Sunday, February 29, 2004

ALL FLORIDA'S FAULT...

Dear Florida:

I like you because Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin live there. I like you because you make fresh-squeezed orange juice. When I visited you in November, I didn't see Capriati, Seles, Roddick, Safin or fresh-squeezed orange juice trees. So, now I dislike you.

We are in the midst of war, recession and chaos. But because of you, our leadership is worried about profanity and nudity. I am concerned about a country that is perfectly capable of and willing to kill unseen sons and daughters in war, teach children to carry weapons, yet feel a large disdain for nudity and the use of profanity. Profanity and nudity aren't indecent, war is.

I am digressing, however, everyone must read this article posted on CNN's International Edition site about the Bush adminstration's distortions of scientific research in order to advance their political agenda. So disturbing.

Florida, you must make up for the mess we're in. So, everyone in Florida, please go out and vote!

Thursday, February 19, 2004

CUONG'S SURVIVAL GUIDE: TEMPING

These days, the dot-comers of the late 90s are now the lowest of the low in the workplace: the temps. Yes, temps have replaced the company drunk and lowly interns as the most pathetic subset of a company. Face it, if you're not temping, you know someone who is. Though it's hard to figure out how someone cannot find a job, sometimes that's the way the cookie crumbles...

But let's face it, temping is dirty, crappy, grunt work. But for all the working temps out there, stop throwing darts at your "co-workers" and wonder how those dumbasses have jobs and you don't. In the first Cuong's Survival Guide, here are several suggestions to deal with the hell that is temp-dom.

Never, Ever Stress
One of the biggest advantages of being a temp is that you're, well, temporary. So, you won't be held accountable for your mistakes. And by the time they find your mistakes you'll be long gone. So, work like the lazy half-ass you are and don't even stress attention to detail, accuracy, and accountability.

Be Productive
Nobody wants to hire anyone who does nothing. So, use temping to work on resume, job hunt or writing. Here's what you do: Maximize your "work-related document" to the entire size of the computer. Open your personal file to half the size of the screen and move it to the bottom half. When someone comes click on the "work" document and they'll never see your real work.

Locate Office Floor Plan
It's important to know your company's floor plan in order to locate the nearest emergency exits and bathrooms. But also, locate the best entry-route for when you're late and find the office supply room. I find that the supply room is a great way to replenish supplies for my home office. How can you argue with a great deal?

Find Alone Time
Sure, taking breaks can help break the montomony of work, but I find it helpful to take longer breaks in order to rejuvenate. When you need it, go to the bathroom stall, lay down a seat protector and have a seat. Relax. No one will bother you there. I find my time there to be peaceful and cathartic.

Sure, temping is hell. But these days, work is work. While it's tough and thankless, I hope these suggestions will help you make the world of temping fun, prosperous and even profitable. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 12, 2004

FATHER'S DUTIES

"...When I consider him, I see how my [immigrant] father had to retool his life to the ambitions his meager knowledge of the language and culture would allow, invent again the man he wanted to be. He came to know that the sky was never the limit..."
-- Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker
      His way was with silence. His words never spoke to us the way his silence did. Every day, on the walk home from our grandparent’s house, it was the same way. He was the same way: lips pressed, eyes bereft, and body barely moving. Even as we followed him, we saw his blank stare into the nothingness ahead and heard his lost words. We knew what it meant, his wordlessness always meant the same thing. What was hinted was always clear.
      We traced his steps, our arms quietly, unmovingly close to our bodies; not making a single sound, like we knew we should. His sons' homework waved in the wind and his daughter twisted a Rose Petal cut-out in her hands. He led us through the dirt alley to our small home. When he unlocked the door, he stood there, waited for his children to enter. We entered quietly, one by one, our arms still by our sides. He followed us in, closed the door behind him and twisted it lock.
      My brother and sister ran to the TV and turned it on. As the gray fuzz turned into color pictures, they stumbled backwards onto our sofa. My father disappeared into the kitchen. When he returned, he stood next to the TV, under the doorframe of the kitchen and living room. And what he was without, he made up in presence. His simple stance drowned out our world of TV and all that was in front of us was our father. In his right hand he gripped the feather-end of the feather duster. His hand wrapped around the feathers and slightly bounced the bamboo off his left hand. We looked up at the shadow that towered over us.
      "Turn off the TV," he said.
      Even right in front of him, he never saw us. And he revealed nothing with his eyes or face. It was what gave his words so much power. We looked at each other, his silence silenced us. I walked toward the TV and turned it off.
      "Lay down on the floor," he ordered.
      We wandered slowly to the middle of the living room and laid down, our faces buried in the carpet. Three bodies spread out in front of our father's feet. I didn't hear him take the feather duster back, but I heard it whipping through the air and knew it was coming down...
      Over and over again, the air whipped and roared. And each time, the warning was worse than the pain. Flesh was broken, anger released...
      When he finished what he started, my father left quietly. We all knew it was over and slowly crept up. My brother sat up, his hands grabbing the carpet, trying to rip it out. My sister rose, her body slouched and arms in between her legs. The Rose Petal cut-out crumpled in her little fingers.
      We sat there crying our anger out. The gray television screen stared at us. In the reflection we saw each other cry. We stared. Our tears slowly rescinded into quiet breaths. Our tears dried. So, I turned on the TV again and we all sat back on the sofa: myself, my brother and my sister. Through our young eyes, we escaped and forgot.
      "Drink your milk," my father announced from the kitchen.
      We walked into the kitchen to find our usual cups of milk on the small table. An orange cup in each of our hands, we drank our daily dose of milk and showed our father that we were good by quickly finishing it. We presented him our empty cups proudly. He nodded.
      When Mom comes home from work we'll tell her how quickly we finished our milk, we told him. Again, he nodded. His work was not done, he was still cleaning the rice for dinner. And he had the cups to wash. We returned back to our TV. It made us forget.
      "Cuong, come in and take your bath," my father called from the bathroom.
      I entered the bathroom and saw my father's hand under the running water, making sure the water wasn't too hot or too cold. I climbed into the tub. I watched my father as he washed me with his hands, cleaning with warm water.
      "You see," he said, staring at my burning red marks, "you're so disobedient."
      I didn't say anything.
      "Come here at look at your brother's disobedience," he ordered.
      My brother and sister entered the bathroom and he made me turn around so they could see all the red marks on my behind. They looked at the marks as if they didn't know what had happened. And when he told them they could leave, they walked outside to the sound of the TV. With a towel, my father gently dried me and handed me a small yellow comb.
      "Here, comb your hair," he said.
      As he pushed the door open, I walked through. He stood there in the doorway and reminded my brother and sister that he was their father.
      "Did you two see that? It's what happens to you when you're disobedient," he told them.
      They knew because they had the same red marks as I did. We were too young to understand it all; I was six, my brother was five, and my sister was four. What we understood at that age was our father's anger, what he was to us. In his eyes, we saw this: the father who picked us up from Grandmother's house after school, the father who bathed us, the father who cooked for us, the father who took care of us until our mother returned home from work... Until she returned from work. This was what we knew.

***
      We laugh about it now.
      "Remember when Dad slapped you and you went" - my sister jerks her head abruptly to one side - "ugh!" She laughs.
      "Shut up!" I grin.
      "I remember, it was in Chinatown and you cried," my brother smiles.
      "It was a long time ago," I say, now swallowing their words down my throat. "A long time ago."

Friday, February 06, 2004

WARRIORS OF PEACE

"The draft law commands that we shall not aid, abet or counsel men to refuse the draft. But...when young men refuse to allow their conscience to be violated by an unjust war and a criminal war, then it is necessary for their elders...to make clear their commitment, in conscience, to aid, abet and counsel them against conscription."
-- Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night
War is enmeshed in nationalism and heroism. It is spurred on by patriotic fervor, by righteousness of the cause, even by the ostentatious use of the flag. In doing so, it casts opponents of war, purveyors of peace, as un-American and un-courageous. But I think it's very nationalist and heroic, as much so as the fever of war, to oppose war. For, to risk jail, to risk alienation, to risk life for your ideas and belief is very American.

I don't know war first-hand. Though, I've heard about it from my mother and aunts and uncles who lived through Viet Nam's tumultuous past. And remarkably, they survived. But war is a marked experience beyond human comprehension. Only those who live through it may be able to comprehend its terror, its depravity, its loss.

Lately, war has been on my mind. Perhaps the context of our current war on Iraq has compelled me to question the idea of war, the idea of peace. Also, I recently read two books that question ideas of war and peace.

Norman Mailer, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Armies of the Night, traces three days in 1967 leading up to an anti-war demonstration in Washington D.C. Mailer writes about writing, the true motivation of the Viet Nam War, and about himself. But within his diatribes, Mailer provokes engaging questions about war and our place in seeking peace. The revolutions in the '60s were, well, revolutionary. In the context of the time, Mailer poignantly portrays the "cowardly" draft dodgers as men who chose "not to violate their conscience." In a way, re-writing history and re-articulating nationalism. And re-articulating ideas of war and peace.

In National Book Award-winning author Maxine Hong Kingston's The Fifth Book of Peace, Kingston writes about a sanctuary of peace that existed in Hawai'i during the Viet Nam War. In her book, part fiction, part memoir, Kingston writes about warriors of war who sought shelter in a sanctuary of peace, risking imprisonment and alienation from their families, rather than participate in an unjust war. The idea of a sanctuary of peace is just interesting and thought-provoking. She also re-articulates the idea of war as peace. That we should be warriors of peace.

There are several other books I have to mention that shed light on war/peace. Denise Chong's The Girl in the Picture recounts the life of Kim Phuc, the girl in the famous picture running naked after being napalmed. Phuc survived the encounter, and her picture helped to galvanized Americans towards peace. I think the story of Kim Phuc and her will to survive is remarkable. John W. Dower's War Without Mercy is a fascinating account of World War II. Dower talks about the de-humanizing and propaganda aspect of the war that makes you seriously consider the question of race and politics and war. I have no doubt there are other note-worthy books on peace, but those are my suggestions. Read well!

For me, books help shed light onto darkness, this time, on war, on peace and on our propaganda-induced mass media. And, even though I have not lived through war, I know this: when a war prematurely extinguishes the life of a child, a mother, a father, a daughter, or a son, then that war is wrong.