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Thứ Bảy, 19 tháng 11, 2011

1. I had a weird dream the other night. I saw an old couple in a conversation. The man had died and now come back to talk with his wife. He asked if she wanted to come with him. She hesitated for a while, and finally said yes. But as soon as she decided to leave everything behind to be with him, he asked: "But who are you anyway?". I woke up that moment and couldn't sleep again, the old man's voice and his haunting question played itself in my mind over and over again. I tried but had no way to shake off the pain of the old woman. "He doesn't remember me", I didn't see, but I felt she was sobbing and broken hearted.
Death can separate people, but only temporarily. At least there is still hope afterwards about a reunion. But forgetfulness will do away with everything, all emotions, love or hatred, all memories, all relationships. If the other person doesn't remember you, you have never existed.

2. Every week, I allow myself to be with my love on Friday night only. So I open a book, and feed off my hunger for reading which has been held back all week when I have to take care of other work.
I crave for books more when I am upset, disappointed, sad, worried, jealous, or any negative emotions you can name. In other words, I like to read more when I want to avoid thinking about the current situation and be lifted to another world. Reading comforts me. I am addicted to it, more or less, because it is my way of keeping balance. Some people find solutions in drinking, dancing, drugs, sex, computer games. My escape is books. That's why I need to read to keep myself sane. Not only because I am so attracted to the intellectual or I can't wait to expand my knowledge, but a more practical reason is I can be, however temporarily, emerged in others' thoughts and leave mine for a while.
When I come back, usually the pain has subdued a lot and become much more tolerable. More than often I just go straight to bed after finishing reading. In that case the role of a book  is in a sense not much different from a bottle of wine. It helps me forget.
Same principle applies to music, except that books are thoughts and music is emotion. When I want to borrow someone's emotion to influence mine, like when I want to cry but couldn't, I listen to music, and then I could release all the stress in tears, no need for a verbal reason.

3. Reading to me, as drinking, dancing, listening to music or having sex to some others play the same role of creating another reality. This created reality overlays the real reality, and while people know the created reality sooner or later will vanish and leave them to cope with the real reality again, they still do it. That means, the act of engaging yourself in forgetfulness is addictive. You want to forget, you need to forget, and you love to forget. Every once in a while, people do a suitable activity (I can't drink nor dance, for example) to leave the real reality behind. Consider this way, sleep and especially dream, are also acts of forgetting. In sleep, we forget everything for 1/3 of our lives. In dream, we create, act out and participate in other realities, even just as audiences. We feel it, sometimes even physically move along with it, to such an extent that we get confused at the moment we wake up of which reality we are living in. We come back to the only one constant reality, namely our wakeful life, and keep on creating new overlays night after night, forget this dream as soon as we wake up, and forget the wakeful life as soon as sleep comes.
After all, we live a rhythm of alternative forgetting. Just like days and nights, birth and death.

4. So why does it hurt so much when we come to realize that we have been forgotten by someone we can not let go?

Thứ Ba, 15 tháng 11, 2011

She is at the age of 16, ready to get married next month, to a man she has known for barely 6 months, and into a future she is not sure of.
After all, there is nothing to be sure of in this life, don't you know that, baby?

She is the youngest of three, her two older brothers are in China, working and searching for their two step sisters, who were tricked and trafficked a few years ago. She has three step sisters, from her father's first and third wives (her own mother is his second wife). All three of them got trafficked to China. One has escaped and come back by herself, just to be arrested shortly for involvement with drugs. This sister, whose 5 years old son is  being taken care of by her mother, now spends her years prison to pay for a punishment she may not have deserved in the first place. Two out of the three step sisters are still missing. Her own brothers are looking for them, hope drying up every day they spend there without any trace of the two.
The little boy, whose mother is in prison, and father is unknown, lives with her and her mother. He is very naughty, but cute. Maybe he is their source of comfort and hope?

She dropped out of school after grade 5. She wasn't that much interested in schooling. Her family is poor, besides everyone thinks she has a mental problem. When she was young, she fell into a pond and almost died. That accident must have affected her brain. She doesn't know if it's true, that's what everyone says. Since then, she worked a bit on the fields, a bit in a restaurant, a bit in a nearby factory, or sometimes nothing at all.
What is the motivation to go to school for a girl with no money, no hope, and believes herself to be incompetent? What role does education play anyway? No one can guarantee that if you finish grade 12 you will be able to feed yourself for the rest of your life, while growing rice does.

She has a friend. This friend always tells her she can earn good money by working in a restaurant the latter  knows. She has come with this friend twice, to a place about 40km away from her own village. She didn't tell her mother or pack any clothes with her. "That will be taken care of" - her friend said. So she just waited for a good moment, walked out of the house and went straight to a person her friend had arranged to pick her up not too far from the house. Twice, her mother had gone searching for her and brought her back. One time, the people in that restaurant were particularly difficult and did all they could to prevent strangers from going inside. Her mother had waited for her outside and seized her the moment she appeared, ran back to the motorbike and drove home.
At the age of 16, we always listen to our friends and never take our parents seriously, don't we?

She doesn't believe her mother when she said her friend wanted to traffic her. It's just a job, like any other job, why couldn't that old woman understand? Her mother even wanted to file a complaint and report to the police, but with her in the house and no damaged done, the police would never lift a finger. People advised her mother to notify the Women's Union, but again, since no one is missing, the Women's Union staffs have their own problems to solve before sticking their noses into someone else's business. Her mother was frustrated, then helpless. She doesn't listen, and there is no one around to discipline her. Her mother works in construction site 10 hours a day, every single day of the week.
How does it feel to see someone so dear to your heart run straight to danger but you have no way to stop them? 

She met this guy, who is very much her first romance in life. He is 12  years older than her, a construction worker himself. He seems nice, and wants to marry her. Her mother has visited his family, and they are good as well. So the wedding is set. With nothing much to look forward to, she happily settles down to marriage, even though she is more like a kid herself. Her mother, dreads that she will be trafficked again, hopes that once married, she will no longer the target of traffickers, and a new role as a wife will do it magic. She will turn into a proper adult after the wedding, and the burden will be lifted from her mother's shoulders, who has already been pushed to the end of tunnels so many times before. Being a single mother almost all her life with the two sons away, the best solution her mother can think of is to give her daughter to a man, and hopes that he will take good care of her, because she has tried her best, but has failed to do that.
How much choice any of these women have over their lives, do you think?

Being a very young wife, and very likely a young mother, she virtually can't escape the circle of poverty. The wound in that family continues furthering down and even enlarging in more generations to come. The link was broken once, when her father decided to have multiple wives, and no one knows how much it will take to mend this rupture.
1.      She is the only daughter of a single mother. Her mother fell sick with poly- arthritis and became paralyzed when she was still a little girl. Her father left them and justified his decision by the pressure of having a son to continue the family line. “It’s better to fail two women than to fail all my ancestors and endure the weight they place upon my shoulders.” He probably had thought so.  She takes care of her mother ever since, and when it was the time for her to marry, she herself made a tough decision, perhaps much tougher than the one her father had made. She chose to never get married, in order to be with her old mother who cannot make any single body movement without help. She has a son, though, the result of a deliberate plan. She knew for sure the short-term contracted worker briefly passed by her life would never come back and claim the child, which works perfectly for her, because she does not have to leave her mother alone to follow the norm of moving into  husband’s family, but also have a child to fulfill her desire to be a mother. A single woman in a rural village, with a meager income of working in the construction site everyday and paddy fields, successfully takes care of both her paralyzed mother and young son. In a sense, she defeats fate, sickness, and the cruelty of patriarchy, and thrives on her own power, as whenever we see her, we always see a glowing smile on her face. 

2.      Unlike other single women in her village, she is very open about her family situation. But like most of them, she looks much older than her age, for all the burden, stress and pain she suffer from an unhappy marriage. At 42, she looks like a 60 years old woman. Her husband left her after the first child, who of course is a girl. He married another woman much younger than himself, had another three daughters, and desperately wanted a son, came back to her once more. Tolerant and scarifying, just like many other Vietnamese women, she forgave him, together they had one more child, who again is a daughter, and to completely prove his unfaithfulness, the man left once more, probably in the search for a son. Since then, she raised her two daughters on her own, with little support from family because they are just as poor. Most of her teeth have fallen off due to poor health, and with no access to opportunity and means of production, her brilliant daughter had to give up her dream of becoming a teacher because they couldn’t afford paying for university. She struggles, but she determines to send her second daughter to school, at least all the way through high school, because she values education and doesn’t want them to follow her path.

3.      She has a very complicated situation, but a very cheerful personality despite her life tragedy. She divorces her first husband, with whom she has 2 children. The first son lives with his father. The son has married, has one daughter but got divorced and the baby girl is now living with her mother. He is very much a playboy and sometimes comes to his mother to ask for money. The second daughter, Thủy, dropped out at grade 6. Thủy  is also divorced. She says her daughter is slow, but it’s common for divorced women to be conceived by villagers as not intelligent, slow or lazy. Thuy has started working in a factory about 20km from home a month ago and now she rents a room to stay there. Her youngest daughter is from another man. They have never been officially married, and now he is living in a province very far from Hanoi and doesn’t support her in anyway.

She was trafficked to China for 2-3 years and no one knows how she managed somehow to escape. Someone kidnapped her, the villagers reported to local police but no real effort was spent to search for her, probably because no one cared enough. After she came back, the Women’s Union helps by appealing their members to contribute their meager income to help her build a small house. All her children’s land is in her first husband’s village and the only piece of arable land she inherits is from her father.

4.      The stories of these three women, although a bit outstanding from an average circumstance, are not that striking or rare. They reflect the hardship Vietnamese women endure, especially women in rural areas. Being at the low end of a patriarchy system, women’s welfare are not considered important, and most of the time, that’s what they think of themselves, too. The men leave them for various reasons, most of which are not their faults. They struggle and suffer but never blame or complain. On the one hand, they are weak because they accept what is done to them, but on the other hand, they are strong and even unbreakable. They are like grass, small and ordinary, but they can bear all the storms and survive whatever obstacle life throws at them.