VISUALGUI

First Day Back

After long flights with a few hours of delays and having read two books, I landed on Tân Sơn Nhất airport at 1 in the morning on Sunday. Took a cap to Viển Đông hotel to meet up with my cousin Minh. Although I was completely exhausted, I could not sleep. I read some more to dove off. At around 5 in the morning the roasters started to crow. That familiar sound instantly reminded me of my childhood.

At 6 AM, my cousin Minh and I had complementary breakfast at the hotel. 8 AM, my dad showed up. He is now older, weaker, and so much grumpier (more on this later). Before heading back to my hometown Mỹ Tho, I paid a brief visit to my mother-in-law’s oldest sister and my father-in-law’s oldest sister.

We stopped at my sister’s house (Trúc chị) in Mỹ Tho to rest bit and continued to to visit my mom’s relatives and my grandparents’ and great great grandparents’ graves. My dad took over my schedule and demanded that everyone must followed his order. He rushed me as I was chit chatting with my mom’s aunts and uncles. He yelled at my other sister (Trúc em), my brother-in-law, and my niece and nephews for not complying with his demands. Because of his grumpiness, my sister told me, he lives by himself in a little house, which is where I am staying. Since his brothers are out of town for their company’s summer trip to Vũng Tàu, I have yet to paid them a visit, but my sister has assured me that my dad’s place is quite modest compared to his brothers’ massive mansions. Other than mosquitoes, I
am fine with staying in a modest place. It’s my memory of my upbringing.

Uncle 6 is the other poor brother who lives next to my dad. Uncle 6 was a talented home builder just like his other brothers, unfortunately gambling addiction took every from him. Even his wife and son migrated to Australia. Now he spends most of his day watching TV inside a mosquito net.

We ended the night early because my dad was tired and I was exhausted. Our relationship so far so good even though we are in completely different world and we have different perspectives. I am glad to have the time to spend with him although I miss my wife and boys terribly.

Adam Alter: Irresistible

I read this book eight hours straight while sitting on the plane. Alter’s writing is as addictive as his subject. He explores various types of addictions including drugs, video games, and social media. His deep dive in behavioral addiction is both fascinating and frightening, especially dealing with young children in modern technology. Fortunately, Alter does offer some suggestions to help us change our behavior before it gets worse. A required read if you find yourself and your kids can’t live without a digital device.

Taking a Break from the Kids

The trip the Vietnam marks the longest time I will be away from the kids. Last night before bedtime, Đạo asked me the reason for going. I told him that I will be visiting my dad and we haven’t seen each other for sixteen years. His response was that it was longer than the day he was born. He held my right arm and said that he would hold on to me all night long because he’s going to miss me for fourteen days. What a sweet little kid.

Although I kind of feel bad being away for two weeks, it allows me the break to think and reflect on being a father. It has been a tough job and I am not too good at it. I have to thank my wife for carrying the burden with our third boy. I haven’t had to deal with the late-night shift.

My bigger challenge is Đạo and Đán. They are constantly fighting and shouting at each other no matter when and where. Without hitting and spanking, disciplining them has become quite frustrating. My words simply don’t register until I have to raise my voice. I don’t like yelling, but I cannot get their attention otherwise.

Despite all of that, they still love me at the end of the day. They are such good kids when they decided to be. Unfortunately, it is not always the case. I wake every morning telling myself to just stay cool, but it is too damn hard. I am working on staying calm.

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans: Designing Your Life

Design is problem solving; therefore, using a design process to build your own life is a perfect concept. From defining your problem to researching your passion to prototyping your next move to designing your dream job to finding happiness, Burnett and Evans, design educators at Stanford University, provide step-by-step instructions to help you build a life that works for you. If you’re looking for a change in your career but still hesitating, this book will be a great resource.

Going Back to Vietnam

Tomorrow I will be flying back to Vietnam to attend and to speak at the InSITE 2017: Informing Science + IT Education Conferences. In addition, I will see my father for the first time in sixteen years. How could I forget? September 11 happened when I was with him.

I have not slept much lately. The anxiety has kicked in even though I tried to relax and to take things as calm as I can. I don’t want to think too much into it and just let it plays out naturally. I don’t expect much from the trip. My whole goal is just to spend time with him. With the recent death of my wife’s uncle who I loved and respected, the trip is more important than ever. You never know when you will go. I might not get the opportunity to see him again after this trip.

We have a strange and disconnected relationship, but I am putting the past behind us and just focus on the present. I have come to term that our fate won’t change. I either face it for spend the rest of my life trying to hide from it. I hold no grudges against him. After all, we are father and son. Nothing can change that and I have nothing but love for him.

Laurie Mintz: Becoming Cliterate

Reading Dr. Mintz’s guide to orgasm is like eavesdropping on women’s conversations about their vulvas. When it comes to clitoral stimulation, Dr. Mintz doesn’t beat around the bush. From looking under the hood to “making a clit sandwich” (masturbation) to fooling around to reaching orgasm, her instructions are straightforward, descriptive, and enlightening. Although the primary audience for this book is women, men will also learn a whole new level of appreciation for the clitoris. Highly arousing yet educating read.

Boredom

Nowadays I don’t have time to be bored. My two older kids, on the other hand, often complained that they are bored if they can’t spend time on the iPad. This summer, we are limiting their screen time to weekend only. We didn’t sign them up for any summer camp. In addition to avoiding the ridiculous cost, we wanted to give them the summer to relax. We don’t want to overwhelm them with activities after activities. Reading is my only encouragement. Other than that, they can just be bored.

In retrospect, boredom was good for me. It helped me discovered things around me that I would not have if I was always busy doing something. My summers were extremely boring. I had no friends and no activities. My mom and I lived in a tiny apartment in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She spent most of her time in the kitchen while I watched TV until I was bored out of my mind. Fortunately downtown was only a few blocks from our apartment. When I got bored in the apartment, I wondered around the farm market just to checkout fresh fruits, vegetables, and pies or just walked around Woolworth (remember that?) looking at things that I had no need or desired. I also stopped at the magazine stand in CVS looking for articles on Vanilla Ice. How bored you have to be to do that sort of things?

The public library was also a few blocks from our apartment. Even though I hated reading, I was so bored that went to the library to see if I can learn something from books. Unfortunately, I would fall asleep every few minutes and then just close the book. One time I worked up my courage to speak to an older white man who was intensely reading. I just wanted to practice my English. When I found out that he was a retired English teacher, I wanted to be friend with him so he could teach me English. I could not remember exactly how it happened, but I can still recall going over to his house. As we walked from the library to his house, he would pick up any trash on the sidewalk and street. I was touched by his action. When we got to his house, I can’t recall what we were doing, but I only stayed for about twenty minutes or so. Fortunately, he was not a pedophile. These days, imagine a little kid walking home with a stranger. How crazy is that?

Time has changed. Being bored nowadays is not an option. Kids have to do all kind of activities from swimming competition to chess club to music lesson to math. We robbed them the opportunity to be bored and to discover their own passion. Let’s them be bored so they can do something about it.

Nguyễn Hồng Ân: Để Mẹ Trọn Niềm Vui

Hát về mẹ ai cũng bộc lộ một tình cảm riêng. Với giọng hát trầm buồn truyền cảm, Nguyễn Hồng Ân gửi gắm đến mẹ những cảm xúc mọc mạc nhưng sâu lắng và ngọt ngào nhưng chứa chất. Riêng bài hát tựa đề, “Để Mẹ Trọn Niềm Vui” một sáng tác của Thông Vi Vu, Ân nâng niu từng chữ như chia sẽ tâm sự chính mình. Khi hát những câu thấp, Ân gần như nghẹn lời. Tuy là lần đầu nghe, tôi không khỏi bùi ngùi nhớ lại kỷ niệm của riêng mình qua đoạn đầu:

Có một điều tôi không sao dám nói với mẹ tôi
Chuyện mùa thi mẹ tử quê gửi cho tôi món quà
Quà là chai thuốc sóng sánh nước
Mẹ dặn dò tôi mau uống thôi
Bởi con đang học, thuốc này bổ óc đó con ơi
Dẫu không cần, tôi mân mê uống với cả tình yêu.
Nào ngờ đâu lại bị đau khiến tôi mãi nhớ đời
Rồi mùa thi ấy cũng kết trái
Mẹ nhận tin vui, vui rất vui
Nhắn lên tôi rằng thuốc thật công hiệu phải không con?

Lúc nhỏ trước khi tôi đi thi mẹ thường xào bí rợ với thịt ba rọi và tôm khô cho tôi ăn. Mẹ bảo rằng bí rợ ăn bổ óc khiến tôi nhớ dai. Tuy lúc đó không thích món này lắm nhưng tôi cũng ráng ăn. Chắc là nhờ bí rợ nên thi cuối năm nào cũng không bị ở lại lớp cho dù cả mùa học lúc nào tôi cũng ở hạng gần chót. Giờ đây ước gì được ăn lại món này do chính tay mẹ làm.

Cám ơn Thông Vi Vu và Nguyễn Hồng Ân cho tôi được gợi lại một chút kỷ niệm nho nhỏ nhưng không bao giờ quên.

Helpless

Today I walked by a mom who was having a difficulty getting her toddler to calm down. He was kicking and screaming while she appeared frustrated and a bit embarrassed. I didn’t intervene, but I understood the helplessness. I have been through it for many years.

Parenting is not easy and I have always contradicted myself. I want to give the kids freedom, but I need obedience in return. I get emotional when reward is paid with bad behavior. It drives me nuts and makes me feel betrayed again and again.

During our family reunion, one of our uncles predicted that I will have a big problem when the boys become teenagers. It was apparent that I had no control over their behavior. They hardly listened to what I said until some yelling and banning (screen time) occurred.

I am doing the best I could for them. They are smart kids and they should have a chance to learn and to grow themselves. I should not have to do everything or make all the decisions for them. As long as they won’t fuck up really bad. I am OK with that.

Họp Mặt Gia Đình 2017

“Những hẹn hò từ nay khép lại. Thân nhẹ nhàng như mây.” –Trịnh Công Sơn

Cuộc họp mặt đại gia đình năm nay tại tiểu bang Texas có chuyện vui lẫn chuyện buồn nhưng chắc chắn là sẽ khó quên.

Trước hết xin được chia buồn cùng bác Tâm, các anh chị, và hai cháu. Bác Thịnh tuy đột ngột ra đi nhưng đã có dịp kề cận bên nhiều người thân hữu. Cái chết rồi cũng sẽ đến với mọi người trong chúng ta. Trần gian chỉ là nơi ở tạm như lời Trịnh Công Sơn đã viết, “Tôi nay ở trọ trần gian. Trăm năm về chốn xa xăm cuối trời.”

Tuy thể xác đã trở về cát bụi, bác Thịnh sẽ mãi mãi sống trong tim và tâm hồn của chúng ta. Nhờ những chuỗi ngày gặp gỡ hằng năm của đại gia đình, chúng ta được nghe bác kể lại những câu chuyện cũ thú vị cùng những tin tức mới sôi động. Làm sao quên được giọng Bắc trầm ấm cùng đôi mắt chớp liên tục mỗi khi bác say sưa bàn về một đề tài nào.

Hình dáng và nhân cách của bác đã in đậm vào trong tôi. Tôi hâm mộ lối sống mộc mạc của bác. Chỉ được đọc sách báo hoặc xem tin tức là thoả mãn cuộc sống. Bác không âu lo cũng không phiền muộn trong cuộc sống. Đến lúc ra đi, bác cũng nhẹ nhàng và thoải mái chấp nhận số phận của mình. Mong rằng đến lúc tôi phải ra đi cũng được suôn sẻ như bác. Xin hẹn gặp lại bác sau cõi tạm này.

Sự ra đi của bác cho tôi chứng kiến được tình cảm gắn bó của gia đình. Tuy buồn nhưng mọi người đều phấn đấu thay phiên nhau nấu những món ăn ngon, mang lại những trò chơi vui cho đám trẻ, và nâng ly cùng nhau tưởng nhớ đến người anh, người bác, và người ông trong chúng ta.

Sự ra đi của bác cũng cho chúng ta thấy được những lần họp mặt càng quan trọng hơn. Xin cám ơn những tinh thần mạnh mẽ của các bác. Tuy sức khoẻ càng lúc càng khó khăn khi đi xa, các bác không ngần ngại để đến chung vui cùng với con cháu. Sự có mặt của các bác, cậu mợ, và dì chú là niềm đáng quý. Cháu rất tán thành ý kiến về những ai hơn 70 không cần bận chuyện bếp núc nữa. Để bà tổng, chú Bích, và thế hệ chúng con lo hết. Cháu phục chú Bích. Trưa thì nướng cá còn chiều thì vừa nhậu cùng hai thằng cháu vừa nấu hai nồi phở. Có lẽ nhờ mấy cốc Don Julio nên cả hai nồi phở gà thơm và ngon.

Nhắc đến đồ ăn thì làm sao thiếu được những miếng sườn BBQ tuyệt vời của Texas (cám ơn anh Hùng), những miếng bò beefsteak tái của bác Mai, những tô bún thang đậm đà tình Bắc của bà ngoại tụi nhỏ, những món chế biến từ đồ leftover nhờ tay nghề khéo léo của chị Betty, những khay chim cút rô ti thanh đạm của anh Phúc, và không quên những ổ bánh flan hấp dẫn của chị Trâm. (Còn thiếu sót đầu bếp nào xin tha thứ vì không nhớ hết nỗi.)

Với thời gian, sức khoẻ, và tuổi tác, cơ hội để các bác cùng sum họp với các con cháu càng hiếm và quý. Gặp được hôm nay chưa chắc sẽ được gặp lại ngày mai. Vì thế tôi hy vọng các anh chị em cố gắng sắp xếp công việc và gia đình để tham dự mỗi năm. Chúng ta cùng nhau giúp sức để các bác được an nhàng bên con cháu. Công việc có bận rộn đến đâu cũng không thể thay thế được tình cảm gia đình.

Xin hẹn gặp lại tất cả mùa hè năm 2018. I love you all.