Sometimes it's good to have a different tool for each task you need. Other times, it's fine to use the same tool for a bunch of different things. Just now I made a green tea latte by hacking together my blender bottle and part of a heat-keeping metal water bottle, then shaking it until the latte was perfectly mixed. The instructions say to use a blender and add the hot liquid before adding cooler liquid and ice, but!! I take orders from no green tea latte box!

Also, I've made a grave error. I thought I was ahead of schedule to get my May goals done on time, but I realized that I only have one day off left before June begins. Gah. That being said, I only have a little bit left, so I'm trying to space them out even on the days I have to work. With any luck, I won't have any integral writing left to do on that last day off!

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Technically speaking, I've already gone over my projected word count for the month, so I've already met my "goal" in that sense. But if I just change the rules to benefit me every time the going gets tough, that's not fair at all.

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(Photos by Manh Hai)

I did manage to finish my entry for the 200 Word RPG Challenge last night, though. It's called Story of the boat people and it's heavily inspired by the stories I was told by my parents, as well as my extended family, about their journey to America. I discussed this briefly on Twitter this morning, but here's some more words. My father's family had it pretty easy, relatively speaking. They left early enough that they were able to just fly over. My mother's family, unfortunately, had to go by boat 5-10 years later[1]. I grew up hearing these harrowing tales. My mother tried multiple times to buy tickets for a boat. She was scammed more than once. Not only would the person not actually have a boat, they would even tip off the police ahead of time to have the would-be refugees caught and arrested. Bad karma, much?

Once you finally managed a boat, it was difficult just getting past the Pacific Islands. There were pirates, for one thing. One of my uncle's ships was boarded by pirates seven times. By the end, the last group of pirates felt such pity for the people on the boat that they actually shared food and water with the refugees. My mother said that by the time she reached the states, she weighed barely 80 pounds. There were stories about boats running out of food and people having to play Russian roulette in order to decide who would be eaten. I remember being horrified and fascinated by this detail.

I took the experience of the boat itself and mashed it with the sense of longing that the Vietnamese diaspora felt/feels[2] for home. Many knew they could never return. And not simply due to lack of opportunity. My parents have not been back once and it's been more than 30 years[3]. I asked them once why they didn't go on vacation there like some other Vietnamese families I knew. "I'd just be too sad. Nothing that I remember, no one that I know, will be there," was their reply. I tried to distill that awful feeling into the writing. I originally thought up some other game mechanics like dealing with pirates, rationing fuel, and other things of that nature, but ultimately, keeping the restrictions in mind, I decided that the stories of the homeland (our quê hương[4]) were the most important concept.

If you want a sense of what I was going for, give this song a listen and then use Google Translate on the lyrics (listed first on that page). Nostalgia and longing for the erased homeland permeates Vietnamese culture. How many Vietnamese restaurants and businesses abroad have "Saigon"[5] and "quê hương" in their titles?

This is a topic that means a lot to me. I'm happy to have been able to write something about it. I hope it inspires people to learn more about the Vietnamese boat people and show some compassion towards other refugees today.


  1. My mother and her family went in pairs or trios, so it took several years until they were all reunited in the US. ↩︎

  2. I do not count myself in here. I am American-born. I have never been to Vietnam and may never go. I can't ever hope to truly relate to their experience, even if they are my family and my people. ↩︎

  3. 40, in my dad's case. ↩︎

  4. I had wanted to use this word in the game, but decided to keep it more general—and besides, I couldn't use the accented letters because it was ASCII-only. ↩︎

  5. I don't know a single Vietnamese person living here who calls it Ho Chi Minh City. ↩︎