What’s in a Name?

– Hi chị Vân!

The girl typed on the screen. Was she talking to me? There was no Vân in this chat room. I double checked the friend list on Viber to make sure I was right. She must be talking to me then. But hey that was not my name. Here we go again…

I worked for Hongkong Bank more than 15 years ago in Saigon. I was in Trade Services and she worked as a teller in the front. We did not quite have any interaction on a daily basis, but everyone knew everyone. The Hongkong Bank office was very small back then. It was not like we had thousands of employees on a huge campus.
Recently they set up a chat group on Viber to connect all former employees from all around the world: Vietnam, United States, Canada, Australia,… I had a lot of fun reading all the chats coming thru 24 hours of the day literally and reminisced about all the good old memories, but it was not very exciting that someone did not recognize me. How could it be?

– Hi Ngân, are you talking to me? There is no Vân in this chat room 🙂

I carefully crafted my words and drew a smiling face to imply it was not a big deal that she got my name wrong. As if I did not care at all.

– Oh Temy, sorry, I remember you. I don’t know why I associated you with the name Vân.

The girl responded after a few minutes…. This is the second time it happened. The first time it occurred to me, it hit me hard.

It was a week ago that a guy named Dũng joined the chat room. I have not seen him for over 15 years since the day I quit my job at Hongkong Bank, but my memory about him is very clear. He occupied the office in the corner on the second floor not very far from my cubicle. He shared the tiny office with two other guys, one was in fact a Vietnamese expatriate who had returned home in pursuit of whatever he couldn’t find in the US. Dũng, on the other hand, just finished studying in the US and went home to join the bank. It was very impressive that he had a degree from a US university, since it was super hard, if not impossible, to have a chance to study abroad back then, unless you had powerful connections.

Soon after Dũng reunited with the old Hongkong Bank gang in the virtual world, he mentioned where he and his family currently reside. I realized he doesn’t live very far from me, hence I chimed in on the endless stream of conversations on Viber, telling him we live pretty near each other and asking him if he would be interested in getting together some time.

-Yes, Temy, I actually work near where you live and we can have lunch with each other some day. By the way, how do you spell your name in Vietnamese?

I was happy half way thru his response. How do I spell my name in Vietnamese? Hmmmm….

My name is spelled Tề My. Growing up, I was always having a hard time telling people what my name was. It always went like this.
– My name is Tề My
– What is it? Trà My?
– No, it is Tề My
– Tài My? Tà My?
– No, it is Tề My. T Ề M Y

Oh gosh, why did my parents pick so strange, so not-like-any-one-else, and so hard-to-spell a name for me? I hated my name. I wished I had another name. Any name. A flower, a cloud, a plant,…any of those that a girl is usually named after. Not straight eyebrows. But the name stuck with me.

Once I immigrated to the US, people here would spell my name in tons of different ways: Tami, Temi, Tammy, Tamie,… as you can imagine. If a Vietnamese spells my name as Tề Mi or Temi, it won’t surprise me at all because the “i”and the “y” are sometimes used interchangeably in our language. But why on earth an American spells my name as Temi is way beyond my imagination.

As time went by, the name grew on me. I came to like it, love it and became proud of it. Tề My, a unique name, a one of a kind name, the one and only name. I have never met anyone in my life whose name is the same as mine. That is why it came as a shock to me that my old co-workers did not recognize me. Me, the girl with the once-in-a-blue-moon name, the girl as honest and straightforward as the meaning of her name, the day-dreaming girl who often stood by the windows of Hongkong Bank, looking out to the heavy rain in Saigon, and dreamed of a far away land where she would go for higher education, meet a prince and…. That will be another story then.

At the end of the day, what’s in a name? By any other name, I would smell as sweet.

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Ave Maria in the Rain

I was driving home the other day and listening to Classical KDFC. They were playing Ave Maria. The music was soothing and the rain was pouring outside. Can you imagine it, driving in the rain and listening to the relaxing Ave Maria by Franz Schubert? Life can’t be better than that, can it? And it was raining, in California! Earlier in the day, everyone in my office stood up at their cubicles or went close to the windows, looking out to the falling rains. That how rare it is that it rains in California!
So I was driving home and listening to Ave Maria in the rain. I was so into the moment I just wanted to keep driving and driving. Have you ever experienced it, that you are driving, alone in your car, and the radio is playing some beautiful music. Outside is the yellow mountain, the green trees along the freeway, the blue sky up high, and the white clouds floating above. It is very quiet all around, no disturbances, no pressure, no worries; just you and the music and your thinking. And the nature! You observe everything and think to yourself, life is so beautiful! You wish you could keep going and the journey would never end.

As does everything else in life, the journey MUST end. Sooner or later, you will take that exit, the exit that you take every single day, that you will never miss even when your mind is preoccupied, to get home, home sweet home.

Yellow Mountain

Every year the mustard flowers bloom during the Spring and fill the mountain with their bright, vibrant yellow color. Looking from afar, you would think the mountain is covered in velvety yellow. It’s a breathtaking view that I never get bored of.

yellow mountain 1

yellow mountain 2

But there’s more than that about mountains. There is something poetic and inspirational about them that somehow mountains are always mentioned in all the famous poets’ works.

Are you the one
Who’s calling me from far away
Are you the one
Whose voice echoes all over the snow-covered mountain top
Whose whisper travels the air…

– Do the verses sound familiar to you?
– No, whose poems is that? you ask.
Well, it’s one of my poems. During the time I was dating my then-boyfriend now-husband, we took a one week break and I wrote the poem to win his heart. Ok, I’m lying, I did not try that hard since we just clicked. I wrote the poem because I was just silly as that. My sister commented at the time who would read poems these days.

Anyway, I bet you will find the word “mountain” when you open any poem collection. If you have ebooks on Kindle, it will be super easy to do that. Don’t let me know if you failed though, since I wouldn’t want to be disappointed.

I love the smell… of Winter soup simmering… all day on the stove… The white caps on the mountain top as I anticipate the white hair on my head… signaling not my physical survival so much… as my emotional commitment… to life…in all…seasons

(In All Seasons – for Clinton on his 80th birthday celebration – Nikki Giovanni)

I can’t express how much I love Giovanni’s sweetness and vision, writing the former president a poem for his 80th birthday when he was 63 years old.

(By the way, did you notice the mountain top was bolded for you?)

I loved the idea so much I copied it and wrote one for my then-boyfriend. It reads like this:

I wrote you

an 80th happy birthday poem

after our first date to San Francisco

where the sun was too shiny

for my one-week old

PRK-operated light-sensitive eyes


I wrote you

an 80th happy birthday poem

after our first date to San Francisco

and you text messaged me

” It’s a date…”

In between the two paragraphs are my ramblings about where we went, what we did and how I felt about it, but I will save you from reading it. I guess that’s what happens when you are a copycat.