San Francisco Chronicle Datebook, 27 January 2019

Loving the cover story:


In 1969:

Nixon became President, the Beatles released Abbey Road, Sly and the Family Stone released Want To Take You Higher, The Who released Tommy.

Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid premiered. TV’s Star Trek got cancelled.


Woodstock happened, Chappaquiddick happened, the moon landing happened, Berkeley’s People Park happened, Charles Manson happened, The Gap opened its 1st store, the Vietnam draft lottery was televised, William Calley was convicted of six counts of murder for My Lai.

Self was in summer camp in England. That’s where she heard about the moon landing.

Ferdinand Marcos won re-election as President of the Philippines.

Wonder what groundbreaking books were published that year? No mention in the Chronicle. There must have been some.

Where was Gloria Steinem?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Poetry Monday: U Sam Oeur Again

from Exodus

— translated from the Cambodian by Ken McCullough

Once the Blackcrows had usurped the power
they started to evacuate people from Phnom Penh
they threw patients through hospital windows
(women in labor and the lame), drove tanks
over them then bulldozed them under.

The poem Exodus is part of the collection Sacred Vows, a bilingual edition of U Sam Ouer’s poetry, published by Coffee House Press.

This is self’s companion reading to Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, O’Brien’s stories about his experiences as a grunt during the Vietnam War.

O’Brien and U Sam Oeur, in Southeast Asia at roughly the same time, each oblivious of the other. But afterward, what great literature they both produced.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Poetry Sunday: U Sam Oeur

from The Fall of Culture

— translated from the Cambodian by Ken McCullough

I hid the precious wealth,
packed the suitcases with milled rice,
packed old clothes, a small scrap-metal oven,
pots, pans, plates, spoons, an ax, a hoe,
some preserved fish in small plastic containers —
loaded it all in a cart and towed it eastward
under the full moon, May ’75.

Born in the Svey Rieng province of Cambodia, U Sam Oeur received his MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in 1968. Upon returning to Cambodia, he was elected to the National Assembly in 1972 and in 1973 was appointed Secretary General of the Khmer League for Freedom. He remained there after Cambodia was “liberated” by the Vietnamese.

The Fall of Culture is part of a bilingual Khmer and English edition of U Sam Oeur’s poetry, Sacred Vows (Coffee House Press)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

FAMILY: by Anna Moi for Air France Magazine

Early 1960s. The “war” was the Vietnam War, which pitted the North, where Moi’s parents were from, against the South, to where they fled:

How long does it take for a mother to read Alone in the World and The Story of Perrine to her child? My mother read to me almost every evening, because my parents went out only three or four times a year, and never had guests. It was wartime, but that doesn’t explain it — war had only just begun and nobody imagined at the time that it would last some 15 years and that we’d face shortages of everything, especially freedom, the basic freedom to move around as we chose.

This sense of frugality was something my parents were born with, just as others live with a heart murmur or an irregular heartbeat. It was the region of their birth, the North, that had triggered this simmering anxiety.

At bedtime, my mother would decide on a number of pages, but I would beg her to carry on, and she was always happy to continue the story of Rémi the abandoned child or of Perrine Paindavoine, an orphan searching for her family . . .  From one episode to the next, in those days before TV series, I traveled from one family to another, and from town to town, in the comfort of knowing I would fall asleep sated with emotions.

Katie Roiphe: Travels in Bangkok and Cambodia

Self finished The Anthologist two nights ago and began In Praise of Messy Lives, by essayist Katie Roiphe.

Self had not expected to enjoy her writing as much as she does.

Roiphe comes at everything with a feminist perspective, and sees the transaction that is underneath every smile, every service offered up to the white tourists who the locals, according to Katie, feel utmost contempt for.  Of course, they all chatter away in their own language, so the contempt isn’t quite as blatant.  But Roiphe, being a writer whose sensitivities are super-honed by years of making sharp, acerbic observations about no less a city than New York, picks up on it anyway.

Roiphe has many, many things to say about the male tourists, who enact a rite of courtship, overlaying their interactions with the local females with exaggerated, even mocking courtesy.

Roiphe also has plenty of things to say about the weather, but let’s not bother with that at the moment (Let’s bother with trying to go to sleep!  Let’s force ourselves not to stay up late, reading!)  She goes to Bangkok and then to Siem Reap and finally to Phnom Penh.  She writes of her Cambodian guide :

Our driver’s silver Timex looks bulky on his fragile wrist as he steers around the larger rocks and holes.  It impossible to tell how old he is  —  he could be twenty or forty-five.  People here tend to look very, very young until all of a sudden they look very, very old.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Outtakes From Self’s Interview with Linh Dinh, Pacific Rim Review of Books, Summer 2008

Self is cleaning out her files and coming up with all sorts of odds and ends:  her published book reviews, tossed hastily into drawers.  Write-ups on her books.  Interviews with other writers.

She pauses over the interview she did with Linh Dinh.  Linh and self first met at the 2005 Berlin Festival on Southeast Asian Art and Literature, organized by the House of World Culture (only six months after the appointment of a new Director, who had been a professor at the University of Heidelberg.  She and two of her graduate students pulled the whole thing together by e-mail.)

The interview she did with him is one of her all-time favorites.  Here are excerpts.  Each of Dinh’s answers reads like a short short:

Self:  You left Vietnam in March 1975, just a month before the fall of Saigon.  And your official biography lists you as having a “fake name,” Ly Ky Kiet.  What was its purpose?

In March of 1975, as the shit was about to hit the fan, my father arranged for his secretary, me and my brother to evacuate with a Chinese family.  This family had a daughter working for the Americans.  In order to safeguard their properties, some of the family chose to stay behind.  And they ended up selling my father three spots.

We all took fake names.  My brother’s was Ly Ky Vinh.  My father hired the secretary to take care of my brother and I.  She was 22, Chinese, with a very short temper, and a face that was round and puffy like a dumpling, liberally sprinkled with meaty pimples.  I wrote about the episode in “April 30th of Ly Ky Kiet.”

*     *     *     *     *

Self:  You write experimentally in both fiction and poetry, and your work seems to consistently break accepted norms in an overt attempt to play with form.  What attracts you to this?

I started out as a painter.  Working with oil, I strived to improvise, to think, as I was painting.  Play was a central concept in my work.  I was also Read the rest of this entry »

August, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Why?  Who knows why?  Ying passed away three years ago.  Self misses her terribly.

This evening, self is thinking of the time she and Ying went to Siem Reap.  We went in August.

Oh, did anyone ever tell you that August is the hottest time of the year in Southeast Asia?  The heat in August in Cambodia is something else.  It’s alive, actually, a python wrapping itself around one’s body.

Our first day at the ruins of Angkor Wat, we arrived mid-morning and by noon both of us were limp and sun-blinded.

So, the next day, we decided to wake up at 4 a.m. and get to the ruins in time to watch the sunrise.

You approach Angkor Wat over an ancient causeway built across a broad plain.  Here and there on the plain are pools of standing water (Angkor Wat was built over a vast underground reservoir of water).  Oh, we were so thrilled to be there so early in the morning!  But, alas, so were at least a hundred other people!  And all of them had their cameras pointed directly at the ruins, waiting with bated breath for the time when the sun rose behind the temples.  Everyone was reverential, worshipful.  It was the strangest scene.

Another time, Ying grew very excited:  we had just encountered a stooped old monk, and Ying said, pointing to the cover of her Lonely Planet guidebook:  “It’s the same monk!  He’s the one on the cover of the Lonely Planet guidebook!”

We approached the Rock Star/ Monk, greeted him reverently, and held up the book:  “You/us/picture?  You are famous!”

The monk grinned, held up two fingers.  What?  What was that?  What kind of gesture was that?

The monk had to spell it out for us:  “No picture without pay!  Two dollars!”

Another thing about Siem Reap was that it was littered with internet cafés.  And these cafés had some of the fastest connections self had ever experienced, faster even than the internet café son found in a teensy-tiny house in Boracay.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

What a Gorgeous Day!

After spending the whole morning and half the afternoon running around and doing errands, self tossed her bag and books to one side and ran hither and thither in the garden, weeding and watering.

Now, self wishes to impart some news: She will not be bringing her laptop to Chicago this weekend! She hopes withdrawal pangs — hers — will not be too bad. (Or maybe she’ll learn her lesson and will never allow herself to be parted from blog, ever again)

Self thinks her over-active fingers are about due for a rest. Besides which, she needs time to process (a word she only learned to use after coming to America, after attending graduate school, to be precise!) Besides which, she needs time to catch up on some zzzz’s!

Never mind: self will have lots of delightful stories to share with dear blog readers upon her return. And her panel will give her insights into what writers are doing in: Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma, as her panel is on Modern Literature of Southeast Asia (Self’s name got left off the programme by mistake, so right now it looks like no one is representing the Philippines, but self wishes to assure dear blog readers that she is there to do her duty, and has in fact written out a six-page presentation, which she already e-mailed to the other panel members– aaach! Another long digression!). Will update all upon her return!

(And, true to form, self simply cannot resist looking up what plays are showing in Chicago at the moment, and there are two at the Steppenwolf she is exceedingly longing to see: Yasmina Reza’s “Art,” and “The Tempest”)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Self Has a Whole Passel of Movies She Wants to See

. . .  if possible before leaving for Chicago, to be on a panel for the Association of Asian Studies Conference, on Friday.  (What?  Another trip?  Hubby can’t believe how much in demand self is lately!  Who knew?  But how can self resist?  Panel organizer was Teri Yamada, who edited Virtual Lotus: Modern Fiction of Southeast Asia.  Teri was the first to publish self’s story, “Mayor of the Roses” for which she earned self’s eternal gratitude.  A few years after the anthology appeared, we met again, in Berlin.  But, I digress)

Tomorrow or the day after, self hopes she can watch “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” one more time before returning it to Netflix.

She has carefully hoarded loose dollar bills and shifted around schedules so that she has tomorrow free and, with any luck, money left over —  after paying for essential groceries and mailing out a few pieces  —  to either:

  1. scoot down to Palo Alto to watch Amy Adams and Emily Blunt in “Sunshine Cleaning” (showing at Palo Alto Square, off Page Mill)
  2. head to downtown RWC Century 20 to watch Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left” —  Self knows that if she watches this one, she runs the risk of staying up late, sleepless, images of gore dancing in her head, but anyhoo  (Ooops!  Self just read terrible reviews of “Last House.”  Maybe she’ll substitute “The Class,” showing at the Guild Theatre on El Camino in Menlo Park)
  3. steel herself to watch “The Reader” (showing at downtown RWC Century 20) before it leaves theatres forever —  Subject matter not exactly one self finds particularly appealing, but she wants to see how far La Winslet pushes herself, self knows this actress is absolutely fearless.

As for “Knowing,” self thinks this is one of those popcorn movies best viewed with hubby, so that will have to wait for post-Chicago.

And now, self bids dear blog readers adieu while she goes back to savoring the last few pages of Jim Harrison’s excellent collection, The Summer He Didn’t Die.  Self didn’t think anything could top the elegiac title story, told from the point of view of a lovelorn Native American named Brown Dog, but now she’s on the last story, “Tracking,” and almost every page has language whose effect on self is simply electric.

And, by the way, whoever wrote Harrison’s bio on wikipedia needs to be congratulated.  It is succinct, yet moving (Obviously written by a fan).  Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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