12 January 2007

America - The Early Days

Ah, the early days of a new life. Unfortunately, I don't have much of them remembered. Sure wish I wrote them down sooner. Therefore, without further ado...

The Subway or Ổng Kìa!

A social worker took me and my three siblings from the office of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to some place. Maybe we were going home after spending a morning at IRC filling out paperwork to get our green card, who knows. I think the social worker was a white male person, somewhat tall for our standard at the time. Our English was bad so we didn't fully understand him. At one point, maybe after stepping out of the elevator in the lobby, some of us thought we saw the social worker heading one direction, while others among us thought we saw he going elsewhere. We were probably among a sea of men in business suits and it wouldn't be hard to follow the wrong person. I think it was my eldest sister who shouted in Vietnamese, "Ổng kìa!", meaning "There he is!" Maybe it was the fear at the moment of being lost in a new city, this incident remains in my head until this day. Another memorable incident during this trip with the social worker happened at the subway turnstile. It was the first time we traveled by subway. As the four of us huddled together waiting for the social worker to led us in, he deposited a token and may have told my eldest sister to walk through. Probably out of curiosity, I spun the bar on the turnstile - and wasted the token. I cannot remember how the social worker reacted to my stupid action, but I know we all crawled under the bar to get past the turnstile.

Arms Folded and Head Bowed

Shortly after settling down in the Bronx, near the T intersection of Devoe Terrance and Webb Avenue, my sister V and I started attending JHS 143 John Peter Tetard School. Naturally, I was placed in an ESL class, although some in the class spoke decent English. I vaguely remember the teacher being a Ms. Young. Among the students, there were a couple of Korean girls, some Haitian girls, maybe some other Vietnamese or Chinese kids. During my early days at JHS 143, the school sent a Chinese chap to be my translator, but a few months later I learned of his Chinese accent and didn't need his assistance anymore.

In Vietnam, teachers are held in high respect, perhaps on the same level with doctors. In the classroom, when we answer the teacher's question, we are supposed to stand up, arms folded and head bowed, to show respect. I did the same when I first answered some question from a teacher at JHS 143 and gave the class a big laugh. To all those kids growing up in America, without the benefit of knowing Asian culture's high reverence for the teaching professional, it was probably a funny sight to behold. I don't recall of doing that again, ever.

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