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Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Jan at pseudo Oktoberfest--Prague

Wandering around in the dark without a map, I passed a park-like space where kids were running around and the adults were drinking huge mugs of beer. As I hesitated, a man waved me in. He turned out to be George.

It was a pseudo Oktoberfest, with monster tankards of Paulaner being sold for $4. Food was also available. With the atmosphere so intimate, it felt like a private party, though welcoming. Chasing each other, kids screeched. Nearby, there were rows of vegetable plants.

Forty-eight-years old, George was born in Czechoslovakia but emigrated with his family to Toronto in 1970. Lots of Czechs managed to get out of the country after the 1968 uprising had been squashed by Russian tanks.

After the country escaped Communism, George returned and has been here, more or less continously, ever since.

About to marry a Serbian woman, George was just in Serbia, "The refugee situation there is terrible! Oh Blah Blah should take them all in since he created the mess. It should be America's problem, not Europe's!"

George prefers Europe for its complexity.

"North America is much more homogeneous by comparison," I said.

"That's a polite way to put it."

"Toronto, though, is pretty exciting for North America."

"Yeah, I suppose so."

"It's cooler than New York," I added, "and a lot safer."

"Do you know that the murder rate in Toronto is just slightly higher than in the Czech Republic? Canadians own lots of guns, but they're just not violent. Czechs own lots of guns, too, and they're not violent."

"Even though they do drink a lot," I laughed.

"We drink more beer than anybody else in the European Union, and more hard liquor. We also do lots of drugs. It's all legal here."

George introduced me to Jan, pictured above. Jan also got out during the Communist era and ended up in Berlin. Though he carries a German passport, he's resettled in Prague.

"Communism was terrible. People don't know. I went to an illegal rock concert, and they locked me, ah, to a heater for 22 hours." With his hand gestures, Jan was trying to convey that he had been handcuffed to a radiator.

Suddenly, Jan closed his eyes, dropped his head, staggered slightly then yanked his head up as if startled. Though out momentarily, he didn't lose the thread of our conversation. That's a very good skill to have. I must develop it.

George then took off for Club Club, a nearby bar. He said I was welcome to join him but, exhausted, I had to decline.


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About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of a non-fiction book, Postcards from the End of America (2017), two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), six of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007), Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009) and A Mere Rica (2017), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.