The new Vietnamese?
I've seen him. He's my little cousin surfing the web and watching Chinese martial art videos dubbed in Vietnamese while talking to his friends on his cell phone in English. Above him the ancestral altar still wafts incense. On the computer screen, images shift and flow, and this too is his new home. He seems to be at ease with all these conflicting ideas, dissimilar languages. He seems both grounded and mobile, and his imagination, his sense of himself is trans-geographical.
Ask what he wants to do when he grows up and he shrugs. "Astronaut," he answers matter-of-factly, as if it's the simplest thing in the world. Yet going back three generations and he stands knee deep in mud in his rice fields gawking at the stars. But no more. The stars may very well be possible. His energy is free from the arduous grip of land-bound imagination, and it is growing and reconstituting in new and marvelous ways.
And recently I read about a farmer who escaped Vietnam to become a well-known, successful businessman in the high-tech industry. He has returned to open shops in Vietnam. I could almost see the farmer turned high-tech entrepreneur as a character in some epic global novel. In his high-rise, he sits staring down into the microchip on his finger and smiles: from certain angles at least, the tiny thing with its grids and lines that combines his ambition and memories, appears like the green rich rice field writ very small.
Copyright © 2004 Andrew Lam.