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Visiting Vietnam in 1953, Norman Lewis quoted a despairing French soldier, Captain Doustin, “It is the feeling I get at this moment that we are at grips with something ant-like rather than human. These unemotional people driven on by some blind instinct. I feel that my intelligence and my endurance are not enough. Take, for instance, those fellows they send up to dig holes close to the wire, before an attack. You’d expect them to show some human reaction when our supporting guns start dropping shells among them, but they don’t. They go on digging until they’re killed, and then some other kind of specialist fellows come crawling up and drag the bits and pieces away. Some time later that night you know the shock-troops are going to come up and get into those holes and then you’re for it. Losses simply don’t bother them. All they’re concerned about is not leaving anything behind. They actually tie a piece of cord to every machine gun, so that as soon as the chap who is using it gets knocked out it can be hauled back to safety.”

Vietnamese have often been compared to ants or other insects, and sometimes they also see themselves as such, but entirely positively, for the ant is much more powerful than its size would suggest, and working together, can move a much larger animal’s carcass. Every Vietnamese child has seen ants transport a dead gecko.

Captain Doustin’s foes are the Viet Minh. Though dominated by Communists, their appeal was primarily nationalistic, for the Vietnamese are anything but globalist or internationalist, which is essentially a Western delusion, as exemplified by Christianity, Communism and Neo-Liberalism. Orientals don’t try to save or convert strangers, and they certainly don’t think any system would constitute an ideal world. That’s a Western insanity or con, deployed to mask plunder and tyranny.

Like most ethnic groups, Vietnamese are only rooted and loyal to their family, language, heritage and native land, roughly in that order. Deeply provincial, they’re only willing to fight to the death to defend what they’ve always known and been, and not for any ideology.

Though the French confidently predicted they would be here for at least a thousand years, not many actually cared to settle in this sultry and deeply alien environment, and the Moroccans and Senegalese they brought were merely transients, not that they left very favorable impressions or would be missed.

Lewis, “A huge effort was being made [by the French] to strengthen the defences on this side of the small town, and engaged on this were several hundred Vietnamese civilian suspects, kept hard at it by a number of gigantic Senegalese soldiers who rushed among them screaming abuse and lashing out with their switches.”

In a year, the French, Moroccans and Senegalese would all be killed or kicked out, and most importantly, through a century of colonialism, Vietnam did not suffer any permanent demographic distortion or damage, but quite the reverse, actually, for many Vietnamese were moved into Laos and Cambodia, though many would be slaughtered or chased from Cambodia in the 70’s.

When French rule seemed most enduring in 1924, a leading Vietnamese intellectual, Phạm Quỳnh, declared, “Truyen Kieu [a 19th century epic poem] remains, our language remains. Our language remains, our nation remains,” so a nation is defined as people who speak the same language and cherish a common culture, as symbolized by their most famous poem, so where does that leave Americans and their nationhood?

Having met quite a few non-natives who tried to speak Vietnamese, I can only count maybe three, two Americans and a German, who have done so convincingly. By contrast, English is fluently spoken by people all over, especially in Iceland, Holland, Germany and Singapore, etc., so its near global status has actually weakened Americans’ sense of identity and nationhood. In language, so many aliens are sort of American. American culture is also too promiscuously disseminated, so it’s nothing special, really, just a soft drink constantly guzzled and pissed out by everybody and his near-blind, senile grandma. For you to meet in Budapest, say, some guy who speaks excellent English and understands tons of American cultural references is not the same as, for me, to run into a Vietnamese on Rakoczi Avenue.

English is also allowing America’s greatest rival, China, to benefit from America’s vast body of knowledge and its educational system, for thousands of Chinese are enrolled in American universities, studying the hard sciences. Terrified by these bright and committed students, Americans flee into departments of woke, woe me and fuck-you-whities studies, where they can more comfortably rub elbows with tight-jeaned posers, affirmative action idiots and jocks.

In Philly, I had a Hong Kong-born friend, George, who told me Chinese have set up American schools that enroll thousands of Chinese, so they can get a student visa to come to the US, so it’s a win-win situation, for every Chinese involved.

In Ann Arbor, I met another Hong Kong native. She sold houses to Chinese, so they could enroll their kids in local high schools for free. Working his ass off, a local tax payer can subsidize the education of a privileged son of a Chinese millionaire, so what’s not to like, if you’re Chinese?

A Chinese can own as many American houses as he wants, even if he’s not a resident. By contrast, an American can only buy a single home in China, after he’s been in the country for a year. Preempting a legal takeover, many nations don’t allow foreigners to own properties, period, and that’s why the late Joe Bageant, for example, had to ghost purchase his Belizean cottage. Thanks to favorable local laws, Chinese now own huge chunks of the San Francisco Bay Area, Vancouver, Toronto, Sidney and Melbourne, etc. Aukland was on this list, until legislators decided last year to block foreign property purchases, but hey, isn’t this, like, xenophobic and, uh, racist? Like muskrats, prairie dog or ants, men have always defended and protected land for their kind only, however that’s defined, so if you reject New Zealand for New Zealanders, then you yourself are doomed, unless you’re Chinese!

Speaking of xenophobia and racism, there’s an ethno, apartheid state that’s the world’s greatest sponsor of terrorism since its violent founding, but don’t you dare kvetch about this most sacred of nations, for six gazillion of them were once fulminated to death by you all, if not actively then passively, but soon as you sniff for the evidence, you’ll find that it’s as gaseous as Elie Wiesel, Ann Frank or Jerzy Kosinski.

A common curse of empire is that your language, culture and, eventually, even land will become progressively less your own. Mere decades after their occupations of Vietnam, both France and the US have become more diminished and diluted than the nation they momentarily subjugated. As for Communism, its cultural and psychic violence have been all but neutralized, so that Vietnamese can more or less just be themselves, in all their glories and absurdities. Vietnamese have more control over their self-definition than Frenchmen or Americans.

The USA is doubly cursed, moreover, for even at its peak as an empire, it was also a colony, of Israel, so that American soldiers haven’t just been sent all over to kill and die for the American empire, which should not be confused with the American nation, but also for Israel. Duped into so many conflicts that did not benefit the American nation, many Americans have been sapped of the will to fight any war, even one that would save them.

• Category: Foreign Policy, History • Tags: Identity, Nationalism, Vietnam 
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I painted houses for a decade, and on our crews, we always knew of each other’s relative competence, willingness to work, sense of responsibility, substance addictions, if any, and, ultimately, character. My roommate, Jay, for example, really didn’t give a fuck, for he was often late, but somehow always rehired, for our boss, Joe LeBlanc, was a softie. Once, Jay and I left our rather pitiful, unheated apartment at exactly the same time, yet Jay somehow managed to miss the bus, thus work for that day.

Chuck was a narcoleptic who had gotten into a car accident, so was more or less one-armed, but still, he was a pretty good worker, and always cheerful. Standing on a 40-footer, Chuck exclaimed, “Hey, who farted?!” Many a poet have never come up with a more memorable instance of philosophy and wit. Pure Zen. If he hadn’t wiped himself out, along with a car or busload of innocents, I hope Chuck is doing well.

Smooth was a junkie, so moved very slowly, hence his nickname. Joe paid him accordingly.

Laura could never make it up any ladder taller than herself, so only scraped or painted baseboards and first floor windows. In the kinder and gentler working environment of the 80’s and early 90’s, even a fat broad could join a housepainting crew.

I’m sure I must have talked about at least some of the above characters, but as you get older, you repeat yourself, not because you’ve run out of stories, far from it, but that some have imprinted themselves so strongly, to become iconic in your mind. Milan Kundera says that from all of our sexual experiences, only two or three encounters linger persistently. Something like that. Broke, I sold that book a long time ago.

Now that I’m a foreman at a plastic recycling plant, memories and habits from my housepainting days return, and though Ea Kly is 10,000 miles from Philly, I can readily detect, once again, similar character types, as in who move fast and efficiently, who lumber along, and who are just faking it.

My brother in law brought me in so I could, in his place, observe what was going on, and immediately, I recommended letting a loafer go, and this even before I knew Tuan had a raging drinking problem. Like Joe LeBlanc, my brother in law is a softie, so he hesitated, but Tuan promptly fired himself this week. Hung over, Tuan missed two days without saying anything to me, and not only that, he drunkenly called our bookkeeper in the middle of the night to demand that he be paid in full immediately, for he was quitting. Sobering up, he came to me to apologize, but it was too late. “I have marital problems, brother Linh, and that’s why I drink.” Much of the world, then, men and women, would be boozing nonstop. Even Tuan’s wife, Thu, who is also employed by us, is not defending this charming dude.

One of Thu’s duties is to cook for up to six people, whoever happen to live at the recycling plant at the time. We have an improvised kitchen of two hot plates. Lunch and dinner are served on the floor. The dishes are washed in a courtyard out back, with the pots hung up on a wire fence to dry. Twice a day, the neighbor’s dogs drop by to eat our food scraps, and sometimes even a chicken forages around. The cow, love of my life, merely looks on.

My wife is in Saigon working for her sister. Our marriage is strengthened, or at least saved, by these spells apart. Knowing that I’m alone, a few of our workers are joking that I should look for a local mate. While women like to gossip or fantasize about other people coupling, most men only conjecture themselves in action. Lien, a woman in her early 30’s, joked to me after work, “We have a few middle-aged women here. You should get yourself one, uncle.”

“Oh, I’m old, sister, so I don’t need an old woman. How tiresome is that?! I need someone young, even the youngest. Now, that would be a good match!”

“There’s Coi [Tiny].”

I had no idea who Coi was, but I went along with it, “That sounds great!” Just as in Philly, the Vietnamese working class will joke and banter most inappropriately, for it makes their long, exhausting day goes a little faster.

One of our best employees is Vinh, a mother of four. Tough and responsible, she’s the perfect supervisor. At home, she grows a few crops, keeps a few goats, chickens and two cows. Eight days ago, she limped into work after hurting her foot doing some farm work. Take a few days off, we suggested, until you feel better, and when she didn’t return after a week, a couple of us dropped by with a small gift of money, as is customary, to help Vinh recover. We have some sad houses in this village, and hers is among the most dismal, I was rather surprised to see, since I have talked to her boastful husband, Binh, a a few times. I thought they were we doing OK, at least.

Vinh’s two kids still living at home were dressed very shabbily, with the girl, about twelve, had on a dirty T-shirt with a smiling cartoon figure, with this bizarre English caption, “What Shall I Make for Dinner?”

We found Vinh bedridden, and about to go to the hospital. Binh whispered to me that his wife had “female problems,” a situation that had persisted for years, so it’s not the injured foot that had kept her home.

Within hours, however, I found out that there was a huge commotion at their miserable shack recently, that Binh had likely beaten his wife, as he has done many times before, and, moreover, that he’s a good for nothing who gambles compulsively, and that’s why they’re broke. Worse, they’ll soon be kicked off their small plot, since it’s slated for some development. Though they’ve been fairly compensated for it, that money is long gone, to pay off Binh’s gambling debts.

As we erected our factory, Binh came by in the middle of the night to steal some of our gravel, a fact overlooked by my brother in law, since he didn’t want to make enemies among the locals.

Unlike the Vietnamese, the Rade are matriarchal, meaning women own and inherit all properties, and a husband must move into his in-laws’ household, so there must be many Rade women who get to pummel their husbands.

Since there are Vietnamese laws against domestic abuses, Vinh can go to the authorities for help, but she doesn’t want to see her asshole husband go to jail, thus breaking up the family. Plus, she wants to maintain a facade of marital concord, as if the entire village doesn’t already know.

Some Vietnamese women take matters into their own hands, and this week, there’s a news item about a Thanh Hoa woman who kept her husband in a cage for three years, for he was a heroin and crystal meth junkie who had often beaten her and their two kids, she defiantly explains to authorities. “I cured him.” She never mistreated him, she elaborates, for she always fed him properly, and even gave him a glass of beer with each meal.

• Category: Economics • Tags: Poverty, Vietnam 
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During a late night layover in Minneapolis a decade ago, I found myself in a McDonald’s. Manning the cash register was a chubby black woman, and the ordering customer was a black flight attendant who was young, thin and pretty, how all American air stewardesses used to look, before the ageism lawsuits. In Asia, they’re still uniformly pleasing to the eyes. Help wanted ads in Vietnam often specify whether they want men or women, and in what age range. In this totalitarian state, people can hire whomever they want.

Under the harsh McDonald’s lights, the black women chattered. “You must have been many places!”


“Have you been to Las Vegas?”

“Many times,” she smiled.

“Wow! How about Miami?”

“I’ve been there too.”

At the adjacent cash register was another black woman. Looking in admiration at the air stewardess, she chimed in, “Have you been to Hawaii?”

“Yes, I’ve been to Hawaii. And what about you?” she asked both of them. “Where have you visited?”

“Well, I’ve been to Milwaukee a couple of times, and Chicago once.”

“I’ve also been to Chicago,” the chubby one said. “Your life is so exciting! I want to go to Las Vegas!”

“You will,” the air stewardess unconvincingly answered, took her Big Mac and walked away. Toiling for minimum wage, the other two looked on.

I was reminded of this airport scene when I talked to an Ea Kly woman this week. In her early 30’s, Hien is an employee at our plastic recycling plant.

Hearing me talk, she asked me, “Are you from Thai Binh?” All Vietnamese immediately try to locate your origin from your accent. How close are you to me? they want to know.

“No, but my father is from Nam Dinh,” one province over.

“I’m from Thai Binh, but I’ve lost my roots.”

“You don’t go back?”

“I’ve been there just once. The bus ride made me sick. I will never go back.”


“Never. I will never go anywhere again.” The mother of three smiled.

A Vietnamese would identify with his ancestral province or village, even if he’s never been there. Saigon-born, I still declare myself a person from Nam Dinh or, even more specifically, Bui Chu, as did a Philadelphian I met two years ago on Kensington Avenue. We established a bond.

A settler nation founded by immigrants, with thousands more arriving each day, the United States is populated by people who have forsaken their roots. Not only that, they’re reluctant to establish new ones, or prevented from doing so, in their new nation. Thanks to constant demographic upheaval across the land, hardly any American neighborhood, much less city, can retain its social identity for more than a generation.

Whitman sang of the open road, Kerouac free jazzed across America and the road movie has become an iconic genre in this seemingly endless land of mesmerizing mirages. Swooning, swaggering and flexing, Americans barrel down their once-well-paved, multi-laned freedom way, towards the always beckoning, sunset-lit horizon, right into an oceanic, paradisal grave, as Chinese belch, fart and laugh.

My hamlet, Ea Kly, is actually the United States writ tiny, for it was virgin land just four decades ago, according to the Vietnamese, although the Rade were already here, and it’s now overrun with outsiders. At our recycling plant, we have an old man, Cuc, who was among the earliest Vietnamese settlers. Since Cuc only makes eight bucks a day, one might expect the dark, wiry man to dwell in a simple shack, but no, it’s a well-built, high-ceilinged and reasonably spacious house for two, with a bit of land around it. The flat roof is an ample courtyard with concrete railing, and there’s a side veranda, though held up by just one pitifully thin Greek column.

Inside, the furniture is of a heavy wood. Invited into his living room, I stared at a framed photo of some impressive looking man in a military uniform, “Wow, who is this guy?”

“That’s me!”

“That’s you?! I thought it was some big shot!”

Laughing, Cuc flashed his many brown teeth.

“So where did you serve?” I asked.

“Right here. We fought the FULRO. We got rid of them all!” He grinned. “I’m lucky they didn’t send me to Cambodia. If a hundred men went, two came back. They killed us every which way, poisoned our food. I’m lucky.”

“So did you get land here for your military service?”

“Everybody got land. There was nothing here. If you were willing to clear the land, the government would give you a plot. I got extra land, though, because I had an uncle who was a colonel.”

Injuns vanquished, Cuc stumbles towards the grave in a place boasting nothing more than a dozen forlorn eateries and a newly opened plastic recycling plant. Three times a day, he sneaks into his funky bathroom to down quick shots of rice wine, away from his wife’s frown.

Sick of this no-horse town, his three kids have moved far away, and only return during Tet. In Cuc’s living room, their wedding photos angle down, crowding a framed, yellowing proverb, “A father’s labor is mountain sized, a mother’s love an endless stream.”

Ten years ago, Cuc parceled off two lots from his land, sold them to newcomers, but now knows he has jumped the gun. “Timing is everything,” Cuc rues, “and each man has his fate.” Long past his days of cradling an AK-47, pop popping away, Cuc stoops a little as he hauls bag after bag of plastic garbage.

Three years younger than Cuc, I look ancient enough, at least to the young, pretty women at our recycling plant. The current Miss Vietnam hails from a village just 20 miles away, and I can certainly attest that this area teems with lookers. Surrounded by plastic trash, one asked, “How old are you, uncle?”

“Fifty five.”

“But your eyesight is pretty bad, right?” They have all seen me squint at just about everything.

“Bad enough.”

“My father is three years younger than you, but he’s in great shape. It’s because he worked in the field all his life.”

Thinking too much doesn’t just wear down the mind, but body, soul and wallet, especially if done in 1984 America.

It takes centuries for a place to accrue gravity and resonance, where every stone remembers and every brick speaks, so Ea Kly is still very much an improvised frontier, but as new as this Vietnamese hamlet is, and it doesn’t get any newer, Ea Kly already feels more grounded than any American neighborhood I lived in, whether in Tacoma, Salem, San Jose, Annandale or even South Philadelphia, where I spent nearly three decades. One can easily spend a decade or two in an American place and not know anything about its past characters and anecdotes, so the only shared history one has is made up mostly of tales of exploits by corporate sport stars and favorite scenes from TV shows. Born into alienation, many Americans have never experienced anything but, so they bristle at mere suggestions that life can possibly be less virtual.

Instead of living locked-in lives drip-fed mostly by distant, brainwashing media, people in Ea Kly are constantly intertwined, whether at home, work or play, so all day long they rub against each other, and stories flow from each. Just parachuted in, I’ve heard confessions from the high school principal, a teacher, a driver, a cafe owner who used to sell insecticides and fertilizers, a wine distiller, a couple with a drink stand and a tiny tailor shop, and a bumbling plumber who’s just as inept at raising cows, etc. Thanks to the last, I was suddenly invited to a beef feast yesterday, for a calf of his had slipped down an embankment and choked on its own rope.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Vietnam 
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Since my time is tight and often interrupted, I will file these hit-and-run, guerrilla pieces. I’m the only one in this roadside, wall-less and dirt-floored cafe. Walking here, I paused to pet my neighbor’s cow, who’s taken an extreme liking to me. Lovingly, she licked my hand and arm with her sandpaper tongue and even bit yours truly lightly, the frisky bitch. The wind blows. It’s getting brisk in the Central Highlands.

Ea Kly has its charms, of which I’ll discuss more soon, since I’m marooned here, but today I want to talk about another hill town, Da Lat. It’s one of the cleanest and most Catholic places in Vietnam, and perhaps the most stylish and elegant. Is there some causation here?

One of my uncles was a doctor in Da Lat, so I spent extended time there as a child, before 1975. This past week, I revisited this beauty. Strolling for miles up and down its hills, I was struck by the neatness of its houses, streets and alleys, and everyone, even the poorest, tended to dress more carefully and consciously than elsewhere in Vietnam. In the always hot Mekong Delta, many people have never owned a pair of shoes, socks, gloves or a jacket, but in Da Lat, several layers of clothing are often necessary before you step outside. Heat encourages nudity and a more savage state. Naked all day long, Adam and Eve must have lived in Tonga or Hawaii. The colder the weather, the more decisions you’ll have to make about your appearance, as in which scarf and knit hat should I wear this afternoon?

The weather, though, is but one factor in Da Lat’s stylishness. The French built this town from scratch during World War I, when colonials needed a cool place to chillax but couldn’t embark for home. Although there are only a few French villas or public buildings left, their architectural influences show up all over, and not just overtly, as in the hip roofs, balustraded balconies, flower boxes beneath double casement windows or arched trellises over gates, etc., but in the general understatedness of Da Lat’s buildings, its fine lines and angles, and nuanced proportion. In Saigon, the rich favor ostentatious gates in garish gold, but in Da Lat, you can still tell who’s loaded without being screamed at by an obnoxious entrance.

Defining the ideal existence, Vietnamese used to say, “Eat Chinese food, live in a French house, marry a Japanese wife.” Online, there’s a comment, “This saying only adds to the humiliation of the Vietnamese. We don’t achieve anything, but only favor the foreign.”

On the seven-hour car ride to Da Lat, I passed so many churches, all festive with string lights, star lanterns, flags and nativity scenes, which were also displayed at many private businesses. Gates and banners proclaimed, “Joy at God’s Birth on Earth.” Skeletal Christmas trees lined streets and Santa Clauses added cheers. It’s a bit ironic, I thought, that in Communist, supposedly Godless and traditionally Buddhist Vietnam, there is a more overt and widespread celebration of Jesus’ birth than in America.

From 1975 until 2018, I definitely witnessed not just a progressive diminution of Christmas in America, but an increasing hostility to Christianity, from the sustained deification of a slut with a holy name, Madonna, to the much ballyhooed and remunerative Piss Christ, which is a photo of a crucifix dunk in the artist’s yellowish red urine. One of Madonna’s biggest hits, Like a Prayer, features a video of her dry-humping a black saint in a church. All the other blacks are celebratory, joyous and life-affirming, while all the whites, except for Madonna, are racist, evil and violent. But hey, there’s no ideology behind any of this! It’s just a healthy and organic evolution in thinking, and what the audience can’t help but crave, if they have their heads screwed on straight.

I’m wondering if Da Lat’s relative cleanliness and orderliness can be attributed to its high number of Catholics, with their constant stress on personal responsibility and guilt, and their intimate awareness of their community, through their parish? At least once a week, Catholics pray with their immediate neighbors. By contrast, most Vietnamese who identify as Buddhists have an extremely nebulous, if not chaotic, religious life, for they study no sacred text and receive no religious instructions. In their homes, there is usually not even a statue of the Buddha, but only of a standing goddess, Kuan Yin, who is almost always referred to, most generically, as Mrs.

A typical Vietnamese Buddhist’s theology is a jumble of folk beliefs and superstitions, and I’ll cite a familial example: when my mother-in-law got sick recently after a trip, she didn’t blame it on something she ate, the long ride, the weather or her aging constitution, but the fact that she had gotten into a black car, “I knew something was wrong when I saw that black car.” I’ve also seen her pray at a Cao Dai temple and a Hindu one. Granted, many Catholics also believe in heathen magic, as in a fear of the evil eye, but they’re grounded, in theory at least, by the New Testament.

In early April of 1975, my uncle’s family showed up in our Saigon home, for Da Lat had fallen. A few days later, a rogue South Vietnamese pilot bombed the Presidential Palace, just a quarter mile from my school, La San Taberd. Like all Catholic schools, it would soon be confiscated by the new regime.

My uncle’s family managed to get out as Saigon fell, and in the US, they were sponsored by a black family in Mobile, Alabama. These kind folks took in six complete strangers, from an entirely different culture, with no common language, and this amazing generosity occurred all over America, for there were 125,000 Vietnamese refugees that needed to be resettled, in 1975 alone. Whenever I brought up this fact years later, no American knew what I was talking about.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Christianity, Vietnam 
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In Bangkok for Miss Universe 2018, Miss Cambodia and Miss Vietnam made international news when they were idiotically mocked by Miss USA for not knowing English. The Vietnamese beauty, H’Hen Nie, is a Rade from Dak Lak, a province well-known to many American Vietnam War vets, but otherwise not often seen by foreigners. Its waterfalls and elephants don’t attract too many tourists, who prefer to crowd the beaches in Nha Trang, one province over.

Typing this, I’m lying on the floor, with mouse droppings inches from my laptop, in Dak Lak. It has been raining, often fiercely, for more than 24 hours. Outside my brownish steel doors are huge nylon sacks of plastic trash, or just trash. I’m working as a foreman at my brother-in-law’s plastic recycling plant, and living in the back of it. Tripping towards old age, I must make minimal provisions. It’s really cascading outside.

We have 30 employees, 23 women and seven men. The women’s main tasks are sorting the plastic pieces according to types and colors, and making sure no metal is left in them before they’re fed into the pelletizing machine. To remove metal, these small but tough women use a hammer or meat cleaver, mostly, but sometimes a screw driver or plier. Banging away for hours is grueling work, obviously.

Men load and unload heavy bags from trucks, operate the pelletizing machine. When men work together, even the smallest and weakest must suck it up and hump as much and as long as the rest, for to quit would be too humiliating. Sport teams, construction crews and armies all operate on this principle. Our hardiest male employee is also the shortest and scrawniest.

The women earned $6.82 a day, but their paces were slow, so now they’re paid by how many kilograms of plastic garbage they clear, which I track. Moving much faster, many routinely make more than $8.58 a day. The men are paid between $7.72 and $8.58. Around here, $6.43 daily is considered a decent wage, and most people don’t have to worry about rent, mortgage or property taxes.

The women prefer working here to the coffee plantations or lumber yards, since it’s inside and requires no heavy lifting. When a Rade woman was fired for repeatedly making mistakes, she threatened to bring her entire village down to take care of our manager, but nothing came of it.

Since the temperature inside the plant ranges from cool to moderately hot, it’s odd to see all the women well-wrapped up, so that only their eyes are visible. Perhaps they’ve retained this habit from toiling outside, where the dreaded sun will turn their skin darker, which they hate.

This town, Ea Kly, has around 20,000 people. Near our recycling plant, there’s a café with hammocks, so sometimes I go there to lie down, or to type. The owner used to serve beer, but she stopped when locals kept complaining about her price of 52 cents for a can of Saigon.

She only charges 34 cents for hot coffee with condensed milk, a Vietnamese standard, but it’s never hot. In Saigon, no one would put up with this, but we’re in remote, end of the road Ea Kly, OK, so just chill. In Hanoi, too, I’ve been served tepid coffee as “hot,” so it’s sort of a northern thing. From her accent, I can immediately tell the Ea Kly lady is a northerner. Decades of hard-core Communism degraded all northern foods and drinks, so that the worst pho on earth is actually in Hanoi, its birthplace.

It took a dozen visits before I found out the lady’s specialty is rice wine, home distilled, “I had to make my own because all the suppliers I tried were so inconsistent,” for they would use cheaper ingredients, hasten the process, cut corners. Though her wine has become famous locally, she won’t sell it in bulk, for fear it will be diluted or swapped, thus ruining her reputation.

She and her husband moved to Ea Kly in 1982, and back then, the FULRO insurgents were still very active. FULRO stands for Front Unifié pour la Libération des Races Opprimées. Rade, Cham and Cambodians made up the bulk of their membership, but there were also Bahnar, Jarai and K’Ho fighters, all unified by their hatred of the Vietnamese, who had stolen their lands.

You, too, are living on stolen land, and the fact that you’re still here means your heroically murderous ancestors have wiped out plenty of people, or at least their cultures. Physical war may be sporadic, but culture war is constant, and what’s at stake, always, is self-definition. The most common, persistent and insidious war is the fight between nations, often inside the same borders, over self-definition. Countless men have been willing to die to protect their nation’s ability to define itself. If you lose sight of this objective, you’re already defeated.

The café owner’s husband tells me, “When I first moved here, the FULRO would occasionally show up to collect rice, but what they needed most were medicines. Hunger, they could handle, but not being sick in the jungle.”

“Did they kill Vietnamese civilians?”

“No, not when I was here. They were in trouble. Our government is very good at maintaining security. The FULRO were being chased around, so they couldn’t set up base camps and grow vegetables, like our soldiers did during the war. A couple of times, drunk FULRO even walked down the middle of the road, shouting, ‘We’ll take this land back!’”

“So what happened?”

“We never saw those guys again!”

“What do you mean?”

“The government got them, I’m sure. We had plants inside all the minority villages.”

If it wasn’t for the Vietnamese, the Cham would not be aligned with the Rade, Bahnar and K’Ho, but subjugate and assimilate them into Champa, which once took up most of central Vietnam. These obscure and nearly obliterated nations should remind you that your nation, also, can easily meet the same fate.

With the Vietnamese, me included, surging into Dak Lak, the Rade have become a minority here. Most still live in their own villages, which I’ve been advised to stay clear of. Many Rade are employed by Vietnamese, so I often see them going to work, sitting on the flat beds of tractor trucks. In our plastic recycling plant, we also have a handful of Rade employees.

Near the end of a long day, the sweating men are taking a brief break, during which one Rade spoke to another in their language, which prompted a Vietnamese to shout, “Stop speaking Chinese! We can’t understand it!”

Second Vietnamese, “That’s not Chinese. That’s Rade!”

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Vietnam 
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Beating Malaysia, Vietnam has just been crowned the soccer champion of Southeast Asia. With its short men boasting negligible muscles, this corner of the world is not known for its athletic prowess, so the world took no notice of this prize, understandably. Champion Vietnam is only ranked 100 by FIFA, but it took considerable effort just to be bad, and I’m not slinging Ebonics here. “We’re number 100!!!”

Discussing the Malaysian team, a Vietnamese article stated that “they’re so black and strong.” Frankly racist, this observation is amply confirmed by most athletic contests, at least those that don’t require snow or a broom. Besides its darker-skinned Indians, Malaysia also had a Gambian, Mohamadou Sumareh, who had been naturalized after five years in the country, and it’s no surprise that the blackest man on the pitch was the best built and imposing.

The tallest, though, was the Vietnamese goalkeeper, Đặng Văn Lâm, whose birth name is actually Lev Shonovich Dang, for he was born in Moscow to a Vietnamese father and Russian mother. Though Lâm only returned to Vietnam to live at age 17, he speaks Vietnamese comfortably. This hasn’t stopped fans from calling him Lâm Tây [Western Lâm]. After the victory, the affable 25-year-old asked that this be changed to Lâm Ta [Vietnamese Lâm or Our Lâm].

The fact that Malaysia had an imported Gambian was seen by some Vietnamese fans as a bit unfair, but consider the case of Liu Ja. China-born, this table tennis player came to Austria at age 17, and was granted citizenship just 11 months later, in time to represent Austria at the 1998 European Youth Championships, where she won three golds.

Watching an Olympic ping pong match, one often sees China-born Chinese competing against other China-born Chinese, but representing any number of countries, so Zhen “Eugene” Wang vs. Ahmet Li is Canada vs. Turkey, Xue Li vs. Jie Li is France vs. Netherlands, Xia Lian Ni vs. Feng Tian Wei is Luxembourg vs. Singapore, Zhiwen “Juanito” He vs. Zengyi Wang is Spain vs. Poland, etc. (If I was Mr. He, I would not take kindly to be called Juanito, but at least it’s not Chinito, and grandpa was already 54-years-young in Rio de Janeiro.) You also have the Vanuatuan Yoshua Shing, Qatari Ping Li, Dutch Jiao Li, German Ying Han, Portuguese Fu Yu, Polish Qian Li, Ukrainian Lei Kou, Congolese Xing Han and so on. Yes, Chinese are everywhere, and I’m not talking about Chinese immigration here, but merely pointing out how malleable the concept of citizenship has become.

The United States used to have much more stringent citizenship requirements, for which it was praised in a 1925 book, “At present there exists one State which manifests at least some modest attempts that show a better appreciation of how things ought to be done in this matter. It is not, however, in our model German Republic but in the U.S.A. that efforts are made to conform at least partly to the counsels of commonsense. By refusing immigrants to enter there if they are in a bad state of health, and by excluding certain races from the right to become naturalized as citizens, they have begun to introduce principles similar to those on which we wish to ground the People’s State.” Oops, it’s Adolf Hitler speaking, so tight border control is definitely Fascism!

Even half Germans can play pretty good soccer, though. Before meeting Malaysia, Vietnam beat Philippines, a team with players named Straus, Schrock, Mulders, Reichelt, Steuble and Ott, as well as half Aryan Etheridge, Falkesgaard, Woodland, Palla, Ramsay, Reed and Younghusband. Some with a Filipino-sounding name also turned out to be non-native. Murga and Silva are half Spanish and born in Spain, and Ingreso was hatched in Hamburg to a German mother. On the pitch, most of the Filipino players didn’t even look half, but completely white.

With their mostly half-white roster, one can conclude that Filipinos themselves have decided, inescapably, that white genes improve their soccer competitiveness, though not enough, for now, to defeat the very yellow Vietnamese team. Philippines has been ranked as low as 195 (in 2006), astounding for a country of 105 million.

Basketball, not soccer, is the Philippines’ favorite sport, however, and on their national team, there have been a few black Americans, such as 6-11 center Marcus Douthit. Even third-rate black B-ballers can become stars in Europe and Asia, so Douthit, even at age 38, is employed as the starting center for the Hanoi Buffaloes, for there aren’t any 6-11 Vietnamese guys out there, much less one with those long legs, arms and musculature.

Many whites have gotten in trouble for pointing out the obvious advantages blacks generally have over whites in most sports. In 1993, Dale Lick’s candidacy for president of Michigan State University was torpedoed when these statements, made four years earlier, were revealed:

A black athlete can actually outjump a white athlete on the average, so they’re better at the game [of basketball]. All you need to do is turn to the NCAA playoffs in basketball to see that the bulk of the players on those outstanding teams are black.

The same is true for football. The muscle structure of the black athlete typically is more suited for certain positions in football and basketball.

Well, this yellow man has no problems admitting that your average black American teenager can outrun, outjump, outslam and outjizz 99% of Vietnamese men, and there’s no shame in this, for we all have different gifts. Plus, athletic abilities don’t necessarily equate to a successful life or society.

One of the Vietnamese names for the United States is Hiệp Chủng Quốc, Nation of Many Races, and though this country has had the best and most sustained opportunity to observe racial differences, Americans are terrified to talk about them in polite company, for to do so is to be immediately branded as a racist.

If breeding a Vietnamese with a Russian gives Vietnam its tallest, most commanding and best goalie, and coupling Filipinas with whites yields most of the Philippines’ soccer team, one can reasonably conclude that, as far as soccer goes, white genetics are superior to Southeast ones, and this is perennially corroborated by FIFA rankings, and the fact that no Southeast Asian team has ever made the World Cup.

Despite all contrary evidences, there is an increasingly militant belief, among certain people, that there are no racial or even sexual differences, so for discussing black crime and black dysfunction, I’m being branded all over the internet as a hater of blacks and a racist, and for pointing out that a man wearing a dress is still man, since he still has a penis, I’m marked as a homophobe and transphobe, and for raging against Jewish power, which has killed millions, destroyed several countries, deformed many others and is the greatest threat to world peace right now, I’m tarred and feathered as an anti-Semite. Worst, I’ve committed the unforgivable sin for questioning the official version of the Holocaust, so I’m just a “Nazi shit” and a “Fascist,” though I’ve spent much of my writing career condemning state power.

Instead of debating me, my enemies are simply calling me names, with some contacting my publishers to harass them into ceasing the publication of my books, so who are the Fascists here? Sickeningly, this is what America has become, a nation of too many totalitarian-minded sheep who don’t even know they’re being manipulated into destroying their own country.

• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Political Correctness, Race, Sports, Vietnam 
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Last month, I was interviewed by Jamejam Daily, an Iranian newspaper. Below is the English version:

There are calls inside and outside the country that Iranian officials would do well to get real about the US demands and drink the coup of poison sooner rather than later. They say the US “maximum pressure campaign” has already inflicted acute strains on Iran’s economy. What’s your view? What should Iran do? Will Iran prove capable of enduring the sanctions?

The US is withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal because of pressure from Israel, that’s all. As long as Israel exists, Iran will be targeted. Israel was behind the American war against Iraq and Libya, and it’s seeking to destroy Syria and Iran also. Israel was founded on terror, and is maintained by terror, so peace won’t come to the Middle East until Israel disappears.

The renewal of American sanctions against Iran is causing problems to the entire world, not just Iran, and that’s why it will end up hurting America the most. There are all these countries that need to trade with Iran, and many will continue to do so, in defiance of the USA. Already, America is forced to allow China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey to buy Iranian oil, at least for six more months. This, after it has threatened to reduce Iranian oil export to zero!

European countries are talking about setting up an alternative to the SWIFT payment system, and it will happen, for the world needs to bypass American control and interference, not just in this instance, but for the future.

US officials have openly talked about the need for regime change in Iran. It seems they currently hope that the Iranian people will distance from the government and pressure for change from within the country will yield results. Are such hopes realistic? Will the US see the end of the Islamic Republic without shooting even a single bullet?

By waging economic war against Iran, the US and its Israeli master are hoping to sow discord and division with Iran, but no Iranian should believe the American rhetoric about human rights and democracy. The US has been demonizing not just Iran, but all Muslims, for decades, so it’s not aiming to help Iranians, but destroy them. Look at what’s happening to Syria. When the US attacked Iraq, Syria accepted hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, but now, Syrians themselves are fleeing their homeland. I saw many of these refugees, including children, begging on the streets of Istanbul.

Preaching freedom and democracy, America brings death and destruction. Look at what’s happening in Ukraine. When I visited Kiev, I saw people, including old women, kneeling on the sidewalks, begging, in the middle of the winter, as snow was falling. America brings war and economic collapse, and it would love nothing more than to see Iran destroyed.

Some believe Iran and its allies will be able to shape the new world order in case they manage to resist the US pressure and pass the current stage. What’s your take on that?

As led by China and Russia, the Eurasian landmass is becoming economically integrated, and Iran is a key player in this, thanks to its oil, natural gas, size and geographical location. Although hampered for decades by American-led sanctions, Iran still has one of the strongest economies in the Middle East.

Iran will certainly survive these sanctions, which are already cracking. By standing up to the US and Israel, Iran is setting an admirable example to the rest of the world, and its stature will only increase as the American empire declines further.

Linh Dinh’s latest book is Postcards from the End of America. He maintains a regularly updated photo blog.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Iran, Israel Lobby 
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Generally seen as highly homogenous, Japan is changing fast. In Tokyo, Kawasaki and Osaka recently, I encountered quite a few non-Japanese working at convenience stores and restaurants, and saw many more on the streets. Japan’s largest immigrant groups are Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese and Brazilians. Though the last are mostly ethnic Japanese, they maintain a separate culture, so are perceived as Brazilians.

In Kawasaki, a city just across a river from Tokyo, I entered a Peruvian restaurant with two Japanese friends, Ryo Isabe and Samson Yee. Born in Hong Kong, Samson spent parts of his childhood in England, has traveled all over and is married to a Japanese, and his spoken Japanese is nearly perfect, I was told. Immediately, Samson identified the woman serving us as not Japanese, although she appeared native enough to me, and had barely said anything. The more she talked, the more her Japanese deficiency was exposed, however. She was Peruvian.

Ryo is a critic, mostly of rap and electronic music, and the author of a book on Kawasaki. On the ribbon over its cover is a question, “Is Kawasaki hell?” Crossing the Tama River from Tokyo, I did notice a row of shacks, erected by the homeless, but by the time the train rolled into the station, everything seemed sparklingly modern and sophisticated. Walking around, I ran into plenty of chic stores and restaurants, and a swanky shopping center, La Cittadella.

Ryo explained that although Kawasaki may appear perfectly normal, there are many underlying problems. In 2015, the city shocked Japan when a 13-year-old boy was tortured and killed, with his naked body tossed into the Tama. Since his main killer, Ryuichi Funabashi, was half-Filipino, immigration, assimilation and ethnicity became uncomfortable subtexts.

For conformity to unite and provide collective strength, it must punish deviations, but this always triggers resentment, if not rage.

On the other hand, the list of successful half-Japanese is long. Half-Taiwanese Renho Murata briefly headed Japan’s Democratic Party, the first woman to do so. Americans are most familiar with half-Iranian Yu Darvish, half-Haitian Naomi Osaka and half-American Hideki Irabu. With the last, I noticed with interest that the half-Yankee insisted on going to the Yankees. Perched on the third deck, third base side, I did manage to watch Irabu pitch at Yankees Stadium. He always seemed like a very isolated, lonely figure. In 2008, the big man assaulted an Osaka bar manager after downing 20 beers, and in 2010, he was arrested for DUI in Redondo Beach. After his uneven career flamed out, Irabu didn’t return to Japan but moved to California, although he associated mostly with other Japanese while there. As his wife and kids were about to leave him, Irabu killed himself, but we can only guess at the multilayered, complex reason.

I asked Ryo to take us to a regular, working class bar, what I’m used to, whether I’m in Kiev, Mexico City or Missoula, so we ended up in some tiny, brightly lit joint that was owned by a Korean woman. That night, it was filled with older Okinawans and a half Russian, half Japanese man who didn’t look typically either. Born in Japan, he was simply Japanese, like the rest.

“Do I look Japanese?” I joked to a septuagenarian, missing a few teeth.

“No, you look Cambodian!” We all laughed.

Sitting at my table, another Okinawan said, “I’ve never known a Vietnamese, but I’m glad to meet you. You should spend more time in Kawasaki, and get to know us.”

“I already feel very comfortable,” and I meant it.

During the Vietnam War, the septuagenarian was paid $20 a day to clean American corpses, killed in action, “It was ten times the average wage, so I was glad to have the job, but I had to quit after six months, since I couldn’t eat.”

In Kawasaki for four decades, he didn’t miss Okinawa, “I don’t have anything to return to.”

When he said he had to work later that night, I thought he was kidding, for he was well past retirement age, not to mention trashed. “I work for the railroad,” he elaborated. “I’m a painter.”

At his table sat a couple, also old, with the man in a felt fedora. “Although I’m married to Frank Sinatra,” she said of her husband while bantering with the painter, “you’re more my type!” She rubbed his bald head.

Though it was Ryo’s first time at the joint, and Samson and I were not Japanese, we were treated so warmly, so so much for Japanese reserve or aloofness, but the English, too, I’ve always found to be mostly friendly and chatty. Damn the stereotype.

Taking a photo with me, the Korean owner planted a kiss on my crown, and the old painter shouted towards the end of the night, “Now, you look very Japanese! You belong here!”

There is a universal brotherhood of lowlife drinkers. My blood brother, a Yahoo employee who says “darn” and “shoot,” wouldn’t feel welcome there, or at Philly’s Friendly Lounge, for that matter, not that he would enter either

In Osaka, the sociologist Masahiko Kishi took me and others to a seafood restaurant, Taiyoshi Hyakuban, that’s housed in a wonderfully-preserved, two-storied 1908 brothel. Wandering around, I marveled at its carved columns, beams and ceilings, fine vases and scrolls, and well-executed paintings of scenes from centuries past. Our three waiters were all South Asians, most likely Bangladeshi. They had no problems communicating in Japanese.

Taiyoshi Hyakuban is located in Tobita Shinchi, Japan’s last traditional red light districts, where the prostitutes are openly displayed through wide doorways, facing the street. Tastefully dolled up, each is seated among decorative elements, such as a basket of plastic flowers, stuffed animals, a heart-shaped pillow or a giant Maneki-neko, etc., but with an old woman, the madame, perched in a corner. Though the contrast between youthful beauty and aging ugliness is rather jarring, at least it serves its purpose as a warning and an urge. Get it while you can, and while it’s still fresh!

Tobita Shinchi is nothing like what you’ll find in, say, Amsterdam’s De Wallen, where not much distracts from the red-lit meat of the matter. Though prostitution is illegal in Japan, the Tobita Shinchi joints are kosher because, well, they’re classified as restaurants, so if you suddenly find yourself inside a waitress, it’s because she’s quite smitten by you, that’s all, and your wallet. It’s love at first sight. Maybe you’ll get lucky the next time you visit your town’s Dairy Queen or White Castle!

In Amsterdam, most of the whores are in fact not Dutch, but come from Eastern Europe, South America, Southeast Asia or Africa. The last time I was in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne, most whores were also foreign, and in Barcelona, Chinese massage parlors spread. Assuming a similar situation in Tobita Shinchi, I asked Kishi-san what percentage of these lovelies were aliens, and was surprised to hear, “None!” Well, at least one corner of Japan remains absolutely pure.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Immigration, Japan 
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Before my recent trip to Tokyo, Kawasaki and Osaka, I emailed an American friend, “Japan contrasts so sharply with chaotic and dirty Vietnam. Unlike here, almost nothing happens on Japanese sidewalks, no eating, drinking or even smoking!”

He replied, “Myself, I would prefer ‘dirty’ Vietnam to Japan, any day.” Though only in Vietnam as a soldier, he still has fond memories of the country.

On the way to Tan Son Nhat Airport, the young taxi driver asked where I was flying to.

“Tokyo, I answered. “It’s my second time. They have a great subway system, brother,” and it is the most reliable, cleanest, safest and easiest I’ve ever used, with great amenities at most stations. “Who knows when Vietnam will have something similar?”

He guffawed, “We’re five hundred years behind them!”

From Narita, I took three trains to Nippori, Hamamatsucho then Azabujyuban, from where I walked to my room at International House. On the way, I passed the Juban Inari Shrine. All Japanese temples are elegant and understated, even when huge. Crossing the street was suddenly no longer an adventure. Though Vietnamese have become much better at stopping at red lights, many still bristle at the idea.

Japanese do occasionally jaywalk, and I would see more of it in Osaka than Tokyo. There are also more graffiti and littering in the home of takoyaki, Japan’s only remaining red light district and its worst slum. Japanese are not as anal as Germans, who would stand alone at a curb at 3 in the morning, waiting for the walk signal to change, with not a single car in sight in any direction.

Opening the shoji blind, I could see the tastefully landscaped garden where Yukio Mishima had his wedding reception. After unpacking, I became reacquainted with the heated toilet seat, the anus shower whose jets could be adjusted and, most comfortingly, the stream of warm air that dried even my nuts.

Vietnam’s leading novelist of that era, Nhất Linh, also committed suicide, but only quietly, with poisoned wine. Unlike badass Mishima, Nhất Linh didn’t have a gay lover hack at his neck repeatedly with a samurai sword.

During my previous visit to Tokyo, I spoke to a bookstore audience of my admiration for Japanese boldness, “Although transgenderism is in, with everybody cutting his penis off, only a Japanese could come up with the idea of offering it as a meal, at a banquet.” To my surprise, no one there had heard of Mao Sugiyama.

Sugiyama’s ballsy announcement, “Please retweet. I am offering my male genitals (full penis, testes, scrotum) as a meal for 100,000 yen… I will prepare and cook as the buyer requests, at his chosen location.”

There was no time to waste. Within hours of arriving, I was in a Roppongi restaurant with a few of my Tokyo friends. While downing beer and sashimi, we talked about their troubled nation.

Translator Miwako Ozawa shared that she didn’t know her neighbors, and that Japanese only say hello to strangers in elevators and on mountain trails. Her husband, photographer Samson Yee, added that I shouldn’t judge Japanese sociability by my friends, for they are all cosmopolitan writers and intellectuals, “If you meet an ordinary Japanese, you’ll have to climb so many walls before you get to know them.” As another indicator of the Japanese’s shrinkage from direct experiences, Samson pointed out that only 23% even hold a valid passport.

We’ve all heard about young Japanese recluses, the hikikomori, but did you know that at least 43% of Japanese between 18 and 34 are virgins? A third had never even been on a single date.

“How did Japanese go from bathing together, men and women, young and old, to being mostly alone?” I asked. No one could answer.

Writer Mieko Kawakami said that Japan’s previous tranquility and equilibrium were achieved only with much sacrifice by women, and the continuing breakdown of traditions is actually freeing women from onerous roles. Probing this theme, she is working on a novel about a woman having a baby without a man.

Many Japanese now live alone, then often die without anyone noticing, sometimes for weeks. Family members don’t call or even email them. Through a friend, I was able to visit an octogenarian who rarely left his messy apartment. His is the generation that built contemporary Japan. In the same complex, we passed a door whose letter and peep slots had been sealed by tape, to prevent the dogged stench of putrefaction from seeping out. It’s a common sight there. With its stigma of sordid death, the apartment will be hard to rent, thus adding to the glut of empty houses in Japan.

The live man’s apartment smelled bad enough. It’s a stagnant, fermented funk which actually made me pause at his genkan, and I’m no olfactory pussy, dwelling in Saigon. Carrying two six packs of Asahi beer as gifts, I braved my way in.

Next to his bed were six bottles of hard liquor and a stack of illustrated sex manuals. Cheered up by such rare visitors, he chattered away, and anyone could tell he must have been quite charismatic in youth, and a ladies’ man. He admitted to having a crush on the woman, sent by a charity organization, who came twice a week to clean.

“Is she young?” I grinningly asked.

“Yes, very young. Maybe 55!”

The neighborhood was a post-war new town development, filled with identical apartment blocks, and very few stores or restaurants within easy walking distance, especially if you’re on your last leg. A playground with its slide and jungle gym sat empty. “This is incredible,” I said to my friend. “We haven’t passed one cafe or bar. If this was Vietnam, people would just sit outside, drink and socialize.” There was a tiny seniors center at a forlorn strip mall. We strayed in to find six old people lounging around a coffee table, sipping tea. When they all got up to leave, I asked, “Why are they all leaving at once?”

“It’s the Japanese way. We do everything together!” Or at least they used to.

Convenience stores are ubiquitous in Japan. At a Family Mart, the owner told us that for many old people nearby, his little store was not just where they could get grocery, but a few words addressed to them, plus a smile.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Japan 
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How long have you lived overseas?

Well, I’ve been spending half my time overseas for about the last 20 years. The vast majority of it has been in Brazil, and this country is quite strict about its immigration policy. It can be done, but for someone like myself, it’s just too difficult of a nut to crack. Thus, without intending to do so, I’ve been living this transitory lifestyle for a long time. In fact, there have been countless times, where I vowed never to go back to the US and contrarily to never leave it after returning.

Since the only realistic way (for me) to remain here indefinitely is to marry a Brazilian, and lacking the courage (no guts – no glory), I haven’t been able to stay. Every time I try to linger in the US and grind it out, I eventually lose my mind and give up. Life in America is an absolutely soul-crushing experience, but leaving it is almost as hard as staying. I suppose it all goes back to Kierkegaard’s wisdom: ‘If you stay, you’ll regret it. If you leave, you’ll regret it.’

What made you decide to leave the US?

I was always a restless soul, and moving around America lost its allure pretty quickly as I found each locale to be slightly worse than the last. I followed the Iran/Contra affair in the news, and I arrived at the conclusion that the US was nothing more than a banana republic (without the bananas), and I would have laughed at anyone who suggested that “caravans” of immigrants would be trying to enter the country in 2018.

When in college at Michigan State, I met a Brazilian girl as one of the six students (out of 45,000) studying Portuguese. Knowing her and her friends gave me the courage to investigate the place for myself when I graduated in 1989.

Since then it has been a comedy (tragedy) of errors as to why I haven’t been able to establish some sort of residency. For the most part, I was attracted to Brazil because of the fun atmosphere, and this exacerbated my lack of self-discipline.

What do you miss about not being in the US?

Seeing my Dad.

What are the challenges of living where you are as a foreigner?

For six months per year on a tourist visa, there really aren’t any. My credit cards and bank debit card work, and short-term housing is always easy to find. I speak the language fluently, and there are enough foreigners around here to acclimate the locals to strangers. Probably the biggest hassle is being asked a couple times per day for money by street beggars, but I get the same experience walking the streets in America.

While foreigners are common, Americans are extremely rare in this part of Brazil, so I’m regarded as a bit of a curiosity. It’s usually a bonus. For the most part, I barely feel like a foreigner. I’ve spent so much time here, it’s turned into my second home.

The only thing I can’t adjust to is the constant invasion of my personal space. People bump into me, cut in front of me, stand too close to me… I could spend 100 years here and never get used to it. Of course, if the person invading my personal space is an attractive female, I don’t mind it at all! 😉

What are some of the pleasant surprises you’ve encountered in your new home?

The biggest pleasant surprise I’ve had in the last few years has been the realization that I could learn to dance forró. I’ve tried taking lessons for other types of dances several times both here and in the US, and I could never get the hang of any dance. I found a dance studio here in Natal that really wants their students to dance. Sure, it’s a business, but they really take an interest in you. It’s impossible not to get caught up in their enthusiasm, and before you know it, you’re dancing!

What are some of the unanticipated problems?

I’ve been here for too long to remember what the unanticipated problems were. My biggest gripe is having the tourist visa expire while I’m having a big time and being forced to return to America. Even at that low point, I start to kid myself that happiness is just a state of mind, and there’s no reason why I can’t be just as happy in America. And it actually works for about the first month I’m back, I bounce around America with a wink and grin, and America smiles back.

After one month, the reality starts to dawn on me, and I become ever more cautious. My interactions with people become increasingly businesslike, and I dread any unnecessary contact with anyone. All the fake smiles and “have a nice day” start to ring increasingly hollow, and the sneers become more and more menacing. Even places I visit on a regular basis seem less and less hospitable. I feel like a burden wherever I go, and I view everyone as an unavoidable obstacle to my goal of leaving without any trouble.

My financial battles with all my usual nemeses start to become increasingly complicated and dire. Thoughts of shotguns and five-gallon containers of gasoline begin to fill my mind, and I develop a bunker mentality. Shit starts getting real!

Ah, but the question was about my troubles here in Brazil, but somehow I got to thinking about the Land of the Free!

What is some advice you have for Americans who also want to get out?

Depends on the person. If you’ve never lived outside of America, go somewhere that seems interesting to you. Stay as long as you can. If you run out of money, go back to America and make some more: Rinse and repeat. Better yet, try to learn a skill you can do remotely like programming or writing. It won’t be easy, but what could be harder than spending your life in America.

If you’re afraid you might regret it, don’t worry, there’s a good chance you will, but you’ll regret it more if you stay home.

I’m too old to be living this life, but I’ll stick with it until I find something better, run out of gas, or the Empire finally collapses.

–Sean (51-years-old)

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Brazil 
Linh Dinh
About Linh Dinh

Born in Vietnam in 1963, Linh Dinh came to the US in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). He has been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, among other places. He is also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013), and translator of Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, the poetry of Phan Nhien Hao (2006). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. His writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and he has been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Reykjavik, Toronto and all over the US, and has also published widely in Vietnamese.