09 September 2009

When I Was In Fourth Grade

My son started fourth grade this week. New home room, new teachers, new requirements of school supplies, etc. It got me thinking about my own fourth grade experience... and I came up with nothing. Not just fourth grade, but fifth and third as well. Actually, anything older than sixth grade. Mind you, it's not like I don't remember anything at all, just that I couldn't place the few memories I have at an exact grade.

I am actually a fifth grade dropout. It was some time in April or maybe March 1979. My family and I were a few months away from our scheduled departure from Viet Nam as boat people. The arrangement were made with the Vietnamese government that on some day in May 1979 we would leave Viet Nam forever with a bunch of other people. By boat, of course, thus the moniker "boat people." So some time early May 1979 I simply decided I shouldn't bother going to school any more. Perhaps someone with better memory can correct me, I think in Viet Nam, at least back then, summer vacation had 90 days, from June through August, inclusively. There is a line from a popular song that mentioned "chín mươi ngày hè", or "90 days of summer". Of course, I cannot recall the name of the song either. Whatever the case, I know I didn't finish fifth grade. Nobody from the school got in touch with my parents. Maybe many Chinese were leaving Viet Nam and the school already many similar cases like mine so the school didn't care less. That's all I remember of my fifth grade experience.

One other thing I remember about my school experience in Viet Nam was that, along with my second elder sister, I spent time after school to collect paper for recycling. I can confidently place the activity as after 1975, the year the country became unified under the Communists. I was a "red neckerchief" scout, sort of a Boy Scout thing but it was a government program to get kids involved in government activities. I guess we didn't have much homework to do, if any, because after school we, just me and my second sister, be allowed to visit the classrooms and go through all the drawers and trash bins looking for paper left behind by the students. Kids back then in Viet Nam, and now in the U.S., are equally wasteful. We always collect stacks of paper for recycling. I have zero recollection of where we turned in the paper or whether we got any recognition for doing it. I just know that we did it.

It was some time in those early school days post-1975 that I learned of the idea of a public library. A male teacher told a class I was in that the school was going to build a library from donations by the students' families. Each family would bring in a book for the school to collect then in turn the students could borrow from the library. All for free, what a wonderful idea! Back then, my only exposure to books, outside of the classroom, was to rent them by the days or even for the minutes. My sister would rent books from some place, we read them at home then bring them back a few days later. Kinda like Blockbusters or NetFlix except we were dealing with physical books. The practice is still in effect at certain stores in Manhattan's Chinatown. I myself, when I somehow had money, would rent graphic novels and read them right there and then. When I was done, I would return them, mere minutes later, or however long it took me to read them. The idea of a free, public library was very appealing to me. I don't recall the school's library ever took off, but ever since then I love the whole concept very much. I am a regular library patron these days, all thanks to the idea I learned of from about 30 years ago.


  1. So we can thank those dirty commie bastards for your environmentalism! When I was 17 I used to deliver Pizza for a place called Ziggy's Pizza. We only worked at night so i would go to the library and get a whole stack of books and read all day, deliver Pizza all night. I was basically a bum, i hardly worked but spent a lot of time reading... I would love to have time to read like that again.. This was before the Internet, or before I knew of it.. I learned a lot during that time..

  2. Hey Qaptain, don't be a Blog-Dropout - haa haa
    I understand not everyone has plenty of free time like me - writing meaningless posts and posting photos just to fill up the empty void in my life - just kidding! I am not on "pills" or anything - though the gloomy, rainy weather the last few days made me sort of "blues" - especially my beloved Red Wings lost both games playing in Stockholm - good thing we did not spend money to be there - it would have been a long and excruciating pains flying back to St. Louis! Post soon, please - or I reach 500th post before you - haa haa

  3. Funny thing is I actually have ideas of what to write, I just don't have the one hour block of time to do it. You're right, though, I need to reach that 500 milestone soon.