Completed the Beta Level

This evening I wrapped up my seven-week ice skating lessons. Beta was a challenging level for me because it focused on backward skating. I struggled to keep up. Every week I took half an hour of lesson time, but I spent at least five hours practicing in public sessions. I was a bit stressed out because we had to take a test at the end of each level. We had to pass the test in order to move to the next level.

Before taking the test tonight, I took a practice session to make sure I would pass. The test went well. I scored 49/50. I got perfect points for stroking, left T-stop, right T-stop, and left-over-right crossover. I got a 9 for my right-over-left crossover because when I crossed my right foot over, I also slid my left foot to the opposite side. It was a natural instinct.

Overall, the hard work paid off, but I am still debating whether I should take the next level, which is Gamma. I want to learn ice skating just for fun and having to take the test puts more pressure on the whole learning experience. Maybe I am just taking it more seriously than I should.

My coach always wore a beanie all the way to her eyebrows and a huge black mask that covered her entire face. Revealing only her eyes made her both mysterious and a bit intimidating. She appeared to be tougher than she was. She was an excellent teacher and I learned quite a bit from her coaching.

Safety’s Always First

I am an old-ass father who loves to skate with his kids. Whether on ice or on the street, I always wear my helmet and my protective gears. Although I don’t do anything crazy, I don’t want to put myself at risk even for minor injuries.

Đán wears his helmet, but he refuses to wear his protective gears when we go ice skating. He banged his knee against the wall real hard. He was in pain for a week. If he had his knee pads on, he could have protected his knees.

One time, we witnessed a woman break her wrist and an ambulance was called to take her to the hospital. She wore a helmet, but if she had her wrist guards on, she might have prevented the injury.

I had seen several adults fall and hit their head on ice, and yet not too many people wore helmets. At the skateparks, I rarely saw any skateboarders wearing helmets. From what I have read, wearing a helmet makes a skateboarder appear weak. I am at the age where that type of pressure doesn’t get to me. I explained to my kids that I rather look weak than the possibility of getting a head injury.

In retrospect, I put my life in danger on several occasions when I was a teenager myself. I hadn’t seen a coffin; therefore, I hadn’t shed a tear.

In high school, I rode with my best friend at the time who was into car racing. Once in a while, I sat next to him in his little red Acura Integra as he was doing 100 to 120 miles per hour on the highway racing against other friends with cars. Neither of us had our seatbelt on. What the fuck was I thinking? My life was in his hands.

A gun incident at a friend’s house still gives me a chill every time I think about it. The friend’s stepfather was a gun enthusiast. He had guns around his house. Another friend picked up a shotgun on the sofa and aimed at my head. They both knew the gun was not loaded. I suspect the gun was not loaded, but I told him it didn’t matter. I looked in his eyes and said that I didn’t want him to pull the trigger. He did anyway. I felt the chill air passing by my head. He thought it was just a joke, but I was dead serious. I didn’t need a friend who put my life in danger so fuck him. I never went back to the friend’s house again.

A boating accident still leaves me devastated even though it happened decades ago. A handful of us rented two canoes at a state park. None of us wore life jackets. Being dumb teenagers, we stood up on the canoe, which caused it to capsize. I could barely swim. Luckily, I was able to grab onto the boat. We flipped it over and climbed back on. We thought everyone was safe until we realized one of us was missing. He was a good friend of mine. We couldn’t find him. He was gone. If we had our life jackets on, he would still be here today.

In the time of the global pandemic, wearing masks could stop the spread of the virus. If wearing a mask could protect each other and save lives, it is not about freedom, but about responsibility. It is an individual freedom to not wear a mask, but it is not a freedom if the individual could affect others. If we had done our part, the death toll could have been less than 500,000 and my mother could have been alive today.

Maybe I am getting old; therefore, I am getting much more cautious. I take precautions over preventable risks any time. I have the responsibilities not just for my family, but also for my community and for my country.

The Life of Our Blogs

I was elated to see one of my posts was quoted in one of my favorite websites. I have been following Robin Rendle’s blog and newsletter for a while. I admire his writing, both style and subjects. We shared some common interests including typography and web design. I am glad that he found “Inheritance” resonated with him and that we both have thought about the life of our blogs. He expands on it:

At some point or another this website, this URL, won’t resolve though. Maybe the Internet Archive will stick around for a while, but then everything is locked within this vast archive.

But if my URL is dead, my website dies with it.

My work shouldn’t be presented in the Smithsonian behind glass or anything, I’m just pointing at this enormous flaw in the architecture of the web itself: you’re renting servers and renting URLs. Nothing is permanent because on the web we don’t really own any space, we’re just borrowing land temporarily.

I dashed off that post when my son said, “When you die, I will read your Visualgui.” I have thought about this topic when Kevin Davis, a former colleague at Vassar College, passed away in 2010. Kevin was a fantastic designer and developer. His website (alazanto.org) was beautiful and distinctively personal. It was created in Flash, but he fed in his poems through XML. After he died, I still visited his site and read the poems he had written. Then one day, the site stopped working because Flash was no longer supported and was uninstalled on my browsers. I guess he didn’t have a chance to update his site to HTML and CSS. Then one day it was completely gone. I guess his payment had ran out and he didn’t leave his keys to anyone else.

Inheritance

What will I leave my children when I die? Since I don’t have anything worthy or much money, I haven’t thought about it yet. Yesterday, Đán told me, “When you die, I will read your Visualgui.” I smiled at him and asked, “Will you and Đạo take care of it when I die?” He replied, “Sure, we will take care of it for you.”

I often wondered what will happen to my websites when I die. Will they just die with me? I have invested a tremendous amount of time and effort into them. This blog, in particular, has documented 18 years of my life. It has become my daily journal and I haven’t intended to stop writing. I will continue to maintain and redesign it for as long as I can.

Even though I make a living as a professional web designer, I find my passion and motivation to stay in the game from my personal websites. The web has not only allowed me to feed my family, it also allowed me to express myself. I can share anything to the world from just a few clicks away. When I wrote Vietnamese Typography, as my final thesis for my MA in graphic design, I knew that the only way to reach as many type designers and typographers all over the world was to publish it as a website. I also wanted to make it freely available for anyone to read. I did not expect it to become my little consulting business on the side.

I love the web and I love making websites that are meant to stay around for a long time. The tribute website I created for Ngọc Lan has been around for 18 years. Even though it is no longer as active as it was in the early days, I still am maintaining it for as long as I can.

A few years before Mr. Đình Cường passed away, his health was declining. His son hired me to put together a website as a special gift for him. Now the site has become an archive of his artworks. His legacy will live on as long as his son maintains the website. Thơ mưa, a book of poetry by Cao Nguyên, is another website that will stay on for as long as the author wants to keep it.

As for my own blog, I am not sure how long I will continue to keep it, but I am happy that Đán is willing to take care of it after I die. My sites might have no value to anyone else, but they are my pride and legacy. I designed them with pure HTML and CSS so that they will stay around for a long time. Fancy frameworks come and go, HTML and CSS stay around. I also host my webfonts along with my websites, instead of using a third party, to make sure that they will continue to work in the future.

Yesterday, Đạo mentioned that he had gone through 400 pages of my blog and read posts that were specifically about our family. He is now in 2009 and only has six more years of materials to read through. Only my own son has that much dedication to my writing and that means the whole world to me.

Fixing Squeaking Wood Floors

If you thought walking on a squeaking wood floor was bad, have you tried freaking on a squeaking carpet floor? Just putting it out there. Anyway, it was time to fix our floors, which had been squeaking for the past ten years. Why now? I hated house maintenance. I liked to spend more time fixing my virtual home than my real home.

Fortunately, fixing the squeaking floors was easy with the GBW Squeeeeek No More kit. It was even easier with my helpers: Đạo, Đán, and Xuân. I also found this YouTube video very helpful. Nowadays, I learned to do everything myself through YouTube.

Parts:

Total cost: $39

For 40 bucks, no more squeaking floors. Not a bad deal at all.

Remembering My Parents

A hundred days since my father passed away. He had stage-four pancreatic cancer. I was sad, but I had prepared three months before when my sister broke the news. I accepted the fact that we could not do anything to save him.

When he died, it was time for him to leave this earth. He had lived 85 years of his life. The life he had chosen. He didn’t raise me much. He shifted the responsibility to my mother. When I was a kid and needed him the most, I was furious that he was not around to teach me to become a man. When I grew older, I got used to my life without him.

I still loved him and I didn’t hold any grudges against him, but our relationship was never strong. We could not stay on the phone for longer than five minutes. He had no interest in my life except if I had taken good care of my mom.

On the other hand, I felt the distance between us physically and emotionally. I wanted to have a frank conversation with him about his situation, but I was told not to bring it up. He was my father and I shouldn’t be afraid to ask, but I didn’t know him well enough to understand his feelings. Maybe he didn’t want to know about his conditions.

When he passed, I didn’t shed a tear. Not because I was heartless, but because I didn’t do much for him when he was alive. I will always miss him as my father and he will always have a place in my heart, but his passing was not too hard to deal with. With his condition, age, and taciturn, he made it easy for me to let go. That’s a good thing.

Sixty days since my mother passed away and I still am deeply hurt. The pain is excruciating every time I think of her dying days. I could not hold my tears when I remember her beautiful, smiling face when she was younger in contrast to her distorted, buffed up face when she was on the ventilator.

The reality is that there was nothing we could have done for her despite having access to some of the best medical technologies and physicians in the world. I accept the fact that she would have to leave this earth eventually, but it is still hard for me to accept how she died. I am not putting the blame on anyone or pointing finger at anybody, but her death could have been prevented. She didn’t have to die this way.

My heart is still heavy and my mind is still burning every time I look back at the daily screenshots I had taken on my phone on our virtual visitations. She was deteriorating and I could not see it until one day a nurse put the camera up close. I just couldn’t believe my own eyes. She did not look like that the day before.

Although she had gone, I still can’t be at peace with myself for letting her stay all alone in that hospital bed surrounded by machines. In her previous hospitalizations, I was able to stay by her side. I slept next to her on the couch, talked to her, and even shared her hospital meals. She was sick, but not lonely. Her body was weak, but her mind was strong. With her loved ones by her side, she recovered quickly.

This time was different. It was more brutal. She was suffering and she could not have any emotional support on her side. Nevertheless she had fought on, as my friend Linh has observed:

I believe that your mom hung on as her last loving gesture to you, to let you grieve and come to terms on your own. I’m sorry to see you going through everything, but I think your mother’s love stays with you to the very end.

She held on for me and even saved her last tear for me. When the ventilator was out, I asked her to forgive me and to just let go. A lonely tear rolled down her eye and her heart stopped. I didn’t cry in front of her, but I broke down whenever I was alone and thinking about her.

I tried practicing Buddhism and listening to Buddha’s words to see if I can overcome my loss, but I have not. The suffering is still burned in my brain. The pain is still too much to subdue. The truth is still too hard to handle. Carrying on this burden does not do me any good. My mother wouldn’t want to see me doing any harm to myself. As much as I am feeling down, I am not out. As much as I am holding on to this grief, I am still moving forward. I just need more time to battle it out in my own mind. If I can still write about it, I will make it through.

An Exhausting Week

I was working, taking third grade classes, and tutoring at once. Đán hardly paid attention to his online classes; therefore, we had to sit through them together. I made him take notes with me when we learned about ancient China. When we were watching the video, I made him write down a few interesting points. As soon as the class discussion began, I made him raise his hand. He shared that the majority of China was Buddhism. His teacher was so glad that he participated.

When I had a meeting for work, I asked him to wear his headphones and listen to his teacher. While his classmates were writing poems, he just sat there waiting and doing nothing. When his teacher called on him to share what he had written, he simply said, “I haven’t done it.” He was supposed to come up with a list of things he liked and picked one to write a poem. His classmates came up with impressive poems and they are only third graders. This is what we came up with together:

I love making chicken wing
I dip it in flour while I sing
I cook it until it’s crispy and done
Then I eat it until it’s all gone.

Hey, at least they rhymed. After school was done, he had four assignments that were due at the end of the day. Last night I made him and Đạo completed their assignments and turned in at 10 pm. They still have more assignments to do today. Between their loads of assignments and my load of work, we won’t have time for anything else like ice skating and rollerblading. Their grades were slipping; therefore, they can’t do half-ass work anymore.

Đạo had to write a nonfiction story and it was due last night. I kept asking him to check with me first before he submitted it, but he went and submitted anyway. The minimum for the story was five slides. He did only four. Each slide required a paragraph and a photo. He wrote the paragraphs, but didn’t add any photo. No wonder his grades slipped in the last quarter. The story he wrote was good, but that was only half of the assignment. All he had to do was Googled, copied, and pasted images. He resubmitted his assignment.

I spoke to Đán’s teacher and raised my concern that he is falling way behind in class. She told me that he needs to be more responsible and independent. Unfortunately his grades and his inability to get his assignments done tell me that he needs help. If I don’t help him, he will lose his confidence and I am afraid that he will withdraw. I want to help him at this time and then gradually step back to give him his responsibility. If it is optional, I still want to keep him doing online classes at home so I can keep an eye on him. Last year, his teachers told me that he sat in class with his head down. He did not participate in class and he did not do his assignments either. When he was in school, I couldn’t help him much. At home, I can follow his progress easier. Of course, this will change when I have to go back to my office, but it might be working out for now. I am hoping to catch him up.

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.

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.