Follow my Existential Exile. . .

Thursday, July 29, 2010

you are the example!

Precedents; it's what my students ask for. It's what I've been looking for while researching for my company so I don't do the same ol' ish. It's what we tend to rely upon when trying something new.

But to make history, to be revolutionary, evolutionary, transitional and contemporary you have to look left when the rest of the world looks right. I spoke of the Bauhaus school this past week as a reference to a project I created for my basic Graphic Design class. One major aspect of the success of Bauhaus becoming a major factor in Modern design history was not-teaching history. The instructors at Bauhaus did not want their students to know what was, they wanted them to create what is, and what will be. They expected the students to challenge the traditional views of their society, and the result was avant garde thinking and a new style they could call their own.

So I am challenging my students to challenge the traditional rules of graphic design. Quite frankly, I don't think it is fair to teach a Westernized view of design to students that use characters and extra symbols in their writing systems. Vietnamese does use a Latin alphabet, but with extra letters and an embellishment of accents. But even when I clearly state to my students that they are free to use Vietnamese words, they instead choose to use all English words, even making up words that don't even exist all in an effort to "please the teacher." Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this?

Fortunately, some of the students are brave enough to challenge the norms. One girl in my graphic design class decided she did not want to inherit her family's business; art school was her alternate choice.

"My parents are getting older, I'm an only child, and they want me to inherit the business. But being a businessman in Viet Nam means being sneaky.  I've seen a lot of shady things happen under the table, and I don't want to be that type of person, I don't want to run a business that way. So, the family business may have to close down."
"What do you want to do?" I ask.
"I want to work in advertising, just do something creative."

Well, at least she's willing to be the change. . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2nd Day of my 2nd Term. . .

So in my beginner "Graphic Design" class I had my students write 5 words that best described themselves as designers. Then they are to create idiographs, or simple graphic symbols that visually describe the words they choose. I'm having them reference Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Saki Mafundikwa's book Afrikan Alphabets.
Here are my top 5-fav attributes listed:
5. creative (well, I would hope so, otherwise choose a different profession)
4. patient (yeah, you'll definitely need that when dealing with clients)
3. freely (had to ask the student what this meant, he was trying to say "easy", hmmm maybe easy-going)
2. laborious (LOL, I think he meant he pays attention to detail, meticulous would be a better choice)
1. single (because I guess being married sucks your creativity dry! . . . . hilarious)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

where are you from? (cause it's not America. . .)

This is a common question most ex-pats receive and ask as they travel about the city and meet new people. I have been asked this question many times. However last night I got an interesting response from a young man spending a semester in HCMC. His roots are in Cote d'Ivoire, but he will be going back to France after his term is up. We met him while eating at the kebab place on Bui Vien.
"Where are you from?" he asks in his french accent. "Are you from Cote d'Ivoire too?"
"uhhh, no, I'm from Chicago."
"Oh," With a scrutinizing look on his face, "but where are your Parents from? You look like you're from somewhere else."
"ummm, St. Louis" (LOL, must be the freckles)

This isn't the first time I am assumed to be straight from the mother land, but know one has gotten soo specific and ask where my parents were from. Another evening while I was out, and rocked the afro for the first time, my waiter asked if I was from South Africa.  So after eating our kebabs, my Viet Q friend asks in his french accent, "Well, do you know your origins??"

Unfortunately, no. And Mr. Cote d'Ivoire is probably right. Most African slaves were taken from the western cost line. I may have some Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Liberia running though me. One day I do hope to do some investigating of my heritage. But I find it interesting that I am no longer viewed as AMERICAN. Nobody looks at me and says, "hey, there goes another American". When I say I am American, that does not satisfy their thirst. No, I am something other than that. They see the heritage, but why don't Black people see it. Why don't we challenge each other to find out our true origins. Unless we hear an accent in the speech, Black people will never ask other Black people:
"What country are your ancestors from?"

Even with the knowledge that most of our ancestors were not immigrants by choice, and with new technology in genealogy studies, most Black Americans do not take the time to investigate, What tribe am I from? What language did they speak? Where is my last name from? I personally think it would be extremely self-empowering for young children, boys and girls to be raised knowing that they have a unique history and blood line.

It's as if being "Black" is good enough. Yes, we're proud of how we look. But can we really say that we're PROUD of our heritage, when we don't know what it is???  My Viet Q friend Ludi, who has Vietnamese origins but was raised in France, is partially in Vietnam so she can feel Vietnamese. So she can feel this side of her heritage, so she can feel connected. She knows what it means to be French, to be a minority and to be in that "other" category based on her looks. But she does not want this for her children. She wants them to know what it truly means to be Vietnamese.

As you pass on knowledge to your children about financial health, lets also pass on knowledge of our rich cultural past. I challenge myself, my family and my friends, as we progress into the 21st century as Americans with an African and American president, lets search and find our true heritage.
We know it didn't start in America, so why should we stop there?

i see vietnamese people

I'm realizing that there haven't been a significant number of Black folks living in Vietnam since the Vietnam War. So I decided to travel back in to time. . . To the museum that is.

The War Remnants Museum is rated number 1 on Lonely Planet's "top picks" for Ho Chi Minh City. Though my main purpose for going was to educate myself on the travesty, I secretly hoped to see some Black people touring the city, and seeing the sights like myself. Upon arrival to the museum via my xe om driver, I saw many tourist emptying tour buses, and carrying back packs. Indian, Australian, Filipino, Korean, Taiwanese perhaps. . . Nope, no Black people. Well, maybe next time. . . .

When you enter the museum grounds you are surrounded by old military tanks and planes. Go back a little father and you'll see some heavy artillery guns as well. But of course to lighten the mood there is an old Vietnamese lady selling cafe sua da right next to the M.41. Inside, three floors exhibit grotesque effects of agent orange, destruction across the tropical lands and villages and bloodied artifacts to let you know this really happened. At the end, on the top floor, images of hopelessness are rounded off with the before and after photos of the new Ho Chi Minh City reviving itself.  

Having know idea how many people the Vietnam War actually affected, I had a new friend put it in perspective. Mr. Thao is the secretary general for The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahai's of Vietnam. I decided to stop by Mr. Thao's house after my museum visit, since I was out and about. After the heavy rain storm, the streets in District 3 were flooded. But we got to Mr. Thao's house which sits above his wife's beauty salon. He invites me into his parlor/living room area, and we have a Coke with ice. Seeing as how I am not Baha'i but only know a few facts from my friends in Chicago, I start asking Mr. Thao about the Baha'is in Vietnam, how they are treated, and what type of activities they have for the community. I then asked if there was a house of worship in Asia. He stated that they have the Lotus Temple in India, yes I completely forgot. "However," Mr. Thao mentions, "they were suppose to build the Asia house of worship here in Vietnam. But with the war and fighting going on, it was postponed, and India was chosen instead." Straight from the horses mouth, wow. "In fact, after the war, since the government won, they took control of many religious properties, including a building the Vietnam Baha'is were using as a meeting place and several Christian churches." After my visit to the museum, Mr. Thao's story has much relevance. This was a perfect ending to my much needed lesson on the history of this IndoChina culture.