Before taking the following picture, I marveled from afar at how splendid the lotus flower on the left appeared in the middle of the pond where it grew at the Longwood Gardens. Then I began noticing that it had gone past its prime and its petals were falling apart. Right next to it, however, was a younger specimen still at the budding stage, getting ready to take over.
The following is reblogged from Angie Ibarra’s post at http://momentsinyourlife.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/village-teacher-by-neihtn-a-glimpse-of-the-book/
We are all students of life and we are constantly learning from people that we meet, from things that we see, from news that we hear, and from books that we read. Village Teacher gave me a good lesson.
Set in the [last] years of the 19th century in Vietnam. A brilliant and young village teacher from the far north named Lê Duy Tâm came to the Imperial City of Huế. His purpose – along with many young men from all over Vietnam – was to take the final examinations that will enable him to become a mandarin. The Vietnamese mandarins are people who went through rigorous scholastic training and examinations to be able to join the élite ranks of society. By becoming one, it was considered a lifetime achievement and an honor that came with privileges.
However, this was a time of Vietnam’s troubled history where many forces are fighting to take control of the country. From the clans and royalists, the anti-colonial people, the rebels, and the French that wants to control the country. It was a difficult time when people have different needs and are doing anything they can to hold on to power.
Tâm was able to finish the exams well, so while waiting for the results of the examinations, he met a lovely young woman in a knight-in-shining armor way. Her name is Giang, she turned out to be a half-French daughter of a French Naval officer who is the right-hand of a powerful French general. She looked Vietnamese in appearance except for her captivating blue eyes which mesmerized Tâm.
This started a love story that was wonderful at first. Tâm was respectfully accepted by Giang’s family because he was a brilliant young man on his way to becoming a powerful mandarin. However, with Tâm’s association with a French family, he became a target of unfair accusations. The love story became filled with hardships. From unhappy parents, conniving ministers, marriage proposals, prisons and murder. I started to root for their love story and felt like one of the characters who wants to help them. After all the intensity and fast paced events, their story had to make a brief pause.
Then I started reading about history. It was such an eye opener, a great background for this story. I asked myself if I was in that time, how I would feel if my country is being torn apart by so many forces that want to control it. Some had good intentions; some wanted to retain their own status for greed and power.
Tâm had to return to his village to escape unfair accusations and thinking that this would make Giang safe. However, Giang became ill and refused to become her normal self again. Tâm continued to be the village teacher after his father – the former village teacher- passed away. He started teaching the new script and writing text that uses the alphabet which Giang taught him. He became focused on spreading education and knowledge to his students and to the whole village. Meanwhile, even at his small village, woes did not escape him. Many events unfolded…
What would happen next? Will Giang and Tâm be reunited? Is knowledge and education the path to enlightenment and understanding?
The answers would be revealed in such a wonderfully paced, heart warming and lovely book that was an easy read right from the start.
I have been to Vietnam, but I did not fully understand the history and background of what happened in the country. I had to read carefully and imagine the setting and the story. However, after reading the first chapter, the pages flew by. I was drawn by the compelling love story, the rich historical and scholastic background, and the ideas that were presented by the author. The conflicting needs of each character were used brilliantly to create a story that is filled with happenings but did not make it drag. I love how I learned so much about the history of Vietnam and how knowledge and education is the only way to defeat ignorance and bigotry. It shows the importance of learning and the author’s appreciation of the Vietnamese language. It is a book that is charming in its own way and as I read it, I could imagine the setting clearly by the use of Neihtn’s words. Vietnam was forged by its history and by its people. It’s a country with beautiful places and interesting people. The story gave me a clearer image, and a lesson of how it came to be. Also, I am looking forward to returning to Vietnam!
Summer is over, but this week’s photo challenge reminds me of some fabulous sights I saw in Northern Arizona and Utah this past June. In that part of the West of the US, nature has its own way of drawing lines and patterns, creating some of the most beautiful sceneries on earth.
Click on each image to see it with more details in full size.
This first photo is from The Wave.
The second one is from Lower Antelope Canyon.
This last photo is from Cedar Breaks National Monument.
The following is reblogged from Audrey Chin’s blog at: http://oddznns.com/2013/09/13/writers-i-read-writing-in-english-essentially-vietnamese/
Nguyen Trong Hien is the author of Village Teacher, a novel which offers a refreshing look at a Vietnam rarely featured in English language fiction.
Why I chose to interview Hien
Village Teacher struck me immediately as a different and exquisite piece of Old Vietnam.
Set in the early years of French colonisation, it is on its surface a love story about a virtuous village scholar, Tam, and Giang, a spirited half-French daughter of the Hue elite. But, the book has many layers. Under the skin of the love story , however, is a recounting of the Vietnamese people’s first grappling with the West. And at heart, the whole work is a quiet tribute to Vietnamese men of letters and the prevailing spirit of the Vietnamese language (whether in Chinese ideograms or French invented alphabets). Although probably unintended, there is also a larger moral lesson about how countries, not just Vietnam, can be won or lost if change is not embraced appropriately.
The work was thoroughly imbued with the ethos and mindset of the period. The story, which unfolded operatically with all the elements of a traditional cai-luong, had such an old-school Vietnamese sensibility I was prompted immediately to connect with the author, to find out who this English language writer who could so evoke Old Vietnam was.
Nguyen Trong Hien, is a Vietnamese man who now lives in Princeton NJ. Born in North Vietnam, Hien moved South with his family when the country was divided in 1954. He went to college in America, and subsequently returned to Vietnam in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s to work as a professor, a writer of textbooks, a soldier and a technocrat.
Hien is multi-talented. Although trained in Engineering and Industrial Administration, and working primarily now in IT, he maintains a wonderful blog filled with great photographs. And of course, there is this book, Village Teacher, a four year labour of love written at night and on weekends.
During my e-interview with Hien about the beginnings of his book and his writing practice, I discovered that the unconscious may influence our writing as much as the conscious. I also realized how much we older writers have been practicing, even when we thought we were simply getting along with the rest of our lives.
I asked Hien what prompted him to write a Vietnamese novel set in the late 19th century instead of one about the war or the diaspora.
He revealed that a reason was because one of his great-grandfathers had been a huong su or village teacher in a town in the highlands of North Vietnam. But, he confessed, he hadn’t known much about the old gentleman except that he led a frugal yet well respected life. More importantly, Hien said, he was influenced by the pro-independence writer Ngo Tat To’s novel, Leu Chong (Tents and Pallets. Published in 1952, the novel which is about the difficulties of scholars travelling to the imperial capital for their exams and the difficulties they encountered, made a great impression. Encouraged by his father to read in while a teenage, Hien recalls reading it again at least twice since then.
When I prompted Hien about other early experiences that might have been influential, he shared an incident which might actually have been central to his decision to write about an examination candidate who’d been unjustly disqualified.
This is the recollection in Hien’s own words – “Even though I had no formal schooling until the age of 7, my father decided to have me take the entrance exam at one of the elite schools in Ha Noi, a Frenchlycée. He had me prepare for it by buying a French textbook and telling me to take a crack at it, with some help from him when he came home from work.
“When the time came, I went and took the exam, with hundreds of other young boys about my age. I was so nervous I came home sick, but I told my father that I did well. However, when the results were published, my name was nowhere on the list of those accepted to the lycée. I had failed!
“My father came home and queried me again about how I did in the exam. I didn’t know what to say and I was running a fever, but I told him what questions were asked and how I answered them. He went back to the school and asked to speak to the principal, a Frenchman. I don’t know what he said, but the principal had his staff look for my exam papers. It turned out I had actually passed, but was somehow failed for no reason. Not only did I pass, my actual grade was so high the principal ordered that I be allowed to skip one level.
“My father later told our family that they did it to admit someone else, probably some scion of a well-connected and wealthy family.”
I find it telling that Hien forgot to share this incident initially. There are clearly parallels between the injustice he suffered as an 8 year old newly arrived to the metropolis Hanoi and those experienced by the hero in Village Teacher. Was it this experience that allowed him to identify so closely with Ngo Tat To’s Tents and Pallets? I can’t know … Hien and I didn’t discuss this.
What I’ve learnt from this exchange is that sometimes the roots of our story are so deeply hidden we ourselves don’t know how we’re inspired. What I wonder is how much richer our writing lives might be if we set time aside to mine the ore of our own experiences.
Hien has been writing from his earliest years “polishing school benches”. His first attempts at producing published work were in college in the United States, when he was selected to be the political editor of the school paper. For a year, he wrote an editorial or column on political, social and economic issues almost every day. It was a practice, he is still grateful for because it taught him how to write fast and communicate clearly.
After graduation, Hien’s writings in English and Vietnamese, both in the US and Vietnam, were primarily on technical, economic, or social subjects. In the back of his mind though, he always wanted to write a novel, something less dreary and perhaps more challenging. Hien was not to know that by writing all that dreary material, he was honing his craft in preparation for when he would actually sit down and write Village Teacher.
Writers read, and so does Hien. He likes history, fictional or otherwise, and believes strongly that “a good book should always allow you to gain some knowledge about things that you didn’t know beforehand.”
He admires all the writers of the Tu Luc Van Doan group, a 1930’s pro-independent literary group founded in colonial Vietnam. In English, John Steinbeck has always been a favourite.
While Hien does not proactively avoid any type of writing, with time being a constraint, he doesn’t actively seek out non-history related works.
As for his current writing practice – Hien is researching highland people in South Vietnam for his second novel. He starts the day very early, arriving at work at 7 AM and trying to get as much done as possible before everyone else starts to trek in around 9 AM. At 4 PM he goes home and exercises for about an hour. Then after dinner, he starts on his book and keeps at it from about 7 PM till 9 or 10 PM.
Writing takes discipline. But Hien also knows to give himself slack.
When the office is too stressful or when he must spend a few extra hours there to deal with problems, he will skip the book and spend time with woodworking or painting. And when he feels lazy, he watches a classical music concert or a movie on disc.
“Life is not so bad, actually,” he writes me with a
Still a writer working alone
Hien confesses he hasn’t managed to make the acquaintance of younger Vietnamese American writers like Aimee Phan, Andrew Lam, Andrew X. Pham and Monique Truong.
That’s a pity.
Hien wrote Village Teacher in English because he wanted to make it accessible to younger Vietnamese in the diaspora, who may not read Vietnamese. He also wanted to reach out to American friends who encouraged him to write. It is his hope that both of those groups will find the novel interesting and learn things about Vietnam that they cannot find anywhere else.
I hope that indeed the new generation of Vietnamese-American writers will pick up Village Teacher. And of course, I hope that Hien will find some time to read these younger authors works. I can see a great deal of inter-generational cross-fertilization happening between someone like Hien, who is fluent in English and yet deeply rooted in Vietnamese literature and culture, and the younger generation of Vietnamese Americans writing in search of identity.
Perhaps …. After this interview goes live, there might be a reaching out.
Village Teacher can be found on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Village-Teacher-neihtn/dp/1475101635
Combing through my files, I found the following image of a Shasta Daisy taken this past July. It had just rained that morning, and as soon as it stopped I went out to find some flowers to photograph. The spring beauties were mostly gone, but a few daisies like the one below still put on a good show.
After sunrise (see my previous post) I drove on Wildlife Drive and saw many birds, perhaps thousands, feasting in and around the marshes. Many dove into the water then flew up with a small fish clasped in their beak. Every once in a while there were food fights, not only between different species but also among kindred birds like the two great egrets in the following photo.
The great egret on the right was fleeing from an attack by the one on the left. Usually these fights only lasted a few seconds and there was no actual damage inflicted. The marshes are vast enough that a bird could just move away a short distance and resume their search for breakfast.
Today I arrived at the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge at 6:21 AM. Sunrise was not supposed to happen until 6:38 AM, thus there was enough time to set up and get ready. The sun was not visible on the horizon, but the sky and the clouds had beautiful colors, so I took three shots and later combined them into one with the help of Photomatix, and the following photo is the result.
As usual, click on each image below to see the full size version which has better details.
Although the clouds were converging toward the center of the above photo, the sun actually rose from a spot on the horizon to the right of that. The next photo is of the sun starting to show its bright rays.
Again, this is a HDR combination of three shots (underexposed, normal, overexposed), and by default Photomatix tries to have the foreground displayed in brighter light than it actually was. This next shot, or series of three shots, was taken one or two minutes later.
For this photo, instead of using Photomatix default settings, I chose to make the foreground darker, as it appeared to me at that time.
Which version (top, middle, bottom) do you like better? Please tell me.
Following is the message in an email from Harry Jackendoff whom I met at the Princeton Library Author’s Day this past April. He bought a copy of my book and I asked him to tell me what he thought of it once he had read it.
April 22, 2013
I began Village Teacher, I believe, 2 evenings ago, and finished this afternoon…..picking it up this morning at 4:30am when I couldn’t sleep. My wife was actually pleased to see me finishing it in the back yard when she arrived from work….”There is hope for you yet! Reading a novel!!!”
I rarely read novels. I had many reasons for starting it…. which I cannot fully explain here….and did not think it would be easy to finish when I first began reading…. as the style is very “upright” and perhaps academic sounding…. not particularly story-telling or conversational….but the story grabbed me, and the Dickensian twists were planted early enough to make me want to see how you would weave the characters back in. It was a very engaging story….as you see I could not put it down. I only wish it were more accessible to readers. I mused about a CLASSIC COMICBOOK version, or a film for the young Vietnamese market back home…. there is so much that I wish we had known back in the 60′s, when you yourself were struggling with all breeds of Americans at home, like your characters had to deal with all breeds of French.
The writing style is unfortunately not what most novel readers are used to… yet the story carries it, if only the reader will give you the respect of reading a chapter or three before deciding to continue. For after the 3rd chapter or so they will want to pick it up again. What I found missing, however was some way to picture the scenes…to place myself in the landscape. perhaps some ink drawings in a calligraphic style at the chapter breaks…..giving us some sense of the lines of the horizon, rooftops, jagged shorelines, sampans on the river, the bamboo cage….. the references to flowers were often lost on me.. I know bougainvillea…. the smells and air quality, the architecture and tree-scapes, the undergrowth….the dust and dirt….. somehow I had to keep reminding myself I was in Vietnam, where the birds are no doubt different, the insect life as different as the 19th century culture… you get what I am after I am sure. You were very very careful in describing every bit of the interior landscape of each character, as if we are reading requirement specifications. I sat back and let you tell me what you had to tell me in the way you knew how, but it was often at the expense of the drama unfolding. This became an accustomed part of the flow after a while, and it was soon apparent that every fact you told us would be part of the denouement shortly …or soon thereafter.
Anyway, this was a wonderful journey, and you took me to a welcome time and place far from my own….yet very much connected.
Harry Jackendoff (H Alan Tansson)
It has been a rainy weekend. Early yesterday, I went out and checked on the Jane magnolia trees I told you about in early May. They still have flowers, not as many, but just as pretty. Following are three images showing the magnolias at different stages of bloom.
This morning, after another rain, I looked out and there were spider webs everywhere, on bushes, trees, branches and flowers. In between the magnolias, one spider spun the large web that you can see below.
14-Sep-2013: Here’s the same photo, cropped as suggested by Gary at KrikitArts.
For me, taking pictures of a sunset has always been challenging. The advice from professional photographers is to be patient and to make sure you do not leave the scene when the sun goes down below the horizon. At that point most people go home, but the best colors come in the few minutes afterwards.
A couple of years ago, we went to Brigantine, NJ to catch the sunset. I walked on the beach, watching the sun go down and took a dozen pictures, most like this one below.
They were okay but not great. I had expected better and more vibrant colors. Disappointed, I packed up, got back to the car where my wife was waiting and we decided to go home. I had to drive to the end of the island, just about 100 ft away, to turn around. By the time I began the turn a red glow coming from the rear window filled the inside of the car. The sky was ablaze in crimson and purple. I rushed to a spot on the back bay of Brigantine and spent the next 15 minutes clicking away for the most beautiful sunset that we had seen in a long time.
Some people who have seen the photo above could not believe the colors and thought I had photoshopped them in. But they are the real colors of that day.
So the next time you take photos of a sunset, don’t leave too soon. Linger around even after the sun can no longer be seen. The best may yet to come after that.