if I wanted to become a Jew, I didn't know I'd get such an official document through the mail!
As published at Unz Review, CounterCurrents and LewRockwell, 8/24/16:
It’s remarkable that I’ve been friends with Giang for nearly four decades. We’ve spent but a year in the same state and, frankly, have little in common. Giang studied computer science, business administration and engineering technology. He makes more in a year than I do in ten. He drinks Bud Lite and recycles corny metaphors and analogies. A director of marketing, Giang actually told me, “I can sell a freezer to an Eskimo.”
Driving from California last week, Giang stayed at my sweltering apartment for two nights. Since he had never been to Philly, I took Giang to a decent cheesesteak joint, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Having spaced out in history classes, Giang had forgotten that Philly was the nation’s first capital and the War of Independence was against the Brits. No matter, Giang got snapshots of himself in front of the iconic sights.
I also showed Giang the Italian Market, Little Cambodia, Kensington, Penn’s Landing, South Street, Dirty Frank’s and Friendly Lounge. In Little Cambodia, we saw kebabs and other delicacies sold on the streets and in a park. It was too hot for volleyball. On a sidewalk, young and old tried to toss bean bags into a hole in a plywood board. We admired the exterior of a brightly painted Buddhist temple. Just like Vietnamese, Cambodians are often mischaracterized as “war refugees” although they have fled from the Communist peace.
What my friend really wanted to see was Fort Indiantown Gap. In 1975, Giang stayed there as an 11-year-old refugee. The same age, I was at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas.
It was good to get out of the city. The Pennsylvania landscape featured nothing dramatic. On Horseshoe Pike, we spotted a concrete chicken on a roof, some Amish clothesline, “trump / trump / trump” scrawled on the back of a highway sign, and that’s about it. Since Giang got the Amish and Hasidic Jews confused, I untangled for him their contrasting hair convictions, hat beliefs, horse notions and electricity theologies.
In 1975, the ride from Harrisburg Airport astounded the refugees. I translate an online account by one Hà Giang:
Each length of road took us further from everything we had left behind, and a step closer to our awaiting future, which to us at the time was extremely vague and unsettled. Our tenuous happiness was mixed with worries.
Though exhausted, no one could doze off because we had just slipped into a new world, as far as language, sceneries, sounds, colors, even the air, fragrances, everything around us was new, everything was different.
I strained to etch on my mind the first images of this country where I had just landed.
The wide road unfurling behind us, the novel one-story houses, way too wide compared to Vietnamese ones, though too low in height. I saw very few with tiles, and absolutely none with tin roofs.
Also, the houses here did not share walls but were comfortably situated on private plots of land, with their entrances not near sidewalks but receding way back behind lusciously green, square-angled lawns. Between one house and another there was no fence, only bushes sometimes, or absolutely no barrier at all, though looking closely, one could see that the grass color of one house was slightly different from another’s.
Such a long road, yet there was no human shadow, so that we had to wait forever to see one old man leisurely sweep a few leaves.
Oh what peace! Peace and serenity were my first impressions of the United States of America.
Pennsylvania was so different from bustling Saigon, crowded Saigon, chaotic Saigon, my Saigon already so distant. Oh Saigon, where are you now? And my parents, my friends, what are you doing there now?
Lost in thoughts, I didn’t even know the bus had turned onto a road leading to the main gates of Fort Indiantown Gap.
arriving in my inbox this morning:
U.S- Department of State
National Visa Center
Rochester Avenue. Portsmouth 35004