These trophies belong to my friend Giang's sons. Nicholas was a California speech champion one year, and Ryan got 2nd place another year. I just sent Giang an email, "I don't get it. Your sons are so articulate and you can barely talk." I've written about Giang in a 2012 article, "Dire Train," and here he is in a 2013 photo, with his then girlfriend, Lan. Since then, Giang has found a new job, and has also reconciled with both of his sons, but he's still very much divorced, to his deep dismay. Though Nicholas, his oldest, has moved back home, father and son must now sleep in the same bed, since Giang is renting two rooms of his house to make ends meet.
Nicholas went from California speech champion to being nearly speechless when he suffered a nervous breakdown when his parents divorced. During my recent visit, however, the young man looked fine. Handsome and outwardly confident, he's regaining his bearings.
With his new job, Giang is also doing much better, although he's fantasizing about finding work in Vietnam so he can escape the Bay Area. He has too many bad memories there.
In late 2012, I gave a reading at the University of Pittsburgh and forgot to turn off my phone. Giang called. Here's an account:
As a young writer, I deeply admire the playfulness and originality that you bring to your work. Even after three years of non-stop reading and writing at the University of Pittsburgh, I still enjoy "Prisoner with a Dictionary." The piece breaks many of the "rules" of writing with its lack of setting details and physical descriptions, but I never felt lost or confused. Moreover, the story crosses into genius with its tight focus on the prisoner, inventiveness of plot, and brevity.
Beyond the story, I remember and appreciate your visit to the University of Pittsburgh. You read from Blood and Soap one weekday night in the Cathedral of Learning. The reading captivated me, but I will never forget that you stopped at one point to answer your phone. After a couple of minutes you put the phone down, told us that it was a friend contemplating suicide, and kept reading. The night still stands as one of the most unsettling and weirdly fascinating experiences of my life, or a very successful evening from your perspective. Thank you for all of your work as a poet, photographer, and fiction writer.