friend from the refugee camp

We met 27 years ago at Bataan Refugee Camp in the Philippines when both attended the same class at PASS school. I moved to Minnesota after six months and her family moved to Sacramento after nine months living in the camp.

Our teenage years were connected by sending each other hand-written letters and photos to update our lives. We first saw each other again in 1996 when I visited SF for the first time. There were many more subsequent visits after that and we never failed to have good times. When I moved to Boston we lost touch for some reason I don’t remember, but found each other again through facebook after I did a through search last year. In my personal history, she is the one Vietnamese friend that I know the longest…and still stayed connected.

Today we reunited…and it feels quite good to see her and her family. It was exhilarating to reminisce about our youth, and recovering some lost memories of how we spent our times together in the Philippines. This is my first time meeting her after being married and have kids. The last time we saw each other was in 2000, when I went a big coo-coo after a break-up and took up on the healing trip to the Bay Area.

We are now living about 90 minutes drive from each other; not bad of a distance for more frequent visit.

with our spouses…so much fun


26 years | becoming more American

I chose to put up a photo of my favorite dishwashing liquid, Palmolive — Original, to mark the 26th anniversary of my being American.

It’s the first scent that I vividly remember the first few days after arriving in Minnesota from the refugee camp. We moved into a two-bedroom apartment, on the second floor, of a four-unit building on 4th street crossing 32nd. A family of eight, plus Dad’s male cousin who came to Minnesota a few years prior. He just moved in with us because he was single at the time, and it seemed ideal to have him be to leading guide when Dad and Mom had no idea how to navigate the new world.

In that apartment, I washed a lot of dishes by hands because for nine people, three meals a day…dishes and utensils accumulated quickly. And I still remember standing in that small kitchen, with a gas stove, and running water coming out from a faucet — the thought that I did not have to fetch pails of water from a nearby community water fountain (the way in the refugee camp), or from a water well (the way it was in my neighborhood in Vietnam) gave me a fancy of living in luxury. And it was a luxury, more or less, to have all of these amenities and conveniences coming from a third world country.

I guess other than white snow (it was so brutally cold), grey-casted tree branches, and the aging beige-painted wall in that small apartment, what I remember the most was the scent of green Palmolive dishwashing liquid, and how new life began then.

And I have been using this brand since then, out of habit, of course, but it also gives me a sense of comfort.

P.S. Palmolive paid no sponsorship for this post. 😀

P.S.S. This morning while standing in the kitchen washing the dishes, I also put on some Vietnamese romantic music from my phone, listening to Vũ Khanh singing a familiar song (Mùa Đông Của Anh — My Winter) that Dad used to sing for us. I told Mr. O that I miss Dad, I miss how he strummed his thin and callused fingers on the guitar strings, singing in his coarse voice and alcohol-filled breath, and I kept watching his adam-apple kept moving up and down this neck. 

Little moments like that…get me every time!

the 25th year

Spring has finally arrived. I feel rejuvenated, even though the weather has fallen back to a chilly temperature range.

At our Sunday gathering tomorrow, my siblings and I will again reminisce about our early days arriving to Minnesota 25 years ago, fresh off the planes and into the whirlwind of new lives in America.

A quarter of a century in America, we are becoming Americans, slice by slice, with a Vietnamese core.

O left very early yesterday for his flight to Boston and eventually a three-hour drive to Vermont to visit his American Mom, the woman who is responsible for O’s cultural learning and success. They met just a few short years after O settled in America. She provides emotional support and guidance, more than what his mom has given him in his entire life. In O’s heart, she is the true mom that he has been fortunate to have.

Her days are numbered, and this might be their last meeting. O told me that she has physically become frail and weak, but her mind is still sharp and clear. She has been staying in a living community for elders where we visited her two years ago during our last trip to Boston. It’s a serene place of the beautiful Vermont, but not too far from Dartmouth College where her daughter lives. That woman has great children, who all have taken breaks from their work to be with her during this crucial time.

Death frightens me, even though I know it’s an inevitable outcome that is expected for all of us. Still, knowing that a loved one will soon depart from this place is unsettling.

Anyway, O is now back in Boston, and hanging out with my friends in the North End. He flies back to us tomorrow.

24 mùa xuân ở đây

Đầu xuân là khoảng thời gian làm tôi xao động. Cũng vì mong đợi xuân tới để xua tan cái giá lạnh của mùa đông, để nắng kéo dài thêm chút nữa khi cuối ngày, và để hoa lá nảy chồi đâm nhuỵ.

Mong lắm cái đầu xuân. Như một sự khởi đầu.

Như là tìm được một lối thoát mới cho cuộc sống. Không phải để chạy trốn, mà để tìm nguồn cảm hứng cho riêng mình. Phơi phới của cái cảm giác như được hồi sinh.

Mà cũng đúng, mùa xuân là mùa hồi sinh cho gia đình tôi.

Trong ngày này của 24 năm trước gia đình tôi đặt chân đến Minnesota trong một ngày giá lạnh chớm xuân. Nói là chớm xuân chứ tuyết vẫn rơi và nhiệt độ vẫn trong tầm số lẽ. Anh em tôi hít thở cái khí lạnh vào phổi, thổi khói lạnh ra bằng miệng để đi tìm cái cảm giác mới, lạ lạ mà lần đầu tiên có được.

Mới đó mà tôi đã sống ở đây 24 năm; thời gian ở Mỹ đã gấp đôi thời gian tôi sống ở Việt Nam. Bởi vậy càng ngày tôi cảm thấy mình trở thành người bản xứ của nơi đây rồi. Những năm đầu khi trí nhớ và tâm tư cứ hướng ngược về quê hương thì giờ đây tôi không còn cái chờ mong khao khát để được “trở về” đó nữa. Không phải là ngoảnh mặt quay đi, cũng không phải bát bỏ cái xứ đã cho mình học ơ a tiếng Mẹ. Nhưng vì đã đâm rễ ở cái xứ này rồi còn gì. Đã mang ơn nước Mỹ bao nhiêu năm rồi còn gì. Con tim đã tìm được chổ dựa tinh thần, thì phải ở đây thôi.

Và tôi lại nhớ đến cái mùi hương táo xanh từ chay xà bông rữa chén hiệu Palmolive. Cái mùi hương thoang thoảng của ngày đầu tiên đến Mỹ.

Sun, 3/23/14
12:30 p.m.