Most of the towns in Đắk Lắk I have never heard of until I’m in them. A few days ago, I was in Yang Reh, which has just 4,100 people, and founded only in 2002. Coming in, I spotted a tiny, dark woman of unclear ethnicity, pushing a junk bicycle that had assorted bags dangling from its handlebar. She wore two hats, a black boonie over a tan newsboy, with the outer advertising FUBENZON, stenciled twice, across the band. It’s an ingested medicine for intestinal worms. Her ancient slide sandals boasted Nike swooshes.
The center of town was a three-way intersection that had an only slightly dirty restaurant, serving rice noodles, and rice with choices of fish, shrimp, pork, chicken, fried eggs, pickled eggplants, water spinach or bamboo shoots, everything made just like my mom would, if only she could cook. There were two cafés, with the fancier one flaunting two garish murals evoking Europe. Sitting in scorching and dusty Yang Reh, one can contemplate these chill, lakefront villas, with their elegant, romantic balconies, while a handsome boat waits in the placid water, for you and your languid yet eager lover. Green or purple leafed trees jostle exotic cypresses on distant hills. Seagulls bank and squawk.
Sweating, I entered the café to find it completely empty, save for a girl of about four, sleeping next to a stuffed Doraemon cat. The red and sand-colored straw mat they lay on had “Gia Đình Hạnh Phúc” [“Happy Family”] printed on it in a cursive script. A naked, blonde doll, smaller than a sparrow, had her eyes wide open, but no legs and only one arm.
On a mauve wall were blooming violets, butterflies and weird purple dandelions, with this in English, “I miss you / I miss you because / I never miss you.”
On a pink wall, cartoon women in traditional dress danced with a fan or wide flat hat, or played the pipa, with this in English, “In spring trees the subtle fresh green / budding from the branches of the tree.”
Even at the end of the universe, which Yang Reh clearly is, one feels compelled to look towards the imperial center, with its glamorous cities, people and cool sounding language. “Oh my God,” “oh wow,” “let’s go,” “hot boy,” “hot girl” and “sexy,” etc., have crept into daily Vietnamese conversations, but this is happening everywhere else too.
As a child in Saigon, I would hear some of my father’s friends insert the French moi and toi into their conversation, which I found ridiculous. A man would say, “Why don’t toi come by moi house tomorrow?” Now, I hear the English me and you intruding into Vietnamese sentences, as in, “Me don’t like what you’re doing to me.”
In Ea Kly, I saw a teenage girl with this on her jacket, “MY MAMA DON’T LIKE YOU,” then I walk by a bag of chicken feed by the side of the road, “VIET HOPE.” Not one in twenty here even knows the English “hope.”
A 14-year-old boy, Bo, was mesmerized by a YouTube video of 365daband, a music combo of pretty boys whose every dance move mimics some American singer. Hearing obvious influences of Lady Gaga, I asked Bo if he knew who she was. He said no. Since Bo’s 38-year-old mom was nearby, I asked her the same question, and she had no idea who Mother Monster was either.
Probing further, I asked Bo to name five Americans, from any field, so he told me about a school field trip to a museum in Buon Ma Thuot, the nearest city to Ea Kly, “I saw an American, so I said to him, “Hello! How are you? What is your name?” He told me his name was Tim.”
“No, I didn’t ask if you have ever met an American! I want you to name me any five Americans, like famous people, from any field.”
It took Bo a good minute, before he could pronounce, with some difficulty, “Alan Walker.”
“Alan Walker. He’s a singer.”
Bo had on a white T-shirt with black lettering, “AMERICAN COLLEGE CHAMPION / Best Football Player,” so I asked him, “There’s English on your shirt. Do you know what it means?”
“So why did you choose this shirt?”
“I didn’t choose it. My aunt bought it for me. I don’t normally buy my own clothes.”
Bo’s parents work at our plastic recycling plant. His dad doesn’t say much unless he’s drunk. A 500 ml bottle of homemade rice wine can be had here for 86 cents. Normally, Bo stays with his grandma in Buon Ma Thuot. Though Bo has been to Saigon three times, he doesn’t care for it. He’s never flown, and can’t imagine himself living outside Đắk Lắk, much less overseas.
Obedient, Bo does whatever his parents ask of him, be it running errands, doing housework or even helping out in the plastic recycling factory. It disciplines and toughens him up, teaches him a few basic skills, they reason. Better that than having the boy bury himself in video games.
Orientals reach puberty after blacks, browns and whites, and in this Confucian culture, obedience to one’s elders is still stressed, and education, too, so Vietnamese teens tend to be nerdier than many others. In my former neighborhood in South Philadelphia, the small local library was filled almost exclusively by Orientals after school.
In a mixed society, each race has to compete against every other at everything, so an Oriental who would have been a bully in Asia may have to conclude that he’s not such a badass after all, and a glasses wearing black kid who would have been, say, a renowned chemistry professor at the University of Liberia may decide that it’s probably best he works on his left handed layup and crossover dribble.
A worshipper of Slick Watts, I still mourn my aborted NBA career. Daily, I seethe that God never enabled me to do a Shawn Kemp type dunk, repeatedly, at will, over the entire universe. Take that, bitch!
“Where do you think you’ll be at age 25, Bo?”
“In my grandma’s house!”
“I notice you like to watch YouTube videos, and they show, you know, lots of foreign places? What do you think of these places?”
“Uh, these foreign countries are more modern than Vietnam. They’re richer than us. There’s this city in India where the police drive around in these awesome cars. Lamborghini!”
“Which city is that?”
“Dubai.” Then, “Foreigners aren’t just rich. They can also be poor, or homeless. There are countries even poorer than us! Vietnam is not rich, and not poor. We’re in the middle.”
With poor, working class parents, Bo has been exposed to almost no books. He’s read a few Doraemon comics and an illustrated and much condensed version of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, “It’s about this guy who steals a loaf of bread. He punches through the window and hurts his hand. He then sleeps in a church and tries to steal some silver candle holders, but when the cops come, the priest lies and says he’s given these things to the man…”
“Where does all this take place?”
When I was Bo’s age, I lived in Salem, Oregon, and there was a neighborhood girl, Cynthia, with braces, who told me she had only been to one other state, Washington, which she didn’t know was North, South, West or East of Oregon, “My father always does the driving when we go anywhere.”
In my Cheyenne Postcard, I describe a cheerful, hard drinking lady who told me her daughter was a soldier stationed in North Korea.
In Saigon, a cross-eyed man in his 30’s asked me if Canada was near Australia?
Most people don’t know where China or Brazil is on a map, much less Argentina or Malaysia, for they just don’t feel the information is relevant to their lives. Each day, they have their hands and mind full just getting through their wrenching labor.
Bo’s mom, “When I have a nightmare, I usually just cry in the dream, but last night, I was still crying when I got up. I dreamt that I had lost my cellphone, so I had to buy another one, on credit, but that, too, was immediately stolen, so I was sobbing and sobbing! Waking up, I was relieved to see my phone still next to me.”
“You’re probably feeling too much stress, from working.”
“You’re right. It’s been a rough couple of days.”
Bo’s mom sometimes says sorry in English to her often cranky husband. Like many people here, she’s becoming addicted to the cellphone. She’d take photos of flowers or herself, to post on FaceBook. The bulk of her time, though, is spent working, and she does everything quite cheerfully.
On Philadelphia’s South Street many moons ago, I was in the Booktrader, browsing. Like diners and blue-collar strip bars, used bookstores are dying out in America. An obese employee was shelving books nearby, and as she huffed and gasped, she also mumbled, “Work, work.”
Besides weddings, funerals and family visits, Bo’s mom has only had one vacation in her life, and that was a two-day group affair paid for by the hotel where she worked, worked. Many years later, she still speaks fondly of this respite in Nha Trang, 3 1/2 hours from here. Although it’s renowned for its beaches, she never got to enter the ocean.
The chief romance of remotest places is that you’re less harassed or hemmed in by civilization, with its overcrowding, maddening noise, manipulative media and endless rules, but then a goatherd on the Khyber Pass can suddenly be zapped by an empire’s silent and invisible drone, and Vietnamese certainly remember that much of the war from half a century ago was fought in places exactly like Ea Kly and Yang Reh.
The Portuguese conquered Malacca in 1511, then came the Dutch, English, French, Spanish and Americans into the rest of Asia. The Russians, too, have stamped their influence here. The white man’s 500-year effort to remake the entire world in his image has been mostly successful, for here I am, sitting in Ea Kly, in blue jeans, black T-shirt, typing on a laptop, while cars, trucks and buses rumble by, everything invented by the white man, though some are now made better in Asia, as with my Fujifilm x100F, a marvelous camera that Mieko Kawakami gave to me in Tokyo, a Westernized city that’s far more modern than most Western ones.
A superior, dominant culture is the one with the better weapons, but this is the result of having better technology, organization and thinking. To counter such a threat, you don’t just match the other guy’s artillery, but his entire arsenal of techniques, which is what Japan did in the 19th century. China wasn’t quite with it, and that’s why it eventually got its sluggish, smug and decadent ass kicked by Japan.
The West’s unprecedented rise, hegemony and seduction are winding down, not with a bang, but a gayish whimper. With its unmatched objectivity, the West mastered all the sciences to rule over the entire world and nature, but now, it has descended into a pathological, extremist subjectivity, so that facts no longer matter, only wishes, caprices and delusions.
Although emblematic, showcase Western cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are becoming literal shitholes, the dog, cat and squirrel eating peasants in a dumbassed place like Ea Kly haven’t gotten the news, but then they haven’t even heard of Neil Armstrong, the first mammal to wear a full diaper for days on end without flinching, or Michael Jackson, the first racially unclassifiable man to walk on the moon while cornholing a series of screaming boys, or Caitlyn Jenner, the first female to win the men’s decathlon at the Olympics. All they know is that America must be the greatest country on earth, because it has been that way all their lives, and because Washington, Madison Avenue and Hollywood keep insisting on it. This doesn’t mean they all want to move into that shining house on the hill, however.
Not long ago, I overheard some old guy at an Ea Kly café, “If I can go to America, I’ll visit the White House, take a photo. That’s enough. If I can go to France, I’ll visit the Vatican, take a photo. That’s also enough. The Vatican is the world’s biggest. The White House is also biggest. As for their food, Vietnam already has everything. Of course, they’re richer than us, so their streets are wider than us. That’s all. I’ll go to the Vatican and White House, take two photos, then go home.”
Spoken like a true hick, of the type that has endured throughout history. Unless he’s bombed, starved or mentally raped by some insufferably alien ideology, most people are perfectly happy to stay where they already belong.
This morning, a reader emails me, “You write eloquently, and poetically, about the demise and mostly likely destruction of America. What are you proposing that we do to revive America?”
Since the country is methodically misruled by a hostile, openly criminal and shamelessly traitorous elite, Americans must emphatically disown it, and the first step is to boycott all elections as staged by said elite. On voting days, Americans shouldn’t stay home but organize massive protests to declare to history and the rest of the world, “These criminals don’t represent us.” Delegitimized, America’s ruling cabal will weaken.
Since all mainstream media serve only to brainwash and stultify, Americans must wean themselves from their toxic influences and, ultimately, destroy them.
On the battlefield of ideas, Americans must not be cowed by bombastic nonsense, as screamed from above, but use their common sense and innate intelligence to dismantle such patent absurdities.
To begin the counterattack, Americans must regain their own minds and become reacquainted with each other. There is no unity of resistance if you shun those closest to you.
Every place is its own center of the universe, so defend or rebuild it. Local democracy must overrule distant diktats. There is no solution forthcoming over the enemy occupied airwave. America can be reclaimed, one town at a time.
Up to now, Americans haven’t resisted because they understood, if only half consciously, that they have benefited greatly from America’s empire status, but their house slave days are almost done. Already, crumbs seldom tumble from the masta’s table, so wise up, niggas, before it’s too late.
Up to now, you have watched with indifference or excitement the little people everywhere being blown up in your name. Soon enough, it will be your turn.