Thursday, March 29, 2007


I hit the buzzer when the small alarm clock on the end table next to my bed went off. I knew I had to get up and get ready for work. Normally I would wait until the big alarm clock on the dresser located the other side of the bedroom to go off. That would be another half an hour of sleep. Placing the alarm clock on the dresser was my husband's idea because it forces us to get up to shut off the buzzer.

My workplace is very small, only five employees including me. Starting today, the receptionist, TC is taking her week-long vacation with her family visiting relatives in England. I have to help answering the phones whenever TC is out. I dislike this task and have unsuccessfully convinced my boss to upgrade to automated phone system. He prefers a receptionist or a real person to the impersonal system with the main menu and a list of employees' extensions. The reason I dislike having to answer the phone because I find that most of callers are lack of telephone etiquette. Most of the time I have to ask "May I ask whom I am speaking to?" because the callers failed to properly identify themselves. Some people are rightdown rude as if it was my fault that whoever they called did not return their calls or became upset at me when I told them that the boss was on the other line. Of course, I still have to take care of my regular workload.

Also this week, my brother, VL and his son JL together with his wife and her family are leaving today for a two-week vacation to China. This is the second trip for VL and the first oversea trip to a non-Western country for JL. My sister-in-law is of Chinese national and the trip is more like a family reunion visiting relatives in her home village. VL commented that he did not look forward to the long flight (approximately 16+ hours) from New York to Hong Kong and the long rides by bus into China and to get to the remote village. I feel bad that VL won't have any time for activities that would be interesting to him. The trip is more like an obligation than a vacation.

My husband and I have talked about a trip to Viet Nam, my birthplace and to China to see the Great Wall and the Emperor's Tomb where an army of life-size terra-cotta clay figures were constructed. I am glad that my parents were able to visit Viet Nam in 1998 before my Dad passed away in 2001. My Mom has talked about going back before she becomes too old and too weak for the long flight. Lately, I have thought a lot about how emotional it would be when I finally go back to Viet Nam, my first trip since we left the country in 1979. I was a teenager when I left and would be going back as a middle-age woman.

This weekend my husband and I will be going to see the Nashville Predators taking on the Dallas Stars. We will be staying at a hotel across from the arena and downtown Nashville. We visited Nashville in 1991 when my husband had a job interview with a company in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He did not take the job. After we moved to St. Louis, we spent a weekend in Nashville in 1996 and saw the first performance of Brad Paisley at the Grand Ole Opry who currently is one of the well-known stars in country music.

With my brother in China, my co-worker in England and I am taking a weekend trip, I thought of a saying my father used to say, "Cai nha co chan, no cung di" - If the house grew feet, it would be taking off to some place. The world is big and there are many interesting places to visit - all aboard!

Monday, March 26, 2007


In case my adoring fans thought the title of this entry is misspelled, it is not. Last weekend, my husband and I went to Hermann, Missouri for the Wurstfest. It was a two-day celebration of Hermann's 160-year history of sausage making and German culture. It sure was the best Wurst Festival!

For a very reasonable cost of $6.00 per person, we were invited to sample various sausages made by local sausage makers. There were products available to purchase after the sampling. There were also wine tasting, guided tours at the many wineries, German music and dancing and of course, demonstrations of sausage making the old traditional way. We purchased jalapeno & cheddar (spicy), Smoked Kielbasa (Polish) for my husband, Sweet Lebanon Bologna, Smoked Polynesian (also sweet) for me and a small package of snack sticks.

The town of Hermann is about an hour from St. Louis. According to the tourism brochure, Hermann was founded in 1836 by the German winegrowers in search of the ideal location for their vineyards. They found a site bounded by hills and bluffs on three sides and the Missouri River on the north which was similar to the Rhine River region in Germany. In addition to the famous family-owned wineries, there are many bed & breakfast inns with the view of the Missouri River, many fine restaurants with authentic local cookings, gift shops and antiques places.

While sampling the sausages, I learned a bit of history about different kinds of bratwursts. I learned that summer sausage is a general term for the kind of sausage that was made using extra dried salty ingredient to keep for a long time since a hundred years ago there was no refrigeration to store the meat. Actually the Hawaiian bratwurst tasted almost like the Chinese sausage. We called it "lap xuong" in Vietnamese. I think my Mom still puts "lap xuong" in her famous fried rice. There are also jerky but I did not care much because the western jerky are tough and hard, unlike the jerky found in Chinese grocery shops, tender, sweet and juicy.

I sure came a long way when I was a newly arrival Vietnamese refugee learning about the American fastfood. There was a Burger King near Magda K. Company (my first job in America). Once a week, instead to bringing lunch, I would go to Burger King, pointed at an item such as Whopper, ordered it, ate it to learned what a whopper was and asked someone at work how to pronounce "whopper". Later I tried "Big Mac" at McDonnald, learned about french fries and no longer questioned how anyone could eat so much meat or food in one meal.

It was a beautiful day when we were in town. After the tasting of sausage, we went down to the park by the river, with a bag of fresh kettle korn, we watched the trains went by, waved at the conductors and exchanged friendly greetings - what a relaxing day in the old charming American town.

For someone who does not appreciate or collect recipes and do not enjoy drinking, I sure had a great time in Hermann. We plan to go back in June (8-10) when "A Taste for the Arts" festival takes place.

Friday, March 23, 2007


What an interesting coincidence that a few days after my most recent entry entitled March Madness (Wednesday, March 14th) about the "worth more than gold" tickets to the World Series in St. Louis and the other entry Innocent Until Proven Guilty (Sunday, March 18th) about excessive drinkings, the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch featured a report about the St. Louis Cardinals, Mr. Tony La Russa being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and another story about World Series tickets confiscated by the St. Louis police being used and put back afterward as evidence.

I don't know how it started, the last six months I became "addicted" to the television show called Law & Order, the original series and the spin-off Special Victims Unit series. I have not yet paid attention to other spin-off series, Criminal Intent and Trial by Jury. Perhaps the reason I enjoy this legal drama program because it took place in New York City, my American hometown. It is unrealistic with the proceeds, then trial preparation to an indictment with the accused often ended with a guilty verdict wrapping up the show in half an hour. The same detectives always found evidences and witnesses (normal people with excellent photographic memory) willing to give descriptions of the would-be criminals. The prosecutors would be the good lawyers seeking justice on behalf of the victims .

According to the newspaper article, about 10 St. Louis City police officers are under investigation for allegedly using about 30 World Series tickets seized from people who attempted to sell tickets for more than face value, used the tickets and then returned the tickets back to the evidence locker. Opinions from the experts of the legal field aruged whether the officers committed a crime of tampering with evidence or just a simple case of human weakness (as a sport fanatic, I understand the temptation) and what the harm since the tickets are still the same condition to be presented as evidence! I will leave the guilty verdict to the judge. I do wonder what made the officers think that no one would ever find out!

The other story about Mr. La Russa 's arrest. When I wrote about people who became drunken fools or those who could not control their intake of alcohol at business functions, I did not know that Mr. La Russa would be helping me proving my points. I also wrote that there are definitely no excuses for anyone to drive while intoxicated. Most of the people who called in to the radio stations or sending comments to the media, wanted to brush this matter off or minimize what could be a fatal mistake. While I agree that Mr. La Russa will move on and the rest of us will stop talking about the incidence, I question what else must be done so that a parent, a child or a loved one will not die the next time a drunken fool chose to get behind the wheel and slam into another vehicle driven by someone's mother, father, son or daughter? Many St. Louisians still recalled the tragic story of a mother/wife/daughter who was killed by a St. Louis Rams player a few years ago when he hit her car after he was already drunk coming from a party.

I understand that it is not my place to decide what the appropriate penalty should be. I will not be the person who cast the stone at Mr. La Russa either. (Jesus said, "Anyone here who has never sinned, let him throw the first stone". John 8:7) However, will Mr. La Russa be able to keep himself from repeating the same mistake? ("Go, and don't sin anymore" John 8:11).

Yes, I know you should not judge a man until you've walked in his boots. Yes, I know "Judge not, that ye be not judged". Since I don't drink and I am NOT planning to learn the art of consuming alcohol, I would safely say that I would not receive the same scrutiny of the same offense or might be walking in Mr. La Russa's boots/shoes.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


As I was driving to work last Thursday morning, I detected an unpleasant smell in my car. I became a bit nervous as I realized what the ordor was. I drove extra careful and prayed that I would not be involved in an accident or pulled over by the police. How would I explain to the nice officer the overwhelming smell of beer coming from inside my car, specifically at 8:30 a.m.?

My adoring fans know that I don't have a 9-to-5 work schedule. There are activities in the evenings such as membership meetings, Board of Directors meetings, golf tournaments, Christmas Party and of course, the occassional industry meetings for networking purpose with other trade associations. Membership meetings take place the 2nd Wednesdays of the months except during the summer as it is the peak of construction work for our members. Board of Directors meetings are usually on the third Wednesday every other month.

It happened at least once or twice every six months or so, one of the members would walk up to the registration table, picked up a pre-printed nametag from me, put down his beer (of course, it had to be a full bottle) to put the nametag on his jacket. Somehow the person or someone next in line, managed to knock the beer bottle over during this simple process. For a geezer like myself, I still had pretty good reflex to take a step back from the table. But not quick enough to avoid beer all over my shoes and not fast enough to move the other nametags and the table banner (pre-printed logo) out of the way. It happened last Wednesday night, so I am safe for another six months.

We collect the nametags after each meeting to be used at the next function. I normally get home around 10:00 p.m. from the events. All work-related material (the beer stained nametags included) stayed in my car until the next day when I take everything back to the office. "Officer Smith, that was the reason why my car permeated with the smell of beer as if I had been drinking all night!", that would be my response to the nice police officer.

Since working at the Association, I have learned about the importance of what to serve at cocktails and to ask for specific brand name of liquors. Some facilities will provide premium drinks when being asked but would not include many choices when compared to deluxe package. Personally I could count the occassions when I consumed alcohol on one hand. I drank champaign at my wedding, one or twice at family functions and an occassion when I drank the whole bottle of beer after an automobile accident about fifteen years ago. My husband and I were not hurt but the brand new vehicle we were about to purchase had to be removed from the ditch and towed back to the car dealership. This is a story for future entry.

When selecting a location for the Christmas Party, we usually pick a facility with overnight accomdations. We encourage our members and guests not to drive home after the party. I am not against social drinking, only people who became drunken fools in business social settings. My respect for a few members, particularly Board members, has diminished after I witnessed their behaviors because they could not control their intake of alcohol. There are definitely no excuses for drunk driving. All establishments provide car services, even at no cost to prevent the person from driving while intoxicated.

I will keep an airfresher in the car just in case and remember to wipe off the beer stain on my shoes. That way I don't have to explain my innocence against the "could be guilty" evidence.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


I purchased the American Idioms Dictionary (Second Edition - Richard A. Spears, Ph. D.) a long time ago because I wanted to put together a comparison of proverbs and common sayings that are also similar to Vietnamese popular expressions. Since I learned English when I was 19 years old, I became interested not only the American/English sayings but also their origins and the famous people the popular sayings attributed to. I specially enjoy the one-liners and how usage of standard proverbs/sayings vary in different contexts.

Recently I learned that the proverb "The best things in life are free" implies that the things that give a person the most happiness don't cost anything. According to the book America's Popular Sayings by Gregory Titelman, the saying was originated in 1927 from the song "The Best Things in Life are Free" by Buddy G. De Silva. The song also was a hit in the Boardway musical Good News. I have always thought it was about freebies, things that are provided free-of-charge or no cost.

Like any other jobs, mine has its plusses and minusses. For a sports fanatic, I truly appreciate a few incentives such as earlier this month when my husband and I were invited to watch the Missouri Valley Conference championship basketball game from the press box with food and drinks all provided, complimentary from the public relations firm of the Association. Last year when the St. Louis Cardinals was in the World Series, my husband and I attended Game #3, complimentary of the Association. You could not purchase these tickets, definitely would not be available at cost and people were willing to pay thousands of dollars for the tickets.

I don't follow college basketball games and did not know much about March Madness, I decided to learn a little so I could have an intelligent conversation while watching the deciding game between Southern Illinois (the Sulakis) vs. Creighton (the Bluejays). Creighton dominated the game from the beginning and defeated Southern Illinois 67-61 to capture the championship. The wonderful Wikipedia and the website explained the history of March Maddness. A teacher and coach named Hanry V. Porter gave birth to the term "March Madness" which originally used to describe the frenzy of the Illinois state high school basketball tournaments. Since 1908, the tournaments have grown from a small affair to a statewide event with over 900 schools competing by the late 1930's. Now the spirit of March Madness became one of the most prominent sports events, with fans gathering in large crowds from coast to coast watching and betting on games featuring 65 college basketball teams across the United States over 3 weeks in March.

I am not planning to watch any regional games this week or the Final Four scheduled the last weekend. As explained, we went to the game a few weeks ago because of free food and drinks. So I was wrong about the meanings of the expression "The best things in life are free". What about the sayings "there is no such thing as free lunch"? How about "Let's go Dutch"?

Monday, March 12, 2007


My sister, CH informed me when I called on Sunday that Mom was at the hospital because it was thought she could have a stroke. Thank God it was not. My brother VL was with Mom as they were waiting for a room since the doctor wanted to keep Mom there overnight for observation as a precaution. I tried not to get nervous as there was nothing I could do to help or immediately rushed to the hospital since I live almost 1,000 miles away.

I called the next morning and VL told me that Mom would be going home in the afternoon. There was nothing serious with Mom's health. The next few days I would call Mom during the day to remind her to eat and to find out how she was feeling. I listened to Mom repeating her unpleasant experience with the nurses in the emergency room being rude. Already Mom planned to make her delicious eggrolls and cakes to give to other nurses who were kind to her.

During our regular phone conversations on the weekend, Mom usually tells me news about relatives or matters that she was not happy about. I learn to listen without asking too many questions to clarify what the situation was about. Mom did not need me to solve any of her problems. When Mom asks, I always say everything is alright. I don't share about my work or community activities that I am involved in. Mom did not know about my broken foot in 2003 until much later and of course, she never knew about my plan of seperation from my husband. We don't talk about anything personal or emotionally ladden. As I get older, I wish our relationship would not be superficials and strictly dutiful.

A 2-story house to the right of us has been on the market over a year. My husband kept saying that it would be perfect if my brother would move here. The backyard provides plenty of space for his son to play, a two-car garage, full basement, and walking distance to nearby parks with fishing ponds. My husband responded "What is wrong with that?" when I accused him that he just wanted to have my Mom next door to bring him all the good food.

There is a saying in Vietnamese, "O xa moi chan, O gan moi mieng" - rough translation "distance will make it difficult (the feet got tired from walking) to visit each other often, yet living nearby (too close) could create frictions or disagreement (the mouths got tired from constant arguments)". People often feel more affectionate toward each other when they are apart. If we lived in a perfect world, I would live not next door to Mom, just an hour of driving distance. That way neither the feet nor the mouth will be tired!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


This entry is not about the American television situation comedy show that aired from 1969 to 1974 on the ABC network about Mike Brady, a widowed architect with three sons married Carol Martin who had three daughters. It is interesting to note that there was no mention of how Carol's first marriage ended because the network knew that the audience might not accept Carol as a divorced woman. The series reflected, at that time, the growing marriages involved children from a previous marriage.

The entry is about Mr. Tom Brady, the New England Patriots three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, who became a proud father-to-be. According to the press release, Mr. Brady acknowledged that he is the father of the child with Ms. Bridget Moynahan, an actress in various movies and television series. The situation is somewhat complicating because Mr. Brady and Ms. Moynahan ended their relationship last year. Yet, according to their publicist, Ms. Moynahan is three months pregnant with Mr. Brady's child.

A week later, another similar headline reporting Ms. Charlotte Church, the famous Welsh singer, and her boyfriend, announced that they were expecting a child. Ms. Church is famous for her beautiful voice and had performed at the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City as well as special audience with Pope John Paul II. I enjoyed her first album, Voice of an Angel, released in 1998. Her music collections were sold over million copies and were on the top of the classical album charts.

I was somewhat disappointed as I have been fond of Mr. Brady and Ms. Church. I am 46 years old, so they could be my son (Mr. Brady is 29) and daughter (Ms. Church recently turned 21). It is not my place and I don't attemp to have a mightier-than-thou attitude to preach about Mr. Brady and Ms. Church having children out of weblock. Today, in the Western society, we no longer place a strong stigma on children born to parents who were not validly married. Call me old-fashion, I expected headlines of lavish weddings, then announcements of the birth of beautiful children from Mr. Brady and Ms. Church and not the latter without the official matrimony.

About 10 years ago, my husband and I found out a similar situation occurred on his side of the family. When her mother passed away in 1997, CF (my husband's cousin), learned that the cousin from Ohio actually was her older brother. As CF and her two brothers prepared for the funeral (their father passed away in 1993), an uncle, a brother of CF's mother, explained that they needed to notify the Cousin from Ohio and allowed him time to make travel arrangements from Ohio to Michigan. Uncle explained that CF's mother found out about the pregnancy after her lover already went off to serve in the Korean War (1950-1953). The family sent CF's mother to Ohio and the child was reared by relatives. At 44 years old, CF learned that she had an older brother whom she had always thought was just a cousin. CF finally realized why her mother had to spend part of her summer vacation in Ohio and it was clear that her mother always had special Christmas gifts for the Cousin from Ohio and his children. (I wonder if CF and her brothers found a note or letter from their mother explaining what happened or whether CF resented that her mother kept the secret from her all those years. I also wonder if CF tried to recapture the connection with her older brother or the relationship became too little too late situation.)

As I am unable to have children, I know that a child is a precious gift, no matter under what circumstances the child was born. To Mr. Brady and Ms. Church, best wishes to you and your children.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


After I learned that my nephew, JL started to tell knock-knock jokes, I went to the library and checked out a few knock-knock books. I found two books, one entitled, "the Best Knock-Knock Book Ever" by Charles Keller, illustrated by Jeff Sinclair and another "Doctor Knock-Knock's Official Knock-Knock Dictionary" by Joseph Rosenbloom, illustrated by Joyce Behr.

For a few days after I started reading the books, I constantly practiced the jokes on my husband. Either I don't have the knack of telling knock-knock jokes or we were too old to appreciate the jokes. After a day or two, I noticed my husband tried to avoid me whenever he saw me coming toward him. I must have the look as if I was ready to share another knock-knock joke. I am trying to remember the punch lines so I could share JL new-founded interest.

Being 990.7 miles (or 14 hours 36 minutes driving distance) from JL, I sure miss sharing these wonderful years when a child learns so many new things and begins to show the level of intelligence. Most of the time, I don't get to talk to JL when I called. I understand that it is hard to get a 6-year old to carry on a lengthly phone conversation. I just wish I lived nearby or an hour away, then I could see my favorite nephew every weekend!

I remember up to when JL was about 4 years old, my mother and my sister-in-law's mother cared for JL during the day. Both grandmas only spoke Chinese to JL. When my husband and I visited JL, there was a bit of communication problem occurred. My husband, CP is third-generation Polish American and he only speaks English. JL enjoyed our visit and we spent a lot of time playing games with JL. When JL tried talking to CP, it was evident that there was a language barrier. After a few times, JL recognized that my husband did not understand (Chinese), JL began using hand signals and body gestures trying to communicate with CP. I remembered fondly how JL taped CP's hand, then pointed at the sofa and at the television, to ask CP to sit next to JL at the sofa and to watch JL's favorite video tape of Thomas the Train.

A year later, JL began to attend daycare during the summer, later pre-k. At 5-year old, JL managed to speak both English and Chinese beautifully. I marveled at how easily JL switched from answering my mother in Chinese when she asked him if he would like to have something to eat after he came home from school, then in English shared with my husband what JL learned in school that day. I noticed that JL already used correct grammar and complete sentences in his communication. His enunciation was excellent and almost flawless for a child, better than some football/basketball players doing interviews on national television. I became more tolerant of parents and grandparents bragging about how smart their kids were. Now I have my nephew to brag about.

To JL, here are a few knock-knock jokes I have learned -

Ben and Don (Been there, done that)

Stan (Stand back, I am going to sneeze)

Kent (Can you help me with my homework?)

Hanover (Hand over the chocolate bar)

Luke (Look who is coming towards us?)

Until next time, Olivia (I love you) very much, JL.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


The article carried the headline "No love for Lovie" was about the Chicago Bears continued to brag their feet on the new contract for Coach Lovie Smith. "All I want is a fair deal," said Coach Smith about what was keeping the negotiations from reaching an agreement. At $1.45 million for the 2007-2008 season, Coach Smith would be the lowest paid coach after reaching the Super Bowl.

Supporters, myself included, questioned what else do the Bears need from Coach Smith to prove that the team need a coach who led the team to a 15-4 record, reaching the NFC championship and first Super Bowl appearance in more than two decades. Previously, the Bears won the Super Bowl Championship in 1985.

I had a similar experience when I had to fight for what I considered a fair compensation. In 1999, I decided to terminated my home-based translation business and began to search for a full time job. In addition to applying directly to the companies, I also signed up with temporary agencies. I was assigned to a position of accounting clerk at a local upscale family-own restaurant. I only needed a day of training in Peachtree (software for accounting) and after one week, impressed the owner (Mr. AG) by getting the system back on track. A month later, when the office manager quit without warning, I again accepted the challenge and kept the office running smoothly. I received many email and phone calls from vendors and customers telling me that the office had never been so efficient.

After three months as temporary employee, Mr. AG made me an offer of a permanent full time job as office manager. When we discussed compensation, Mr. AG offered me much less compared to the salary he originally listed with the temporary agency. Mr. AG explained that my resume did not include that I had experience managing an office. I responded that I had proved that I could handle the responsibility the last three months. Mr. AG commented that I focused more on the money than the opportunity to grow with his company. To this day, I still feel good thinking about what I said to Mr. AG, "It is not just about the money. It is about my self-worth and how much I am worth as an employee to your company." I never regreted not accepting the job for less than what I believe I should be compensated.

I am sure Coach Smith felt good this week when he and the owner of the Chicago Bears agreed on an extension through 2011. Coach Smith will earn about $4.7 million per season over the next five years, making him one of the highest paid NFL coaches.

My brother VL told me about his situation that he already reached the salary cap for his grade level in the company. The manager told VL that there would be no salary increase, though management did provide a bonus and an additional work-at-home day on the weekend. One of the VL entry entitled, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" in which VL weighs the pros and cons of benefits of flexible work schedule and senority against the possibility of additional income by seeking employment elsewhere.

Many times in life, we have limited options when it comes to taking a job just to survive. As a refugee in the new land, my Dad worked as a dishwasher and a taxi driver to take care of our family. He never complained and always had a positive attitude. He also instilled in us that we must believe in our ability to achieve higher education and never accept anything less than what we believed was fair. I will always remember the words my Dad told us, "Your Mom and I sacrificed for you children. You know the language, you have college education and ability to reach higher ground, don't ever settle."

Remember your self-worth and never accept anything less than a fair deal.


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