Enjoying Staying Home

I had a productive week. I caught up with my to-do list for the law school. I also plowed through a small web development project and reviewed Vietnamese diacritics for three typefaces. I love seeing more and more typefaces support Vietnamese and I am honored that type designers entrusted me with making sure their typefaces work well for native readers. I love my native language and I wrote my thesis on it. Please don’t fuck it up with the non-sense changes. The new proposed method called “Chữ Việt song song 4.0,” which does away with diacritics, is just a bunch of gobbledygook.

When not working or taking care of my kids, I love to read books or watch Netflix comedy specials to distance myself from the news, especially from that pathological narcissistic who claimed “I alone can fix it.” At this point, nothing coming out of his mouth would shock me. Then again, he does not speak to me. He understands his supporters. I give him that.

As for the lockdown, I am not hating it. Is it wrong to say I kind of am enjoying it? I don’t have to get up early in the morning. I don’t have to yell at my kids to get them ready for school. I don’t need to iron my clothes although I do throw on a dress shirt for video conferencing. Even though I miss my coworkers, I am constantly surrounded by my loved ones. I take breaks to spend time with them or to check on them. I just need to have my phone with me in case I need to answer emails.

The lockdown gives me excuses. My wife hasn’t said much about my drinking. I literally ran out of booze in my house and I don’t feel like going to a liquor store. I have not gone to the grocery stores either. Of course, I will be fine without alcohol. I don’t want to push my luck. Then again, a gout attack would only lock me down more. I am sure my wife won’t like it if I just stay in bed and read all day long.

When I have time for myself, I read without feeling guilty. I let the kids have more screen time without feeling bad. I eat constantly but consume less. I don’t need to overstuff myself because I have access to food all the time. My wife does most of the cooking. I do most of the dishes (thanks goodness for the dishwasher). My two older sons are now folding clothes. Since we are comfortable with staying home, I think we are coping well. I am sure my wife would have a different view.

It will be hard to readjust after the pandemic is over, but I will be more than thankful to have our lives back to normal. For now, we have to do what we have to do, not just for our own survival, but also for others. So let’s stay home until we beat this crisis.

The ABC of Life in a Pandemic

We are now heading into our third week of living, working, and parenting at home. We’re still struggling, especially in the parenting department, but I am thankful that we are safe and healthy. My coping mechanisms are: alcohol, books, and collaboration. I call them my ABC of life during the pandemic.

Without alcohol, I probably would have gone insane. I have been making a Jalisco Mule a day. Since I had not been able to get out of the house, I could not go buy myself a copper cup. Fortunately, I found a copper bakeware in our kitchen to use as a cup instead. Why don’t I use a tall glass? It simply doesn’t taste as good. After a long day of working and taking care of the kids, I deserve that drink.

To help me get into perspective, I have been reading Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. I almost finished with the book and what we are going through now is nothing compared to what she and her family went through. I will write more about the book later. It is such an engaging read. I highly recommend it if you are looking for something to read during your isolation.

As for work and kids, my wife and I have to collaborate in order for us to do what we need to do. When she had a meeting, I took the kids out for a bike ride around the block to keep them from distracting her and to give them a bit of exercise. When I had my meeting, she found something for them to play in our backyard. We took turns to watch the kids and to give each of us a block of time to focus on our work. Of course, having my mother-in-law staying with us is a huge help. I can’t appreciate her enough.

As if my full-time job hasn’t kept me busy enough, I have taken on a few small freelance web projects and a couple of advising gigs for Vietnamese typography. I am hustling to feed my kids. “I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell / I am a hustler baby, I’ll sell water to a well.” Unfortunately, I will never be as successful as JAY-Z. I just like to do new things.

Nhớ mẹ

Nhớ mẹ quá. Đã lâu rồi không về thăm mẹ. Tình hình bây giờ không biết chừng nào mới được đi xa. Tuy vẫn thường xuyên gọi thăm mẹ nhưng vẫn không thể nào bằng được những giây phút ở cạnh mẹ. Qua điện thoại cũng không biết nói gì nhiều ngoài những câu thăm hỏi bình thường.

Mẹ vẫn đi đứng khó khăn. Tuổi càng lớn cơ thể càng yếu. Cũng may là đầu óc vẫn sáng suốt và tinh thần vẫn mạnh mẽ. Mẹ vẫn vào bếp nấu ăn từ sáng đến chiều. Mẹ thích xem Youtube nhất là những bài diễn thuyết Phật giáo. Mẹ cũng thích xem Facebook và những hình ảnh và video của đám cháu tôi đăng lên. Mấy hôm nay đóng lại Facebook, tinh thần tôi nhẹ nhàng và yên ổn hơn nhưng cũng hối tiếc là mẹ không thể nhìn những thắng cháu của bà. Đây là một trong những lý do tôi không bỏ được Facebook. Có lẽ tôi sẽ trở lại.

Tôi xót xa khi không thể làm tròn bổn phận tình mẫu tử. Đã lâu lắm rồi tôi không chăm sóc cho mẹ. Càng ngày khoảng cách càng xa dần. Mẹ chẳng những không trách móc mà vẫn luôn bênh vực cho tôi. Lúc trước mỗi lần nói chuyện điện thoại với ba, mẹ nói rằng tôi không về thăm thường xuyên vì phải lo cho bầy con. Bây giờ mỗi khi ba trách móc tôi không về thăm mẹ, mẹ bảo bị dịch đâu ai dám ra đường mà đi. Tuy nhiên tôi vẫn áy náy vô cùng.

Tôi nhớ những món ăn của mẹ. Tôi nhớ những giây phút nằm bên cạnh mẹ tâm sự chuyện đời. Tôi nhớ những lời dặn dò của mẹ. Tôi nhớ những nỗi âu lo của mẹ. Tôi nhớ những nụ cười của mẹ. Tôi nhớ những niềm vui của mẹ dành cho đám cháu. Tôi nhớ những bước đi nhọc nhằn của mẹ. Tôi nhớ từng động tác chậm chạp của mẹ. Tôi nhớ hình dáng mẹ. Tôi nhớ mãi mẹ luôn nhắc nhở tôi rửa tay trước khi ăn. Tôi nhớ mẹ tha thiết. Càng nhớ mẹ tôi càng thấy thẹn. Càng nhớ mẹ tôi càng muốn rơi nước mắt. Càng nhớ mẹ tôi càng thấy mình bất lực. Càng nhớ mẹ tôi càng thấy mình bất hiếu. Trong thâm tâm tôi lúc nào cũng nhớ đến mẹ.

Weeknote

In the time of physical isolation, I thought I would find solidarity on social media, especially Facebook. Unfortunately, I found even deeper division among my friends and family members. Deactivating Facebook gives me a bit of peacefulness. For a while, I posted mostly my kids’ photos so my mom and my family in Vietnam can see them. In recent months, I fell back into posting political issues because I could not stand people sharing fake news and misinformation. The discussions were not healthy; therefore, I needed to just get the fuck out for a while to concentrate on this blog.

I continue to work from home this week. The kids are doing good. They get more screen time than normal because of they needed to do work online. I try to get them to read and encourage them to write journals. I let them read my blog if they wanted to, but they get bored. They are more into video game than writing and reading. They managed to write a little. Đạo wrote instructions on how he built his LEGO toys. Đán wrote about what he cooked and drew pictures, which I thought pretty neat. Unfortunately, they only did it so that they could get reward to play video games.

This week, I took on a small freelance project. It took more time than I had estimated. I always undercut myself. Nevertheless, it is a meaningful project. I hope to share it next month.

Since public libraries had been closed and I only had a few books checked out, I am pulling old books off my shelf I had bought but hadn’t had a chance to read. Reading and writing have become my essential activities in the past two decades. I don’t get to watch films anymore, but I try to watch comedy specials on Netflix. I love standup and this is a good time to watch them.

Since deactivating Facebook, I don’t have much to write about. I no longer come across controversial topics that I needed to write rebuttals on. It’s all good. Anyway, thank you for reading. I hope you stay safe and healthy. I hope you’ll have a relaxing weekend at home.

Cách ly Mặt Sách

Chiều qua vợ trổ tài khuấy một ly cà phê sữa đá (whipped coffee) mới học được trên Facebook. Uống cũng khá thơm ngon nhưng tối đến ba giờ sáng mới nuôi được giấc ngủ. Sáng nay sống như quái vật.

Nhắc đến Facebook, tôi phải cách ly với mạng xã hội này vì mỗi một ngày tôi mất đi tình cảm bạn bè và người thân. Thôi thì thà ra đi còn hơn. Tôi cứ tưởng rằng cho dù ai theo đường lối chính trị nào thì cũng không ảnh hưởng đến tình thân cá nhân nhưng tôi đã sai lầm. Bây giờ người Việt nào phê bình ông già dịch là bị tẩy chay ngay. Đọc sơ qua những tin tức của cộng đồng người Việt tại hải ngoại khiến tôi xấu hổ vô cùng. Họ thờ phượng ông như thờ phượng thánh. Không ngờ ông đã trở thành cái cult trong cộng đồng Việt.

Ai muốn tôn sùng hay cúng bái ông cũng không liên quan gì đến mình. Thôi thì nên cách ly với Facebook và tập trung vào cái blog nhỏ nhoi này của riêng tôi. Thế giới của tôi càng ngày càng thu hẹp lại. Biết sao bây giờ. Tôi cũng không phải là người biết xã giao. Sao cũng được. Hôm nay thiếu ngủ nên tâm trạng không sáng suốt lắm. Cuộc sống bây giờ thật khác thường. Tôi chưa bao giờ trải qua cả trong đời. Chỉ cầu mong cho mọi chuyện rồi sẽ qua và thế thới trở lại bình thường.

Thư gửi gia đình

Kính thưa đại gia đình trên toàn thế giới,

Trong những ngày tháng đầy hiểm trở và bấp bênh, cuộc sống của mọi người ra sao? Nhất là các chú, bác, cô, cậu. Nếu được, xin dành dài phút chia sẻ với mọi người về cuộc sống của mình nhé.

Ở đây gia đình cháu và mẹ cũng tạm ổn. Trường của tụi nhỏ đóng cửa cho đến hết năm học. Nhà trẻ thì không biết chừng nào mở lại. Ở nhà hai vợ chồng cùng làm việc cùng dạy dỗ và chăm sóc cho đám nhỏ. Cũng may là những tiệm rượu vẫn cho là cần thiết, nhất là vào thời điểm này, nên còn mở cửa. Nhốt trong nhà với bốn thằng con trai có cực nhọc nhưng cũng có cái vui như cái video clip này.

Coi như tụi cháu vẫn còn may mắn vì còn có công ăn việc làm và mọi người được bình yên. Mong tất cả mọi người trong họ hàng khỏe mạnh và an lành. Hãy cố gắng ở nhà và rửa tay thường xuyên. Cơn ác mộng rồi cũng sẽ trôi qua.

Mến,

Gia đình Dung, Doanh, Đạo, Đán, Xuân, và Vương.

Giây phút cách ly

Ở nhà tự nhốt trong phòng làm việc. Thế mà mở cửa ra là ngửi thấy mùi phở thơm phức. Bà xã ác thiệt. Biết tôi không ăn được thịt bò và biết tôi không biết kiềm chế bản thân mà cứ chơi nồi phở. Giữa phở đuôi bò và chicken pot pie anh chọn ai? Dù sợ bị gout nhưng cũng phải chọn tô phở thôi. Vừa ăn vừa cầu nguyện chúa gout đừng phát điên hành hạ tôi như con đười ươi cuồng da cam.

Gần hai tuần bị nhốt ở trong nhà, mấy chai rượu chát và két bia đã uống sạch. Thời buổi này cũng chả thèm bò ra ngoài mua. Còn một chai tequila đang uống dở dang và một chai vodka mua cho mẹ vợ ngâm tỏi vẫn chưa khui. Đó là chai vodka thứ ba rồi. Hai chai trước khui ra mẹ vợ chưa kịp ngâm thì tôi đã uống hết rồi. Lúc đó đi trượt băng nhiều nên chân không bị gout. Không biết rồi đây sẽ ra sao.

Sống kiểu này được bao lâu. Tối ngày quanh quẩn trong nhà. Ngồi vào bàn làm việc uống cà phê. Đứng dậy đi lục tủ lạnh kiếm đồ ăn. Xem tình hình hai thằng lớn học tập. Xem nhạc Việt và nhảy nhót với hai thằng nhỏ. Ăn mắng. Ăn mắng. Ăn mắng. Muốn xả stress phải có rượu. Uống nhiều rượu sợ bị gout. Cuộc đời nó khốn nạn thế đấy.

Nói đùa cho vui chút thôi. Tôi may mắn lắm rồi. Trong thời buổi gay cấn khó khăn, tôi vẫn còn công ăn việc làm. Tôi không bị ảnh hưởng vì công việc tôi làm ở nhà càng tốt. Khỏi phải dậy sớm la hét con đi học. Khỏi phải ủi đồ. Mỗi lần họp qua video, chỉ khoát lên cái áo sơ mi là xong. Khỏi phải mất thời gian lái xe đến chỗ làm. Khỏi phải chuẩn bị đồ ăn trưa. Khỏi phải ăn trưa vì muốn ăn lúc nào cũng được. Nghĩ lại chọn ngành về internet cũng không tệ. Cách ly cũng làm được.

Nói đến stress thì vợ tôi bị stress nhiều nhất. Cả ngày quăng mắng hết con đến chồng. Giờ đây không khí căng thẳng lắm. Nói đùa cũng bị ăn mắng luôn nên thôi không chọc ghẹo nữa cho yên cửa yên nhà.

A Bad Asian Confession

I’ve been listening to “Asian Enough,” an Asian-American podcast hosted by Jen Yamato and Frank Shyong. At the end of each episode, the hosts asked their guest to share a bad Asian confession. In the bonus episode about the Coronavirus, the L.A. Times health reporter Soumya Karlamangla confessed that she doesn’t speak her native language. Yamato and Shyong shared her sentiment. They don’t speak their native language either. I don’t have that issue because I can speak, read, and write Vietnamese. In the past few years, I have read voraciously and practiced writing my native language. I am proud to say that my Vietnamese is as good or as bad as my English.

The concept of a bad Asian confession intrigued me; therefore, I gave it some thought. I was not sure if I should reveal it, but it was part of my past. I hope I won’t get in trouble. Here’s my confession. In my sophomore year in high school, I dated a white girl briefly. She was sweet, smart, and slightly shy. What attracted me to her was her writing. We took an English class together over the summer and she helped proofread all of my papers. My English grammar and my writing were terrible. I composed my English sentences by translating what I wanted to say in Vietnamese. I was ashamed of my own writing, but she encouraged me to write. She also helped me write to colleges to request information and application.

Our relationship developed after a few months. One day, I came to her house to pick her up to go to a movie. I was excited and nervous. When I came to the door, her father greeted me, but he didn’t look too happy. I said hello and held out my hand. He shook my hand, but I had a feeling he didn’t like this Asian guy dating his daughter. I talked to her about it after we went to the movie and she assured me that it didn’t matter how he felt about me. It only mattered how she felt about me. He’ll have to get over it.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get over it. A few weeks later, I wrote her a letter expressing how I felt and wanted to end our relationship. She wrote back with anger and disappointment. She ended the letter with, “I guess I am just another white girl.” That line still haunts me today. I let her down. I made a really bad judgement. I overacted. I am sorry. I fucked up.

Just Hanging In

We made it through a week of working, parenting, and quarantining. The global pandemic is spreading wider and closer by the hours. A student who attended classes at George Mason University’s Arlington campus, which was where I worked up to last week, has tested positive for the Coronavirus. I did not interact with any student; therefore, I don’t think I am compromised.

Home is now the center of our lives. My bedroom has become a place for me to work and sleep. Yesterday, we interviewed two candidates for the digital marketing specialist position through Webex. The interviews went well and the kids didn’t interrupt me. We have four more candidates to go through. I was hoping to get someone with some HTML and CSS knowledge since the new person will be working closely with us, but the hiring committee had tossed out my technical questions. Other than the interviews, remote working was business as usual. I still had projects to work on and things to take off as we are still dealing with the pandemic.

Đạo and Đán are getting into their routines. I set up a laptop for each of them to do their school work online. Thanks to Đán’s teacher for sending us a dozen emails a day, we are keeping him busy. He set up a Google Classroom, assigned books on myON, and came up with quizzes for them to do. He always made sure to let us know that these activities were only optional. He also recommended “Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems” for the kids to draw.

Đạo’s teachers only sent one email and their guidance was loose; therefore, we gave him less instructions. I encourage him to read books and write journals. He could write anything he wanted. He can write about how he created his new LEGO tank. He can write about his day. I would love to read his feelings about his life as well as his parents. He can write honestly about us. I showed him my blog, in which I write about them and my own life.

Đán asked me if he could use curse words in his journals like I did in my blog. Of course he could if those words helped him express his feelings. The other day he whispered in my ears the words dick and bitch. I asked him where he learned them from. He hesitated to tell me at first, but I made sure that he won’t get in trouble if he told me. Of course, they came from his friends. Because he knew those two words, I had to explain to him how to use them and the consequences of using them. For example, bitch is a derogatory word for girl; therefore, he will get in trouble for using it in that context. Since I can’t control my kids from being exposed to new words, I hope I can guide them in using them appropriately.

Unfortunately, Xuân held on the the word stupid and wouldn’t let it go. He still used it when he was joking as well as when he was mad. He even got his three-year-old cousin started saying it. Listening to the two of them arguing was hilarious. When they ran out of words, they just blew spits (not spitting on) at each other.

Staying home with Xuân is a bit of a challenge. He is going through the rebellious stage. He is loud and expressive. We had to find activities for him to keep himself busy like painting and drawing. He liked to dance to Vietnamese pop tunes so that helped as well. If everything else failed, we used our last resort: the iPad.

Vương had been the most difficult because he constantly wanted his mom to breastfeed him. He also liked to go outside and enjoyed a bike ride. After work, I took them out for a bike ride around George Mason main campus and let them play outside for a bit. I filmed a short clip of them rolling among themselves off the hill and posted on Facebook. My mom called and advised me not to let them do that. They might catch the Coronavirus from the grass. OK, mom.

The hardest thing for me working from home was the food distraction. I kept checking the fridge compulsively like a crack fiend even though I knew everything in there was for my kids. Another string cheese? Why not. On the table next to the fridge, a bottle of vodka and a bottle of tequila stared at me, but no thanks. I had maxed out my limit, thanks to my wife’s delicious phở. I do not want another gout attack.

My wife had the hardest job so far between working, cooking, and feeding Vương. It is understandable that she could get a bit grumpy. Last night, Đán asked me, “How can you and mommy date each other when you don’t even love each other?” I asked him, “What made you say that?” He replied, “She keeps yelling at you.” I explained to him that this is a stressful time for us, and especially for her. Even though I tried to help out, it was not enough. I recognized My shortcomings. You can help us out by simply being a good son and brother. We will make it through this tough time together. Just hang in here, son.

Alcoholic

Molly wrote:

Now for some frank words. Alcoholism Donny is not about how much people drink—it’s about the need to drink. Don’t follow suit, and if it’s hard, think about getting some help. I have been concerned about you for some time, and haven’t said anything because well it’s none of my business, except it is my business because I care about you and you’re my friend. What has raised the alarm for me over the past year is how much you write about drinking… I don’t know if you’re conscious of how often you think and talk about it. I’m old enough to have seen many loved ones struggle with this terrible disease, and very few of them ever recovered. So I’m sending good ju-ju your way asking you to take stock, and think carefully about not just how much or how little you drink, but your desire to drink, which is a complicated mix of genetics and other factors. But it is closely related to depression, and it is a kind of self medication with poison. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about this frankly; there may be help for you that you are not aware of in the form of medication or therapy or groups that can help you. Don’t wait until it is a crisis. Do this for your loved ones—especially your wife and your boys. I hope you take this is the spirit of love in which I offer it.

I responded:

I appreciate your concern and frank words for me. I like to drink and write about it, but I don’t drink everyday. Every alcoholic would say that he doesn’t have a problem, but even if I wanted to drink I can’t because I have gout. A gout attack could last a week or two and each attack was so painful that I wished I didn’t drink at all. Even when I was having a drink or two, I had to think of the consequence of a flare up afterwards. As bad as it might sound, but having gout is a curse and a blessing. It kept my alcoholism in check. In addition, my wife wouldn’t tolerate my drunkenness. I also understood my responsibility as a father although a drink could take the edge of parenting at times. I am glad you pointed it out though.