Posts Tagged ‘Thanh Nam’

One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was to document all the milestones in our family, such as the biggest trip my parents ever took as a young couple to begin a second life with their three girls in 1975. I have my own, if somewhat sketchy, memories from these early days in the US, but I always wanted to record my parents’ experiences as young adults. They were younger than I am now when they embarked on this new adventure, and it’s always eye-opening to see facets of your parents as individuals instead of as a parental unit. This entry below written by my dad is one of the stories that I hope my sisters’ children will one day cherish.


In The Jaws of Culture Shock

by Phap D.

How euphoric was I when I landed in America with my family in early May 1975! I felt like I had a new lease on life, because life for me and my family under communism back home would certainly be hell, period. I was confident that my wife and I, both American-educated and in the prime of our lives, were well equipped for thriving in this new land of opportunities. I envisioned a bright future in which we would work very hard to have a new comfortable life and to provide the best education for our three young children. I was deeply grateful to the most wonderful American family who had welcomed us into their beautiful home in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Unfortunately, that sense of euphoria did not last very long. Slowly but surely, I was overwhelmed by an inconsolable feeling of tremendous losses – a prestigious job, a happy familiar way of life, beloved friends and relatives back home. The realization that I had also lost a country and a culture only deepened my anguish. In the jaws of culture shock, I became too depressed to cope with my new environment. I had to quit my job as director of a private language school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan after only a few days at work.

I was not alone in this plight. Around that time, the noted poet Thanh Nam* was also a victim of culture shock. In the poem Vernal Poetry Written in Exile, he lamented:

Accepting two lives in one birth

I am enduring the whims of a brutal tempest

Reincarnated in this world

I will have to finish off this parasitic life

Reversing the order of family and first names

Imitating infants that babble puerile speech

Burying the past deep into the dust

My condition is less than that of a villain


Chấp nhận hai đời trong một kiếp                                                                      

Đành cho giông bão phũ phàng đưa                                                                          

Đầu thai lần nữa trên trần thế                                                                                       

Kéo nốt trăm năm kiếp sống nhờ                                                                                    

Đổi ngược họ tên cha mẹ đặt                                                                                       

Tập làm con trẻ nói ngu ngơ                                                                                         

Vùi sâu dĩ vãng vào tro bụi                                                                                          

Thân phận không bằng đứa mãng phu


*Thanh Nam was the pen name of Trần Đại Việt, who was born on August 26, 1931 in Nam Định, North Vietnam. He died on June 2, 1985 in Seattle. Among his major works are Hồng Ngọc (1953), Người nữ danh ca (1953), Giấc ngủ cô đơn (1963), Buồn ga nhỏ (1963), Còn một đêm nay (1963), Bầy ngựa hoang (1965), Giòng lệ thơ ngây (1965), Những phố không đèn (1965), Mấy mùa thương đau (1968), Đất khách (1983).

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