Tết – Vietnamese New Year

tet

Tết
The sound of the word itself triggers hidden feelings
and recollection of beautiful moments and cheerful get-together

Tết
Time to think about love and care for living people – family, friends, relatives
Time for remembrance of our ancestors

Tết
Time to savor all the delicious, special dishes of the festive season

Tết
With it comes all the excitement and the pleasure of playing card games during the holiday

Tết
Forever it lingers in my heart.

Happy Year of the Rooster 2017!

Jan 1st 2017

Will the new year bring in
new dreams and new hopes
as bright as the Christmas tree
to lighten the weary souls
as deep as thousands of incarnations old?

The memories of 2016
are merely patches or spots
in the infinite timeline
however beautiful they were
or painful as they made you endure

The enlightened voice is still calling out
from over two thousand years past
I listened and liberated myself
to become as light as a snowflake
twirling in the air

Let’s empty 2016
And paint the new year with a brightest color
you could ever visualize
And start the new year fresh off
as it’s rolling in.

Happy New Year!

September

for my birthday month

Chilly September. The doorway to a new season. I could smell the aroma of cinnamon emanating from the pastries when walking by the bakery this morning.

It was in September many yeas ago that my mouth was full of mom’s breast milk. The flamboyant was not blooming in red anymore. The shooting in the battlefield shook the lullaby hovering over my cradle.

September, the genesis of many things in life. I remember the shining smiles carved in the white waves at Vung Tau beach. The giggling by the chayote vine of my grandma in Dalat. The warm eyes of the little girl enlivened by the candlelight lit inside the pigeon-shaped lantern during the full moon festival.

September, the onset of death and decay and deterioration. How many tears I have shed and filled up rivers and oceans. Which one I wonder will be the last to roll into the deep blue ocean.

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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Bicycles in the Sky

Pedal Fest - Jack London square - Oakland, CA
Pedal Fest – Jack London square – Oakland, CA

took me to the sweet lane of the past
to the age of innocence
of blackboards and white chalk
of white áo dài flaps
flying in the winds
carrying
burning dreams of the youth

bicycles in the sky
I saw myself in you
my biking thru college
under the heated sun
craving for knowledge
questioning the meaning of life

bicycles of the past
I rode you
thru years of struggling with
suppression and fear
living in a
heavily influenced confucian
state

bicycles in the sky
where the present met the past
let’s ride to the future
when dreams are all achieved
and love fills all hearts.

Girls in white áo dài
Girls in white áo dài

Note: The featured image is the sculpture installed for Pedal Fest – a celebration of all things bicycle. The event will be held on Jul 25th at Jack London Square in Oakland, CA.