Saturday, March 18, 2017


My sister had just finished high school in a nearby city and returned home. We got along well even though I was six years her junior. We would work together in the fields, staying late to admire the sunset while guarding the ripening rice crop against the bad bad birds that would swoop down now and then to peck at the precious grains.

One day my mother came home with tears in her eyes and a piece of paper in her hand. The piece of paper was an order from the authorities for my sister to join the Young Volunteers Corps. This meant she would be sent to wild jungles and clear the land and turn it into plantations owned by the state.

There was no other way but to accept the inevitable. The number of days my sister could stay with us kept getting shorter; and on the day of parting, accompanied by my mother, she carried her small luggage to a big empty yard in front of the public meeting house. A fleet of buses was waiting there, and a somber crowd was gathering that comprised mostly young draftees and their anxious families.

Despite the pep talk delivered by a couple of communist party officials, a huge sound of collective wailing broke out when the buses began rolling.

And that's how the Young Volunteers got started in our village. It would be years before I saw my sister again.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Middle school was a whole new game. New classmates, new subjects with a different teacher for each, quite exciting for a newbie like myself. Our classroom was at the far end of the single-storey school building, with a bush of light purple flowers blooming outside a window all year round. Yet what I remember the most was something that did not even happen in my class or to my friends.

It happened to a chemistry teacher who was also new to the school. She was young, good-looking and said to be fresh out of wherever teachers were trained. She did not teach my class because in those days kids started chemistry in eighth grade, which was two years ahead of us. I did not pay much attention to her until she was not seen around anymore.

She had been arrested.

A newcomer to the village, she had been given temporary lodging in a back room at the school office. Rumor, later confirmed, had it that one day the principal rummaged through her stuff and found at the bottom of her suitcase a sheet of music. It was one of those love songs from the non-communist years and as such condemned and forbidden. The principal then called the police on her.

A couple of months later during break suddenly it felt as if there had been a big gush of wind sweeping through the whole schoolyard. All the kids started to run towards an empty field right next to the school while yelling "Miss Hue! Miss Hue!" I joined them and behold, there was a line of prisoners walking under police guard to wherever they were supposed to do forced labor for the day. Miss Hue was among them, using her hat to shield her face. After they were gone we got back to the school premises and I saw the principal standing outside, scowling really hard at us.

Then one day Miss Hue was released. She stopped by to see my neighbor and told her story. She left for her home faraway and I never saw her again. The principal stayed for much longer and did his darnedest to ingratiate himself to his new bosses, but life would have its own twists to astound everyone.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving Day

The roads were deserted on Thanksgiving Day morning. The air was warm for this time of the year. The sky was clear, and there was sunshine on the nearly depleted trees where the remaining leaves had turned from golden splendor to brownish drabness, which reminded me of my own metamorphosis into midlife homeliness.

I was feeling peaceful and gently uplifted. This day was a reminder to count my many blessings once more. I thanked God for being with me all the time and all the way. I was grateful for the pleasant weather, the fresh air, and the abundant trees surrounding me. I was grateful for my car, which still served me well even though it was more than ten years old and had a leaking oil pan according to the guys at Midas. I was grateful that I had a reasonably decent job even though sometimes I felt tired of it and would have quit hadn't I remembered my bills, that I still had enough brain to keep up with all those pesky new technologies which kept popping up around like mushrooms.

Above all I thanked God for my wife and my darling baby daughter, who would light up a joy in my heart and a smile on my lips whenever I thought of them. While I was driving on the roads of suburban Atlanta my baby was soundly sleeping in Saigon half way around the world with her little pillow tucked under her legs instead of her head, true to her funny ways. My wife had sent me a message on my smartphone to tell me all that, so I was grateful for Viber as well.

In a word, thank you Lord. It's all your doing, I deserve naught.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Girl Scout

Michael is my six-year-old neighbor who once asked me if I had any kid to play with him. The negative reply disappointed him, but he kindly declared that I was his friend and could come to visit him anytime.

One late afternoon I answered my doorbell and found Michael there with a girl about his age. She was very girly, blond hair long and curly, dressed in pink, her whole appearance screaming Barbie. In a flustered yet determined voice she explained that her name was Saturday and she was selling Girl Scout cookies, oh no snacks not cookies, and would you be interested sir?

What choice did I have, except to extend my hand for the colorful menu and browse through it? Something about mint and chocolate, ten dollars. Something else that involved orange and cranberry, seven bucks. I handed her a twenty and asked if she had three dollars to give back to me.

"Yes I do," she assured me and opened her Barbie purse. It was empty, but she was a quick thinker. "I'll go home and ask my Mom for it," she said. "Be right back!"

She hurried away on her little pink bike. Michael also decided to leave.

Ten minutes later she came back and put into my hand two crumpled singles and four quarters. She said to me while getting on her pink bike again:

"I'll come back to deliver your order, hopefully!"

Hopefully? I bet she just learned that word and thought it would be nice to use it to conclude a business transaction.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Reflections on a Dead Leaf

The morning drizzle had pushed a small maple leaf against my windshield. I sat staring at its lobed shape and deep yellow color, captivated by its melancholic beauty. Somehow it reminded me of my mother's hands, which had also shown veins and dark spots. I thought of where her body was now, and where this leaf was going to be.

Why should life be transient and death permanent? The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of a closed system always increases. Considering that the universe is a closed system and life does not exist in a state of high entropy, it follows that life is on an inexorable path towards being extinguished. But does it have to be that way?

Years ago I often pondered over this question. It occurred to me that there might be a correlation between entropy and morality, however alien that might sound. Think about this: all the actions that are considered bad involve destruction - destruction of life, of health, of harmony, and more. By nature destruction brings chaos into something orderly, moving it to a state of higher entropy. So here is the correlation: goodness favors reduction of entropy, while sin seeks to increase it.

From this point it is only one step further to see the second law of thermodynamics as a manifestation of the original sin. The original sin put the universe under the rule of the second law of thermodynamics, which dictates that its entropy will only increase and all life will eventually be snuffed out. This is at least partly what the Bible means by declaring that all have sinned and sin results in death.

So how do God and His promise of everlasting life come into this picture?

To defeat death and restore life, the entropy of a system must be reduced, requiring energy. The attributes of an infinite God naturally can blow up any finite mind in incomprehension, but in the context of this topic I would like to think of God as the ultimate source of energy. I would also imagine that His presence exists with zero entropy, sinless and timeless.

Connected to God, the universe would have its entropy pushed back and prevented from reaching a high level. Life would be freed from sin and death. The second law of thermodynamics would not apply anymore, for the universe would no longer be a closed system. And because of no entropy increase, time would be eliminated as well.

It makes sense to me and gives me hope.