Ersatz Remarks

One of the benefits of being [cough] 40, is that I’ve been on the Internet for a long, long time now. I made my first website in 1994. Back before ‘bots trolled these parts. But now they are everywhere, with all sorts of supposedly tricky ways of getting their links out there. The ones I hate the most may be the comment litterers. Not the ones that are blatantly trying to get me to “click here,” but the sneaky ones that feign interest in the blog post. I get a boatload of these on our family travel blog. Here’s just a sample from this week…

On a post about hanging out with aunt and watching a kids’ movie, someone wrote:

“Hey Great post. This is a bit off topic but im making a site on gold pawn shop [link removed]. I was just wondering what theme you are currently using for your website .Thanks :)”

On a post where I talk about visiting the Peterson Rock Gardens near Bend, Oregon, I got three of ’em:

Hi! Is it ok to use these information in my prject? thanks!

Your blog is awesome. Thank you so much for giving plenty of awesome content. I have bookmark your blog siteand will be without doubt coming back. Once again, I appreciate all your work and also providing a lot great tricks to the audience. [tricks?!]

Blasphemy! Hehe Just kidding! I’ve read similar things on other blogs. I’ll take your word for it. Stay solid! – your pal.

Don’t worry, chum, I’m solidly solid.

I wrote that I’d finished another chapter and put a little snippet of it in and got this response:

I am doing research for my university paper, thanks for your excellent points, now I am acting on a sudden impulse.

Excellent points like “I want to eat bun cha at the Thanh Hoa market. I want to sit on the porch breaking open red watermelon seeds with friends.” Yeah, I’m sure s/he’s using that for that sudden, impulsive research.

One of my favorites on a post with ZERO comments:

Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained I’m sure you had fun writing this article.

I read them, I delete them, and more often than I’d like to admit, I see these same posts on other blogs. The same comments that I’ll receive a half-dozen times this week. Usually it makes me smile at the sheer idiocy of the Internet’s evolution.

Tam Biet, Em Be (an excerpt)

I have a reading this evening at Marylhurst University, and I’ve managed to whittle what had been a chapter down to two pages to read aloud:

Not one of the two dozen children who live at the baby orphanage come out to greet us when Jo and I ride in, ringing our bike bells in typical greeting. The buildings are eerily quiet. The play yard is empty. We park our bicycles in the shade of the fig tree that grows wide and heavy near the gates, then wait.

My children—Stuart and Audrey—are delivered by Mr. Hanh in his little Fiat, along with our interpreter Yen.

“Where are all the little ones?” I ask Yen as we walk through the barren play yard.

“They’re coming,” she assures us and slips off her shoes to enter the baby room. Stuart, Audrey and I follow. A few of the babies have been here for months, including Fat Baby, who quickly became a favorite with his eager grin, but a new baby shows up every other week or so. Today there is another: a tiny little girl born just yesterday. I ask Yen the birth date twice assuming the workers had misunderstood and were saying she had arrived at the orphanage yesterday. “No, born yesterday. Came here this morning.”

She still has that silky down of a newborn across the top of her ears. In the creases of her neck, the waxy residue of birth hasn’t been washed away. And her swollen eyelids open one at a time, unable to coordinate them.

“What happened to her mother?” Yen translates the question for me and the worker pantomimes tossing something off to the side as she answers in Vietnamese.

“She didn’t want the baby. Too young,” Yen tells me.

Lifting the mosquito net that covers the baby’s restless form, I carefully slide one hand beneath her neck and another under her rear then lift her to my chest. The workers watch me, smiling and one touches my shoulder. “Mẹ,” she say and pats the baby’s back. She smiles at Audrey sitting on the bed behind me and pats my shoulder. “Mẹ.”

I nod, smile and sway with the tiny baby. Would I take her if I could? I’m not sure how I could choose just one. How could I leave Fat Baby here? Or Lan who likes to snuggle on my lap and sing me songs in Vietnamese? If I took her, though, I’d have to bring along her brother Tu and sister Lieu. Then there’s still Audrey’s friend, Trinh and the Three Musketeers, a trio of kindergarten-age rabble-rousers who adore Stuart. There is no way to choose, no way to take them all, even though I would if I could. I’d take them and love them and give them all I had. The reality is that I can’t afford to adopt one, let alone a dozen. This time here is all I can give them.

From the play yard outside the baby room, I can hear the children running in and when I go to see what’s happening, they are lining up in two neat rows. Instead of the broken plastic shoes and mismatched, worn clothes they usually wear, each is wearing a pristine outfit with new shoes and socks. The girls line up, ruffles bumping into one another. They each wear sandals with white socks and against their umber skin the white is striking. All the boys are wearing long knit pants with matching t-shirts, sports socks and tennis shoes. They look nothing like we see them everyday. I’m not sure why until the government van pulls up to the front of the orphanage.

I look at Yen whose joined me just outside the baby room. “An adoption?”

“Yes, Hung and Mai are going to America.”

“Really? Together?” They aren’t sisters, so it surprises me that a family would take both.

Yen nods and turns back to watch as the Vietnamese officials climb out of the van and welcome the Caucasian couple to the Quang Nam Baby Orphanage. They are tall and blonde, a full head taller than their hosts. With wide-open eyes, they are silently brought up the stairs and onto the landing above the play area where the children are all still perfectly lined up with the half-dozen workers standing behind them. From across the way I can hear the government official struggling in English, but I can’t quite understand him. He has a broad salesman grin as he shows off the children. One of the workers, in a crisp white uniform, brings Mai and Hung forward to meet their new parents.

I’m still holding the baby girl, still swaying, as I watch the Western woman. Her face brightens into a smile as she kneels to bring the girls into her arms. Her long, blonde hair drapes over the cropped black hair of Mai. Both young girls stand stiff.

Rocking the baby, the clean smell of a newborn filling my air, the memory of my own children’s births overwhelm me. I remember the moment 14 years ago that Stuart, red from crying his way into the world, was handed to me, a young idealistic 22-year-old—the instant I realized that I was a mother. The memories flood me and I wonder if this American mother feels the same as she embraces 8-year-old Mai in one arm and 7-year-old Hung in the other. I cry tears of joy for her, for her husband standing awkwardly beside her, and for their new ‘parent’ status. Then I notice the workers, wiping away tears, too.

The girls have been at the orphanage for several years now. They call the workers “Mẹ,” mother in Vietnamese. They will be missed in the days, months and years to come. Everyone knows they won’t be coming back to visit and it’s a bittersweet farewell. In America, Mai and Hung will have their own clothes. They will have soft blankets and they won’t have to survive on rice porridge and fruit. They will go to school. They will have a family. And yet, as they head off to more prosperous lands, they will leave behind their friends, their culture, their language, and the women who loved them the best they could.

an orphanage mother with a new infant and Fat Baby

Hi-ho Hi-ho, off to work I go

There’s nothing like a lot of work to keep you from being social, whether it’s stateside or abroad. And while my social life these days consists mostly of spending time with my kids and posting on this blog, both have been neglected the past few days.

Due to the national exams this week, the company was not able to find a Vietnamese national to teach the Reading and Writing segments of the course and asked me if I’d take it over for one of the classes. Usually I teach two different groups of students both the Listening and Speaking segments, but since I need the money, I agreed to take over the subjects for both classes. So instead of the regular 7-9 a.m., then 1:30-3:30 p.m. classes, I am teaching from 7-11 a.m., then 1:30-5:30 p.m. And then on Monday and Wednesday, I teach a community English class from 7-9 p.m. Needless to say, I’m a bit tired. 8-10 hours a day in front of a classroom full of students wears you out, in addition to the prep time that is required for each class. The kids have hardly seen me, but next Thursday I’ll end the 44-hour work week and go back to 20. Thank goodness.

Last night a few students came over to watch “Jumper” and eat popcorn with us. What a great snack! I found it in Hanoi and bought two bags of popcorn kernels. We also managed to find bacon, grated cheddar cheese, baking soda, real butter, a few spices (cumin, oregano and “Italian seasoning”), dried chickpeas and rice flour.  Of course, it cost as much, or more, than it would have in the States, but it’s nice to have a few things that will help make food more palatable for Audrey because despite her expressed intention to eat three square meals a day here, it’s turning into an issue again. At this point, I’ll do whatever and spend whatever to make sure she gets enough calories.

Despite my own best intentions, I haven’t managed to get as much writing done as I’d planned, though I have managed to get a few pages written over the past week and did some editing the week before. It just requires a lot of time and a lot of focus, something I haven’t had as much as I had hoped. Although, I must admit, it’s been helpful to be here when writing. The sounds and the smells had diminished in my memories and to be back makes it all clear again. I guess what I’m saying is that even though I’d planned to be done by now, it’s kinda good that I didn’t finish. There’s still so very much to be written.