US Elections Paint British News Red and Blue

Donkey and Elephant Caricature by Donkey Hotey ( http://donkeyhotey.wordpress.com/)
Donkey and Elephant Caricature by Donkey Hotey ( http://donkeyhotey.wordpress.com/)

4 years ago, at this exact time, I remember being in Massachusetts, huddling around a basement TV with half of the campus dorm, clutching our knees in anticipation, as the blues and reds began to spread across the CNN digital map. Never had I imagine, that by the next election, I’d be in London and that interestingly enough, that the spirit of the election would be no less evident in the British media. 

The US Election Night special on BBC just began 2 minutes ago, with a panel of mostly British political experts analyzing the every inch of the polls, British correspondents reporting in from all of the swing states, as well as Washington DC and Chicago. It’s overwhelming.

The US elections, to my surprise, have dominated the headlines, and running order of most popular TV, online and radio programs here on the other side of the Atlantic. Everything from BBC to the free Metro handouts, Obama and Romney’s faces have been plastered to the very front, angles taken to cover the elections as many as the stars in the American flag.

A love/hate relationship? 

For a country and a people who are stereotypically known as being cynical of Americans, constantly accusing their Anglophone counterparts of butchering their prized British English language, the UK, or at least, its media is particularly interested in its former colony’s Presidential elections.

I mean, to be honest, you’d be lucky to see a trace of the Tories or Liberal Dems of the UK in the States’ television. I came home to see my flatmate tuning into the BBC Special: US Election Day, on a live two-way with Washington DC.

She turned to me:

– “I really hope Obama wins
“Why would the UK be so interested in a presidential election an ocean away?”
It’s the US, the British may act like they hate Americans, but they couldn’t be more curious

Meanwhile, Jeremy Paxman on NewsNight (more or less the British equivalent to Larry King on Late Night) stressed that this election is “crucial”  and that whoever would be the next leader could affect the “entire West” . 

So while it may overall still seem that Brits have a hypocritical eye on the Americans (another whole post on my debate against that), the other eye is a highly keen and curious one.

My sense is that, it’s the US, one of the most influential countries in the world, economically the most powerful. Entertainment wise, Hollywood dominates the world. Considering its past relationship with the US, as much as the UK would like to stay aloof, it is still very much eager to be updated with the American lot.

Blue-draped morning too blue? 

4 years ago, as the last swing state turned blue, I thought I was going to go deaf from the screams and screech that a women’s college of 2,100 would render you. I remember looking out the window, to see a girl on a tree, another topless, and a conga line of blue-faced people chanting OBAMA.

Will it be a blue-draped morning again? I won’t get into too much about my political preference for the US , but let’s just say, having been 4 years in Massachusetts, on one of the most liberal campuses of the US, I know not one soul who is voting for Romney. My facebook feed is as blue as a blue jay gets.

Much of the media that I’ve tuned into in the UK have tried to cover both sides, but there is an overall slightly sharper edge on Obama, with more discussion into how the President has or has not lived up to his voters 4 years ago, even celebrity sound bites supporting him. Whether this is because Obama is an incumbent more known to the public or there is a preference towards him can be tossed into the air.

Nevertheless, for me, this election has become less the cause and more the campaign, proven the most expensive amid the US facing still an economic downturn, jobless graduates, the poor still worst off. As hip as Jay Z and Bruce Springsteen gracing the campaign trail, as wonderful for many as a blue-draped morning may be, this whole election has become a collective of expensive stunts and grandiose words uncertain of holding truth, and more importantly, action.

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[Vietnam] A country – NOT a war


My first day of Asian History in a public high school in Washington DC, a pan of the room and I found myself a loner amidst a group of American Caucasians. Considering the content of the course, all attention veered towards the obviously Asian girl across the room, as the teacher asked where I was from. “Vietnam”, I replied, to which the teacher posed to the class “What do we all know about Vietnam?” Hands popped to the air, as 8 proclaimed “Vietnam War”, while one boy enthusiastically shouted “Rambo”, and that was the end of it.

Throughout my next 6 years of living and meeting people in America, I would come to realize that in most minds here, Vietnam is seen no more than the notion of the “Vietnam War”. It’s a historical period so engrained in the memory of Americans and so popular for the anti-war spirit it inspired in American and global youths during the 1960s, that it has become the only perception most people have of Vietnam.

I’ve met people, who, in our second or third conversation, would hesitate before reticently asking me “So, do Vietnamese people still hate Americans?” or stories of veterans, who fear ever coming back to Vietnam not purely because of the revival of traumatic experiences but mostly, because they unconsciously assume that Vietnamese people “are not over it”.

Terminology-wise, first off, Vietnamese people have never referred to the period between 1954 and 1975 as the Vietnam War. It was never our choice to bring war upon us and naming the intentional efforts of the American government to colonize Vietnam – the Vietnam War, to Vietnamese people, is incomprehensible. Given our 1,000 years of rule by the Chinese and 100 years of colonization by the French before, the American invasion would be known simply as the American war.

I don’t blame the general knowledge of Vietnam being limited to the notion of war. We are, after all, a nation shaped by war and resistance, losing generations of Vietnamese to the battlefield while our society, today, is still riddled with unresolved consequences from the war. 37 years after the guns have fallen silent, ordinances and mines still dot our terrain threatening to explode at any minute and children born today live still with congenital disabilities due to the effects of Agent Orange. While the war is an inseparable part of Vietnam’s identity, however,  it is not the whole of it.

Hundreds of years of colonization have taught the Vietnamese to fully embrace their achieved independence and nearly 4 decades have been enough to see the Southeast Asian nation forge ahead first off, economically and more so, mentally past the war.

In sentiments to Americans, when he was alive, my grandfather, a witness to and active citizen in Vietnamese resistance against both the French and American invasion, stressed how many Vietnamese during and more so, after the war understood that it was the then American government and not the American people that their generation was fighting. While Vietnamese people may hold resentment towards the war, and what it took away and left behind in its course of destruction, I believe I speak for many when I say, we don’t hold a grudge towards the US as a nation and certainly not as a people. Let me take half a step back on my word to also note that there is no divide between black and white here, we must understand that even though it was a war between Vietnamese and Americans, there were Vietnamese on the side of Americans and Americans supporting the cause of the Vietnamese.  That grey area alone offers space for many questions and analysis into how the war was perceived then and even now. The opinion provided here is therefore, my general prospective on Vietnam today.

There are the Americans who fought endlessly against the American war in Vietnam, actively so in the series of protests iconic of the 1960s. There are then are untold stories of American youths who came to Vietnam to volunteer and even American veterans who only realized the war’s lack of purpose when their fingers hovered over the trigger on the battlefront. Vietnamese people receive their stories and sentiments with an open mind and hospitality.

I won’t go into how the economic growth has affected Vietnam, the perks and downsides are 100 posts in themselves, but it has certainly changed the face of Vietnam – a nation constantly struggling to balance the concept of communism, which had pulled it through the war, with its aspirations now to compete with its capitalist counterparts in becoming an economically-thriving country. You could say, Vietnamese society like any other modern society has a range of multi-faceted issues to face with, everything ranging from rising petrol prices, to motorbike congestion, to support to the shrinking rurality, to your everyday tabloid story about celebrities showing too much skin. It has so much to look forward to and so much to deal with rather than hold itself in a standstill to lament the war. This is not to say it should neglect working upon resolving the aforementioned consequences of war.

The S-shaped nation is also a beautiful one, a melting pot of cultures with its 53 ethnic groups and call me biased, but it has one of the best cuisines in the world.  Vietnam is imbued with history and culture. It stands at a crossroad between the old and new, the oriental and occidental, tradition and innovation, it aspires to grow, it struggles to face with daily national and regional challenges, it is in its own right, a country, NOT a war.

PS: this was from a short exercise this afternoon in class – very much not well analysed, sorry 😦

[Hanoi] The Great Return

It’s been 4 months and 3 days since my last post, a whopping 1/3 of a year gone in a blink of an eye.

My dear Benji graced the skies with his presence just a month after his first birthday, leaving our family, Sparky included, distraught. We miss you everyday precious, keep that free-spirited soul of yours roaming across the clouds up there 🙂 Perhaps no single dog would ever have the effect Benji had on Sparky. It was like chocolate, sweet and savoring while it lasted and bitter when we * flashback* think of times the furry giant bombarded his lesser-giant “grandfather” with his massive body. He was our oversized baby and I’ve decided to, instead of digging my head in the rubbles, celebrate the short yet carefree and joy-filled life of Benji – our 6th family member.  As the fam is looking to welcome home yet another rambunctious pup like yourself soon, Benji, our fam is growing once again with you and Nick and of course, much older canine relatives on a cloud just above us. Don’t forget to howl your heart out the way you do when you get excited, I’d like to hear you in the whooshing of the wind 🙂

Hanoi is still Hanoi minus or should I say, adding the outrageous percentages of increase in petrol and electricity prices. If I could, I’d drop everything now and just travel before the energy crisis falls upon us all and it becomes financially or resource-wise impossible to take the plane, hop on a bus or even drive a car. The truth is, unless they get solar, wind, nuclear to work quickly and widely, travel in the fossil fuel-based economy we thrive on today, is only going to get more and more exclusive to the ultra-rich or well, just become non-existent. Such a selfish and cynical advice coming from an environmental advocate, considering the size of the carbon footprint you’ll be stomping on the world each time you take a plane for example, but travel when you can, before it’s too late.

The hype in the past weeks has nevertheless been more outer-space than your everyday energy problems, it has been about the AG5 – that’s an asteroid that has been making as many headline titles here in Vietnam as some of the scandal-breeding celebs. “A 140-m asteroid to hit earth” reads some online news-flash. With little to nil scientific credibility, some headlines have even confirmed that this ‘bombshell’ would explode onto earth’s surface by 2040. Not stabbing my own career in the back or anything, but I think false information for the sake of views to this extent is just sheer BS. According to NASA, while the observations made so far imply that the asteroid would meet earth in 2040, the chances of this happening are 1 in 625. Each observation will yield new information as to how and if the course has changed. The earliest date for the next observations of the asteroid will be Sept.2013 and then better ones will come in 2015. Let’s continue our lives, make the observations and logical estimates, rather than fool people with crash-and-burn threats. To those checking off bucket lists in time for the end of the Mayan calendar this year, it’s never too early to start, end of civilization or not, bless ur hearts 🙂

Courage out to the Japanese people today ❤

[Hanoi] Tuesday Rant

—- Doggone way to start a day

I am convinced that there is something up with my neighbor. Most mornings for the past months, it has been of habit that I scramble out into my yard at approximately 8h20, crossing my fingers that I’d make it on time to work at 8h30 (that’s what you call a race against the clock right there). Anyway, this neighbor of mine is a retired man and just happens to have a fascination for using the appearances of my dogs, Benji and Sparky as a “muse” to get his granddaughter to chug down some breakfast milk. See, I have no problem with that. It’s just I’m in this chaotic state, right? and then I swing my gate open and his first reaction would always be “Look honey!!! the dog!!!”. That I do not appreciate *blank face* What should I do now? Train Sparky to open the gate?

—- The brotherhood of the traveling Great Grandfather Tortoise and Uncle Ho

An alum from MHC came to Hanoi and during our conversation, she asked about the mysterious tortoise residing in Hoan Kiem lake which everyone was talking about in the beginning of year. I told her, of course, about the legend, about how Vietnamese people regard him as the Great Grandfather Tortoise and how his health had been declining, and how honestly I thought nothing really effective was being done about it. It’d make sense to the take the tortoise to an oceanography institute rather than give him treatment in the already-ghastly condition of the water. But no one was going to take Great Grandfather Tortoise out, for superstitious reasons. My friend scrunched her eyebrows and said “Well that’s oddly contradictory, I tried to visit the HCM Mausoleum today and they said it was closed. I looked it up and found that every year for two months, Uncle Ho gets sent to Russia for ‘maintenance’ “. Now this was information I’d never heard before, and I have no real way of confirming its truth, so don’t take my word. She ended everything by saying “If Uncle Ho can travel to Russia every year, then Great Grandfather Tortoise sure heck can take a vacation to a treatment facility”

—- Halong Bay – hooray?

Today, I was coerced into sitting in on and talking at a rally for votes for Ha Long Bay to become one of the next 7 natural wonders of the world. I felt a little hesitant because I can’t help but feel, we were using national television to just push and push people to vote and vote, without really carrying through the message. Don’t misjudge my patriotism here, the whole thing about the country having a natural wonder – dandy and I did call for people’s support publicly :|. But let’s take a few steps back shall we, what exactly is this going to mean? There is no doubt about Ha Long Bay being a natural beauty queen, but honestly you can’t rely on looks in this race. If you were thinking on that alone, then every one of those final 28 deserves to be recognized, because you simply can’t put uniquely geographical, historical and cultural beauties and stack them on a ladder, one on top of the other. The world is not a pyramid, be it social paradigms have led us to think so.

If you are voting, think about your own experience in Ha Long, think about what further could be done to make that experience the next time you do have it better. Because as far as my experience goes, there are as many hurdles in environmental, tourism and public space management in Halong as there are hills of riveting beauty across this precious bay. Yes I voted once and today my co-worker says, “you know you can text as many votes as you want and you can also create new emails to vote more”. What is the point of voting, if you’re going to manually multiply your own support? It’s becoming a race of who’s got a bigger population and who’s going to spare more time.

If you are voting just because simply you’re Vietnamese and you must vote for Ha Long Bay – If you are voting just because a world natural wonder title is a must-have – If you are voting now and are going to forget about what’s going to happen to the bay the day it does get to that top 7-list – then with all due respect, your votes, be it 150 text-messages are empty.

If a vote and the title mean that somehow, finally more attention would be given to rid the waters of floating cans and plastic bags, ensure that overnight boats are truly safe, that the tourist spots won’t be riddled with okay to mediocre service, and that a plethora of other issues, which I won’t go into, are resolved – then by all means, vote and text your hearts out.

No hard feelings, and the best be it, not for the title, not for the country’s pride, but for the bay 🙂

[Babbles] Of whacked-out events and missing MHC

In a matter of a week, an earthquake with ensuing aftershocks hit the East Coast, meanwhile Hurricane Irene  is lurking somewhere in the Atlantic, ready to rummage in as well. I know the earthquake was only moderate, but a piece of the National Cathedral – my beloved in DC, broke off for crying out loud and the 150-year-old Smithsonian tower, my home for two summers now has cracks all over…And who would have suspected a freaking tremor let alone an entire earthquake in the East Coast, felt up to New England, for that matter?

I hadn’t been back to the school’s website in so long, but today found myself opening the burnt orangey/yellow page that was my homepage for 4 years again to this: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/news/channels/22/stories/5683026

A warning on Hurricane Irene, possible case of flooding and “loss of communications” on campus grounds. I don’t think I recall ever having to deal with anything as huge , with the exception of that snow storm, Valentines’ Day of 2007 when my PVTA bus was stuck on Rt 116 for 4 hours. But again, that’s snow, a snow storm in New England is as common as campus breakfast: occasionally loved, frequently neglected, and best avoided…but flooding? Nature’s gone and whacked out in the States with this series of happenings I’m telling you and ,I have no idea how serious all of this is going to get, but I’m crossing my fingers from Hanoi here for the safest and best over there. The status from which I got this link off of on facebook compared Irene to a category 1 storm in Vietnam which is nothing…but I’m doubting those remarks considering how everyone on the East Coasts seem quite flustered with it all. The fact that it’s a hurricane coming to the Pioneer Valley alone (MHC context wise), that’s enough to get your pants tied up in a bunch. Keep me updated, I am, you know, half way around the world here. Glad to hear some of you (you know who you are ) are at least stocking up, be it booze and chips, you have the awareness and preparation mode set, lol 😀

Missing MHC, Missing DC, thoughts to all my loved ones, that includes people and structures! (no more trees falling on campus dorms, please)

[News] Of the heat and hijab-wearing – completely unrelated of course

 


It is not an overstatement to say that I’m literally melting like ice-cream left out of the fridge for too long in the extreme heat that has taken over Hanoi. It has been 39, 40 degrees C aka 98, 99 F, no lie, for 4 days straight. Never have I wished so much for the wind to blow west, just so it can take Lao’s heatwave and spread it around Thailand rather than our already humidity-stricken eastern coast, no offense to the Thai people. My aunt went to Bangkok the other day and said you guys have it breezy and nice there, so you can understand my bitterness after a week of heat/humidity attack. It rained once yesterday bringing the temperature down to 34 C but it has shot up again today and is aiming once again for 40 C tomorrow…and it’s only June. I must say I never was a fan for warm climates, I complained daily every Massachusetts winter of my college days but this is still by far the more unbearable of the two.

Yesterday news-reading brought back memories of a project I did from first year…so long ago, and yet the hijab/burka controversy has been one to last decades in France. Don’t get me wrong, I love the country, the culture, and can’t wait to visit again but I can’t help but rethink the statement about France being xenophobic. France here perhaps being the administration in general, especially Mr.Sarkozy there creating some commission to invent a set of laws to prevent as much as possible the wearing of a hijab. He has gone so far as to say that wearing a hijab, I quote, “reduces the dignity of a Muslim woman”. I mean, seriously, what does a French white man of his status know about a Muslim woman’s “dignity”? because from interviews with these women, many have said to have their hijabs taken away would be the loss of dignity. Those who have chosen not to wear the hijab have their choice and have voiced their support for the freedom to choose. Is hijab-wearing truly religious or it is cultural? either one way or the other, shouldn’t one be able express one’s religion just in the way a Christian wears a cross or a Jewish wears a kippah and in the case of culture, shouldn’t it also be able to transcend borders as long as it’s not imposing? Why all this talk of a woman’s right coming out of male politicians instead of just saying outright how France’s history of State/Church separation hates this kind of free expression, how despite France’s highest Muslim population in Western Europe, France will still always be French. The ban on hijab-wearing in state schools is already enough, why continue to push it so far?