Any distance

Vietnamese has a saying “Tha Phuong Cau Thuc” which means, go any distance for a job. I did that a few years back, with English Teaching certification in Hanoi, and real classroom hours in the South. On the way back to the US, I ran into some young Vietnamese in transit airport, presumably on their way out of the country, part of the in-shored crowd we now see on television scrambling to get out of Libya (at the time, I was puzzled at seeing Istanbul destination in a Korean airport).

They were a part of the trend that exported labors from Pakistan, Philippines, India, China and Vietnam to Oil countries. Meanwhile, the Arab streets saw their young people shut out of high-paying jobs e.g. resort and tourist spots.

Had young people from Vietnam just waited, they could have gotten further training to qualify for jobs that will eventually come their way i.e. jobs from Intel, Nokia and Fox Conn, a step-up on the value chain from entrenched Nike and China’s textile sub-contractors. Images of workers with suitcases (in Manila airport, they let them exchange Libya’s money) and passports reminded me of the nth time Vietnamese, including my parents, had to board buses, boats and barges to find a better life. It was the fateful Geneva Accord that uprooted my mom, a school teacher, to South Vietnam. And from there, another barge

bound for America. (The other day, I got to chat with Lady Liberty – the one in costume, street waving the sign that says, “Liberty Tax”).

The Earth seems to have shrinked in my life time: parents who were born in Vietnam, spoke French and Vietnamese, with kids who live all over the US,

and grandchildren inter-marrying with Ecuadorian and American, who produced even further mixed down-lines. The world by now is getting used to seeing the image of our current President (as opposed to George Washington with the British wig). One of Friedman’s observations is that, the youth in the Middle East must have figured, they too could ” have some of that”.

Now that young Vietnamese are traveling and working abroad, they too will aspire higher as their horizon certainly has been expanded.

The problem with traveling is that you could no longer come back to the same place. During re-entry, or reverse culture shock, one feels compromised and a bit guilty for having “betrayed” both groups. Newly acquired habits, out of context, are hard to get rid of (hopefully recycling is one of them).

In Vietnam, the new generation- a PBS documentary- we followed one young girl who grew up in over-crowded refugee camp in Hong Kong. Her father and she got sent home after lingering as non-state persons for years. She is now a successful shop owner and credited those incarcerated years for her poise and perspective on life.

We know it’s textbook case that while we can cross the ocean, we can’t seem to cross the last few inches ( between two persons).

I am sure the excitement will wear out (tales of the desert). But the (unemployment) problem just gets transferred from Libya back to the Philippines, Pakistan, China and Vietnam. With it, the rising price of oil.

I am surprised that the New Orleans Saints have not been consulted on how to help nations and people make a comeback. President Obama touched on that today during his speech in Miami: “hard work and high expectations on the football field, should be transferable to Math Labs”.

I know a thing or two about being uprooted. It’s in the genes. When I saw images of displaced guest workers in long lines to get out of Libya, I know the problem does not stop when they secured that hard-earned seat on the bus. It actually has just begun, even with a wallet full of foreign notes, which might, overnight, become worthless currencies due to regime change.

I knew that first hand. Wish I had kept a pile to show you as proofs.


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