Visualgui 2021 Iteration 2: NewsReader

For the second iteration of this blog, I am switching up the typefaces. The body text is now set in NewsReader, a beautiful serif typeface by Production Type. NewsReader comes equipped with legible Vietnamese diacritics. Big headers are now set in Name Sans, by Arrow Type. Name Sans supports Vietnamese, in which I had a small role in it. I am keeping Recursive Mono, also by Arrow Type, for coding samples.

For the design, I am stripping down the layout a bit and going for all black and white with red only on the hover state. I also keep the dark theme, which is pretty much the opposite of the light theme. The accented color is still red.

I also brought back the navigation, which I had avoided using for so long. I moved all the information related to the site to an info page, but I filled out the navigation with links to various sections as well as to my professional website.

I keep tinkering around this blog. It’s my personal site.

Tiếng hát Hà Vân 3: Tuyệt phẩm Hoàng Thi Thơ

Tiếng hát Hà Vân ngọt ngào và dịu dàng rất thích hợp với những tác phẩm đồng quê của nhạc sĩ Hoàng Thi Thơ. Tuy nhiên album này được đạt đến xuất sắc là nhờ vào lối hòa âm khéo léo của Quang Ngọc. Anh đã đem lại những âm thanh xưa của trước năm 1975 nhưng có âm hưởng mới mẻ.

Nhịp điệu chachacha cùng tiếng kèn saxo solo trong “Đường xưa lối cũ” gợi lại phong cách của Sài Gòn năm xưa. Giọng nam Lê Minh Trung trong “Mấy nhịp cầu tre” không khác gì tiếng hát Duy Khánh ngày xưa. Nhịp điệu tươi vui nhưng đáng chú ý nhất là tiếng kèn trumpet bè cho đôi song ca. Tay trumpeter này chơi theo jazz nên đem đến cho bài hát một sắc màu đậm đà. Và tiếng kèn trumpet lại xuất hiện trong “Duyên quê” cùng tiếng sáo. Hơi đáng tiếc là phần trumpet solo quá ngắn (chỉ được có hai bars). Phải chi để tay ấy improvise từ sáu đến mười hai bars thì phê biết mấy.

Bên cạnh những nhạc phẩm đồng quê tươi tắn cũng có những bài buồn như “Tạ tình” và “Ai buồn hơn ai.” Tuy nhiên nhạc phẩm khiến người viết này phải nghẹn ngào là “Đám cưới trên đường quê.” Tuy đây là một bài hát vui nhộn nhưng nó đem lại những ký ức về tuổi thơ và mẹ của tôi. Ngày xưa lúc còn ở Việt Nam, tôi được mẹ đu đưa võng và ru ngủ bằng bài hát này vào mỗi buổi trưa. Qua giọng hát Miền Nam chất phác và êm ái của mẹ, tôi đã thuộc lòng lời hát dễ thương của chú Hoàng Thi Thơ:

Ô! ô! sáng hôm nay trên quê hương tôi,
Quê hương xinh xinh quê hương hữu tình,
Quê hương xinh xinh quê hương hòa bình,
Đường nở hoa trắng, xanh, vàng, tím,
Đẹp làm sao bướm bay chập chờn.
Đàn chim non véo von ngọn tre,
Khăn mầu son, áo mầu vàng,
Ơi, bà con đến xem mùa cưới!
Chân hài cong, tay dù hồng.
Lâu thật lâu mới thấy được một ngày vui!

Tuy nghe Hà Vân hát mà hình bóng của mẹ đã hiện về trong tôi và không thể nào nén lại cảm xúc được. Tôi nhớ mẹ vô cùng. Nhớ tiếng hát ngọt ngào, nhớ nụ cười duyên dáng, và nhớ tình thương bao la của mẹ. Rồi nhớ đến sự quằn quại khó thở ở những ngày cuối đời của mẹ, tôi lại rơi nước mắt. Cả cuộc đời mẹ khổ đau đã nhiều thế mà lúc nhắm mắt cũng không thoát khỏi sự đau khổ cho đến lúc mẹ thật sự ra đi.

Giờ đây không biết bao lâu nữa mới thấy được một ngày vui nhưng rất cảm ơn album này của Hà Vân đã cho tôi gợi nhớ lại tiếng hát và hình ảnh của mẹ tôi. Tuy vui mà buồn. Tuy buồn mà vui.

Rebecca Elliot: Painless Grammar (Reread)

I like to revisit grammar books once in a while to remind myself of the rules and the idiosyncrasies in the English language. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the fifth edition of Rebecca Elliot’s Painless Grammar as much as the first time I read it. The content is still helpful. I just got bored of reading about grammar. Let’s get back to more exciting fiction books.

My Personal, Public Blog

My son Đạo has been reading my blog. He reads not only just my latest posts but also the archives. He has read as far back as 2014 on family-related posts in English. He has 11 years worth of materials to go.

I have been blogging for 18 years and I have finally found an audience. That’s an accomplishment that I have never set out to do. Even today, I write for myself. I have been writing like no one is reading. I don’t think about any particular audience when I write. Not setting an expectation liberated me to write whatever was on my mind. The drawback is that I had gotten myself in trouble on several occasions. I didn’t know how far I had gone until it backfired. I rather take that risk than censoring myself. If I cannot be free to write on my personal blog, I might as well just shut it down. For almost two decades of blogging, I only fucked up a dozen times. That’s pretty good.

My only goal for this blog has always been to practice my writing. I started writing in English first because I was terrible at it. I could not keep my grammar straight. English has so many rules and some of them are so idiosyncratic. Even today, I still have to look up lay versus lie to make sure I use the correct one. I have made tons of grammatical errors, but I kept on writing like no one is watching. I don’t give a shit about the grammar police, but I always welcome edits from anyone who cared enough to send them my way.

While concentrating on English, my Vietnamese was slipping. I only began to write in Vietnamese when I figured out how to add diacritical marks. Unlike English, Vietnamese is a bit easier to write for me. Other than keeping my spelling straight, I don’t have to worry about grammatical errors. I realized that Vietnamese has no grammar rules. There’s no such thing as singular versus plural. There’s no rule on past, present, future, and perfect tenses. I could not find a Vietnamese grammar book. I don’t think it existed. (If anyone has such a book or knows one, please let me know.) I can build up my sentences any way I wanted to and it would not be grammatically wrong. They might not make any sense, but they are not wrong. As long as I spell correctly and have a logical flow, I can write in Vietnamese. Because there’s no rules in Vietnamese, it is a challenge to become really good at it. One of my favorite Vietnamese songwriters is Trịnh Công Sơn whose lyricism remains fascinating to study. He bent and substituted words in unexpected places and still managed to make his lyrics flow naturally. You would miss his wordplay unless you pay close attention to it. I still read his lyrics and discover something new every time.

For my blog, the topics varied from deeply personal to mundane documentation. I don’t know if anything I had written resonates with anyone. I didn’t know who reads my site, but I do now. Of course I welcome him into my world. This blog is a place for me to collect my thoughts, my daily activities, and my personal interests. It just isn’t private.

Thất thứ bảy

Thưa mẹ, hôm qua Chị Hương và Thơm, Cháu Chris, Phương, Sammy, Eric, Cháu Chắc Aiden, cùng vợ chồng con đến Chùa Di Đà cúng thất thứ bảy cho mẹ. Đồng thời xin mẹ cho chúng con xả tang và thỉnh hình về thờ và tưởng nhớ mẹ.

Tết năm nay mùa dịch vẫn còn nên mọi người vẫn cẩn thận đeo khẩu trang và cách xa một chút. Sau khi rời chùa, cả gia đình ghé qua khu Eden ăn trưa. Tình cờ nghe được tiếng pháo nổ giòn giã làm chúng con nhớ về quê nhà tuy rằng giờ đây quê nhà cũng không còn được nghe tiếng pháo nữa. Đã lâu lắm rồi gia đình mới có cơ hội ngồi ăn một bữa trưa ấm cúng với nhau. Rồi đám cháu và chắt trai của mẹ tụ họp lại chơi với nhau. Chúng nó đồng trang lứa nên rất hợp gu và thân tình. Như thế là vui và hạnh phúc rồi.

Mẹ đã cách xa chúng con bảy tuần rồi. Nỗi buồn cũng từ từ lắng xuống nhưng nỗi nhớ vẫn không thể nào nhạt phai. Cho dù con không muốn chấp nhận nhưng cũng phải đối diện với sự thật. Con còn quá nhiều trách nhiệm đối với những người xung quanh và bản thân mình. Con không thể nào gục ngã. Những đêm trầm trọc khó ngủ con cũng phải ráng để lấy sức cho ngày hôm sau.

Con đã không dám đụng đến rượu vì sợ tinh thần yếu đuối của mình sẽ bị rượu khống chế. Con ăn chay được 49 ngày và dường như con đã mất đi sự thèm muốn mùi vị của thịt. Không ăn thịt con cảm thấy nhẹ nhàng hơn nên con sẽ tiếp tục thực hành cho đến khi nào muốn trở lại ăn mặn. Lúc trước tưởng ăn chay khó khăn nhưng giờ đây thấy cũng dễ dàng. Mỗi Chủ Nhật ghé chùa mua về ăn cả tuần. Khỏi phải làm phiền đến vợ làm món chay riêng cho con tuy vợ luôn sẵn sàng nấu. Mấy đứa cháu nội của mẹ phải ăn hết những gì trên đĩa của tụi nó vì ba chúng nó không thể nào ăn đồ thừa của bọn nó.

Mỗi lần kết thúc tụng kinh cầu siêu, thầy Pháp Quang thường đọc những câu thơ như, “Công cha như núi Thái Sơn / Nghĩa mẹ như nước trong nguồn chảy ra,” hoặc, “Nước biển mênh mông không đong đầy tình mẹ / Mây trời lồng lộng không phủ kín công cha.” Riêng con thì mượn lời ca của nhạc sĩ Trịnh Công Sơn, “Mẹ ra đi nơi này vẫn thế / Vẫn có mẹ trong tim chúng con.” Đúng thế, cuộc sống của chúng con vẫn phải tiếp tục trên thế gian này. Khi không còn được ở trọ trên cõi đời này nữa chúng con sẽ gặp lại mẹ ở miền Cực-Lạc.

Down Grades

For their second progress report, Đạo’s and Đán’s grades slipped drastically and I take full responsibility for the failure on my part. I had to leave town for the entire month of December of last year. Even when I came back home, I didn’t check on them. I took their words when they told me they have done their assignments and trusted that they took their education seriously, especially Đạo.

Unfortunately, they rushed through their assignments without giving any effort. When they were supposed to write a few sentences, they wrote a few words. Đán even ignored assignments his teachers reminded him of the due dates. They wanted to play video games more than to do their assignments. I was disappointed at their lack of accountability and responsibility. Their report cards were a reality check for me.

We talked about their lack of progress and Đạo was angry at himself. His grades were low, but we both know he can improve if he puts efforts into his assignments and participates in class discussions. He and I are now back to our cave in the basement. I have to keep an eye on him while doing my work.

I don’t worry about Đạo as much as Đán who has always been struggling with school in all subjects. He doesn’t know what he is doing because he doesn’t pay attention in class. I had to sit with him and help him catch up on his assignments. He still has trouble learning math, especially with multiplication and division. For Spanish, he uses Google Translate for everything. He is falling behind. I am hoping that working one on one with him will help him improve. He constantly needed to be reminded to stay focused. He could not sit still in a classroom setting. He would do better in an active environment. I can see how freely he felt on the ice skating rink. Even when he had group lessons, he did well. I am trying to get him to join ice hockey in the future if he continues with skating lessons. As for his school, we’ll see what happens after this year.

Thái Cường: Người chết thuê

Đọc tiểu thuyết của một tác giả trẻ mới biết mình già. Tôi không theo nổi cách viết văn của Thái Cường qua Người chết thuê. Tôi chỉ nắm được sơ sơ câu chuyện người thanh niên bị chứng bệnh ngủ rũ. Anh ngủ bất kể nơi nào và giờ nào. Vì thế anh làm nghề chết thuê. Người ta mướn anh chết giả để lừa gạt tiền phúng điếu. Còn những nhân vật khác trong truyện, càng đọc tôi càng không biết mình đang đọc gì. Có lẽ đầu óc không được tập trung khi đọc. Đành phải chịu thua thôi.

Phúc Trần: Sigh, Gone

When my life-long mentor asked me to take her back to my middle- and high-school journey, I was curious to know if my Vietnamese-American friends had faced the same challenges I had. Then I read Phúc Trần’s memoir and found many similarities in our experiences.

We settled in Pennsylvania. He was in Carlisle and I was in Lancaster. We faced bullying in school. We fought kids who called us “gook” and other racist remarks on the school playgrounds. We both turned to music to fit in. He got into punk rock and I got into hip-hop. Of course, we fantasized about American girls. I went as far as kissing her and he went as far as eating her out.

Although we were both raised by immigrant parents, I didn’t face the beatings from my father like he did from his. My dad was not around, whereas his father played a big role in his life. Phúc writes:

My father had started using a metal rod that he brought home from the tire factory. He couldn’t hit me as hard with his hand anymore (the manual spankings had stopped hurting me), and even a wooden spoon did not inflict enough pain: hence, the metal rod, dark gray and about the length of a yardstick, pitted with bits of ruddy corrosion. The rod was a piece of machinery that had been thrown away, and my father, eyeing it in the scrap heap, immediately saw its domestic potential. The rod was more efficient because it hurt more. And as a result, it required less effort while achieving maximum results. American efficiency, meet Vietnamese ingenuity. With the metal rod, two or three cracks across our buttocks or the back of our thighs sufficed. Message received, loud and clear.

In that particular incident, however, I was beaten with the rod across the rear end and legs with a dozen or so blows. I remember crying into the floral velour pattern of our brown couch and hearing my father counting off the blows. (He counted upward from one, so I never knew when he would stop.) Một. Hai. Ba. Bốn. Năm. Sáu. Bảy. Tám. Chín. Mười. Ten. I lost count after mười.

The scene is disturbing to read, but is nothing out of the ordinary for a Vietnamese father to discipline his son. Another major difference between us was that Phúc was a voracious reader as a kid whereas I hated books back then. His reading has served him well. This memoir is articulate, engaging, funny, and real. I loved every page, and more for all the Vietnamese words are written with diacritics.

Hate Crimes Agains Asian Americans

On January 28, Antoine Watson, a nineteen-year-old African American, violently pushed Vicha Ratanapakdee, an eighty-four-year-old Asian American, to the ground. The disturbing incident, which took place in San Francisco’s Anza Vista neighborhood, was caught on video. The victim was killed.

On January 31, Yahya Muslim, a twenty-eight-year-old African American, violently shoved a nine-one-year-old Asian American to the ground. The disturbing incident, which took place in Chinatown, Oakland, California, was caught on video. The victim suffered lacerations, abrasions, and a contusion to the left thumb.

These horrific hate crimes need to be brought to justice. How did we come to this point? When I was a kid, I had been taught to help the elderly. I was told to help them cross the street or to get them to where they needed to go. It never occurred to me to push or shove the elders to the ground, especially if they hadn’t done anything to me.

These types of attacks are the motivation that drive Asian Americans to support the demagogue. I support Black Lives Matter, but I can’t defend these hateful actions against my own community. I condemn these hate crimes.

Relief Fund for Ms. Consuelo Granados

When I still worked in the office, I would see Ms. Consuelo Granados almost everyday at noon. She either waited for me to microwave my food or vice versa. We made small conversations. Through Ms. Granados’s limited English, I have learned about her family from her children to grandchildren. When she knew there was leftover food in the building, she would notify me. Sometimes, she would give me a homemade tortilla.

I have tremendous respect for Ms. Granados. She shows up everyday and keeps the place clean. Although we work in the same building, I didn’t realize that she is not a George Mason employee until she told me. Mason contracted her company, which pays her $10.50 an hour, to work in our building.

Today, I have learned that Ms. Granados had COVID-19. Her husband, pregnant daughter, and son-in-law were also infected. Her company did not provide its workers with masks. When she had severe symptoms, she was granted two weeks of paid leave. She returned to work after five months with a $670 hospital bill that went to collector. Then her grandson was born prematurely and hospitalized for 13 days.

When the school sent out the news, my heart broke for my friend and coworker. I am glad that the law school community had pulled together a relief fund through GoFundMe to help her out during this difficult time.