frequent the gym, and most importantly, to love my body and be happy with what I have. I’m pretty sure that I’m still on the meatier end compared to the girls in Vietnam, but I’m more concerned about keeping myself fit and healthy than making me look like the models on magazine covers (!). There’s still a lot of fat-shaming presented on several media outlets not just in Vietnam but also in the US, but I hope there will be a time when it is changed for the better. It gives me hope to see some comments on that post in Elle Vietnam, where people called Elle out for proposing a sick beauty standard and instilling in young girls a distorted goal to work hard for.

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.

 

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–          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.