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Monday, November 12, 2018

Oriental Ways

As published at OpEd News, Smirking Chimp and Unz Review, 11/12/18:






Two years ago, I was having dinner in NYC with a group of Japanese writers. Next to me was Mieko Kawakami, who’s also known as a pop singer. Since her English was very limited, we conversed mostly through another person. Seeing that my beer glass was empty, Mieko filled it.

Earlier this year, I found myself in Tokyo with nearly the same group of Japanese, and next to me, again, was Mieko. Seeing that my bowl was empty, she used her chopsticks to replenish it with some fatty pork.

In Saigon a month ago, I was having dinner with a bunch of Taiwanese businessmen, whom I had just met. Next to me was a 36-year-old who had been in Vietnam for six years, was married to a Vietnamese and had two kids with her, so he spoke Vietnamese quite comfortably, even rapidly, though I must I admit, I only understood about half of it, such was his accent. Seeing that my bowl had some food scraps, he picked it up, cleaned it out with his chopsticks, then filled it with a couple of shrimps.

To be attentive to others at the dinner table is a trait inculcated in East Asians since childhood. It shows civilization, not obsequiousness. At an Oriental banquet, tables tend to be round, an egalitarian arrangement with no honored seats, and all the dishes are in the middle. Although you’re only supposed to pick, say, a piece of chicken that’s close to you, and not reach across a plate, you can choose a better morsel for anyone else, especially an older person, a guest or a social superior, such as your boss. To express concern, they can also drop food in your rice bowl.

Decades ago, I was at a Chinese restaurant in Northern Virginia with a close friend, Brian Robertson, and when our two dishes arrive, Brian instantly divided each in half, right down the middle, and scooped his shares onto his plate. Had I used my utensils to pick out food for Brian, he would have cringed and protested, I’m sure.

East is East, and West is West, and though the two do overlap, you will always know whether you’re in Intercourse or Phuoc Hai, and that’s good. Though relentlessly assaulted, the local endures, but it must be fiercely protected and nurtured.

Repeatedly, I have pointed out how boundaries are often blurred in Vietnam, but this also means that personal space is not as respected as in the West. In 1957, Gontran de Poncins published his excellent From a Chinese City, which documents his year of living in a residential hotel in Cho Lon, Saigon’s Chinatown. Other occupants were disturbed by De Poncins’ habit of keeping his door closed during the day, so they would just open it. Seeing that De Poncins was always alone, they asked if he needed a woman, and when he said no, they offered to bring him a boy. As De Poncins sketched, someone might snatch his notebook from him, to see what he was drawing.

Saigon in 2018 is much more Americanized, so there are gated communities, condos with security guards, restaurants behind plate glass windows, ubiquitous English schools and aggressive rap music being spat at you by street performers on Bui Vien Street. At a wedding, I noticed all the young people at my table were staring at their smart phones for nearly the entire evening. American styled swagger or aggression is also being aped, so on a truck in my neighborhood, I saw, in English, “CHOOSE LIFE / DON’T TOUCH MY CAR,” with the image of two hand guns being pointed at the viewer. In several Vietnamese cities, and even Singapore, there are Liêm barbershops, where all the hair cutters are all tatted up and dressed as cholos. Speaking to packed rooms of young Vietnamese, Liêm passionately teaches them on how to properly wear a bandana, flannel shirt or Ben Davis pants, etc.

Since I live five miles from downtown, however, the texture of my daily life is still very much Vietnamese, even if there’s a McDonald’s, Popeyes and KFC within a ten minute walk. Riding a beat up bicycle, a knife sharpener offered his service. Passing a funeral, I saw the pallbearers tilting the coffin three times, to make it bow to its old house, then three more times at the head of the alley, to say farewell to its neighborhood.

This morning, I had a 47 cent cup of coffee at a café in an alley. People streamed by, on foot or motorbikes. Within sight was the neighborhood Buddhist temple. Although hideous looking, it does have a shady and somewhat quiet courtyard, so sometimes I’d go and sit on one of its cement benches, near a bunch of wizened monks.

Vietnamese know their neighbors. The café’s owner is a taciturn middle-aged dude who keeps half a dozen lurid fish in a couple of tanks. His grown son is a heroin addict who’s been in and out of jail. The smirking young man has never had a job, only lots of tattoos.

On my right sat office workers in white shirts and black pants, and to my left was a man, called Mr. Mulberry, who had a stroke a decade ago, so now must inch around with a walker. Even before Mulberry got debilitated, his wife left him to marry a Vietnamese-Australian.

Mulberry has six brothers and two sisters. Two brothers are in Australia. The sisters were infamous in this neighborhood as “horses,” the Vietnamese term for “sluts,” because people could ride them.

Mulberry’s dad used to beat his mom, and complain that her skin wasn’t as smooth as his mistress’. Despite all this, they’re still together, and live with Mulberry and a daughter, a single mom, of course, in the house across the alley from my table.

Hearing anyone’s life story, I’m always filled with amazement and admiration, because I’m not sure I could have endured so many sucker punches from random strangers, God, my family and the weather.

At another neighborhood café a while back, I sat next to a man in his early 70’s who had raised ten kids. He has owned a company making truck trailers since before the Fall of Saigon.

“I made more than enough to take care of all my kids, then the state took over my company. They had to keep me on, however, because the company could not have functioned otherwise. I had all these supervisors and advisors who collected salaries, but did nothing. I survived all that. After Đổi Mới [Renovation], I got my company back.”

“Did you try to escape the country?” I asked.

“No, because I had ten kids! It would have been too complicated, and I didn’t want to send a couple of kids out by themselves. It would have been too risky.”

“So they’re all still here?”

“Yes, and they’re all doing well. One of my sons bought land and houses when they were still cheap, decades ago. He’s loaded. Another son works for the government as an electrical engineer. One of my daughters owns this café,” where we were sitting. “All the Socialist countries were dirt poor, while the Capitalist countries were rich. That’s why things had to change.”

After dinner with the Taiwanese businessmen, they dragged me to a karaoke session, so of course I had to go, and there, in a private room with pulsating blue, green and purple lights, each of us was assigned a hostess. Since I’m not gay, transitioning or rude, I graciously allowed myself to be fondled a bit by my “littlest sister,” which is Vietnamese slang for such a lady. I did milk Lan for her life story.

Though looking no more than 23, Lan was actually 35, and a divorcee raising a five-year-old son pretty much by herself, with her ex now a laborer in South Korea. Knowing her hostess career was quickly winding down, she had been saving, “I want to own a jewelry store, but I still don’t have enough cash, so I’m just going to open a little variety store.”

“Who takes care of your kid while you’re working?”

“My mom.”

“What’s his name?”

“Tuan.”

“Is Tuan a good kid?”

“Yeah,” she smiled.

“Smart?”

“Pretty smart.”

As I get older, my eyes often discharge this greenish pus. It’s disgusting, I know. With a moist towelette, Lan dabbed at the corners of my eyes. I didn’t purr, I swear.

“Some customers can be pretty gross, but we don’t have to serve any of them. If we walk out, though, we don’t get paid.”

It’s good to hear people’s stories, face to face. In Philadelphia, I knew almost none of my neighbors, so the only local community I had were the drinkers inside Friendly Lounge, yet even there, it was hard to talk, because the television was always on, even if no one was watching it, and the jukebox often interrupted.

Though not all Americans bowl, eat, drink and have sex alone, too many are divorced from their neighbors, neighborhood, the direct experience and even their own thought process, since it is regularly drowned out by canned garbage. Since the collapse of the American empire will be, among other things, a cultural and psychic deliverance for Americans themselves, all should wish for it.

One night in Philly, there was a blackout for maybe an hour, and inside McGlinchey’s, where I was sitting, the barmaid dug out some candles and lit them. Without electronic distractions, we became much more conscious of everyone else’s presence, clearly heard everything that was said, even if it was across the room, and was encouraged, or at least not prevented, from chattering at length. Finally, stories could flow. I remember being soothed, but also saddened, for why wasn’t this the norm?

A decade ago, I gave a reading at This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, a Toronto bookstore now out of business. It was fairly well attended, and afterwards, a bunch of us went to some Kensington Market bar to talk, but the canned music was so loud in there, conversations were impossible. We were reduced to shouting snippets at each other. I screamed to a woman next to me, “This is why poetry is dead!”

“What?!”

“Poetry is dead!”

“Yeah!”

“This is why!”

“Huh?”

“We can’t even fuckin’ talk!”

“I know!”

Lastly, an announcement: at 6PM on Sunday, November 18th, I’ll give a reading in Tokyo at Aoyama Book Center, 5-53-67 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Cosmos Aoyama Garden Floor (B2F). Mieko Kawakami was supposed to appear with me, but some nutcase has threatened, online, to come to this event to stab her, so the police has advised Mieko to not show up. It’s a great shame, but it’s also heartening to know that literature can still be that deadly serious somewhere.





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Cafe fifty yards from my front door--Saigon









About 50 yards from my front door, where I had a 47 cent cup of coffee this morning. As with most of these cafes, I got free hot tea with it. You can see the neighborhood Buddhist temple in the back.



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Sunday, November 11, 2018

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SAVE THE WORLD in District 10--Saigon









On the left is yet another nationalistic mural about the island dispute with China, "SEA / ISLANDS / HOMELAND."



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Rice vermicelli with fried spring roll joint in Phu Lam--Saigon 2









Same joint as below. I've been stressing the Vietnamese penchant for blurring boundaries, as in between store or restaurant and street, and here we see that the residential part of this building is separated from the restaurant part by only these turquoise curtains.



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Rice vermicelli with fried spring roll joint in Phu Lam--Saigon









Where I had a $1.24 bowl of rice vermicelli with fried spring roll and pork. It was OK.



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Lotteria on 11-11-18--Saigon









I paid $3.47 for Big Star combo, which came with mediocre fries and a small Coke. Big Star is Lotteria's version of a Big Mac, and this was my first taste of it. I won't eat it again.



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Hau Giang and Cao Van Lau on 11-11-18--Saigon











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Woman wearing conical hat and jeans--Saigon











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Father and son in District 10 alley--Saigon











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Saturday, November 10, 2018

I'll give a reading in Tokyo on November 18th,

at 6PM, at
Aoyama Book Center [ABC Bookstore]
5-53-67 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Cosmos Aoyama Garden Floor (B2F)


It's a 7 minute walk from Omotesando Station, Exit 2B,
or a 13 minute walk from Shibuya Station, East Exit / Miyamasuzaka Side.

Well, Japan is pretty weird, especially in contrast to Vietnam, so it's going to be like finding myself in a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu video:








Mieko Kawakami was supposed to appear with me, but some nutcase has threatened, online, to come to the event to stab her, so the police has advised Mieko to not show up. It's a shame, but there's nothing we can do about it. Motoyuki Shibata will replace Mieko.



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Friday, November 9, 2018

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PIZZA NEW YORK--Saigon









64 cents for one. Worst shit ever. It was just a step up from chewing mouthfuls of rubber bands. To add to the joke, the bakery is called Hoàng Gia [Royal Residence].



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Woman selling dim sum and coconut juice--Saigon









I'm guessing she's Chinese. She's manning two separate stands, for dim sum and coconut juice.



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Chicken joint in District 6 at night--Saigon











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Sign for a joint serving snails--Saigon









[sign for a joint serving snails]



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Barbershop at night in District 6--Saigon










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Thursday, November 8, 2018

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Thanks for a $10 donation from a long-time supporter in Lumberton, NJ!

Thanks for a $100 contribution from a repeat donor!





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Disruptive Uncle Sam, Rising Eurasia and Murky Pittsburgh

As published at Veterans Today, Unz Review and TruthSeeker, 11/7/18:







All floridly unequivocal praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Universes, and to his faithful Servant and Prophet, Mohammed, and may Israel, that abomination, smudge and curse upon mankind, be neatly erased with no trace left behind, so the rest of us can peacefully go on with our tedious and humbling labor, all while being soothed and titilated by the certain knowledge that, just around the blind curve, there’s our just reward of 72 pristine babes well stacked with full-grown, swollen and pear-shaped breasts, though some may prefer the less-developed, but to each his own. As for the ladies, just replace “babes” with “hunks,” and “breasts” with “members.”

From 2011 to 2016, I often provided political commentaries for Iran’s Press TV, and though I was only paid minimally, I gladly got up very early in the morning, and at a moment’s notice, to instantly offer analyses on current issues, be it tension in the South China Sea, US’ meddling in the Ukraine, the world’s indifference to Myamar’s mass murder of the Rohingya, the Occupy Movement or the farcical charades that are American elections. Usually, it was just a phone interview, but sometimes, I would put on a suit and tie and head to a Philly studio to debate, via internet feeds, with everyone from ex US generals to well trained talking heads from deep pocketed think tanks. Sometimes, I would be enlightened by the other guests, such as the fearlessly penetrating, honorable, slyly humorous and very Muslim Kevin Barrett.

All these Press TV sessions were uploaded onto YouTube, until they were suddenly erased, for this Iranian network was charged by the Israeli ass licking US government as pushing propaganda, conspiracy theories and fake news, unlike, well, CNN, FOX, CNBC and the BBC. My handful of appearances on Russia Today are still up, though for a while they were stigmatized with, “RT is funded in whole or in part by the Russian government.” My Wikipedia page also lies that I’m “a regular commentator on Russia Today,” for Russia is evil, you see, Putin is the new Hitler and I must be a Neo Nazi for repeatedly bellowing that Israel shouldn’t exist, among other heresies.

I just love the smell of Zyklon B in the morning, afternoon, late afternoon, evening and night, for it means that I’m nicely deloused, you know what I mean?

This month, another Iranian network, Tasnim, asked for my response to renewed US sanctions against the Islamic Republic, so I said:

First, the renewed sanctions prove, once again, that America’s words mean absolutely nothing, for just two years after it signed an agreement, it decided, without any reasonable pretext, to tear it up. America is not just unreliable and unprofessional, but a rogue nation.

US sanctions will certainly hurt Iran’s economy, but not as much as intended, because key US allies such as South Korea and, most importantly, the European Union have decided to not honor these sanctions. Further, Iran will continue to trade with Russia and China. Who will be damaged the most by these sanctions, paradoxically, is the US, for American companies will be blocked from the Iranian market, and its vast energy sector. Do you think Boeing is happy with these sanctions?

It is inevitable that Iran’s ties with China and Russia will become stronger. With China and Russia leading the way, the Eurasian landmass is being economically integrated, and Iran is an important component of this, not just for its oil export, but its strategic location. Since the US has no role to play in this new alignment, it has done its best to sabotage it. This, it is doing by economically attacking, and even militarily threating, Russia, China and Iran, as well as preventing the European Union from having closer ties with these countries.

[...]

Since the American economy is much more fragile than it appears, America’s sanctions against Iran and Russia, as well as its trade war against China, constitute economic suicide. The US is also forcing its allies into closer cooperation with China, Russia and Iran, for otherwise, they will sink with the dying empire. Having wrecked several countries for Israel, America will end up imploding itself, for Israel.

Since my interview, the US has announced that China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey will be allowed, how nice of Uncle Sam, to still buy Iranian oil for at least six months. It’s quite pathetic, really, America’s disruption of Eurasia’s economic integration, but it’s also menacing to each man, woman, child and bug, for the dying empire may just blow up the entire planet as its last act.

Instead of fearing extinction, however, Americans are steered into arguing about people with dicks and balls using girls’ bathrooms, pale folks sporting dread locks and the next Holocaust. The always reliable US media announced that 11 Jews were killed in Pittsburgh, although there’s not a single pixel of visual evidence, just like there was none with, say, the Bin Laden assassination, so the cat must have instantly covered all the corpses with dirt and lapped up every drop of blood. In this age of ubiquitous cellphones, none functioned inside or near the Tree of Life Congregation to show images of terrified worshippers, bodies on ground or gurneys, blood splattered walls, fleeing survivors or triage tent, since Jews, being an oppressed minority, can’t afford even bottom end Huaweis.

If Jews in distress, terror or death are too disturbing for the public, then what about the Holocaust, as presented by horrifying images in countless books, movies, websites and museums? Across the world, there must be many more Holocaust museums than all those, combined, for the Holodomor, Soviet gulags, Allied firebombing of German and Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Nakba and millions of Muslim victims of the open-ended and bogus American/Israeli War against Terror. Jews are history’s unique victims, we must never forget, and in college, I too took a Holocaust course, for which I got an A or a B, I think. Over thousands of years and across dozens of countries, Jews have been singularly persecuted just for being Jews, and not for anything they may have done.

In many false flags, photos of the carnage were quickly debunked as fraudulent, so now, only a story is told, with no supporting images whatsoever. Although they have lied to us a billion times, we’re again asked to take their words as facts, and we do, because we’re beyond gullible and stupid.

In mainstream media videos of the Pittsburgh incident, all you see are dozens of militarized police swarming the scene, so the drilled message is, again, you must welcome armed agents of the state to protect you from your fellow citizens. Trump is also framed as somehow responsible, thus an anti-Semite, although the blathering huckster is just another abject servant of Israel. This sleight of hand doesn’t just obscure Trump’s record of enabling Israeli criminality, but demands that he facilitates even more.

To better serve Jews, Trump is willing to appear as their pinata, just as the Russiagate nonsense is a way to obscure the fact that Trump, though a supposed Russian puppet, is relentlessly antagonizing Russia, to the cusp of war. Though a deep state agent, Trump is depicted in even alternative news outlets as the deep state’s nemesis.

It is farcically ironic that the one state that has interfered with more foreign elections than anyone can count is accusing another of messing with its already rigged election, for with the unaccountable voting machines, any result can be programmed, just like with slot machines. Under such a joke setup, it’s only appropriate that a casino huckster has been selected as president.

Just as Obama was a professional wrestling good guy, Trump is the villain, but they both work for the same outfit, thus the economic and even military war against Eurasia continues, with Syria, Russia, China and Iran all attacked. Meanwhile, the American economy and society relentlessly unravel, even as Wall Street thrives, thus all is well. In formerly lovely Los Angeles and San Francisco, the exploding homeless populations leave plenty of shit for yuppies and tourists to contemplate, while in each American city and town, the unemployed, underemployed or never employed play Russian roulette with fentanyl, made in China. In Philly, I knew a graffiti “artist” who made his spraying rounds with a can of Narcan, so he could save any OD victim he came across. This good-hearted angel had prevented two from an eternal date with the virgins.

Here in Vietnam, the state also generates plenty of propaganda, but no one takes it seriously, for the Vietnamese government is simply not as skillful, seductive and sly as the mind rapists of Hollywood, New York and Washington DC. There is no Vietnamese Rihanna to mash your brain cells so that a Vietnamese Katy Perry can more effectively screw you through the ear with a flag pole. There are no Vietnamese Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper or Don Lemon, etc., with their measured tones, concerned looks and humane words as they spin endless lies and, often, push mass murder. America is the greatest bullshit purveyor ever.

A year ago, Ron Unz emailed me and Philip Giraldi to say that FaceBook was deleting the “likes” for our articles, and it’s something they do against all of my writing, I’ve noticed, so that’s how meticulous and petty are our managers of perception.

Until the next US-triggered world war, Eurasians will go on with their business, and at a recent Saigon trade convention, Metalex Vietnam, I couldn’t help but notice the complete absence of American companies. Nearly all of the machinery and metal part exhibitors came from East Asia, although India, Turkey, Russia and Germany were also represented.

With not much trade left in him, Uncle Sam must bully, harangue, mindlessly lecture, stage false flags, lie nonstop and maintain endless war. Drenched in blood, he’s a dead man walking, a zombie.



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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.