Spiritless Airlines

A reader shared with me his recent experience with Spirit Airlines. Here’s what he wrote:

Is this the new way for Spirit to bump customers?

I had the worst experience flying (or not) with Spirit last weekend. We got involuntarily bumped from their flight without any compensation.

Our tickets were booked with the correct information directly via their website. We checked in online, received our boarding pass, all with the correct information matching our IDs. Once we got to the gate we were denied boarding because somehow we aren’t in the system. Gate agents said there is nothing they can do and told us to call reservation. We called reservation and was told that there is nothing they can do except to rebook the tickets for another $200. I politely declined their “generous offer.”

I didn’t make a scene however though I did promise them that if we don’t get on that plane with our boarding pass matching our IDs I’ll do everything within my power to let everyone else know about it.

I have never flown with Spirit Airlines and I won’t even consider it based on this reader’s horrendous experience. Spirit does not live up to its name.

100 Days

Dear Mẹ,

You’ve gone for 100 days and not a moment went by without you on my mind. I miss you madly, mẹ. Life has not been the same without you. My broken heart has yet to mend and my wounded soul has yet to heal.

I am so sorry that I could not save you from the deadly virus. I am so sorry that I could not be with you when you needed me the most. I am so sorry that I failed you. I am so sorry that I could never reciprocate all the love you had given me and all the sacrifices you had made for me. The guilt will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I am trying to move on, but I can’t get over what happened to you. How your life was robbed, I just can’t shake it off. It still enrages to think how easily it could have been prevented. It kills me inside to remember how you suffered and faced death. When I took Vương to the emergency room a few weeks ago, the hospital bed and the screens made me think of you. When the nurse took his oxygen level, I almost wept. His number was 100. In retrospect, my heart sank every time your oxygen level dropped.

As millions of Americans are getting vaccinated everyday, the pandemic is getting under control. I am getting my first shot tomorrow, 101 days after you have gone. I wish you were still here to get your shots. America will return to normal again, but my life will never be changed forever. This virus had taken away the greatest love of my life. I will never forget it or forgive it. I despise this virus and I do whatever I can to stop the spread.

I recently completed a project on COVID and Climate. I hope that the information will help people stay informed and start a conversation. I dedicate this project to you, Mẹ. The day that we had to decide whether to put you on the ventilator or not was also the day that I was supposed to kick off this project. I called off the meeting and cancelled the contract so I could focus on you. Besides, I could not think about anything else at that time. You were on my mind the entire time. Once I got back to work, I wanted to pick up that project again. Thankfully, it was still there for me to do.

I wish we could have debunked disinformation about this virus early on, especially in the Vietnamese-American community. I wish that wearing masks was a life-saving motivation rather than a political division. I wish that people were not so crazy about the cultist president who fed them kool-aid and bleach.

It is history now, but I have lost you. My brain still hurts and my heart is still heavy. I still haven’t found the light to drive me out of the darkness. Don’t worry, Mẹ. Other than expressing these feelings in writing, I keep them to myself. I don’t want my grief to have an effect on others, especially your grandchildren. They missed you deeply as well. You will always be in their hearts. They still remember the times they spent with you. How could they not remember someone who loved them unconditionally and gave them sweets any time of the day and night?

I love you so much, Mẹ.

Vaccine Scheduled

Yesterday my wife informed me that Fairfax County’s vaccine registration has opened for some frontline essential workers in phase 1c, which included faculty and staff at institutions of higher education. I immediately registered and scheduled on Thursday. My turn is finally here and I can’t get my first shot.

Skating Through Spring Break

The kids’ spring break comes to an end. I took a week vacation to tidy up the house. The first day went well. I reorganized the living room. For the rest of the week, I failed miserably. I was overwhelmed with the things we had accumulated, thanks to the one-click purchase and two-day delivery. I took the kids to ice skating, read, and just hang out. That’s a good staycation for me. Other than spending money on skating admissions and food, we saved a whole lot not renting a beach house.

Speaking of ice skating, we’re now having lots of interest. My nephews are taking lessons. My wife and her sister are starting out as well. On Friday, I booked 10 admissions for all of us. We took up 12 percent of the rink’s capacity. Its COVID restriction had increased from 65 to 85 skaters. With private lessons and 85 skaters, the rink is getting crowded. Practices have been a challenge.

Xuân is a natural skater. He just started out, but he skates well. I showed him how to glide on one foot and he could hold for 10 seconds. I showed him the cross-over. Instead of bringing his right foot over his left, he made a hop. I would fall on my face if I tried that.

Đạo is doing really well with his lessons. He started Gamma last week, but he can already do hockey stops, 3-turns, and Mohawk by watching me practice. He just needs more practice to perfect them.

Đán is doing Gamma/Delta. Last week, his instructor taught the class the bunny hop, which required the toe picks. He couldn’t do it because he’s using hockey skates. He tried out figure skates, but he refused to use it. He is now too comfortable with the hockey skates; therefore, he kept tripping over on figure skates because of the toe picks. He can’t take anymore ice skating lessons if he doesn’t want to make the transition over to figure skates. He wants to go into hockey instead.

Đạo and I will be making the transition over to figure skates. The break-in period will be painful, but we’ll try. It took me months to break into my hockey skates and now I have to go through it again. I am not sure yet, but I might be finished with lessons after completing Gamma. I am too old to do the jumps and spins. Then again, I kind of like the challenge.

At the beginning of Gamma, I was having trouble with the 3-turns and the Mohawks. Through determination and practice, I have overcome them. Our instructor threw a whole lot of techniques at us, but I only focused on one at a time. I practiced one technique over and over again until I could feel the flow for it before moving on to the next one. What I loved about ice skating is that once it clicked, it felt so natural. I don’t have to force myself to do it.

As for rollerblading, the kids seem to lose interest. As the weather is getting warmer and nicer, the skatepark is also getting crowded. One of the reasons the kids don’t like going to the skatepark is too much swearing. They are right. These teen skateboarders and even young scooters around my kids’ age cussed like sailors. Most of the time, I focused on skating and zoned out the noise around me. These days I noticed more and they cussed so much. I let my kids stay home and I went myself. I fell once in a while on the curved ramp, but my arms and butt were no longer in pain like before. I am also working on a backward swizzle. Other than that, I haven’t done much. I need to set up some kind of goals for rollerblading.

I still love these two sports, but I am leaning much more into ice skating. I still like to keep my options open. These days, skating is the only form of exercise that I am doing.

Naohiro Matsumura: Shikake

I have not read a book on design for a while and Naohiro Matsumura’s Shikake just drew me right back to my alley. The concept of shikakeology, which focuses on changing human behavior through design, is intriguing. According to Matsumura, a shikake must met the following requirements:

  • Fairness: A shikake does not disadvantage anyone.
  • Attractiveness: A shikake invites action.
  • Duality of purpose: The maker and the user of the shikake have different goals.

Matsumura provides a handful of real-world examples to illustrate shikake. Turning the stairs into a piano is a shikake that encourages people to use it. Adding a target to urinals decreases splashes by 80 percent. Combining a basketball hoop and a bin helps children to clean up their toys.

I am definitely interested in applying the concept of shikakeology in user experience on the web. If you’re a UX designer, I highly recommend this book. It’s a quick, informative read.

Mơ về Mẹ

Đêm qua lần đầu tiên tôi mơ thấy mẹ sau ngày mẹ ra đi. Khác với sự thật đã xảy ra, trong giấc mơ mẹ đã tỉnh dậy và hồi phục sau khi được rút ống (ventilator). Cả bác sĩ cũng không thể ngờ được. Tôi thật vui mừng và tin rằng điều kỳ diệu có thật. Nếu biết trước như thế thì đã rút ống cho mẹ từ lâu. Trong lúc đang gọi điện thoại cho chị báo tin vui thì mẹ đi vòng quanh ngoài nhà thương. Vô tình mẹ lọt xuống ao sen. Tôi đã kéo mẹ lên bờ và đưa mẹ về lại giường nghỉ ngơi.

Sáng nay tỉnh giấc buồn vui lẫn lộn. Vui vì được gặp lại mẹ trong giấc mơ. Buồn vì mẹ không còn bên tôi nữa. Mẹ đã xa chúng con 95 ngày rồi. Thời gian trôi qua thật nhanh. Mỗi ngày tôi vẫn nghĩ về mẹ. Có những giây phút không thể nén lại nỗi nghẹn ngào. Tôi vẫn không thể chấp nhận sự ra đi của mẹ. Phải chi mẹ không bị COVID. Phải chi mẹ đã vượt qua được nó.

Mấy tuần nay tôi khó ngủ, nhất là những đêm gió thổi ào ạt. Mẹ nằm ngoài nghĩa trang chắc lạnh lẽo lắm. Nghĩ đến mẹ, tôi không thể không chạnh lòng. Trong tinh thần và lý trí, tôi rất yếu đuối. Hy vọng các con của tôi sẽ không bị ảnh hưởng.

Hôm trước thằng Đán nói với tôi rằng nó đã nghe và thấy tôi khóc lúc bà nội chết. Nói nói rằng khi ba chết nó sẽ không khóc vì cái chết cũng là một phần trong cuộc sống. Thằng này hôm nay dùng triết lý nữa. Quả thật lúc mẹ ra đi, tôi đã cảm nhận được sự mong manh giữa sống và chết. “Còn sống một ngày là hẹn chết không may” (Trịnh Công Sơn). Rồi đến một ngày nào đó tôi cũng sẽ ra đi. Hy vọng sẽ gặp lại ba mẹ sau khi lìa xa thế gian này.


Nguyễn Minh Bích writes in the New Yorker:

I’ve tried to inhabit the name Bich. I used to add the accent over the “i” to show the correct spelling: Bích. The sound is somewhere between a question and an exclamation. But how can I get away from the gaze? It is one of my historical facts that the name is steeped in shame, because living in the United States as a refugee and a child of refugees was steeped in shame. America made sure I knew that, felt that, from my earliest moments of awareness. I cannot detach the name Bich from my childhood, cannot detach it from the experience of people laughing at me, calling me a bitch, letting me know that I’m the punch line of my own joke, too stupid or afraid to do anything but take it. When I see the letters that spell out Bich, I see a version of self I’ve had to create, to hide from trauma. Even now, typing the letters, I want to turn away. America has ruined the name Bich for me, and I have let it.

New Work: COVID & Climate

In early September 2020, Shari Hersh, director environmental justice at Mural Arts Philadelphia, reached out to me after she saw “Mapping Corruption,” an interactive webpage I designed for the American Prospect. Ms. Hersh liked the concept of presenting an interactive map and discovering the hidden corruption in every agency in the federal government under the Trump administration. Her team had been working on a similar project to unearth the hidden connections between COVID-19 and climate change. She invited me to design a website for this project.

Based on Professor Donna Haraway’s implosion method, COVID & CLIMATE is a collaborative effort between activists and artists exploring and illustrating the deep connections between environmental injustice and ecological crisis. By transforming a collective body of research into an interactive presentation, Covid and Climate invites people into conversation while generating a deeper understanding of the world around us.

Although the project was still a work in progress, I accepted Ms. Hersh’s invitation. Once her team completed the writings and drawings, I would start to develop the site. In late December 2020, we scheduled a kickoff meeting via Zoom. Unfortunately, it was on the same day I had to make one of the toughest decisions in my life. Should my mother who contracted COVID-19 get on the ventilator? I called off the meeting. I told Shari and her team that I had an emergency related to COVID-19 and that I could not take on the project at the moment.

My mother passed away after her brutal battle with COVID-19. I spent two months grieving and writing. In late January 2021, I sent Ms. Hersh an apology and checked in to see if she had found a web designer for the project. I felt bad for dropping the ball on her and her team, but I did not expect to get the job. Her team was in the process of interviewing several candidates for the project. Twenty four hours later, they decided to move forward with me.

From this point on, I worked closely with Ms. Margaret Kearney, an artist who led the project. From the get-go, I requested that all the illustrations must be in vector format so that I could export them into SVGs for the web. I loved working with SVG. It almost felt like using Flash in the early 90s, but in the web standard format. Although animation inside SVG is limited, I could add HTML classes and used CSS to give the artwork some scaling and fading effects.

In addition to handwritten text integrated into the artwork, the headers were set in Korinna. The text inside the blue boxes was previously set in Korinna as well and the body text was originally set in Futura. Korinna looked fine as headers, but the spacing was odd as reading text. Since I didn’t have access to the web-font format for Futura, I proposed switching both to Forma DJR. The change was approved.

With all the materials on hand, I designed the website quickly. Since this project was one of its kind, it deserved its own domain name and hosting. Because it was not tied into any content management system or technology, I had the complete freedom to design and develop from the ground up. The site is straight up HTML and CSS with heavy use of SVGs. I used a bit of PHP to make the site easy to manage and to update. Because all of the illustrations were in vector format, they look great on any device.

I learned a great deal while putting the site together. I read all the pages just to make sure all the characters and punctuations were correct, but also to learn about these invaluable discoveries based on facts and thorough research. I love the balance between engaging illustration and insightful content. Don’t take my words for it. Browse through the pages, read the texts, and discover the hidden connections yourself.

I dedicate COVID & CLIMATE to my mother.

Việt Thanh Nguyễn: The Committed

With The Sympathizer, I had to read the novel twice, much slower the second time, to follow the story and the characters. The Committed, however, is much easier for me to absorb. The structure was less complex and the writing was clearer.

Việt Thanh Nguyễn still has plenty of juice in his crime storytelling. The Committed takes readers into the dark corners in the City of Lights. Vô Danh, the anonymous protagonist, sets his foot in Paris, his father’s country, and joins a Vietnamese gang. On the surface, the novel is a chilling gangster thriller packed with sex, drugs, and violence. In the view of the Boss, a Vietnamese-Chinese gang leader, the Eiffel Tower has a completely different symbol.

On a deeper level, Nguyễn shines the light on racism, colonialism, and communism. Here’s an intriguing commentary on colonizations:

Your father was a colonizer and a pedophile, which go hand in hand. Colonization is pedophilia. The paternal country rapes and molests its unfortunate pupils, all in the holy and hypocritical name of the civilizing mission!

Here’s his take on being Americanized:

The American Way of Life! Eat too much, work too much, buy too much, read too little, think even less, and die in poverty and insecurity. No, thank you. Don’t you see that’s how the Americans take over the world? Not just through their army and their CIA and their World Bank, but through this infectious disease called the American Dream? You were infected and you barely even realized it!

Of course, he has plenty to say about the French:

The Vietnamese who came to France and did not feel at home returned to Vietnam to fight for the revolution or were deported by the French who suspected them of not being French enough. These were the Vietnamese who believed so sincerely in liberty, equality and fraternity that they did not see the parentheses, which the French used in place of hyphens: “liberty, equality, and fraternity (but just not yet, at least for you).” Flabbergasted, these revolutionaries became the indigestible Vietnamese, the ones who could not swallow France and who could not be swallowed. As for the Vietnamese who stayed in France, French culture had chewed on them since they were in Vietnam. By the time they came to France, they were already, like certain species of cheese, quite soft and easily digestible, qualities inherited by their ideologically pasteurized children.

The Committed is the sequel to The Sympathizer, but it also holds its own. Nguyễn, is a brilliant novelist. Using fiction to provide social and cultural criticisms makes him an important voice in the American literary. I have tremendous respect for him.

Mừng hụt

Hôm qua sau khi đi ice skate cùng đám nhỏ, tôi dắt bọn nó đi ăn kem. Bỗng nhiên nhận được một loạt email báo có hẹn đi chích ngừa COVID-19. Tôi ngạc nhiên vì chưa đăng ký mà đã có hẹn. Không biết có phải bị spam hay không. Xem kỹ càng thì thấy đúng là email từ nhà thương.

Mừng rỡ về định khoe với vợ nhưng vợ cho biết có người đăng ký dùm. Người ấy thấy còn chỗ trống nên bỏ tên và email của tôi vào luôn. Người ấy được ưu tiên vì có vấn đề sức khỏe (pre-conditions).

Tôi đã xem qua đơn trước khi đăng ký và đã không đủ điều kiện nên đã không đăng ký. Dĩ nhiên nếu muốn đi chích sớm thì có thể khai bệnh này bệnh nọ hoặc hút thuốc. Những chỗ chích ngừa không kiểm soát. Họ chỉ tin cậy vào lời khai trong đơn của mình.

Tôi rất cảm ơn tấm lòng của người ấy nhưng tôi đã hủy bỏ cuộc hẹn. Không phải tôi không muốn chích.It just doesn’t feel right. Thôi thì tiếp tục chờ đến lượt mình. Hy vọng chỉ một ngày gần đây thôi. Tôi không muốn chiếm chỗ người khác cần hơn tôi.