Thursday, May 17, 2018

In Remembrance of My Buddhist Nun Sister Nhu Anh

copyright © Kim Roberts

I am waiting for a surgery in two weeks so I have an anxiety. Today I am reminded of the anniversary of the death of my sister Nhu Anh. She was the person who taught me how to grow up and the differences between Liberty, Independence, and Freedom when I was 12 years old. My spirited Buddhist nun sister Nhu Anh (1932-1990), coined the term "Degree of Freedom" as she never saw real peace and complete freedom in her lifetime. She lived through wars with the French (1885-1956), including the WWII period, (1940-1945), when the Japanese occupied Vietnam. Then war with the Communist North that took place from some degrees to a full scale war (1956-1975), and war with Cambodia, began right after the Vietnam War and lasted for 14 years (1975-1989). Peacetime, if any, was precious and freedom was enjoyed by degrees. She liked America, a country that she believed had given South Vietnam at least 50% freedom. And personal freedom could be limited by circumstances to the point that one could have little or no freedom at all in a free country. And that's what I am facing now... the uncertainty that my surgeon will do a good job or make mistake, such as the one who had caused me to suffer a heart attack right on the operating table ten years ago. That anxiety alone takes away some degrees of my freedom. She also taught me never to take freedom for granted even in a small degree, never to give up my beliefs and "principles," no matter what happened, and never to compromise my integrity. 

Nhu Anh's grave
Eighteen years my senior, she taught me everything I wanted to know about politics and she changed my perception of the world forever. Without reading Locke, Jefferson, or Lincoln, she clearly explained to me each term, especially man's fundamental state of being: Freedom. But that was her unique brand of Freedom. She never was someone who would mimic someone else's ideas or ideals. She was born when Mother was only 16 and Father was 18. Mother had given up a comfortable life of being pampered by a rich powerful father working for the French in an upper class society to marry into a well known and intellectual family with ties to the underground Viet Minh, who fought against the French. Nhu Anh became a Buddhist nun when the Japanese were in Vietnam. She was 13. She lived and studied in Tu Nghiem Temple.

During President Diem's suppression and persecution of the Buddhist communities, Nhu Anh joined the demonstrations against Diem's regime. She continued to support the Buddhist monks and nuns in resisting Diem's government forces after Thich Quang Duc's immolation. Being left in a large temple with over one hundred nuns, Nhu Anh rose to be popular. She was clever enough to secure her own quarters and start her private knitting business. She designed sweaters that were sold in department stores and earned her living and travel expenses. Before my father passed away, he asked her to rebuild our house, she returned to Sadec, designed the blue prints and hired a contractor to build it. Lo and behold, the contractor left before the work was finished because he and his crew were Viet Cong and she didn't know. Nhu Anh then traveled to the basecamp of the Viet Cong across the Mekong River and cleverly talked the contractor and crew into returning to finish the job or she blew their cover. There wasn't anything Nhu Anh wouldn't do if she believed that was the right thing to do.
Nhu Anh
Since Vietnam was not independent, she said that at war, we still have the freedom to go along with the enemy or to fight back--freedom to fight for what is right, not just fighting to be freeEven when one is physically restrained, one's spirit is free and the individual, whether he is being in captivity or being tortured, has to make his own decision to hold on to this spiritual freedom and take the beating, or to give up and succumb to adverse circumstances. So, to her, a country fights to maintain its independence and liberty but freedom is inside each one of us, not something outside and we must fight to have it. Nhu Anh made it simple by saying that unless freedom is exercised, it is a meaningless concept. Still, as a Buddhist, she concluded that at the end of one's life, one would find the original form of freedom with which one is born through a process of reaching enlightenment and getting to Nirvana.

Nhu Anh passed away in 1990. Hundreds of people came to pay tribute at her funeral. She was loved. I am not certain whose gene in my family which I shared, perhaps that of Mother, or perhaps Father's gene, or maybe something in Nhu Anh's blood. Oh well, whatever! I miss her dearly.

END.   or  
copyright © Kim Roberts

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Remembering My Mother on Mother's Day

© Kim Roberts
I remember my mother on Mother’s Day. She passed away in 2000. Due to her prejudice, she made many mistakes in her way of raising me. However, she loved me more than anything in the world. And I reciprocated her love, both for her best and her worst. I never failed to show her my unconditional love.
 As a child, I never thought I could live without her and her love. I still cry today whenever I think of her. But, ideologically, I was more like my father, her opposite, who was an idealistic nonconformist. When I was 5, 6, and older, I often went to parties at the home where she was born and raised. Father rarely came along. Grandpa has passed away but uncle Khoa carried on the tradition. We went by boat and along the canal, boats of partygoers were packed side by side on water. Grandfather was a French official and a casino owner. He owned over 150 serfs who were subservient to him. For meat, the serfs killed and brought dozens of poultries, pigs, and usually a whole cow. Food filled up tables and whisky was pouring by the cases. 
The party would start the day before. On the main date, partygoers played cards, ate, and drank. Then they slept over to the next day. To avoid the noisy crowd, Mom would take me to the creek behind the house. We sat under the plum tree. She hugged me, kissed me, stroked my hair, held my head under her bosom, and told me stories. She would say, “I was Grandpa’s good luck child. At ten, or twelve, or thirteen, after each casino day or every few days, I would accompany him to the store in downtown Sadec to convert cash into gold bars. Then we came back, dug the dirt along this creek and buried the gold bars. We never remembered all the locations. That was so much fun. Never thought a life would be a life without gold bars. I did that with him until I was 15.”

At which point, I asked, “What happened at 15?” She rubbed my hair and answered, “I married your Dad. He was 17. Although his father was famous, they were poor. Idealistic. Crazy. I met him for the first time on our wedding day.” 

I love my mother so much although I never know why. I never agreed with her and her philosophy. In 1954, under Ngo Dinh Diem regime, the new Homestead Law allowed serfs who had worked the land to claim its ownership. Her undying love for her father and the land they owned led her to spending years suing the serfs in courts. Finally, the case went to the Supreme Court. By then her first lawyer had become a Supreme Court Justice. She won the case and reclaimed ownership of the land for her siblings and her. I think I inherited her gene in the area of strong will and strong love.  END

P.S.I think the word "serf" is correct because Grandpa had control over the manner in which the peasants selected and grew their crops according to Grandpa's instructions in order to benefit him and served his needs. He also demanded them to perform other duties whenever he required, not just farming. Unlike peasants or farmers whose primary job was to farm, these serfs' primary job was to serve Grandpa. In exchange, they received his protection, rent free land to cultivate and raise their families. After his death, those peasants should be called "tenant farmers" because they had more freedom to farm the land but less protection from the landowners. During his time, as a government official, he could order them to do many things including picking up decayed corpses because clashes between the French and the underground took place often. They did not pay him rent but paid him in other forms of payment and were obedient to him. In 1975, the North Vietnam won the war. Under the new socialist regime, my mother lost all the land she still owned up to that point and nearly lost our home which she built by selling Grandpa's land. She later willed that house to me. I gave it to another nun sister, Nhu Chieu, who sold the house and trading in for gold bars. She died suddenly and left two bags of gold. I masterminded a scheme to return and snatch the gold for no reason other than the fact I did it for love. The story was told in 4 parts: The Caper, written in 2016.  or www.facebook/          © Kim Roberts          

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Forgotten Refugees: My Life in Klongdai Refugee Camp, Thailand, 1975

I dedicate this piece to April 30, 1975,
the end of the Vietnam War, 43 years ago.
“The Forgotten Refugees,” a description of my life at the refugee camp in Klongdai, Thailand, from May to July, 1975. 
Copyright © Kim Roberts

In my high school, “Gone With The Wind” was my favorite book, which I read over and over. I still remember one place where the pages were wrinkled due the number of times I reread them. That was a description of America I wanted to see if I ever got to be in the U.S. I was mesmerized by Margaret Mitchell’s writing about the peaceful South before the war with images of live oaks and Dogwood Flowers. I dreamed of coming to America, naturally not by following a yellow brick road like Dorothy, but through some modern transportation, such as a flight. I never imagined that at the beginning of my journey, I’d be a miserable, ragged, heart-broken refugee with no country to go back and no country to go forward.  Worse, I’d be a homeless, penniless, and hopeless refugee before I arrived in America. But if it meant to be, it meant to be.
My good luck silver dollar I brought to the refugee camp

Klongdai, Thailand, May 1975. Sitting on my haunches, I brushed my teeth while spitting into the gaps between plywood planks and watching the water bubbles making their way over a stagnant muddy pool beneath as I made a disgusting gesture. 

A distinguished looking man in ragged clothing observed me by tilting his head from side to side as he laughed, “If you think that’s bad, wait until it rains.  This place will turn into a mud pool.”

“And you still can laugh?” With corners of my mouth dropped and eyebrows raised, I stared at him with disbelief. Then I looked around and I saw other refugees sitting on their haunches cooking their breakfasts on clay stoves that were scattering on the dirt outside the warehouse. I realized how horrible the place was. Then I was gripped with a reality that I was not in a typical refugee camp. I was not in a tent, sleeping on a cot, and had a decent area to clean and cook. Instead, I was one of nearly four hundred Vietnamese refugees packed into a warehouse, surviving by the mercy of the Thai locals in a small coastal town border of Cambodia. There was no sign that Thai authorities from Bangkok, or American officials, or representatives from international refugee organizations (NGO) were or would be in Klongdai. I got freaked out as I realized we were but lost souls in a strange land.

“What is laughter?  A painful cry with no tears (cuoi la tieng khoc kho khong le),” responded the man while combing his hair with his slender fingers. I stared at him then replied with a phony laugh, “Hehehe!”

My family of six, four adults and two children, were escapees from Vietnam immediately after the North Vietnamese took over Saigon on April 30, 1975. We  missed our flight out due to heavy bombing of the Tan Son Nhut Airport. Our perilous journey across the sea in a fishing boat whose engine broke down half way between Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam and Thailand, also led us to a treacherous encounter with the Khmer Rouge. But we finally arrived in Thailand the night before.  Our boat then had a big leak and broke open after the Thai patrol vessel had taken us on board and towed our boat to shore.

“We need a piece of plastic to hang around our mosquito net for some privacy,” Hang insisted after we checked in with the camp keeper and received 2 spots on the floor, the size of one meter wide and 2 meter long for each person. A small mosquito net and a beach mat per person delineated our space from that of other refugees.  The middle-aged man with gold teeth caps and fuzzy salt and pepper hair shook his head rapidly and brushed his hand outward as if to tell Hang to bust off.

“No, no. Look at others. No different,” said the camp keeper as he pointed to hundreds of others lying like sardines on the warehouse floor. Hang gave up. So we had no choice but sleeping on the rough floor in front of everyone else. After two days on a fishing boat with no comfortable sleeping surface, even the rough wood floor could not stop us from crashing our sleepy and tired bodies.

In the morning, the warehouse keeper issued us a bucket, a pot, a pan, and some white tin plates. He said, “That is all there is for you.  You will take care of your food, clothing, medicine, and personal items. You can cook on the common clay stoves whenever they are available. There is one faucet with clean water for all of you outside the warehouse. For bathroom facility, go across the road to the Buddhist Temple and use their outdoor shacks. For bath, carry a bucket of water over to the bathing area by the temple and bathe.”

I was flabbergasted.  In Sadec, when I was growing up, we were poor but never were that primitive. But somehow, no matter how horrible the conditions were, one could always survive as life magically went on with or without our protest. I kept thinking of soldiers in the field. Perhaps we were better off than soldiers because no one was shooting at us. What a pity to believe that not being shot is a blessing!

We thought we were getting somewhere when we arrived in Thailand, but after weeks and months of hopeless waiting, I felt I had found hell on earth.
At night, there was a concert of strange noises--children crying ee… ee… and others snoring and talking incessantly. I began jotting down in my notebook the sounds ranging from alto to mezzosoprano. Sporadically, there were choking, gurgling sounds of “ecchh…acchh…” that made my head spin. Then came the eerie rhythm of a like record that kept on turning at the end of the cycle non-stopped, non-stopped, “kabop…kabop…”.  Whenever this mix of strange noises kept me awake, I stubbed toilet paper in my ears and rubbed on the tiny Sanskrit Buddhist prayer book, which I tucked inside my pillow and prayed.  Like a badass, I even prayed that Buddha would make everyone temporarily dead for thirty minutes to give me some peace then make them come alive again.

On rainy nights, there was another concert outside as the sounds of toads, frogs, and crickets blended in with the raindrops on the tin roof.  Also, we might kick our neighbors on the head if we were not careful.  Fortunately, the adults observed the protocol of not keeping their neighbors awake with their intimate noises—they refrained from those activities, although tension ran high as time passed.  I could sense the pressure by the heavy breathing and deep sighs coming from the mosquito nets next to mine.
One of my Bird Painting set. The epitome of Longing for Freedom

War. Peace. Struggles. Secrets. I realized for the first time that the Chinese, the French, and the Americans might not have been completely responsible for our endless struggles in the region where I was born and raised.  We could easily fight among ourselves, or against our government, with or without foreign intervention. But that would be our own doing, not because other countries forced and controlled us as they had done in Vietnam for decades. War generates secrets. I had many secrets, some my parents kept before and during the time I was born. That was how war impacted on people’s lives. Weird thing were common and normalcy was never the norm. No one could afford to be open. One of my secrets was my correspondence with an American Officer.

“Why?” I asked him the last time we saw each other in Saigon before the end of his tour.

“Why what?” he asked.

“I saw in your eyes, sadness and regrets. Your eyes tell me you’re sorry. You wish you could do something to help my family and me,” I answered.

“Because it’s true. That’s how I feel,” he said and added, “It has been and always will.”

We had never dated. He corresponded with me through my sister working at MACV and told me his secret—the reason he felt bonded with me so immediately. I never told him mine. But he knew therefore he named me the “Iconoclast.” He knew my pride was untouchable and my dignity was not for sale. Through letter after letter, he told me I was the most stubborn and levelheaded girl he ever knew. And to me, his image was the fresh air I needed when life became too suffocating.

I cried a lot. I cried easily. It felt good letting my pain out through tears. One day I thought of home, war, and my mother and sisters, I cried and wrote a poem.

i’ve seen the images of ‘war’ yesterday.
a bloomy rose. on top a gun.
a little trembling bird next to a cannon.
and… an atomic bomb destroying a colony of ants…
…(to be continued)…

Living at the camp in Klongdai was difficult in many strange ways.  There was no shortage of burning joss sticks at the camp. They reminded me of the network of altars at home to worship our ancestors and we burned incenses to find inner peace.  Here their purpose was to suppress some terrible odors. It felt as if a person with underarm odor was trying to distract the smell with perfume. And, to prevent the armies of mosquitoes from attacking us, the camp keeper distributed spiral-shaped joss sticks, which burned throughout the night.  One night, some ashes from the incense set next to my mosquito net ignited a roll of toilet paper, which we kept inside our nets. The smoldering flame spread to my canvas sack under my head and then to my hair and turned into a fire.  When I felt the heat and smelled my burned hair, it was too late.  Everything I had in the sack was burned along with part of my hair. Others woke up and poured whatever water they had into my hair and put out the fire.

“My Heaven.  My Earth.  How could this fire even happen to me? How dare our Heaven let something like this take place? Not fair!”  I cried.

As a refugee, I fled my country with little time to prepare. I had left behind my home, my belongings, my collection of arts, my family members, and friends. All I carried was a carry-on with mostly medication. What I had when I arrived in Thailand was two casual outfits, underwear, medication, a few of my baby pictures, a wrist watch, and my American silver dollar issued in 1900, which I cherished because the image of the Lady of Liberty.  I often thought how I could live with so few possessions and no money but, amazingly enough, I survived.  I must be worse off than a Viet Cong.  I thought that I was running away from communism but, at the camp, I lived like a true communist.

“This is a bad omen, a very bad omen,” I shouted when I dug my American silver dollar out of the hot ashes.  My Lady of Liberty, a symbol of my hope and dreams for a new life in America, was so stained with soot, so blackened that I could hardly recognize her.  When I was a child, my sister Kiem taught me to expect bad luck at the worst time.  She said, “Disastrous accidents often happen when you are downtrodden (ngheo mat cai eo).”  So she was right.

As I watched the ashes of my belongings including my notebook, falling through my fingers and into the crack on the warehouse floor, I recalled the story of the phoenix, which Grandmother told me when I was six years old.  We were in our living room in front of the fluttering silk scrolls adorned with the embroidered phoenix, Grandmother said, “The phoenix has the power to rise from the ashes.” In my own interpretation, the Phoenix was the epitome of my spirit and my soul.

“I wished I had that power now, at this moment,” I said to myself as I stared at the ashes and hoped to witness a miracle.  But all I heard was Hang’s voice, “Clean up the ashes so all of us can go back to sleep.  In the morning, I will help cut your burned hair.”

Three days after the fire, the rain poured down in sheets. Then it stopped and rained again then stopped.  Smell of petrichor filled the air. The humid weather drenched me in sweat.  Sitting on my beach mat, I squeezed my knees and stared into the space in front of me, through the warehouse, to the road, the trees, and the Buddhist temple.  I listened to the temple’s bell, “Uhhhm!… Uhhhm!…Uhhhm…” while the alarm clock next to me ticked away the seconds, “Tick!…Tick!… Tick!….”  And the roof was leaking and water dripped into a tin cup, “cling!... cling!...cling!” I felt the sounds had punctured through me and generates a sharp pain in my heart.

I missed my mother. She was always attentive to me whenever I seemed melancholic or was not well.  When I was ten years old, I had a toothache. She told me to take a gulp of our rice brandy to numb my gums, cautioning me not to swallow.  I remembered the sting of brandy in my mouth and the intensity of its aroma.  That was too wonderful to resist. As I swallowed, my head spun. I felt queasy and wonderful.  I wished I had some brandy at that moment with a canvas and paints to do a painting of rainy skies. But all I could find was a piece of cardboard and so I wrote a poem, which turned out to be my most favorite one. But for a long time, it was too painful to let others read it because it’s too private to me as it's such a tearjerker in a Picasso way.

my green figure,
a long rectangular shape.
my head square,
the color of yellow ochre.
my eyes hollow
in multiple brown shades of dirt and sand.
my dry mouth open,
an oval-shaped egg from a prehistoric dinosaur.

my heart,
a red triangle of muscle that palpitates.
the rhythmic contraction causes it to split
into blurry one, two, three,
four, five, six, seven, eight,
nine, ten peculiar triangles.
in the center of all—
a drop of cubic-shaped burgundy blood.

my sorrows condense in creamy orbs,
floating and hovering in wavy streams—
layers and layers of sorrow balls.
i am reaching for my sorrows
with my shaky diamond hand
its protruded veins
crisscrossing on skin of ashes.

my hand moves rapidly,
transforming it into one, two, three,
four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine, ten bleary hands.
the days are longer,
the weeks and months even more dreadful.
in keeping up with time,
my rectangular body reaches and stretches.

the triangular feet follow my movements
creating a force of two, four, six, eight,
and ten hazy back and forth feet.
my bones escape from my anatomy
and form a dead, barren tree
next to my stretching rectangular body.
…(to be continued)...
My photo of a Dogwood Flower. Found and taken recently in Yosemite
After three months in Klong Dai, something finally happened.  A group of Vietnamese rebels threw grenades into the Catholic quarters and badly injured a Catholic priest, who escaped with us in our fishing boat.  The event was brought to the attention of the Americans in Bangkok.  They came down to Klongdai to investigate the situation and found us refugees huddling together like a bunch of ducks.  They decided to process us, “The Forgotten Refugees,” and sent us to Utapao, an American base in Thailand. 

My family of six were the first family of refugees to be processed.  It was heavenly to sleep on clean cots in tents with less people. Every day, we arose and lined up in front of the shower room.  Then, we stood in line to get our American breakfast.  When we finished breakfast, we were again standing behind each other in line to get our lunch.  After lunch, I often went swimming in the ocean until about five o’clock.  Then, I would find my place in line in front of the shower room to wash away the salt water and to change.  Finally, I followed others and waited for my dinner. 

For a long time I dreamed of my old life and work in Saigon at the Presidential Literary and Artistic Awards section. I missed all the diplomatic parties I organized and attended. I missed being on front covers of newspapers and appearing in Newsreel. Yet I deeply believed that once each of my bad life cycles was complete, the next one would only be better. In Utapao, freedom was no longer an abstract concept.  It was something I felt on my skin, in the air, in the sunlight, and in the clear ocean water.  A surge of new energy gave me a renewed hope.  I now had reasons to dream the American dream of studying hard, working hard, standing tall, and being equal.  Freedom meant nothing without the intention to achieve equality without losing dignity and integrity. Oh, I also knew I would get to see Dogwood Flowers.

END copyright: Kim Roberts

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The 2018 Women's March: A Resisting Force from Within

 © Kim Roberts

January 21, 2018. Yesterday, one year after President Trump's inauguration, millions of Americans marched to show the same resisting solidarity they had in 2017 but with a newer spirit and a better focus. Absolutely moving to see!

On January 22, 2017, I wrote a blog about the 2017 Women's March on Washington. The march was a phenomenon. That was unprecedented. I was moved. But, at the same time I felt uneasy. There was so much anger toward Pres. Trump and his character and not enough of the way his administration would lead and govern the country because it was too early for one to say. Legally, it is not a crime for him to be a badass, a blunder, or blooper. And, among the marchers, there was a sentiment of loss, remorse, and bewilderment after the election. The 2017 marchers were emotionally heated but they showed less evidence of unity, conformity, and spirit, at least in my view.

For every movement, there's a difficult starting point before adjustments and progress are made and followed. From a deeper level, I view the 2018 Women's March as a new dawn of a stronger and growing force as its focus has shifted from attacking Trump as an individual to the performance of his administration, and to include other abusive celebrities as mentioned in such new trends as "me too" and "time's up." I foresee this force to be a larger and more inclusive movement in the future. And I visualize a growing internal power that is building and uniting women and those who support their cause. Undoubtedly, the women are reinforced and empowered by a new positive energy from within. In several cities, their focus has shifted to being more involved in voting and in the political arena. The 2018 March has demonstrated itself as a united front with new focus, meaning, and spirit.

That said, I have faith that time will change everything. But inaction might not lead to any change. Any movement in the name of humane treatments and justice for all will prevail. I am not an expert in constitutional or legal fields, or other fields, but I believe in the spirit of America. I am confident that the American Revolution that gives birth to this country also intends to give American the right to stand up for their beliefs. For many of us, struggles define our characters. 

Additional INFO: My Blog of January 22, 2017:

Copyright © Kim Roberts

... Scholarly or not, I write what I see, observe, and how I feel. My favorite philosopher Soren Kierkegaard says, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” This is my view with my limited understanding of the events happening around me, which I have experienced. There are so much more that I don’t know. But, as Kahlil Gibran says, “If I knew the cause of my ignorance, I would be a sage.”

January 21, 2017, as I received photos from a relative and several girl friends, who were in the women’s marches, I reflected on my own feelings. Through the media, I saw President Trump as one without sound judgment, gentleman-like conducts, wit, and intellect—essential elements found in most reputable characters. However, with my legal background, I was concerned that it has not been legally proven that he has committed wrong doings or crimes. And I wondered if an attack on him was warranted. That said, in view of the women’s march, I have looked deep into their cause by reflecting on the historical background of situations that led to terrible disasters in the history of mankind when those who knew did not speak up or take actions. And, it became apparent to me that it is a justification of the women’s march.

I recall the American Civil Rights movement, the anti-war demonstrations in Washington DC, the hippies, and the freedom movements. But I did not live in the U.S. then so I don’t know enough to comment. Most of everything I know well and have witnessed is connected with the unpopular Vietnam War. As much as I am reluctant to speak of the war, I can’t keep hiding my feelings toward those who were able but did not stop such a war from happening. So bear with me. 

My online research of the events leading to the Vietnam War reveals that, from 1945 to 1946, in 9 letters and messages to President Truman and America, along with Truman’s Secretary of State James Byrnes, Ho Chi Minh repeatedly begged the U.S. for acceptance. Ho sent six letters and messages in 1945 and 5 in 1946. In a letter dated February 16, 1946 to President Harry Truman, Ho wrote, “…What we ask has been graciously granted to the Philippines. Like the Philippines our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the UNITED STATES. We will do our best to make this independence and cooperation profitable to the whole world.” (a quote from History as Weapons site).

The language in Ho’s letter is consistent with my knowledge and belief of the events leading to the war. I was attending high school in Vietnam when the war started. I often wondered why President Truman and those who surrounded him did not consider asking Ho Chi Minh to give up Communism in exchange for independence and financial assistance for Vietnam. As a Vietnamese, I knew Ho would agree. That would be logical but apparently that wasn’t in the mind of those in power in America at the time. The consequences of not avoiding the Vietnam War from the get-go have taught us that, when it comes to people in high power, it is too dangerous to apply the presumption of innocence in which “one is not guilty until the crime is proven in the court of law” and no action could be taken until something has happened...

... Political Science is the first degree I earned in California in 1978. Among the textbooks I read with passion, the first one was Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.” My favorite Tocqueville’s quote is, “Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”  The second book I most enjoyed was Erich Fromm’s “Escape From Freedom.” The original title of that book is “Fear of Freedom.” Fromm’s theoretical analysis led me to understand the transformation of a free individual into a submissive member of a totalitarian government. 

Totalitarianism is not a form of American democratic government. But, at gut level, unpredictable voters might turn democracy into a totalitarian type of democracy. Therefore, to certain extent, the totalitarian trend explains why and how, on the one hand, millions conservative American have sought to surrender to their religious beliefs, political affiliations, or strong leadership in exchange for hope and comfort. And, on the other hand, the opposing liberal force also relied on a collective power of the masses to ease anxiety. Consequently, American democracy has become more paradoxical and less logical as it is strengthened by a contradiction between two opposing forces. I am beginning to sound like Hegel but the realities of American politics led me to believe that the goal of each major party in America is not merely gaining power but overpowering the other. Thus, to maintain a balance, successful crusaders no longer advocate as individuals but operate under group identities...

END   © K. N. Roberts

P.S. It feels good to speak up.                      © Kim Roberts

Sunday, November 19, 2017

In the Autumn of My Life

© Kim Roberts

I am looking at the dead leaves on the ground of Montmorency Park, in front of Château Frontenac. I am in tears, not because of sadness or joy. This intense emotion is from gladness in my heart. Despite all the ups, downs, and arounds, life has been fabulous and I am thankful for this life.

An autumn gust sweeps through like a magic wand that mysteriously makes the leaves roll upward with hesitation, vacillate for a few moments, then dance in mass as if they are being hypnotized. I stare at their movements. I observe their directions. I am mesmerized by the colors of golden and brown with some stubborn green spots that refuse to give in to the brilliant autumn colors edging around them. I see death with a promise of renewal. Then looking inward, I see a glittering sunset sky shimmering down slowly--the twilight of my time on earth. But, unlike the trees losing autumn leaves with a promise of a new growth in spring, I wonder if I will have the same chance of returning. I am in the autumn of my life--the most brilliant time to cherish what life has offered and a time to reflect, to feel melancholic with a touch of nostalgia, and perhaps a few moments to savor the last drops of golden sun rays before the night takes over and life ends.

As I narrow my eyes and gaze intensely at the movements of autumn leaves chasing each other on Montmorency ground, images of the old days begin to emerge. The colorful carpet of leaves turns into a sparkling water surface with thousands of Water Fish wiggling under the sun. They immediately disappear as a breeze stirs up ripples and tiny streaks of sunrays begin to leap and bounce on the water, unaware of the disturbance that has dissolved the fish. And, I am six. Father is holding my little hand and puts in my palm a tiny sapling plum tree with a promise that the tree would grow if I take good care of it. "Water it thoroughly until it can drink from the creek," says Father. The day Father dies, my plum tree dies. I am fifteen. Sister Nhu Anh consoles me, "Trees have souls. They follow Papa."

I am seventeen. The morning I meet an American Officer at a Sunday service at Dong Tam Chapel, he immediately sweeps me off my feet. We go on a helicopter ride to Vung Tau to visit the military hospital there. Over My Tho, along the Mekong River, Viet Cong's shots hit the side of the chopper. I examine the defoliated dead coconut trees, leaves drooping, and trunks in various brownish shades. I turn to him with inquiring eyes and disbelief, "Why? Why? Trees have souls." For years after that day, I often go to bed with images of his eyes that reveal so much feeling. He contacts me frequently by mail. Yet we never get close. We never have even a hug. Each time I open his letter and reply to it, I ask myself, "Why?" Occasionally, I ask myself a different question, "What's the point?" I am eighteen; I experience the effects of teargas and sing Trinh Cong Son's anti-war music along with other students for the first time. I hang out with starving artists in Saigon. My mentor, artist V. Ba takes me under his wing and helps me hone my skills in painting. I meet a pilot, a friend of my sister, on a rainy night. We stand on the porch and recite Le Trong Lu's and Han Mac Tu's poetry until 2 AM. Two years later the pilot is killed during the Khe Sanh Battle. I ask, "Why? Why him?"

I have learned to compartmentalize my life. Everything has its own drawer. Everyone about whom I care is kept in each compartment. I don't talk to anyone. I keep a diary in my head.  Living with poverty and at war, you don't have privacy. The only private part of your life is in your head and heart, your most primitive way to computerize your files. Over time, the files get full and stuck and you can't get most of them out. Among the files I have buried deep inside is the fact that everyone in my family knows I am a target of an obsessive stalker but no one would help me. I often ask, "Why? Why don't they?"

1974, I can see the day I am running away from a shadow that follows me. I crash into a cadet named Tam from Thu Duc Academy. Along with two dozens of cadets temporarily assigned to protect the Presidential Palace, he stays inside the National Library where I arrange an Art show for my office.  For the first time, in the library's secret archive kept in a nine-floor tower, fear of and anger at my circumstance, love of books, and the pressure of a war that is coming to an end have made our relationship the most intense and memorable of all. Three days after we met, he goes back to the Academy, I am deeply torn, "Why? Why life has to be this way?" Each time I think of myself standing by the top window of the library tower wishing I could fly away from the whole Saigon and the war, I have an urge to paint birds. I want wings. That's the reason I have painted so many birds--to me, they symbolize "freedom."

After coming to America in 1975, throughout the years, I have asked myself many more whys.  I doubt that I will ever find the answers to all of them. So I always have more questions than answers. I now face the fact that I am in the autumn of my life. Like everyone else of my age group or even older, it's time to decompress and open up the well-packed compartmental life cabinet to lessen the load on our way to the next chapter wherever or whatever that may be. I have decided that this is the time for me to explore the making of my character and answer most if not all the whys--not to satisfy anyone else's concern but mine, for me and me alone. My primary question is whether I am the maker of my own being, or the muse of my own creation. Or have I been merely the rhapsody of a force of destiny, or a Divine Plan, against which I have fought and surrendered?

A long time ago, in October 2015, I pondered that question when I began my blog. I blog so I don't have to be concerned about editing and publication. They are killers of inspiration. I've been waiting for the right time to explore all possible answers to my life inquiries. That said, I will now reprint my blog "Autumn in My Heart," the very beginning of my personal exploration.
Friday, October 9, 2015
© by Kim Roberts

Vibrant and lucid, the trees are ignited in Autumn blaze.

Return again, the whistling winds in sunlit sky.
The time has come for us to reflect
and to celebrate
the magnificence of today and of this place.

I look not to Winter when the leaves are gone,
nor back, with regrets, jolly Spring
and dazzling Summer funs.
Calm, peaceful, and restored by the glory of nature,
I wish to share with you my happiness, love,
and contentment…

That is how I feel about “Autumn" since Autumn always touches me more than any other season. I was born in Autumn. My father passed away on my 15th Birthday.  My late husband also died in Autumn, exactly 1 month before my birthdate. Yet for me, Autumn is not about dying, it’s about beauty. It’s a time to reflect, meditate, and to appreciate what Nature does to indulge us with magnificent colors, with nourishing rain, and with exquisite and melancholic changes when sea birds fly south for the winter and monarch butterflies migrate. This is an ideal time to give love and to reflect…

END    © Kim Roberts