First, the good news. To those who can't stand my scribbling, it's clear this pitiful, barely gurgling font is drying up quickly, for lately, all I feel like doing is vegetate at a sidewalk cafe', or wander mindlessly for miles, so that I can be just another anchovy in this demanding, forgetful stream.
Though my synapses are burnt toasts, and I'd rather putz in peace, I shall strive to paint some pictures, will a few thoughts into being, and if you deem they suck, just shove me into the nearest gas chamber already, for I'm primed to be chosen. Disinfested, I'll ascend, or rather, descend, for I'm as guilty as the next mensch.
In oven like heat or monsoon rain, I've walked. With parked motorbikes and food vendors cluttering sidewalks, Saigon is not ideal for strolling, that's for sure, but it's still the best way to see everything. On signs for barbers, dentists, opticians and gyms, nearly all the models are white, and English is often inserted to lend cachet to whatever is being sold. "HENRY'S GAMING / LET'S FEEL THE ASSASSIN'S SPEED." Toyota's slogan, "NO QUALITY / NO LIFE." On the side of a massive building, there's an image of bespectacled Korean executive, with "I like K-food." The more universal English becomes, the more infantile, even at its sources. For $2, you can buy a locally-made "f*ck LIFE" baseball cap.
In Singapore two years ago, translator Motoyuki Shibata pointed out to me after a group reading that the host had given me the longest and most enthusiastic introduction, "I think you being an American has something to do with it."
Goddamned, sexy English, and the most sexed up English is Americanese, as promoted by an endless stream of movies and songs, spanning a century.
On a teenage boy's backpack, "BORN TO BE PLAY HARD."
English language school signs, "HELLO! HI! STEP INTO THE FUTURE," "YOUR ENGLISH / YOUR FUTURE," "English for Future Leaders," "GLOBAL PASSPORT / Learn to live together."
One academy is named "Beyond English / Premium Quality." What is "Beyond English," exactly? Russian? Chinese? Martian? What nonsense, but don't worry, just give us your money and we'll hire some white guy, as on the billboard, to hand your child a spiffy award.
In an alley, I stumbled upon an English learning club that meets twice a week. On its sign was a black bearded and head scarf-wearing white househusband holding a baby, brush and dust pan, while flexing his biceps, "We Can Do It!"
Speaking English, you can converse with, befriend and perhaps live among whites. There are many businesses here to help you secure a student visa to white countries, thus on a sign, there are three white faces and a very light-skinned black one, with the Australian flag behind them, and, "You did it! Congratulations. A warm welcome to AUSTRALIA."
Whites are sexy. On a bus from Phnom Penh to Saigon, there were two French women behind me, one black, one white. Speaking a surprisingly good English, a Vietnamese guy was coming on hard to the pale one. He's very Christian, he declared, and had even been to Israel to visit holy sites. Although he's married, "Vietnamese men are allowed five girlfriends," he joked, "and I'd like a white one!" To cement this possible bond, he suggested they go into business together, "and make lots of money." She could provide used clothing from France, and he'd sell them in Cambodia. "You know, Vietnamese people love foreigners. Blonde hair, blue eyes!" Later, after the French lovelies were long gone, the Christian told me he had a sister in Nebraska, but had never visited her. Then, "How much do prostitutes cost in America?"
On the webzine Kiến Thức [Knowledge], I read about a young Vietnamese woman, Duyên Bkrông, who's attracting much adulation because she's tall, pale and has a high-bridged nose. "Although she has tried to explain that she's an Ê Đê [a minority tribe], Duyên is still annoyed by people who keep whispering, 'If she's not of mixed race, how can she be so beautiful?'"
White is sexy. Most Ê Đê, though, tend to be darker than Vietnamese. A dwindling tribe, they are most numerous in remote Dak Lak. At some dusty gas station in that province, I was suddenly struck by the beauty of a young Ê Đê, then by another at a roadside refreshment stand. Vietnamese used to call them savages, highlanders then minorities. Now, they're just ethnics, ngdegreesời d n tộc.
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