Thursday 30 November 2006

Sidewalk Café: No Freud Here, Please

When I said “western books are more applicable to life”, I meant they are closer to western life than Vietnamese books are to Vietnamese life, while for sure they are not suited to Vietnam all the time. It is certain that the bookworms I mentioned are loyal readers of western books, or books written by western authors, and they are always in the mood to apply what they read to Vietnam circumstances. That was the case of Dinh T.A. trying to bring “Speed of Thought” into a small-sized private Vietnamese company. But, intelligent as he was, he didn’t see concrete conditions needed to realize the plan, which is why it went bankrupt right from the start, i.e. from his presentation. What could he expect from an audience that included computer-illiterate car drivers, accountants, and administrative staffs, and a “Chief Executive Officer” who has never given even the cheapest paperback a quick look? They did not care much about a future web-based company where computer played a significant role. They did not feel the need to move on quickly with a “smart globalized economy”. Some of them, with their simply mind, did not even know which problems the company was facing, or what their own problems were.

So what were one supposed to do if they were in his case? I am not sure, but I might probably suggest a deeper look into specific circumstances before we let ourselves think of any reform. What I want to say is we can’t attain a better understanding of the place to which we belong and which we want to change by just reading books. We need to see more people, listen to more voices, witness more life stories, and, in sum, to experience more of life. Otherwise it would just be like talking about Freud in a sidewalk café - the whole crowd would turn round to see what the fool looked like.

By “applicability of books” I wish to mean every word of which books being applied to which life. I feel (just “feel”, because I don’t have any clue) westerners are less likely to become bookworms, because it seems in the west that the difference between book and life is not so big as the one in Vietnam.

It is true that this world’s progress is based, either partly or entirely, upon the minds of thinkers, and many of them are those who choose to work only with knowledge. Many ground-breaking ideas sounded crazy in the first place, or at least they were considered crazy by the contemporaries, but they changed the world at last. However, because Vietnam has lagged far behind, everything related to us should be seen a bit differently (to the way it is seen in a western context).

Although I respect all bookworms, I must say that they can sometimes make things difficult for others, though it’s certainly not their wish. My very few years of working in television production shows me that if one tries to impose all what they read from western books on their Vietnamese collegues’ minds, they will spoil things instead of improving them. It was my case, sometimes. It also was the case of some TV talents who insisted on working professionally with full professional support from a professional managerial system, and denied working with the unprofessional who are many in number. Oh my godness, we all are bookworms!

But this is just a small example, by which I do not mean to provide evidence to any argument. In most cases, bookworms are harmless to the rest, and I accept them, then. The harm, if there is any, falls on bookworms themselves when they bury themselves in useless knowledge, from which we gain nothing.

Next post: More on this subject

Tuesday 28 November 2006

Lost like a Nowhere Man

May I borrow the title “Nowhere Man” of a Beatles song to talk about a kind of people we’ve known? As the song is philosophy-oriented, it’s hard to tell exactly who the “nowhere man” it mentions is. Some say he is is an Utopian who “knows not where he’s going to”, others say he is a member of a straitlaced society whose life has no purpose. And me, I think that nowhere man represents a sort of person whom we refer to as “bookworm”.

In the animated movie Yellow Submarine, The Beatles, heroes of the film, on their way to save  the world from the Blue Minies monsters, met a stranger named Jeremy. This man introduced himself to the fab as an "eminent physicist, polyglot classicist, prize-winning botanist, hard-biting satirist, talented pianist, good dentist too." He, of course, was truly proud of himself. John Lennon, however, after listening to Jeremy’s long and complacent introduction, said, “Let me see. There must be… must be some word to describe him…” And the band began to sing “Nowhere Man” as a song to sum up Jeremy. When they stopped singing to leave  Jeremy, the man realized how lonely and empty his life was, purposelessly burying himself in meaningless knowledge. And he burst out crying.

I may have misunderstood what Lennon wanted to say in his song. Hopefully this is not of much importance, though. I would like to concentrate more on the kind of person we’ve known as “bookworm”.

In English, a bookworm means someone who spends a great deal of time reading. In Vietnamese, or in my personal view to be exact, a bookworm is the one who is drown in books and fails to apply to reality any of the knowledge they get from books. In other words, bookworms are unrealistic readers, and, in this sense, their knowledge seems useless.

Oddly enough, while the Vietnamese have never been known as a people diligent in reading, I’ve seen so many bookworms here.

Bookworms are easily recognized by their attitudes towards and views of life. As for me only, I find that bookworms are characterized by some common personalities. First and foremost, they must be very diligent readers. Secondly, they are undeniably intelligent. Thirdly (and regrettably), they do not separate between life in reality and life in books.

Years ago I talked to Dinh T.A., who was then quite a famous translator among overseas students. He was the kind of guy who would impress you with his intelligence and knowledge from the first meet. Many would immediately think he was a genius and admire him so much that even when I have got out of his aura, I still think it’s not good of me to say he is exactly a bookworm. In our talk which lasted for no less than 3 hours and in which he was the dominant player, he talked much about philosophy, politics, economics, and leadership. He spent much time expressing his burning wishes of turning the national economy of Vietnam into a knowledge-based, smart economy.  All was new to me to such a degree that I was really bewildered. I had never heard of that sort of thing before. Irregistably I came into the belief that T.A. was undoubtedly a genius, and I even felt a bit pity that his thoughts were suppressed in this damned country. I would be tormented by that feeling of pity until the next day, when by chance I picked up a book at his table, turning some pages to find in it all what he said to me the day before. Yes, it was exactly the same as what he had said. And he was not the author of the book, of course not.

A couple of days afterwards, T.A. met me with new ideas of digitalizing an advertising agency that I worked with as a freelance. He suggested a meeting to present his ideas to the company. Though I was reluctant to conduct the unpromising meeting, I tried my best to support him - the alien - until I looked at the audience and found inane faces all around me. I would be very much more disappointed the next day, when I discovered that the ideas of digitalizing a company were entirely borrowed from Bill Gates in his book “Speed of Thought”.

T.A. didn’t see that there was, and there would always be, a big chasm between books and realities. This is especially true of circumstances in Vietnam, for which reason bookworms are many here in number. In developed Western countries, the “culture of reading” is something worth encouraging, either because western books are more applicable to life or because their readers are less likely to become bookworms. But I have a little doubt that such a culture should be fostered in Vietnam these days because it’s easy for ones to become bookworms here and hard for ones not to become such.

Next post: More on this subject

Friday 24 November 2006

Norwegian Wood

Of the top ten Beatles songs by my evaluation, I give much appreciation to Norwegian Wood. Unfortunately, I am not alone in loving this song as you may see. The proof is that a Japanese author has written a novel titled Norwegian Wood as inspired by the masterpiece of pop. As far as I know, the novel is an erotic story, which is why I tried not to give it even a quick look for fear that dirty contents will spoil the pureness of its namesake. It is very possible that I am wrong, or, at least, self-opinionated, but please forgive my conservative mind; just because I love the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood too much to accept anything outside musical circles that’s based on it.

I think the Beatles might be viewed as Mozart of Pop, because all the endless pureness, innocence, and charming wit that people attribute to Mozart’s works can be applied to Beatles music. The biggest difference between them is genre only. Norwegian Wood is one of the Beatles’ masterpieces, as is Mozart’s Magic Flute.

I once had a girl,

or should I say

she once had me.

She showed me her room

Isn’t it good,

Norwegian wood?...

From the introduction until its final notes, the song is a lilting ballad in which the singer told a story about his one-night romance. In fact it was hardly a Western-styled love affair because no sexual contact was made; the two people just "talked until 2", and then the strange gentleman "crawled to sleep in the bath". On top of that, the song is well-known both for its profoundly beautiful melody and the fact that it is a Western song with much Eastern influence: John Lennon's guitar is accompanied by George Harrison on the sitar, an Indian musical instrument.

In terms of the lyrics, the meaning of "Norwegian wood" is so far mysterious. Some say "Norwegian wood" may be a pun on the name of a strong variety of marijuana, so the song, once again, is a symbol of double-meaning psychedelic pieces. Others suggest that "Norwegian wood" is the euphemism of "knowing she would". Thanh Tung, editor for the International Music Program on VOV radio, went further and more ridiculous to translate "Norwegian Wood" as "Norwegian timber" (gỗ Na Uy). Image 

For me only, however, the song reminds me of a beautiful romance told by Paustovsky in "The Pine-cone Basket". In this short story, maestro Edward Grieg met with a little girl in an autumn pine forest, talked to her, and got deep impression from the child’s blue bright eyes. He would get back home afterwards to write a composition for the girl of 10 years later, a masterpiece that he dedicated "to Daniel Pettersen for her 18th birthday".

For some unknown reason I often associate the pine wood in Paustovsky’s story with the "Norwegian wood" that John Lennon sang about, and the encounter between Edward Grieg and Daniel Pettersen with the one between the singer and the unnamed young woman, "bird", in the Beatles’ masterpiece. Norwegian wood was the place where they met, and possibly it was merely an imaginary land that witnessed a fugitive love. 

I am particularly enchanted by the accompaniment, and the last words, "And when I awoke / I was alone / This bird had flown / So I lit a fire / Isn't it good / Norwegian wood?". I even tried to translate it into Vietnamese, and failed. (Sure I did!) It's a foolish thing to translate any Beatles lyrics into Vietnamese, simply because they are too simple, sometimes meaningless. The beauty of Beatles songs lies in their melody, the accompaniment, and especially the spirit that they hold, never in their simple words. The last words in "Norwegian Wood" show us that the man's once-in-a-lifetime woman was gone, leaving him reflecting on the unexpected, unforgetable encounter with the strange little bird, and wondering if it were a nice memory. "The bird had flown", but her silhouette lingered as the man kept asking himself, or asking the unknown "Norwegian wood" whether it was a good memory he had. The words "Norwegian wood" is mentioned in the first verse ("She showed me her room / Isn't it good? / Norwegian wood?") and again in its last line ("So, I lit a fire / Isn't it good? / Norwegian wood?"), as the melody keeps occupying our mind.

And, just like many other Beatles songs, Norwegian Wood stirs in me the thought of a distant quiet past. Although I did not get to know any Beatles song until 1992, maybe I had heard them somewhere and some time, when I was still a child of 4 or 5, living in a closed country that was undergoing harsh economic recession and isolation. I could not remember where the melody came from, or how it got into my mind and stayed there, possibly until the rest of my life. In my childhood dream, I saw myself in boots and jeans, wandering through vetlvet green fields in the sun, softly plucking my guitar strings and singing alone a beautiful melody. When I grew up and became a Beatles fan, I knew exactly what that sweet melody was: it should be "Norwegian Wood". Hope the Japanese novel would not murder the beauty of the fab four's "Norwegian Wood". A dim hope it is, because I will not read the book.

Let your mind resound with the haunting melody of "Norwegian Wood", and you will know why I call Beatles the "Mozart of Pop".

I once had a girl,

or should I say

she once had me.

She showed me her room,

Isn’t it good?

Norwegian wood.

She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere,

So I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair.

I sat on a rug,

biding my time,

drinking her wine.

We talked until two,

and then she said,

‘It’s time for bed’.

She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh,

I told her I didn’t, and crawled off to sleep in the bath.

And when I awoke

I was alone,

This bird had flown,

So I lit a fire,

Isn’t it good?

Norwegian wood.

Monday 20 November 2006

Hearts and Minds

For K.T., my editor-in-chief and general manager

(It’s not a misuse of word at all. I know well what ‘editor-in-chief’ and ‘general manager’ of a television mean.)

In our meeting at late of September 15th (the last meeting of VNN TV as you may call), there were three faces that I noticed the most: N.A.T., CEO; Trinh Hang, deputy director; and K.T., editor-in-chief and general director of VNN TV.

I am not going to talk much about the two formers because they are to me no more than the embodiment of corruption, although there is a clear difference between the two. Yet I would like to insist upon the sympathy and tolerance we should pay to a leader like the CEO of VASC in this country. I believe, though with much misguided sensibility, that N.A.T. is a talented and zealous CEO, only that he drops out too easily sometimes, and he is not an infallible man as a CEO above all. So, chief, I don't totally blame you for all these failures. Hopefully I can see the hardships you've gone through, even the loneliness you may have to suffer as a leader from time to time. But I can't sympathize with your managerial skills, though. I can't support this system as long as I see how ignorance, mismanagement, and corruption cause tears to eyes.

Nevertheless, on a larger scale, tolerance for the government is something required from us. Apart from corruption, the government is not always an evil one. I feel there are things that they really want to do, but they fail all the time for just one reason: mismanagement, which is preceded by ignorance. At the most we can accuse them of mismanaging the society, not of intentionally ruining the country.

What called much attention from me was, once again, the story of hearts and minds.

When I looked at K.T. sitting silently next to the CEO of VASC, I suddenly thought of Ho Chi Minh, Staline, and even Hitler. It was such an absurd association, wasn’t it? Image I recalled what my friend said once in this blog, “The mind is nothing without the heart; it's just dead knowledge… Why could Hitler talk thousand of able-minded Germans into supporting his cause?”

I see now that people react emotionally indeed to everything that hits their minds. Yes, it’s true that even the most logical, educational presentation evokes an emotional response. Although people may want to believe they are being completely logical in evaluating someone or something, their basic emotional reaction most influences their evaluation.

I see now, boss, that no matter what others may say, you have left good impressions and imprints on the hearts and minds of all staffs in this bankrupt television. Don’t ever worry that someone among the 150 laid-off people here would ill speak of you. They believe in you enough so that no one can tarnish your image. Theif belief is real and comes from hearts. They see you as the most devoted boss, the kindest boss, in comparison with so many other evil leaders. They see in you and share with you the dream of building VNN TV into a large television empire. They see in you the pains and torment, and share with you the broken dream and missed chances. In sum, they believe in you because what you have said and done is more than enough to convince their hearts.

I see now that to be a prominent leader, one must find the way that leads to human hearts, not human minds. And to open human hearts, one must open their heart first and be true to themselves. Staline and Hitler are examples of such. With a firm belief in hearts, they drove people’s emotions to such an extent that even the most logical man lost his reason and became their follower.

An ordinary person with logical thinking would never think of flinging himself into war zone, devoting his youth to war, or sacrificing his life to the nation’s cause of liberation. But Staline's words touched millions of Soviet hearts, erasing all reasons of their minds, and finally driving millions of Soviet youth into the last sacrifice. And so did Hitler's, though his were so destructive as lethal weapons, evoking emotional responses for a devil cause. I think Hitler was not a liar or a demagog; he did have a strong belief in the cause of making an ideal nation-state for his people.

However, those men were successful to some extent, while we’ve failed and lost. There are countless reasons to explain why, but this is not an important thing anymore. The only thing that I would love to highlight is that a great leader is the one who captures and controls human hearts to the point that people lose all reasons.

Saturday 18 November 2006

Misery Is Sometimes A Good Thing

Don’t cry, friends. It probably sounds stupid if I tell you not to cry now. It’s truly hard to fight the feelings that press upon your heart at the moment. But I have to say this so as to ease, though a little, your pain.

Will you believe me, dears, that misery is sometimes a good thing in life? It may not be true to you, but it is totally true in my case. Unlike you, I did not fall into a shocking crisis on hearing the bad news of the close-down. It is because I am immune from this type of crisis; I have undergone enough of it. The first thought that came into my mind then was “I am a loser.” Once again, I lost to destiny. I lost in my life-time battle against fate as I always did. Can it be the more you devote yourselves, the more you’ll lose?

One more time I witnessed tears and tragedies. One more time I see how mistakes and faults, as well as corruption, may cause pains to dozens of lives. One more time I remembered all the bad things I had gone through, though I tried not to recall what happened. I remembered how I told myself, “I cannot keep thinking of it. It’s so painful.”

We are all different, but there is one thing in common among us: bad luck. We’ve lost too much.  All of those who loved now lost. However, I know I can recover soon while it will take a time, though not so long, before you can remove every bad thing from your mind. Most of you are too white, too sentimental, and not prepared for any kind of break-down. You are not worthy of being cheated.

I believe that you will at last get back to the state of happiness you once had. I have a suspicion, though, that there will never be another time when you are that dedicated. “The innocence can never last”, you know. Just see how one becomes a cynic when their dream is dead. Happiness may return to you someday, but it is back in a new form, so different from the way it was. You can never claim back what you have lost. Love and faith cannot stay intact after ups-and-downs of life.

Memories will be all the more painful because they are too beautiful and “longer than the road that stretches out ahead”. They will surely hurt you much.


are so beautiful and yet

what's too painful to remember

We simply choose to forget..."

And you will see that to live means to take board. Remember that old song by Trinh Cong Son? It's "Lodging" (Ở trọ). Is it that we have together taken board with VNN TV, after all?

But there is one thing I’d like to tell you despite the above-mentioned. Misery is sometimes a good thing for some people. After all the rises and falls, all that remain is life experience. Life goes on, and so does our battle against our invisible, eternal enemy. Although we may always lose in the end, but the most important thing is that we have fought it back.

Wednesday 15 November 2006

The Beauty of Brokenness

For Trang and friends, on the day of the news (about the close-down).

… When my Indian teammate in Fiji asked me, “So how did you find India when you were there?”, my first thought was about those suffering people. However, I just said, “You are a very special people”.

“We suffer a lot”, she said. “Wherever we go, we are despised and exploited”.

I did not tell her this then, but later I realized that is why they are such a special people to me. They are a parable of the human suffering. Suffering is their unwilling yet most heartfelt offering to the human experience, a beautiful and precious offering that the world is scared to accept but cannot reject, an offering made with many tears and much trembling, yet bearing witness to the quiet human grace and the undying hope for freedom.

I think of the children I saw on my way from the airport. Theirs is the patience in knocking on thousands of car windows, the humility before rejection, and the shimmering yet stubborn hope that makes them knock their fingers on the next window.

I think of the man with leprosy I saw near the market. His is the faith in his own humanness, the tenacity in not letting go, and the unthinkable courage with which he raises what remains of his face and looks squarely eye-to-eye at whoever passes by.

I think of the dead man on the street. His is the arrogance of someone who fulfilled his share of sorrow, the wisdom of answered riddles, and the depth of the lesson for the living, he himself being the object.

Those suffering people, they make each day a victory and each moment a hard-earned gift in ways they themselves are not aware of!

Those suffering people, they are great teachers in this life! Only if the world would learn more from its struggle than from its achievement!

I thought about the work of Mother Teresa, and then I began to have a glimpse into the meaning of one of her prayers that had struck me as odd, that maybe in the last day we would all realize how much we owe the poor for helping us love God, the God who himself became broken for the sake of the broken.

And that is the greatest beauty of brokenness!

Sunday 12 November 2006

On Education, Heart, and Mind

Allow me to post all the comments here as a new blog entry. It is for the mere purpose of getting them easier to read.

H: … I think building on hearts is almost like building on mud - it swings. Building on minds is much better. But I won't say more. Your specific puisuit is different and for that particular profession, maybe the hearts mean more. When I choose to learn something, I don't go to those I love or see as devoted, I always prefer to go to those who are good at what I want to learn. If someone is good at something, it doesn't matter if he is just doing it as a side hobby, an extra activity. What matters is, he has something good to teach you.

And by the way: Evaluations mean little and might not be true. But it is true in my case. So, I do care. Those who say they don't are often those who are not devoted enough to care how you're doing.

… It has always been my philosophy to do something because I love and want it, not because of anything else. Here's the thing: You don't see your weaknesses because you love the job. You see them because you're rational or because someone better point them out to you. One really cannot do anything more than what one is capable of seeing and doing at a particular moment. Doesn't matter how hard one tries, if one's not good, one's not good.

Do you think the teachers at FTU think they are bad? NO! They all think they are super-good, top of the world. They even think they are nice and devoted as hell. And that's exactly the problem.

A: The mind is nothing without the heart; it's just dead knowledge. Left to itself, the mind can be neither dangerous nor benefitial. The same knowledge can be used to save or kill, that is because of the difference of the heart. Just building on the mind and leaving it all to the chance of heart might lead to the emergence of monsterous geniuses. The world has seen and is still seeing quite a number of them. They do have the mind (no one can deny that), and they are a pain and shame to humanity precisely because they have mind and no (good)heart. It doesn't have to be in my religious field or in things having to do with human lives; it's true in any case and any field. Why does a child learn more from her mother than from a professional nurse or nanny? Why could Hitler talk thousand of able-minded Germans into supporting his cause? Why is it that sometimes our favorite teachers (from whom we learn the most) are not the most knowledegeable ones? Why is it that we love Forest Gump? Why is it that we want our children to become decent people before they can be smart? It all has to do with the heart!

It's true hearts swing. And that's why more building needs doing. And don't tell me minds don't swing. They do more than hearts. A modern mind today will inevitably get old-fashioned in the future. A kind heart stays timeless.

That a person wants to teach you what he is good at and that he is committed to doing it already shows that the heart is at work. And how can he be inspirational unless he puts his mind AND his heart into it, teaching with knowledge, passion, and conviction. It doesn't matter at all whether he does it as a job or a hobby - true! Just like not all or only teachers can teach. It has to do with both the mind and the heart. And it's the heart that guides.

And I don't quite understand why someone whose philosophy is "I do it because I love it" like you keeps playing down the importance of love. A rational mind is indeed a valuable asset, but rationality itself is a subjective thing, because it can't escape the heart. Most people, even those mentally ill people and except for some VERY wise people, believe they possess a rational mind, and who the heck am I to say his is not really and hers is quite, yours is not and mine is. Who the heck am I to determine common sense in rationality for the world? Well, Americans tend to do that because they think they are the world. But it just shows they don't know much more than a damned thing about this world.

I'll just use your logics here, "You don't see your weaknesses because you love your job". Does it occur to you that it may be happenning to you, too much in love with yourself and your life and your job? I do believe (and I swear I do, though I might have sounded a bit sarcastic earlier on) that your evaluation means something. It's just funny to hear it from your own mouth, just like me proclaiming that all my friends here call me a genius. It's almost ridiculous!

I'm sorry for being less than calm and cool, but I mean every word I said. I don't want to continue this argument, but if you do, we should do it on your blog or my blog, not Trg.'s blog.

H: Just so you know, I am not offended. Not at all. We can argue as long or as short as you want and I won't mind that at all. You don't need to be calm and cool. You can be crazy, angry, anything - I even like that. It's your points that I will address, and I will do it when I return home in a couple of days since I am now in Pennsylvania and cannot write long.

But here is the question: What's so wrong about loving myself and my life and my job?

A: Nothing is wrong about that, Hg., except for what you said: Love keeps you from seeing your weaknesses. Not that I think this is always true, but since you said it, it might be true for you.

Trang: I don’t mind any argument on my blog, so you may discuss any subject of your interest here. Just I think it’s a real waste of energy to talk about love in your definition and love in my definition, because it will evidently lead us to no point.

As for me there is more than one kind of love. A love between a man and a woman may blind them so that they fail to see the weaknesses in both (or in either of the two). But the love that I mentioned is a different kind which I have not been able to name yet. In this kind of love, if you love teaching, for instance, you will not even think to yourself, “Ha, I’ve done some good things; I’m good.” The more you love your job, the more you feel an urge to check if you have done really good. You will keep asking yourself, “can I do it better?”. You will go around, asking for feedback from people, just to let you know who you are and what and how you are doing. In case the feedback sends you negative signals, you will torment yourself in a wish that things must be changed for the better. If the feedback does not improve and becomes insufferably negative for you, you will think of quitting the job, though with much sorrow and despair; that’s a real example to show your love - the kind of love that I mentioned.

No one can be independent in discovering themselves, of course. To see our weakness, we will have to go out, facing the world which is the presentation of our self. The love in our heart will surely urge us to do anything possible to perfec ourselves - in work.

Can’t tell why you refer to the FTU teachers as an example of the relationship between love and work quality. I totally agree with you that they are bad at their job. But do you think they love teaching? “They even think they are nice and devoted as hell.” That is because they don’t love their work.

Don’t ever think that it’s easy to love something. Never it is. I don’t know much about Hitler, Marx, Lenin, or any other political thinkers whose thoughts may change the world for the better or for the worse. But I am sure that in arts, for example, geniuses are those who love more than ordinary people do. Their love is something immense, even abnormal, thus hard to explain. They love so much more, and in some unsual way, than ordinary people do. Can you ever imagine how Segovia loves the guitar?

Building on minds is much better, however, when we come to macro management of the society. I believe that a good political system is not one built on hearts. In other words, rule by law is to me a better choice than rule by virtue as it is a less inefficient way (probably not the best way yet) to ensure equality. Here in this case, the heart-based system does swing.

However, allow me to use the tactic “I am not a blogwriter” again. You two feel free, please, to talk in my blog, but let me stay away from the discussion because it’s a real effort of me to use English in discussions. English has never been my strong point, you know. And it often takes me much time and effort to express my ideas as I am not used to talking about philosophical subjects. But may you go on discussing please? I am ready to read whatever to be written down.


Thursday 9 November 2006

Why, Teachers?

We Vietnamese do not foster the “criticism culture”, and teachers are typical examples of intolerance. I have scarcely ever heard a teacher say sorry to his/her students. However, I am not going to judge their personalities or qualifications. Instead I am paying more attention to a teacher’s attitudes. Although I did not excel at any subject, I was much interested in physics, and the more I loved physics, the more I hated to attend class. Should you like to know how good an education system is, take a look at how applied sciences are taught there.

As we all know, in Vietnamese schools, students shall take an oral test before every lesson. A friend of mine, when asked by our teacher in an oral test, “What is light dispersion?,” answered, “Light dispersion occurs when light is ‘pulped’ into 7 colours when it goes through a prism.” (“Hin tượng tán sc ánh sáng là hin tượng ánh sáng b ‘tán’ ra thành 7 màu khi đi qua lăng kính”). The teacher, and then the whole class, burst into laughter while the student stood there, blushing up in shyness. I laughed, too, (merely because everyone else was laughing), although I felt a bit angry with the way the teacher made joke about her poor student. I did not know how she could make fun of the student whereas she should have asked herself what she had done to get students love physics.

Physics is an applied science that has very close links with realities, I mean the material world. It is not too hard to associate whatever we learn at class with natural phenomena. Light dispersion is the seperation of electromagnetic waves (including light) into different wavelengths, and this sepration is made by anything that works like a prism, not necessarily only by an artificial prism. That means dispersion can be present almost everywhere as long as light goes through a transparent, three-mensional mass. Dispersion can be seen in every part of our atmosphere, because each transparent molecule in the air can act as a prism.

These would have been much more easier to comprehend if our teacher had been intelligent (or exactly, enthusiastic) enough to broaden the definition instead of clinging to the definition available in our textbooks. And things would have been all the more understandable if she had been intelligent and/or enthusiastic enough to show us the link between theory and reality.  She might, within her limited faculty of thought, have applied the definition to realities and explained to us dozens of natural phenomena. Why is snow white? Why is the sky blue? Why is the sun red at dawn and dusk, and glowing in the daytime? Why is that the higher we fly, the darker the sky turns? In sum, why do we see this world in colours? But the answer was nothingness, because there were no questions nor suggestions to ask. And I cut class whenever possible, though I loved physics. The more interested in physics I was, the more I tried not to be influenced by boring lessons and the hateful teacher. I would soon give up the idea of going in for physics after finishing high school.

Teachers need not be geniuses. But I wish to see them doing their job with all their heart and soul. We may not be sensible enough to judge teachers’ qualifications. But we can always feel from the heart of a devoted teacher their love of life, their love of wisdom and knowledge, of the job they are doing, of the students to whom they are giving lectures. As “manipulators” of our soul, first of all, they must show us their soul. We need to see them work wholeheartedly, saying true words, giving us soul-felt lessons, firing our imagination, evoking in us the love for life. If they can’t, they’d better quit their job.

Hey, teachers. Don’t ever say you can’t change anything, you can’t do differently because you are made to do what your superiors tell you to. You might not be allowed to refer to politics, freedom, and democracy in your lessons, but no one can ever prevent you from expressing your zeal and love and honesty in each lesson. But, no, you stay unchanged for decades. You are real professionals in practicing obscurantism. You do not let us be true to ourselves. You spoil our critical thinking, by that you murder our creativity, if we were fortunate enough to have any. How can you be so proud of yourself, being honoured as “manipulators of souls”?

Why, teachers?

Tuesday 7 November 2006

Forgive Me, Teachers, I just Can’t Say I Love You

For the 16 years since I started until I left school, I was never a school lover. Even I myself cannot count how many rude words I have said or written about teachers. “Cúc the bitch”, “An the monster”, “Piggy Nga”, they are just a few among scores of curses I put on my teachers since my 1st grade. Some were said behind their back, some were written right on paper so that they could easily find it. Ironically enough, my parents were teachers.

When I was small, it was a bit hard for me to explain the hatred for teachers. Perhaps the hatred originated from scare. I was scared of teachers from the moment I entered school onwards.  I tried not to be punished by them. However, during school life, one can hardly avoid being punished once or twice, and I was not alone in being punished. But the matter was that I took it so seriously. Imagine you, as a child of 8 or 9, was hit in the face by a chalk that your teacher threw at you. She also threw you an angry look, saying, “watch your attitudes!” because you were busy joking with friends then, and they were smiling happily. How ashamed I was, feeling I was turned into a fool in friends' eyes. So I began to feel resentment towards the teacher. Things went worse quickly when she found my swear against her written very carefully on the back cover of my notebook, saying, "Cúc the bitch, you will have to eat… (some dirty things, much dirtier than shit)". I was only in the 3rd grade then.

When I grew olders, things changed in a more negative way, in the sense that I hated teachers more with better reasons why I did. Cowards, that’s what I think of them. During 16 years at school, I never had the pleasure to receive any good thing from them, just rubbish things that can turn any feeble minds into obscure ones.

I remember how my maths teacher hated a boy in the class because he was a busy with his part-time job as a model rathan than with his homework. The teacher would always shout at the poor boy’s face, “Get out! Get out of class! Sure you fool will be good at nothing. Just be servant! Just be slave! Get out!” Teacher, why can’t you accept someone that gets out of the orbit you try to impose on them? Why can’t you accept someone different? What if he prefers being a model than being a good student of yours? What if he has other strong points than mathematics?

I disagreed with that man-teacher. But at least he was true enough to himself to express his antipathy. More contemptible was my former teacher at high school. I couldn’t help feeling sick hearing her preach, “You girls, be nice. Do not talk much. Do not sitting by the window, looking down at people passing by. Boys can do so, because they are would-be men. But you girls can’t.”  I looked at her face, wondering if there was any grain of truth in her voice and attitudes. Nothing mattered if the words came from her heart. But it mattered because all that she said was a sham. Is there any woman who really thinks she can’t sit by the window because she is a woman?

Next post: More on this subject.

Sunday 5 November 2006

To Teachers Who Help Practice Obscurantism

Teachers in Vietnam are honoured to have a celebration day each year called November 20th. As a matter of fact, I wonder if this is an honour. Realities have shown us that if some occupation is widely celebrated in Vietnam, there are chances that those who practice it are poor. You may have seen how hard life is for doctors and teachers who specialize in their profession, clinging to state budget instead of going around, doing their own business. Doctors’ Day is February 27th, and Teachers’ Day falls on November 20th. I believe they are likely to feel some proud on their day.  But they must have witnessed the bitter fact that while the society never celebrates aviculture, people in this trade are surely better-off.

The more an occupation is celebrated, the less likely it is that people holding that occupation are well paid by the society.  This nonsensical theory maintains its truth even on a larger scale. If we put the poetry praises for men and women on a scale, we would see immediately that women are celebrated so much more than men. The word ‘beauty’  is clearly used to imply ‘women,’ and almost everybody applies the word ‘beautiful’ to women (and at times, scenery) rather than to men. Ironically enough, women, the muse and the inspiration for men, have always lived a harder life than men.

So, despite all praises a society like ours dedicates to teachers, their life is hard. And I say this as a “prelude” to a strong attack that will follow. As D. A. Clarke said in her 1983 speech, “The natural female body, we are told in one breath, is the loveliest thing around… that’s the tone in which we are told this; and in the next breath we are ordered to starve ourselves, watch how we dress and mind our manners-because, after all, the natural woman is loud, fat, hairy, smelly and UGLY,” I would say,

"Vietnamese teachers are those who deserve praises more than anyone else. They are silent fighters in the battle against ignorance. By freeing us from ignorance, they are those who teach us how to live as a man (not as a woman!)… and I say this because that’s the tone in which we are told this."

And in the next breath I would say they are the state’s right-hand in practicing obscurantism. They teach boys to live as men, and girls as women, yes, always these creatures. They teach us all, men and women, to be humble, to erase from our mind all critical thinking and, after all, to live as they did in their time.

“Hey, teachers, leave us alone.” Did any of us dare to speak this out?

Next post: More on this subject.

Friday 3 November 2006

How to Become a Member of the WTO

For reference only. No kidding. This is a serious subject, although the picture is used for fun. Image 

Article XII of the WTO Agreement states that accession to the WTO will be “on terms to be agreed” between the acceding government and the WTO. Accession to the WTO is essentially a process of negotiation — quite different from the process of accession to other international entities, like the IMF, which is largely an automatic process.

Because each accession Working Party takes decisions by consensus, all interested WTO Members must be in agreement that their individual concerns have been met and that outstanding issues have been resolved in the course of their bilateral and multilateral negotiations.

All documentation examined by the accession Working Party during the process of negotiation remains restricted until completion of the process.

Who can apply

“Any state or customs territory having full autonomy in the conduct of its trade policies is eligible to accede to the WTO on terms agreed between it and WTO Members”. (Article XII of the WTO Agreement).

The request for accession

The accession process commences with the submission of a formal written request for accession by the applicant government. This request is considered by the General Council which establishes a Working Party to examine the accession request and, ultimately, to submit the findings of the Working Party to the General Council for approval. The Working Party is open to all Members of the WTO.

Submission of a memorandum on the foreign trade regime

The applicant government presents a memorandum covering all aspects of its trade and legal regime to the Working Party. This memorandum forms the basis for detailed fact finding by the Working Party.

Subsequent Working Party meetings will see the examination of questions posed by WTO Members based on the information provided in the memorandum and the replies provided by the applicant government.

Conditions of entry

After examining all aspects of the existing trade and legal regimes of the acceding government the Working Party goes into the substantive part of the multilateral negotiations involved in accessions. This determines the terms and conditions of entry for the applicant government. Terms and conditions include commitments to observe WTO rules and disciplines upon accession and transitional periods required to make any legislative or structural changes where necessary to implement these commitments.

Bilateral negotiations

At the same time, the applicant government engages in bilateral negotiations with interested Working Party members on concessions and commitments on market access for goods and services. The results of these bilateral negotiations are consolidated into a document which is part of the final “accession package”.

The final “accession package”

The “accession package” consists of three documents which represent the results of both the multilateral and bilateral phases outlined above. These are:

- a Report of the Working Party containing a summary of proceedings and conditions of entry and a Protocol of Accession.

- Schedules of market access commitments in goods and services agreed between the acceding government and WTO Members.

Approval of the “accession package” back to top

Once both the Working Party's Draft Report and Protocol of Accession and the market access commitments in goods and services are completed to the satisfaction of members of the Working Party, the “accession package” is adopted at a final formal meeting of the Working Party.

The documents are then presented to the General Council or the Ministerial Conference for adoption. Once approved by the General Council or the Ministerial Conference, the accessions package is redistributed as a non-restricted document.

Two final documents will be issued:

- The Decision of the General Council

The Protocol of Accession of the new entrant a Protocol of Accession annexed to the Report which states that the country accedes to the WTO Agreement, defines the Schedules and outlines final provisions for timing of acceptance of the Protocol and full membership of the WTO.

Becoming a full member

Once approved by the General Council of Ministerial Conference, the applicant is then free to sign the Protocol of Accession stating that it accepts the approved “accessions package” subject to ratification in its national parliament. Normally three months is given from signature of the Protocol of Accession for this to take place.

Thirty days after the applicant government notifies the WTO Secretariat that it has completed its ratification procedures, the applicant government becomes a full Member of the WTO.

Source: WTO documents.


Thursday 2 November 2006

A Place Called Freedom

Don’t be sad, friend.

I know you are in misery. Believe me, I have experienced all what you are suffering now. I know what it is like when you face the world with an empty heart, feeling you’ve lost everything:  your love, your career, your will, and most importantly, your love of life and your confidence. Nothing could be more awesome than when everything slips off your hand, and you find yourself in full exhaustion;  you just do not have any vitality to stand up once again.

If things had happened to you earlier, you would have possibly picked yourself up, and stood straight once more, saying, “I will survive,” because you were still young then, full of life and full of energy. But you are 28 now, and we all know that in a country like Vietnam, it is too late for us, women of 28, to start something over.

Where do we live? Vietnam, a land of paradox. Everyday we see absurdity in great abundance. In another place, it may never be too late to do something, but here in Vietnam, things are simply DIFFERENT. At the age of 28, be in another place, you ought to see life just begin with so many things unknown lying ahead for you to experiment. You are young, you are still new to many things, and you are in the process of gathering life experience. But that is not the case in Vietnam. In this place, it is definitely too late for a woman of 28 to have a happy life.  At 28, you are just too late to start a new career, to seek a new love, or to make a home; in other words, you do not have a chance to lead a happy life anymore. You can’t embark in life once more when all other ‘ordinary’ women of your age have already had “a stable life”: leaving work on time every weekday, going to Metropol supermarket every weekend, buying new clothes and dressing up for themselves and their beloved children, feeding their children, watching the children growing up to become like their parents, satisfactorily relying their life on an economic provider - their husband. It’s totally absurd if they seek pleasure in something else aside from family.  

You know what, friend, I have experienced gloomy days just like you. But unlike yours, my heart was not empty, instead it was full of hatred. In my twentieths, I saw the life ahead as a dark black night. At 22, I wrote for myself, “Life treats me as though I were a dog. Yes, I am. But this dog will survive.” At 24, alone I wandered over streets, whispering to myself, “Angie, Angie, when will those dark clouds disappear? With no loving in our souls, and no money in our coats...”. I lived such days. Believe me, I felt what you are feeling now when you go under a severe spiritual (or mental) crisis. In the prime of youth I grew up a lot from hatred, but hatred also left scars on my soul like the scars I have on my face. I became a skeptic and cynic, and I lost all confidence I once had. No God, no Buddha, no one even me, did I believe in.

You must know it, friend, that we belong to a lost generation, we’ve lost so many things and it’s all too late for us to get them back. Why? Because the world is round, because the wind is high, because the sky is blue, because we live here in a land of no freedom. “Stop complaining. Who told you a calf to be?”