THE WRITERS POST
VOLUME 7 NUMBER 2
NGO THE VINH
A small dream
[Characters and settings, being mere pretext, are fictional].
The man, a farmer, was formerly an ARVN soldier. Twenty years had passed since his days in the military, and he was now a middle-aged person. Though not yet fifty, he had been made pallid, old and decrepit by a life of unrewarding hard labor. He had lost his left foot, ironically after his military service had terminated, when stepping on a mine right in his own rice field. One did not have to be a doctor to know that his body hosted various illnesses and diseases: malnutrition, chronic malaria, and anemia. Whatever energy and dignity he retained was revealed in his bright though rather sad eyes, eyes that always looked directly at those of the person he talked to. Today, he came to this field dispensary for another kind of complaint. It concerned a bluish-black lesion on his back which was not painful, but had been oozing an ichorous discharge for a long while. He had sought various treatments, but found no hope of a cure. First, he had been made to wait in a district's health service station where a communist doctor had eventually given him a few Western medicinal tablets; then a doctor of traditional medicine had treated him in turn with an herbal concoction and acupuncture. Despite all that, the disease refused to go away, even as he was steadily emaciating. Hearing that a group of healthcare workers from overseas had come to offer volunteer services, he decided to come to them at this dispensary and try his luck. With good fortune, he hoped, he might even be able to again meet the doctor he used to know – the chief surgeon of his Airborne Ranger Battalion in the past, who presently lived and worked in America. But it turned out that all the faces he saw were young and unfamiliar. Nonetheless, he showed them his back for examination. From the team of young doctors came an audible gasp of surprise. The heart of Toan, the team leader, seemed to miss a beat. Without the necessity of engaging in complicated diagnostic procedures, he immediately recognized a form of malignant melanoma, which certainly would have had metastases spread to other parts of the body. The disease, of course, could have been cured if discovered earlier. Unfortunately, this present case, being at an advanced stage, could not be treated even with the most elaborate and sophisticated medical technologies available in the US. It was not the patient, but the young doctor who expressed sadness: "You've come too late; this disease otherwise could have been treated successfully." Betraying no embarrassment, the soldier-turned-farmer patient looked directly at the young doctor, his eyes darkened with anger and sternness: "I've come too late, you say? It’s you doctors who have come late, whereas myself, like all my compatriots, have been here forever." Flatly refusing to wait for anything else from the group of unknown doctors, the man turned his back on them and walked out, limping along on his bamboo crutches, his eyes looking straight ahead, accepting his miserable lot with the same courage he had shown as a soldier in a time past.
During the preliminary meeting held in Palo Alto to set up the agenda of the Convention, it was decided that the upcoming Fifth International Convention of Vietnamese Physicians would be changed to one of Physicians, Dentists and Pharmacists. After all, intermarriage among Vietnamese practitioners of the three branches of medicine had been a very popular practice. To Chinh, that was good news reflecting the strength of unity amongst overseas Vietnamese medical professionals.
The last discussion in Palo Alto did not conclude until past midnight. Even so, the next morning, as was the habit of a person advanced in years, Chinh woke up very early and got ready for his one-day trip to Las Vegas for a visit with his son. Toan, his eldest son, in a few months would complete his four-year residency in general surgery. The younger man's plan was to subsequently go to New York where he would spend four more years studying plastic surgery. This was a medical specialization which Toan once had remarked that a number of his father's friends and colleagues had abused and degenerated into "prostitution of plastic surgery", transforming it into something like a pure cosmetic industry which helped its clientele acquire more beautiful features like a high-bridged nose and fuller buttocks. Toan was strong and healthy, taller and bigger than his father. He lived very much like a young man born in the United States, quite active and aggressive in both work and play, his thoughts and actions uncomplicated. Not only Toan and his peers' way of thinking, but also their manner of identifying legitimate issues of concern, differed greatly from the perspective of Chinh's generation. To be born in Vietnam but live abroad, and to be a first- or second-class citizen, had never constituted a problem or issue to Toan.
Even though father and son had only one day together to talk, Toan insisted on driving Chinh to a ski resort very far from the entertainment district of Las Vegas. Along the way, Toan confided in his father that it was not accidental that he had chosen to study plastic surgery with a central focus on hand reconstruction. It was not the artistic inclination expressed in his being a notable classical guitar player that made him treasure this part of the anatomy. Rather, to him, the function of the hands was a highly valuable symbol of a life of labor and arts. Unlike his father and his peer friends, Toan was endowed with golden hands, as was the observation of his mentor professor. Indeed, from routine to challenging cases of surgery, through each and every economical slit and cut he made, Toan always came out with results that were judged state of the art. For a long time, Toan had been inspired by the example of the English orthopedist Paul Brand who worked in India. Not only with talent, but also with faith and enduring dedication, Brand had contributed enormously to the field of orthopedic surgery specializing in hand reconstruction, essentially to help people with Hansen's disease, or leprosy. His work brought hope to millions of people afflicted by that malady, and what he had accomplished for the past four decades intrigued Toan a great deal. Recently, Toan was also deeply moved when reading for the first time a book written in Vietnamese and published abroad by a Catholic priest, a book which describes the wretched situation of leprosy camps in Vietnam, especially those found in the north. Thereupon, Toan vigorously reached the decision that it would not be Brand or any other foreign doctors, but Toan himself and his friends, who would be members of Mission Restore Hope bound for Vietnam. He mused upon the dream that the year 2000 would be when Hansen's disease no longer posed a public health issue in his native land.
Toan related to his father that, lately, he had received in succession of letters and telephone calls from Colorado, Boston, and Houston inviting him to work in Asia, Vietnam being top priority, under very favorable conditions: a starting salary of six-digits or over a hundred-thousand dollars a year, coupled with guaranteed fringe benefits including tax-free privileges when working overseas. Toan had a resolute response to the offer: if the sole purpose was to make money, he did not need to go and work in Vietnam. He was told by those contacts that groups of Vietnamese-American doctors, not merely the vocally loud group led by Le Hoang Bao Long, but also others comprising "more brainy" physicians, had quietly gone back to Vietnam to prepare a network of market-oriented medical services. It was said that, in their vision, the first base of operations would be Thống Nhất Hospital in Saigon, which would be renovated and upgraded to American standards, and doctors serving there would all have been trained in the United States. However, what would remain unchanged was the hospital's adherence to its priority of treating high-ranking Communist Party officials. The only difference and "renovation" it would succumb to, so as to be in line with the market economy, was to admit foreign clientele from around the world, who were rich and in possession of expensive medical insurance coverage. They would be from South Korea, Taiwan, Hongkong, America, France, Australia, Canada, and other counties. The main point was to guarantee and safeguard their health to the highest extent possible, so they would have the peace of mind to work and invest, as well as to enjoy their lives, in all corners of Vietnam, from Nam Quan Pass in the north to Cà Mau Point in the deep south. And, undoubtedly, all this would also promise fat profits, which were greedily eyed not only by American insurance companies, but also by a certain group of Vietnamese-American physicians who were eager to "go back and help Vietnam".
At the age of thirty, Toan had his own way of thinking, clear and free, and showed self-confidence in the path of commitment he had chosen. Chinh did not exactly agree with his son's view, but at the same time he knew only too well Toan's firm and independent nature. Certainly Chinh did not entertain the thought of clashing with Toan for the second time over the same issue of whether or not they should go back to Vietnam and engage in humanitarian services. On the brighter side, Chinh felt relatively calmed when considering that whatever choice Toan made was prompted by pure and noble motives, which set him apart from the opportunistic crowd. And in a certain fashion, Chinh felt a little envious of Toan for his youth, and even for his gullibility, which was almost transparently obvious. At this thought, which sounded rather absurd, he shook his head and smiled to himself as he drove back to Palo Alto.
From Montreal, Canada, Chinh had more than once visited California. Despite his familiarity with the area, every visit seemed to have given him the impression of seeing anew Vietnamese communities with expanding renovations and animated activities. Instead of the slightly-over-an-hour flight, Chinh had decided to rent a car from Hertz at the airport and drive from Palo Alto to Little Saigon in the heart of Orange County. The trip was toward a young city of the future, but simultaneously it was for him also a journey backward into the past, a trip taken in part to contemplate a time lost. To confront future problems faced by Vietnam at the threshold of the 21st century, even against the cold, hard background of political reality, one needed not only to utilize one's brain, but also to pair it with one's heartfelt emotions, he thought. The evil demon was seen not exclusively in the communist specter; it was lodged in our own hearts, hearts that remained callous.
One of the statements made by Thien, Chinh's friend and colleague, meant as a joke, kept haunting him. Tongue in cheek, Thien had said that if a mad fanatic were to shoot and kill Le Hoang Bao Long, labeled pro-communist, how desolate Little Saigon would certainly become. Then perhaps a second Le Hoang Bao Long would need to be found to take his place in provoking anti-communist sentiment among the Vietnamese community, for without anti-communist fervor as a stimulant, Little Saigon would not be able to retain its liveliness. The only thing was, it was not easy to pin down the communists, their target ever shifting and treacherous; and given that tricky situation, unwittingly, communist hunters were also made to move in pursuit, only to voluntarily come full circle in no time at all, and naturally from the first round of shots verifiable losses were counted among their very friends.
Chinh planned to meet with Thien, author of Project 2000. The aim of the project, which Chinh thought bold and appealing, was to coordinate all circles of overseas physicians with a view to "exploiting and transforming the abundant talent and energy existent in the world into resources available to Viet Nam; opening the hearts of people to tap a sector of the world's prosperity and channel it to the land of their birth; shaping the destiny of Vietnam by modern technologies prevalent all over the world". The plan was to establish a non-profit co-op group wherein each doctor, each dentist, and each pharmacist would contribute US $2,000.00, merely a very small tax-deductible amount set against very big income taxes paid every year in their adopted countries. With participation of the thousand members, the acquired budget would come to a sum of two-million dollars in cash. Given that financial potential, there would be nothing that the International Association of Vietnamese Physicians, Dentists and Pharmacists could not do: from responding immediately to urgent matters like aiding fellow-countrymen caught as victims in violent disturbances in Los Angeles or helping victims of floods in the Mekong delta; to long-term projects like building a Convention Center together with a Vietnam Culture House and Vietnamese Park adjacent to Little Saigon; participating decidedly, and in timely fashion, in a health project designed by WHO, the World Health Organization, for eradication of leprosy in Vietnam by the year 2000. Chinh was aware that right in the heart of Little Saigon alone, among the silent majority, there existed many kind-hearted and sincere souls.
There was the Colonel, former commander of an Airborne Ranger Group, who had just arrived in the U.S. after fourteen years in a communist prison. Paying no mind to the care of his own failing health, the Colonel had immediately sat down and composed a letter to Chinh requesting that Chinh, on the strength of his good reputation, help motivate Vietnamese immigrants to re-create the sculpture called Thương Tiếc, 'Mourning', so that soldiers who had lost their lives for the freedom of South Vietnam would not be forgotten. The original large statue was a well-known work by Nguyen Thanh Thu, featuring a soldier sitting on a rock, his rifle in his lap, his dejected expression suggesting a deep sorrow widely interpreted as representing his mourning for his fallen fellow fighters. It had been placed in front of the National Military Cemetery midway between Saigon and Bien Hoa. Hours after the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, the Communists had pulled down the sculpture and destroyed it.
Then there was Tien, Chinh's former collegiate fellow, who had taken the oath as a member of the Boy Scouts of Vietnam at an assembly on Mount Bạch Mã, near the city of Hue. He held but two passions: to restore the organization of the Boy Scouts of Vietnam abroad for the benefit of youths, and to establish the first Vietnamese hospital in America.
Of special note was Nguyen, Chinh's former senior colleague. Almost 60, he still remained single. For so many years, Nguyen had continued without fail to be a devoted friend to Indochinese boat people, and also a physician, gracefully free of charge, serving circles of writers and artists, as well as HO families (those who immigrated to the U.S. under the Orderly Departure Program). Lien, another doctor who had come to the local scene rather late from a refugee camp on an island, was determined to fight, against all odds, to undergo intensive retraining so as to be able to practice medicine again in his new homeland. Even so preoccupied, Lien did not give up on his ardent dream of bringing into existence a monumental sculpture of "Mother Holding Her Child" plunging into the immense ocean and drifting to another horizon, which art work would symbolize the huge exodus of two million Vietnamese who were on their way to creating a super Vietnam in the heart of the world. Chinh could think of numerous other symbolic characters and noble thoughts, yet at the same time he asked himself why, in spite of all that, he and his friends continued to lose touch with one another in the darkness of "arrogance, envy and delusion", to use Thien's words.
For a few decades now, Chinh had remained a tormented soul, an intellectual witnessing tragedies in a time of turmoil and of glittering and bright deception. In the midst of so much noise and the reverberation of depraved words and expressions, surrounded by false political realities, very often Chinh wanted to retreat into tranquility and quietude, doing away with tortuous thoughts which only caused personal distress and did not seem to do anyone any good. But he would not be himself if he chose to walk that path. Forever, he would definitely be himself, a man of strong conviction. To use electronic computer terminology, he had been programmed, and, as such, there could be no question of change or alteration in his pattern. The only possibility he could imagine was that he might try to become more sensitive – to the extent that he would feel amenable to dialogue with viewpoints different from his own, all of which he believed could come together in the end, even though the result would be a rainbow coalition. But, after all, multiple forms and colors are the ferment of creativity, he thought. Chinh realized that the number of people who were still with him and supported him was dwindling with time. Not opposing him openly, the others simply detached themselves from his sphere and each chose to walk his own way. As for Chinh, certainly for the rest of his life, he would continue on the straight path he had drawn for himself, no matter how deserted it grew. The ready forgetfulness and compromise exhibited by overseas Vietnamese – which Chinh considered damaging to their political dignity and refugee rights – together with the extreme joy shown by people inside Vietnam because of the so-called đổi mới renovation, only served to sharpen his heartache.
In the end, everyone tries to accommodate himself to new circumstances in order to survive, Chinh told himself. A life abounding in instinct is ever ready to shed old skin, to change colors, and to proceed with fervor. The very few people who were as highly principled and constant as himself seemed to be facing the possibility of becoming an endangered species. Chinh's mother, hair completely white with age, still lived in Vietnam. One of his dreams was simple: that real peace would come to his homeland, so he could go back to see his mother before she passed away, and to visit his old village and watch children play in the village school yard. What a great happiness it would be if he were able once again to provide medical care to familiar peasants who were ever honest and simple, from whom the fees he had received sometimes were no more than a bunch of bananas, some other varieties of fruit, or a few newly laid chicken eggs. His dream was seemingly not so unattainable, yet it still appeared beyond reach and far into the future. The reason was, he firmly told himself, because he could not, and would not, return to his country as a mere onlooker, as a tourist, or even worse, as a comprador shamelessly flaunting his financial success. Though he longed to see his mother, Chinh could not by any means return to Vietnam in his present state of mind and current external circumstances.
Since the middle of the 1970's, following the fall of South Vietnam, there had been a massive influx of Indochinese refugees spreading all over the United States, the greatest concentration of them being in California. Difficulties faced by those who had arrived first were not few. To their camps, like Pendleton and Fort Chaffee, humane and generous American sponsors had come to give them aid and moral support. On the darker side, there was also no shortage of local residents who discriminated against them, who held ill feelings toward them and wanted to send them back to where they had come from. "We Don't Want Them. May They Catch Pneumonia and Die", so went a slogan. Among that first mass of refugees were Chinh's former colleagues. Currently, the number of Vietnamese doctors had reached 2000 in the United States alone, not counting smaller numbers living in Canada, France, Australia, and a few other countries. Out of a total of about 3000 physicians in the whole of South Vietnam, more than 2500 had exited the country. This was not unlike a general strike staged by the entire medical profession, a strike which had prolonged itself from 1975 until the present. Chinh knew for sure that he himself had been one of the few who had effectively mobilized and led that endless and unprecedented strike.
Chinh had a clear itinerary in mind. He would visit various places: San Jose in Silicon Valley, valley of high-tech industries; Los Angeles, the city of angels that ironically was about to become a twin sister of Ho Chi Minh city; Orange County, the capital of anti-communist refugees, in which is located Little Saigon; and San Diego, known to have the best weather in the world. All these locations were full of Vietnamese, and their population kept increasing, not only because of the newly arrived, but also due to the phenomenon of a "secondary migration" of Vietnamese from other states. In the end, thus, after having settled elsewhere, they chose to move to California, a place of warm sunshine, of familiar tropical weather just like that in the resort city of Dalat in Vietnam, as they told one another.
Eventually, the Vietnamese immigrants embraced standardization, a very American particularity. Big and small, cities in America all look alike, with gas stations, supermarkets, fast food restaurants like McDonalds. Likewise, entering crowded and bustling Vietnamese shopping centers on Bolsa avenue, one readily sees, without having to spend any time searching, restaurants specializing in beef noodle soup, phở; big and small supermarkets; pharmacies; doctors' offices; lawyers' offices; and, naturally, newspaper offices, given the insatiable Vietnamese appetite for news in print.
Chinh's colleagues had been among the first group that arrived in this land. They represented a collective of academic intellectuals most of whom, with help from a refugee services program extended to all refugees like themselves, had quickly returned to practicing their profession in extremely favorable conditions. After that, if only everyone of them had retained good memories about their initial feelings and emotions when forced to abandon everything and to risk their lives departing for an unknown destination, they would have conducted their lives differently in exile, Chinh began silently grumbling to himself. Engraved in Chinh's memory were those days in an island refugee camp where Ngan, one of Chinh's former colleagues, once and again had confided that he only wished to set foot in the United States some day, having no dream of venturing to any further place, that he held no high hope of practicing medicine again, that happiness and contentment for him would be no more than breathing the air of freedom, living like a human being, starting all over from the beginning to set up a home solely by manual labor, and sacrificing himself for the future of his children. Luckily, reality had turned out better than what Ngan had expected. With his intelligence and relentless energy, and, of course, with luck as well, only within a short period had he become one of those who resumed their medical practice. To work as physicians in America meant to belong to the upper middle class, and, therefore, the status and position accruing to this group of newly certified doctors was a dream even for many native-born American citizens.
But Ngan and a number of others in the profession had not felt content to stop there. And, eventually, what was inevitably to happen had happened. Concerted police raids on a number of Vietnamese doctors' offices uncovered what was labeled as "the biggest medical fraud in the history of the State of California". The news made headlines in newspapers and television networks all over the United States. By then, only nine years had passed since the fall of South Vietnam, a traumatic occurrence which was still an unmitigated nightmare for its displaced people. And these same displaced people had to face the humiliating February 1984 medical scandal, a second nightmare of an entirely different nature. The name Vietnam had never been mentioned so very often as it was in the entire week that followed. Nor had the past ever been so cruelly violated. This event was indeed an ignominy to the past of South Vietnam and its people, a past defined by many sacrifices for a righteous cause. The image of a horde of Vietnamese doctors and pharmacists, Ngan among them, handcuffed by uniformed police, seen in the streets, exposed to sun and wind, had been thoroughly exploited by American newspapers and television networks. All members of Vietnamese communities felt their honor damaged by this scandal, which instilled in them a feeling of insecurity and fear. In fact, immediately afterwards, there had arisen a wave of abuse which local people flung at Vietnamese refugees in general. In factories and companies, some insolent employees in a direct manner rudely referred to their Vietnamese co-workers as thieves, while others in a more indirect fashion stuck American newspaper clippings, complete with photos of the event, on the walls around the area where many Vietnamese worked. Those average honest Vietnamese citizens, who had come to the United States empty-handed, who were trying to re-make their lives out of nothing except their will and industrious hands, suddenly became victims of a glaring injustice projected by discrimination and contempt. Choked with anger, a Vietnamese worker screamed to the absent academic intellectuals, that even way back in the old country, any time and any where these intellectuals had been happy and lucky, so it was about time they showed their faces in his workplace to receive this disgraceful humiliation they themselves had brought about.
The scandalous event of almost a decade ago appeared as though it had occurred just the day before, so heavy was the flashback that flooded Chinh's mind. He tried to liberate himself from stagnant residues of memory about a woeful time in the past. He pressed a button and automatically the car windows were rolled down, admitting from the ocean a strong breeze which flapped noisily against the interior of the car. Blue sky and blue ocean – it was exactly the same deep blue spreading over the two opposite shores of the Pacific Ocean. The sight brought to mind a Chinese statement Chinh had learned while in prison without knowing its origin: "The sea of suffering is so immense that when you turn your head you cannot see the shores." Freeway 101 along the Pacific coast triggered his memory of National Highway One in the beloved country he had left behind on the other side of the ocean. Over there was seen the same great sea formed from the tears of living beings, the same stretches of glistening sand, the same fields of white salt, the same rows of green coconut trees. The homeland in memory would have been absolutely beautiful, if not for the intrusion of flashback-like film strips projecting scenes "along Highway One", showing the "highway of terror" and "bloody stretches of sand" during the last days of March, 1975.
Little Saigon, his destination, is always considered the capital of Vietnamese refugees, Chinh reflected. In a certain sense, it is indeed an extension of the city of Saigon in Vietnam. On the other hand, if one cares to look at historical records of this geographical area and its people, one will note an irony of history, which is that the first Vietnamese to live in Orange County was an ugly Vietnamese named Pham Xuan An, a communist party member. On the surface, he was known to work for ten years as a correspondent for the American TIME magazine. What nobody knew then was that he was at the same time a high ranking spy for Hanoi. Supported by a fellowship from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Vietnam, An went to the United States to study in the late 1950s. After graduation, he traveled all over America, and ended up settling in Orange County. Subsequently, An returned to Saigon where he worked for the British Reuters news agency, then for TIME until the last day of South Vietnam. Only much later did one learn that An had joined the Viet Minh, 'Vietnamese Independence Brotherhood League', very early on, in the 1940s. Initially, he had worked as a not-so-important messenger and guide, and finally had become a strategic spy who, under the cloak of a correspondent for the prestigious American magazine, had escaped detection by various CIA networks. Now, in the 1990s, An lived quietly in Saigon, witnessing first-hand the failed revolution which he had loyally and wholeheartedly served for more than forty years. In the meantime, it was estimated that about three hundred thousand Vietnamese lived in Orange County, where An had previously established his residence. If An had a chance to come back, he would not be able to recognize the area at all. From a dead place with poorly developed orange orchards, it had become a youthful and bustling Little Saigon. In spite of all the hardships they shared with their parents as the first generation of Vietnamese immigrants, many children proved very successful in school and at college, and helped raise the standards of local education a step higher. They graduated in every field of study. This was more than what could have been hoped for from Ðông Du –the Go East Movement – in the first decade of the twentieth century, which sent Vietnamese students to Tokyo for modern education. After a period of less than two decades in the United States, the Vietnamese produced for the future of Vietnam a whole stock of experts who could serve all areas of Vietnam's social and economic life.
In his life of exile, not being able as yet to directly contribute anything to his homeland, Chinh nonetheless nurtured a small dream for the year 2000. After attending many conventions, he had the impression that he and his friends and colleagues were still like homeless people, even though they were lodged in no less than four-star hotels. In view of that, he decided that during this present field trip to California, the first item of construction he would campaign for was not merely a home base for the International Association of Vietnamese Physicians, but more extensively, a Cultural Park complex comprising a Convention Center, a Museum, a Culture House, and a Park. It ought to be a representative project of great scale and high quality, which would be given utmost attention in various stages of construction. As much as the village's đình làng, or communal house, symbolizes the good of the village, the proposed Culture Park complex would be an embodiment of cultural roots, indispensable roots that should be jealously safeguarded by generations of Vietnamese immigrants from the first days they set foot in this new continent of opportunities. The complex would be like a common ground for the currently very divisive Vietnamese diaspora, and would help younger generations advance with pride in their adopted country, while looking toward Vietnam for their true identity. It was envisioned that the Cultural Park complex would be built in the southwestern part of the United States, specifically located in a large area south of highways 22 and 405, adjacent to Little Saigon. It would be a place conducive to a lively introduction to unique Vietnamese cultural traits, through attempts to re-enact periods of history, both glorious and tragic, of the Vietnamese people since the establishment of their country.
This project would not solely be the job undertaken by a Special Mission Committee composed of the cream of the diaspora, drawn from all areas of social activities, Chinh thought. Rather, it had to be a work of the whole community of free overseas Vietnamese, without discrimination on the basis of differences displayed by individuals and various camps. To begin with, if each immigrant simply contributed a dollar per year, Chinh estimated, there would be more than a million dollars in addition to the two million expected from the Association of Physicians, Dentists and Pharmacists, and whatever else from the Society of Professionals and business people. Three million dollars per year was by no means a small amount with which to build the foundation for Project 2000. The first five years would be spent in identifying and acquiring a piece of land big enough to meet the requirements for the Cultural Park complex. Of the buildings, the convention center would be the first to be erected, for it would serve as a cradle of community activities in culture and the arts. Thinking these thoughts, Chinh at the same time could not forget how many times he had heard the so-tiresome refrain of dismissal that Vietnamese were incapable of constructing works of great scale, because so many destructive wars, in addition to the humid weather of tropical Asian monsoon, would not allow any great man-made work to survive. But like himself, they were in the United States now, and he wanted to prove the fallacy of their argument. After all, the essential element was still man. As long as he had a dream worthy to be called a dream. Then what was needed was a cement substance to bandage and join broken pieces in the larger heart. More than once, Chinh had proved his ability to lead an intellectual community that had consistently did nothing for the last two decades. Now he was confronted with a reverse challenge, that of mobilizing the strength of the same collective to do something, if not inside Vietnam then outside, within an end-of-the-century five-year plan, before the 21st century arrived. He dreamed of a five-year period significant with planning and action, not with a passive attitude of simply watching things run their course.
But reality told another story, Chinh reminded himself. After but a few tentative first steps of sounding out others' feelings, Chinh had come to clearly realize that it was indeed easy for members of the Association of Physicians to agree on non-cooperation with the Vietnam government in everything, including humanitarian aid. On the other hand, it was a much more complicated problem when it came to a concrete plan which demanded participation and contribution from everyone, resulting in numerous questions of "why and because" issued from the very people whom Chinh thought to be his close friends, having walked a long way with him. Given this state of affairs, Chinh thought, the upcoming Fifth Convention would be a challenging testing ground for the willingness, not only of himself but also of the whole overseas Vietnamese corps of medical professionals, to commit themselves to this meaningful cultural project.
From Chinh's point of view, instead of standing as onlookers from the outside, the International Association of Vietnamese Physicians should play a pioneering role, getting directly involved from the beginning in the construction of the Cultural Park complex. The building of it would be a rehearsal, serving as the blueprint of a model for the museum of the Vietnam War envisioned by ISAW, Institute for the Study of American Wars, an American NGO. ISAW was planning to build Valor Park in Maryland comprising a series of museums dedicated to seven wars in which the Americans had been directly involved since the foundation of their country. Of course, among the seven was the Vietnam War, the only war of just cause lost by the United States, along with its South Vietnamese allies. Providing correct facts and searching for answers to the question of causes would have to be the proper contents of this future Vietnam War museum. Surely, two million people who had left their native country in a huge exodus could not accept a second defeat, an eternal one at that, at Valor Park, imposed upon them by a repetition of falsified historical facts, manipulated by the communists as usual. In fact, if things went according to ISAW's plan, the museum would exhibit incomplete, one-sided testimonies which would show, for example, that the war was between the United States and North Vietnam, ignoring the role of South Vietnam in the conflict. It was not simply a matter of who had won and who had lost. Rather, it involved the political personality of two million refugee immigrants who were struggling for a free political system in the land of their birth.
Furthermore, Chinh believed that the process of constructing the Vietnam War museum by ISAW had to start by drawing from the planned project of the Vietnamese Cultural Park complex of 2000, to be located right in the capital of Vietnamese refugees. This Park was to represent an overview and a selection of images, data, and testimonies related to various historical periods of the Vietnamese struggle for independence. It was intended to be a place where younger generations of Vietnamese immigrants could get help to look toward Vietnam in search of a lost time, to fully understand why they were present in this new continent. In such light did the envisioned Cultural Park complex constitute Chinh's dream.
Between Chinh and his son Toan there transpired a silent conflict with regard to the battlegrounds of their dreams. Toan's dream was thousands of miles away, back in the native homeland. But then, Chinh asked himself, what dream can't one dream, inside the country or out? Realization of any dream did not depend solely on the brave heart of one person; it had to be based on the will of a collective whole that together looked in one direction, together cherished and longed for the joy of a fulfilled dream. As for Chinh personally, what he was wishing for was not a temple to worship in, but a warm sweet home for "A Hundred Children, A Hundred Clans" – Vietnamese descending from the mythological union of the fairy Au Co and the Dragon King Lac Long Quan. This home base would be a location where values of the past were collected and stored, a gathering place where the ebullient spirit of life in the present was demonstrated, and a starting point from which to challenge the course of the future. It was to be, above all, a pilgrimage destination for every Vietnamese no matter where in the world he or she lived.
NGO THE VINH
Little Saigon 01–1995
[Excerpt from The Battle of Saigon,
Published by Xlibris 2005]
The Writers Post
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