Conversation with uber drivers 3: Vinh, experienced taxi driver

inh is about my age, (which meant that both of us awkwardly called each other “older brother” for the duration of the chat) with an 8 year old kid and a family to raise. I took a twenty five minutes long ride to the airport in his Honda City. It was early in the morning and he had driven since 5 AM. He drives daily until late at night, but was glad to chat with me.

How long have you driven an uber Anh?

14 years.

Oh that’s longer than how long I’ve taught. I’ve taught for 12 years.

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Conversations with uber drivers 2: motorbike driver Sang

Read an earlier posting on uber driver conversations here.

Sang drove me from district 4 to district 2, a total distance of 8.3 km. He drove a Yamaha Exciter 150, and he had a real helmet for me to wear (this is not always the case for motorbike drivers in Saigon. My anecdotal experience is it’s been about 50, 50 for getting a real helmet vs. fake). The conversation is translated from Vietnamese to English to the best of my admittedly limited ability.

Cost: 37,000 VND. 1.5 USD.
Time: 20 minutes. half of it in tough traffic.
Rated: 5/5 for the conversation, timely pickup, smooth ride, sense of direction.

How long have you driven a motorbike for a living, em (little brother)?

Just one month now, anh (older brother).

And you do this full time?

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Four Voices from the Diaspora

These days, when the plight of refugees so often make the news, the Vietnamese diaspora seems to be experiencing a literary renaissance. Foremost is the celebration of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, with its deserved Pulitzer Prize for fiction (read my review here).

Alongside Nguyen, we have Nam Le’s collection of stories The Boat, Qui Nguyen’s new play Vietgone, Ocean Vuong’s poetry collection, all appearing in the last year or so. Are there suddenly more assured voices, or is it that the reading public has become more interested in the stories offered by the Vietnamese diaspora?

It might be a combination of both. Narratives written by immigrants have always spoken to the transient lives of people in the world, but it is just now that we see a mature collection of thoughts regarding the people who left Vietnam for even more uncertain lives abroad. The stories of the displaced, or those with multinational identities, are stories that speak to us of these particular times. The first refugees and their children, uprooted by America’s bloodiest war, seem especially able to speak of this displacement, of describing the shifting, tenuous foundations of home, of war’s wounds and shrapnel that rests embedded in the psyches of one’s offspring, years after its conclusion. The more the earth beneath us shifts, the more we listen to such voices.

The recommended works below by writers from the Vietnamese diaspora encompass four major genres: the personal essay, short story, poetry, and play. They all share fragmentation, loss, and a longing for home as recurring themes.


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The apocalypse is here, may it be short-lived

Well, America, I thought you were just curious with those dystopian films and tv shows you loved to watch: zombie plagues, Nazis winning WWII, a post nuclear disaster earth. It wasn’t just curiosity, though. You really wanted to see it all blow up. And so here we are, observing our elected prime snake oil salesman ascending unimpeded to the presidency. These are the dark days of Joffrey Baratheon, let’s not kid ourselves. The man we’ve placed at the helm of the mightiest military industrial machine is megalomaniacal, thin skinned, with no actual, actionable policy to speak of, unless they be disastrous ones. He will react, and he will react horribly, to the smallest slight, to perceived challenges and criticism.

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Thoughts on American politics, sports, and culture as I depart

Some thoughts about my country as I get ready to leave it on a 16 hours flight, in the midst of a crazy week of elections:

  • This has been the absolute craziest month in politics I’ve witnessed, and I was here in the states, certifiably depressed, for the Gore/Bush and Supreme Court debacle. I honestly don’t know what’ll happen next. We’ve had acrimonious aspersions, petty digs from both parties, gropings and emails, contracted walls and Weiner’s weiner, a suddenly keen and partisan FBI, Xi Jinping becoming a “core” leader and maybe staying on past his term, Duterte’s rancorous swears. Add Brexit to it all… can we just call this the black swan year of politics?  What kind of world and what news of America welcome me when I land on the other side? I have no idea. I am the most anxious and uncertain I’ve ever been about a presidential election – it seems not just feasible but likely that the veneer of civilization we’ve operated under gets subsumed by a furious tide of bile and class anger in November. And yet, I would still never trade this tabloid heavy media circus for the eerie, placid silence of the censored societies.

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Some thoughts while waiting in line to vote


he last time that I voted on site was the election of 2004, and I voted for John Kerry. My state agreed with me, but it wouldn’t be enough. Bush took the overall electoral map, which looked overwhelmingly red after the election finished.

The day after that election, my students looked like they had been put through the ringer: baggy eyes, faces downcast, aggrieved and sullen.  I was teaching at a Quaker school in Delaware at the time, and if there was a man whose policies so completely disagreed with the civic minded, giving, peaceful ethos of that Quaker tradition, Bush was it. There was nothing we could say to one another, and literature offered no palliative. Woolf and Joyce stood silently by that day. A maverick Republican in the class offered his gleeful, gloating commentary, and the rest of us were all too defeated to debate him, or to care.

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Could I have been an entrepreneur?


t’s funny that I sometimes write for, which often has interviews with some of the most promising entrepreneurs in Vietnam. I’ve always harboured dreams of heading a startup, but I’ve never seen any of my numerous inventive, highly practical ideas come to their fruition. 


Here are a few of those ideas. Again, shockingly, none of these have made it to the real world, because of a lack of funding, because they were ahead of their times, or because… well, for some I still hold out hope… 

A website ahead of its time: Continue reading

The conservatism of Vietnamese Americans


ast month, I was surprised to find that the first Trump supporters I know of turned out to be Vietnamese Americans. They’re a middle aged couple, family friends, and while I’ve always known them to be Republicans, (most Vietnamese who left the country for political reasons naturally gravitate to the Republican party) the tenacity of their support for Trump and abhorrence for Hillary and Obama nevertheless baffled me.

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Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer winner: “The Sympathizer”

This review has also been published on Bliss Saigon in their culture section.


idway through Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, the protagonist of the novel, a Vietnamese spy for the north on assignment to follow a Southern Vietnamese general who is exiled to America after the war ended, is tasked with hiring extras to play Northern Viet Cong “baddies” in an American made Vietnam War film.

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