Saturday, October 28, 2017
Horoscope, My Shadow, and Horoscope As Used During the Vietnam War
copyright © Kim Roberts
I am getting old. Whatever I have in mind is either old-fashioned or outdated. So when I call up memories of the old days and wonder how things could have been done differently, usually they are very old events that not many people remember and others are too young to know. Folks out there, please join me if you're around my age!
Recently, when Ken Burns and Lynn Novick did the Vietnam War series, I was glad to be reminded of a few things about that war. There were some testimonial pieces from former American officers who said, or perhaps implied, that they admired the fanatic North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers and wished those soldiers were theirs. They also mentioned with caution that the South Vietnamese soldiers fighting along with the Americans were not motivated, if not too laid back to fight.
Well, the filmmakers did not explain what led to that attitude. But I know the causes. I was a South Vietnamese who was familiar with both the American and ARVN military matters. We had always been more relaxed and easy-going people than Vietnamese from other regions. We were taught to believe in horoscope the moment we were born. So to us, everyone had a destiny, similar to a blue print, and everything would happen according to the chart. We must not fight against fate (cai so). Being driven was not our style. One must let things flow. If we planned major events such as marriages, buying new homes, funeral arrangements, we would choose dates and time when all the elements of water, fire, metal, earth, and wood were in a favorable alignment. We did not have "free will." When South Vietnamese soldiers went to the battlefield, they believed on a good day (ngay tot) favorable to their charts, everything would be all right. But, on a bad day (ngay xau) they could get killed.
1969. My sister and me (on right) in front of an American Battle Ship in Saigon
In Plato's philosophy, men who rely only on the evidence of their senses are similar to men imprisoned in a cave with their backs turn against the light coming in through the cave's mouth. As their eyes are fixed on the wall of the cave, they can only see the shadows of moving objects including their own shadow. These shadows, they regard as real, for that's all they know when in fact the real world is outside the cave. For us, who allowed horoscope to dictate how we lived our lives, horoscope predictions were as real to us as Plato's cavemen believing in the shadows. Of course Plato's view goes further into the senses v. the ideas. For Vietnamese, we're not that philosophical. We simply let the horoscope predictions lead the way into life.
I am not speaking of this belief, or trend, in my daily lives in the 1950s as a spectator or a research scientist. I am talking about my life as a victim of it. Fortunately, its impacts in my life were not all negative. Someday I will reveal the myth they told about me, a little girl from Sadec and how horoscope has affected my entire life. My sister witnessed what happened to me as she keeps telling my stories over and over. Do I believe in horoscope or myth? No, I don't. Definitely not! Nonetheless, I must say most predictions have been alarmingly closed and they affect me as if they were mind-control devices that suck into my brain functions and refuse to leave. Worse, my family members kept the control button. So, like a pair of magic red shoes, they kept me dancing against my will.
During the years I lived in Saigon I became acquainted with Duong Thai Bang, the celebrity Feng Shui Master and Destiny Analytics who advised only the top leaders in Saigon. Among his clients, President Thieu, ARVN generals, and the wealthiest Chinese business community in Cholon. He was an oracle, or a prophet, to his clients who offered him gold bars just to get his advice. I was a poor law school student, a starving artist, and Thieu's employee but Bang took interest in me as his pupil. He taught me destiny analysis, invited me to lunch, and eventually made me his protégé. That's how I knew about the influence of horoscope at a high level of military and policy decision-making in South Vietnam. In April 1975, the war ended. During chaos, each of us was getting out of Vietnam on our own. I lost track of Bang.
Several months later, in September 1975, I was standing in a food line at Fort Chaffee Refugee Camp in Arkansas to receive my lunch when an old gentleman in front of me suddenly turned around and looked at me. I thought I saw a ghost. He held my hands and I heaved up then my tears streamed out profusely. That was Duong Thai Bang. “You made it. No, we made it. How did you do it?” He asked. “I danced my way out,” I said and cried happy tears, “in the dark.”
After Ft. Chaffee, he joined his children in Texas and I went to California. He contacted me and visited me until he passed away years later. Among letters he wrote which I didn't open until after his death, he mapped out my life in an amazing way. I can't say he was completely right but he was close. I didn't read because I did not want his horoscope reading to become my self-fulfilling prophecy. Growing up, I had enough of horoscope as a shadow that followed me against my will. Nowadays, I am completely free from it but its impact lingers on.
That said, I will now reprint my Blog dated November 11, 2015. This is a true story of Vietnamese Horoscope and the way we South Vietnamese fought the war. I know all the main characters in the story when the influence of horoscope first surfaced militarily on May 1, 1970 then at the end of the Vietnam War, April 1975, when President Duong Van Minh refused to negotiate amnesty for South Vietnam.