Monday, March 27, 2006

Giving up

So, whatever genre this blog once was has gone -kaput-. There is no genre. The genre is so oh, I don't know, about a month ago.

First, I meta-blogged.

And then, I felt the need to say something about my Technological Issues.

And now, this post.

I haven't been posting because I want to post about books. And some time ago this was developed as my 'about my family' blog. But that's not really happening, because some of the things I want to write about my family, I am still ambivalent about whether to reveal. This is why I have never been able to write my family story.

There are stories that, to tell, would be to betray. Writing, and writing from life, is always somewhat of a betrayal. Helen Garner, a favourite Australian author of mine whom I have regular disagreements with when I read but whom I nevertheless admire, comes across as a very bitter person. Her writing has betrayed so many of her friends, and occassionally paramours. The theme of Capote is his betrayal of the persons he befriended to write his great American novel. I cannot betray my family to write my great family novel. And yet, if I do not, I cannot write honestly about them. It silences me -outwardly - while inwardly I argue with myself, my mother, my sisters, aunts, cousins. (Yes even in my head, I usually just talk deeply with the female members of my family).

So I disappear into books, even though I have been spending an inordinate amount of time with my family. Somehow, being with them, means I think less about them. I turn up at my sister's house, chat to her for a bit, play with the kids and then settle into her hammock to read whatever novel I've brought with me until dinner time.

It's been a while since I have fallen into a book in the way I have fallen into the last three that I have read over the last few weeks. I guess it was really only a matter of time before I devolved into talking about books. Books are everything to me - the few material items I covet, the world I inhabit, the way I judge people. And yes, I judge people rather a lot. No one in my family reads novels (although my brother, admirably, is trying).

I am a reader. I have been a reader since I discovered reading when I was knee high to a grass-hopper, was kicked out of ESL (English as a Second Language) class for being too proficient too quickly and had no friends. Who needs friends when you have books? Eventually I got friends, but the books took hold. And I've never looked back.

In any event, it's getting a bit late now to tell you about the great books that moved me, amused me and alternately made me angry and want to argue with the author. But be warned, I might start posting about books soon.

The other terrible non-posting thing I've been doing is bouncing around the blog-world. My itinerary included pop culture, gender issues, style and design, Asia, adoption, and just recently I found a hive of Ha Noi blogs. So my thoughts on Asia, Viet Nam, culture, representation of Asian women, representation of women, immigration, immigrants are scattered -like so much fairy dust- throughout the ether.

And as fruitless and pointless as all my blatherings here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation

This post is in honour of this worthy site. Work be warned: I have an organisation to donate our next casual Friday coffers to.

I met these gorgeous kids at Thien Mu pagoda in Hue. The rain steadily drizzled and most of the tourists were huddled under the eaves of one of the pagodas. I did not go in. I left my sisters and the tour guide and wandered around the serene grounds of the pagoda where beautiful bonsais were artfully displayed. I was warmly protected from the rain in my bright red raincoat.

These children - the eldest's name was Hieu - fell about laughing whenever I opened my mouth. In English they said:"Where you from?" and in Viet, I responded: "nguoi Viet o Uc" (I am a Vietnamese person living in Australia). Oh, how they laughed. First, a nervous giggle. But then I said: "What are your names?" (in Viet) and they started to double up. The eldest responded, nudging the littlest at the same time who was hopping from foot to foot. When I asked if they lived near the temple, they almost fell into the pond laughing at me. We shared some sugar cane lollies I had in my bag, I took this photograph and they laughed as I and my red raincoat continued to meander about the pagoda grounds. I have never been so funny in my life.

Ashamed to be feminist

I am technologically challenged. And what's more, sadly and ashamedly non-proactive about it.

My partner is the IT geek. IT is his problem (and a rather big problem it is at present - having to write up his PhD.) My partner is not currently with me. He is over the seas, tramping around New Zealand. I am at home, mostly alone for the little time that I am actually at home. I thought that, being on my own so much and without him to distract me, I would post more. But no. It's been almost three weeks and nothing from me.

There is a good reason. sort of.

My internet connection was not working and I've made a new resolution not to go near blogs at work during the day. Yes, not even at lunch time. Basically, each time I tried to log on, my lovely internet host (who cannot be named for legal reasons har har) would tell me I was not allowed to. I read the forbidding message. There was nothing I could do: I was forbad. I fiddled around on my computer and then tried to log in again. The nasty message appeared again. I looked at the message and then turned the computer off. A few days later, I tried again. Same message. I thought, "My partner will be home soon. I'll wait for him to fix it."

I'm terrible. What kind of feminist am I? Damsel in technological distress patiently waits for about two weeks until Knight in Shiny IT Armour rescues her?

Well, let me tell you that I logged onto the internet all by myself. And the evil message thing just let me. I snuck past it - I did not fix anything at all. It did not work last week but it works today.

And don't worry, I am not at all ashamed to be feminist. But I am hanging my head a little because of my victim-like approach to Technological Problems.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Ha Noi Traffic

Welcome to Ha Noi! Land of communist propaganda posters and young Vietnamese on Hondas!

I loved the street sellers - especially early in the morning. Rows of women with baskets full of roses, marigolds and carnations lined up alongside Ho Hoan Kiem (lake) to sell their wares. Each one had only one colour and type of flower in her basket. If I lived in Ha Noi, I would wake every morning to buy flowers.

And some Ha Noi folk are just plain crazy.

The best part, however, is crossing the street.

It is an unusal sight to see Ha Noi traffic stopped at a stop light. Most drive blissfully through, horns honking away. Only outside the Presidential Palace and the Parliament building are the traffic lights obeyed - and that's probably because there are guards/police loitering nearby.

So crossing the street requires a hardy constitution. The old people do it best - by taking their time and stopping for no one. One takes a deep breath and places an exploratory foot onto the road, withdrawing quickly as another Honda goes past. But waiting for a break in the traffic is futile. One must step onto the road when at least there is enough room for a body and begin a steady and slow saunter across the road. Do not - I repeat do not - stop suddenly for anything other than a bus honking its horn urgently. The Hondas flow around you as you edge across the road and you must have faith in their ability to see you and dodge you. You do not dodge them.

I perversely enjoyed crossing the road in Ha Noi, horrifying my sisters when I crossed diagonally across a five way intersection because a gallery over there caught my eye. There must be a kernel of crossing crazy Viet traffic in my blood, because I have always been a somewhat absent minded road crosser and, though dangerous in Australia, am rather suited to Vietnamese city traffic. With your mind on other things (like the brilliant red oil painting you can only just glean the corner of or what you will have for dinner that night) the incessant horn-honking morphs into a pleasant, chatty background noise; everyone is saying "Hi!", "Hey There!", "Nice Coat", rather than "Get out of my way!" or "Idiot! Trying to kill yourself?"

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Banshee Welcome Party

It seems that every time I visit my parents – and perhaps it is because those times are becoming rarer – I am inspired to write about it.

The noise of visiting my family and the change in my posture, tone of voice and laughter never fails to provoke bemusement as I drive away again. As music blares out from my scratchy speakers, I edge further away from that strange creature who is mostly me, but louder in tone and quieter in opinion, more easily irritated, blander but more generous with my loving.

Today I am greeted by one of my nieces, Grump. She is standing behind the fly-screen door as I pull my little red car onto my parents' front lawn. I call out to her joyously as I get out of the car, slamming the door shut while waving. Grump shrieks, turns and pelts down the corridor screaming my name and wailing like a two year old banshee. In turn, Bouncer runs in the opposite direction (towards me), also screaming my name but more happily. He bursts through the screen door saying – I opened it for you! And I thank him and bend down for a kiss. Another nephew and a niece also come running out and I feel as if I have a welcoming party, all at knee height. The older niece – Princess – proudly displays some new pink thing and I murmur something that I hope she will assume is approval. Spiderboy is prattling on about his swimming classes. Although there are only three of them I feel as if I have walked into a bewildering crowd of yapping, nipping insects.

As I walk into the lounge room, the Teenager is lying back on my father's recliner chair with a blanket over his head. I kiss him on the forehead, which he hates and I know it but it is my attempt to keep him grounded. The Teenager never knows whether I am going to treat him as an adult or a kid, an equal or a nephew. Honestly, I never know either. I delude myself into thinking that he appreciates the uncertainty. At least someone occasionally treats him as an adult. The Drama Queen is asleep in one of the now empty bedrooms; empty since all my siblings and I have deserted the family home, which nevertheless seems fuller now than ever.

One of my brothers-in-law is sitting on the couch watching some Saturday afternoon sport. I greet him in passing as I move into the kitchen and dining room. Ba is in the middle quietly and determinedly eating while all around are my brother, sisters, brother-in-law and sister-in-law – a chaos of conversation back and forth across the table, in English and Vietnamese. I look around for my mother as I say hello to everyone. Before I see her, I sense Um ushering me towards the dining table. “Yes, okay. I'm eating, of course I'm hungry.” I say impatiently instead of greeting her like I intended to.

There's nowhere for me to sit. The table is covered in food – raw beef, prawns, fish and calamari, a steaming hotpot, bowls of vermicelli and platters of fresh vegetables. I go outside to find the foldaway chairs and come back with nothing. I stand around uselessly for a bit until my grandmother comes. Grandma exclaims about how wonderful it is that we are all here and how festive it is. She also tells me to sit and eat, in a similar tone to my mother's. When she says it, it just amuses me. I obediently go to search more intrepidly for extra chairs.

When I return with two stools, my siblings have rearranged themselves so that additional space opens up between Ba and my brother, the Black Belt, and between two of my sisters. I pass the stools over and take my seat beside my father. I am hemmed in now and I have forgotten to get myself or Grandma dipping bowls, plates and chopsticks. The Black Belt is deep in rolling a transparent vermicelli roll so I ask one of my sisters who is presently refilling the food on the table to get me all the necessary equipment so that I can fulfill the dutiful daughter role of eating ravenously.

Two of my sisters – the Accountant and the Big Boss – are planning their future business together and are discussing when and how to do pamphlet mail-outs. The conversation ebbs and flows, children interrupt with tears or demands and other conversations (like how busy at work I am and how slowly my sister-in-law's (the Banker's) new building is progressing) intersect. Someone is always at the bowl of water, softening the rice-paper wraps and someone else is usually dropping more raw food into the steamboat which is the centrepiece of our family lunches. Ba reaches across me as I am making a roll and I dodge his hand and continue. I also dodge conversations and placate Um about my partner not being present. The Black Belt and I chopstick duel over a prawn in the steamboat sauce to his wife's and Um's affectionately disapproving glances. I win because the duel is rigged – the Black Belt always lets me get the nicest prawns even though he pretends not to.

Grandma keeps murmuring about how festive it is and how tomorrow she is going to an uncle's house for crab. Ba asks if this uncle invited her over and she says calmly no. Ba tries to dissuade her and will later ring this uncle to tell him Grandma will be visiting and expects crabs and Ba will tell this uncle where best to get them at this time of year. Grandma is becoming senile and Um complains about her to us the same way we complain about Um to each other.

The Black Belt and the Banker leave early, to take the Teenager and the Drama Queen to some sporting event. Their youngest, Wide-body Camry, eagerly and cheerily waves goodbye at all of us and departs before the rest of his family. The Black Belt tries to get my brother-in-law's (the Technician's) attention to move the car. It takes a while and the chaos level increases as the logistics are negotiated but eventually, they are gone. Other noise flows into the gap, the youngest Grump and her older sister Princess now hungry. Spiderboy and his younger brother Bouncer are still full of hyperactivity and would not eat even if you had the energy to force-feed them.

Throughout all this Ba and I eat, participating in the conversation but blissfully unaffected by all the waves of childhood drama; Ba because it has never been his role to muddy himself in the child-rearing arena and me because none of them are mine. I stir them up (especially Grump) but their demands are met by another.

After the Accountant, the Big Boss and I clean up, we all sit in the lounge room, chatting. I listen to Um tell me the story (for the fifth time) about how she and three of my aunts mistook some other Asian girl with long hair and glasses for me. It was only when one of my aunts said, “Now OTT is a lawyer, she drives a really nice car.” Um said (knowing me too well), “She must have borrowed it or something – that's not her kind of car.” Um looks over and, thankfully as my mother, she realises that the girl in the nice car is not her daughter. It's a hilarious story she says. I try not to tell her that she has told me already but I blurt it out in annoyance as she begins to repeat bits to make me laugh. I didn't really find it particularly funny in the first place.

Ba has fallen asleep even with the kids screaming and three conversations going on around him. I gently wake him when I leave, squeezing his arm. I also give Um a kiss – to show her that I love her even though I speak to her so disrespectfully almost all the time. As I am pulling away in my little red car not very suited to up-and-coming-very-rich-lawyer, Um rushes up with fruit from the garden – guava and dragonfruit – and a bag of Vietnamese veggies like spinach called 'morning glory'. I take it and drive off waving, promising to be there again sooner than last time. The tunes of Augie March draw me back into the outside world, which seems somehow drab and less real then my truest home – my family.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.