Again, long time no post. I guess I just got tired of ranting and I thought my life in San Francisco is just not as interesting as it was in Saigon. However, some thoughts have been running through my head which I thought I’d jot down before I forget them.
First, I went to the El Cerrito DMV the other day to help out my Asian friends with the American bureaucracy. As I stepped into the place, the first thought that came to my mind was that the DMV is America’s greatest representation and tribute to Communism. There, everyone is equal and must wait their turn no matter how much money they have. You take a ticket and sit among people of all different ethnic backgrounds, ethnicities and classes. You simply cannot pay your way pass a driving test or to be first in line. No wonder Communism isn’t liked very much in the USA.
The interesting thing is however, most people in the USA only know Communism as “a repressive government structure.” Yet, almost none of the population has ever read one of their constitutions. China and Russia are bad examples. Karl Marx actually intended it to take hold in Europe instead of those “backwards” countries who used it to oppress the people. In Vietnam’s constitution it actually states “liberty and freedom” from colonial oppressors although the country took some time to get started (starting with Doi Moi) and corruption is still prevalent. But this is not entirely the fault of the central planners. It’s hard to control all the provinces.
If we look at America on the other hand, do we really have a choice in our leaders. Instead of one party such as in communism, we have two. Big Whoop as they say. Well, this post isn’t about the merits of government structures and I’ll just leave it at that.
As I was walking in downtown San Francisco today, I came across no fewer than 3 homeless people shouting profanities. Then I remembered how in Catholic elementary school they teach that we must be kind to the homeless because “Jesus walks among us” and if you do not pay attention to these people, you might be passing up Jesus. Somehow I just can’t imagine Jesus walking down the street saying “god damnit, and using other profanities.” The thought made me laugh though.
Then along these same lines, I remembered how they taught us the literal interpretation of the bible in Elementary school but upon reaching freshman year, they started to teach that many miracles could have been caused by “natural occurrences found in nature.” One of my friends then spoke up and said “So you LIED to us for 8 years!” Again, I had to smile.
Finally, I’ve been thinking about Mass Media recently and how we get bombarded with sensational stories day in and day out but every newscast lacks depth and context. Even if there was an attempt at depth, it would still be from the American mindset. Every study abroad student who speaks another language knows that mindset changes from culture to culture and trying to figure out a situation from only one point of view is looking at art with one eye closed. To the American, the American solution seems reasonable, straightforward and like good logic. What they fail to understand is that in other cultures the logic and solution could seem absurd. It amazes me that even though we have more students going on to higher learning than ever in the history of the world, we still all fail to understand each other.
When you peel back all the layers, humanity is still a bunch of tribes at heart no matter how sophisticated we try to be or how well we cover up our tribal stench with designer cologne. Races are now mixing here as shown here in SF and Asians can become complete Americans, but usually cannot do so without losing most of their former heritage. They become in effect, Asian in appearance only. They get a rough course in this when returning back to Asia and figure out they fit in about as much as any American from any background.
On a lighter note, I had to tell my close Asian friends that now that we are in America, we will be eating much more American food and are not going to eat Vietnamese or Chinese every single day. If they wanted to do that, we could have stayed in Asia!!!!!! They are the ones who convinced me to come back to America and we are going to eat like we are in America instead of trying to pretend we are still in Asia! I’m only asking for one day in three actually for American food as I hope to keep my slender physique.
One last thought just popped into my head. In Saigon, most people smile at you and you learn to smile constantly and be happy and open with people. It is a big shock to come back here and see how guarded most people are. I’ve gotten a few smiles here in SF but mostly from older people of my grandparents generation. I think I would rather live in their generation when people were more open and not afraid to smile. Now it seems, people only smile when they want something from you or are trying to sell you something. I take that back, I find sales people also stopped smiling to a large extent and expect you to buy the worthless piece of crap they are selling simply because we live in a consumer culture.
And, I’m tired of getting ripped off everyday in the form of “rebates” which may or may not come. Everyday I wake up and have to guard myself against the onslots of companies trying to shake me down everyday. “For just 17 dollars more, you can have a 1 year warranty which will probably not be valid for some reason or another after you leave the store.” I’m sure there used to be a time when you could buy a product and expect it to work without having to shell out extra money for insurance.
AND, what is up with the commercials of people dancing all around in their hip hop gear selling some mundane item or another. GAP especially comes to mind. They sell clothing. It’s a t-shirt, not a friggin ferrari. So all these people dancing around, playing disco music and so on are not going to get me excited about your stupid t-shirt. But then again, in this day and age and do to the superficiality of the culture, perhaps splashing GAP across my chest, jeans and hat will make people smile at me and perhaps we could start dancing.
Ok,, Last, last thought. My Vietnamese buddy really wanted this Armani Exchange pull-over. I went to help him buy it and found the people there the most pretentious, unhappy turds I have ever met. I think it’s company policy to be snobby and not smile there. They also decided to put a restaurant right in the middle of the store so people could sulk and eat their crappy meal which also looks unhappy. Don’t ask me how you could make spaghetti look unhappy, but the good folks there have found a way. Also, maybe it’s just a flaw in my character but I really wanted to try and trip Mr. I’m 45 years old and to seem cool I strut around the store with my little sweater over my shoulders and turning my nose up to everyone. I just don’t see the advantage in eating while surrounded by overpriced clothing, disco music and unhappy staff.
This world has gone crazy. I need to go back to Vietnam.
” This world has gone crazy. I need to go back to Viet Nam.”
I couldn’t agree with you more even if it meant passing up a chance to break the Bank at Monte Carlo ( an impossibilty these day, so I hear tell).
Having been a frequent visitor to Viet Nam ( three times in five years with many more trips for the future in the works), I know exactly how the avalanche of sythethic popular culture can overwhelm you on your return to the States.
Each time I return home from Asia, all I can think about is planning return trips–ASAP. And as I read your excellent postings, I realize that despite a generation ( late 60’s for me) separating me from your experience in VN, your posts echo most of my sentiments regarding major social change at home in the last 35 years.
You have some excellent insights on cross-cultural issues.
Write early, write often and keep up the good work!!
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