The paper announced “a A student committed suicide for not passing Vietnam‘s first IBM-graded SAT“. So, my classmates showed up at my house the next morning for condolences. True story. Not having seen the column the day before, I was completely taken aback.
Hence, my first exposure to bad journalism, and Vietnam’s first trial run with a machine (1974).
The Luddites must have been out for blood.
They wanted to “grade” our essays, in the old Mandarin style whose exams lasted three long days (camping out etc…) (Leu Chong).
We had been anxious leading to exam date e.g. shopping for the right No. 2 pencils, rehearsing multiple choices etc..
Our real first exposure to the “spiritual machine” with its lock-in platform.
In our little minds, machine was God. It could fail you (and in my case, it did). Turned out, they had to manually grade a few hundred of us in between batches.
I never forget the worrisome faces of loyal friends, who had passed but decided to hang out (our version of “funeral wake“).
I told them they should go out and celebrate. Forget about me.
But they insisted “one for all, all for one”.
Then those girls in the class who also showed up expecting to see me in oxygen mask, or in a casket.
The feeling was “out of the body” to say the least.
How often can you afford the opportunity to look at this scene from the outside? (astronauts get a rare glimpse of the Earth from space, but it’s a matter of geography).
That should put materialism in perspective.
A friend in need is a friend indeed.
The story did not end there without a happy ending.
We were sitting around, long faced, when a friend (drummer from the band), rushed in to announce that they had just posted an addendum to the results. So we raced to the school (on scooters, like the new Zappos ads).
And we found my name (as if it were the Vietnam Memorial, except this one was framed in glass).
And we opened the beer (my father paid for it).
And we jammed the guitar.
And we screamed (no karaoke back then, just yet).
Then we went out dancing.
The dead came back from the brink.
The A+ student got his dog day.
With confidence and momentum, I helped raise fund for the refugees floating into our city (public speaking in front of a large lecture hall etc..). After all, I could have stood outside of its walls, cursing the machine? the manufacturer? the IT administrator?
No college, no draft deferment i.e. enlisted and got maimed ( a friend came back from the front with one eye left in him).
For that one day, I had a preview of my funeral. In Amadeus, Mozart used this powerful visualization to finish his Requiem.
In my end, my beginning.
Unless the seed dies, it won’t produce much fruit.
Lose yourself, that you may find it.
This not a suicidal instinct. Just an acknowledgment that the seed of creative destruction was planted in each of us since day one.
Like a tracker, lo-jack.
We will need to be “disassembled” to be “re-assembled” on the other end.
Pride and prejudice, fear and loathing, all nano bots in the wind (Kansas).
Ask any leader about his lessons in success, he will mention failings.
They went together, like two sides of a coin.
That shock has served me well. South Vietnam collapsed that Spring.
I just know that friendship is to be cherished, and that true friends forget their own celebration waiting out for you. Victory for one is victory for all. That’s why, on Spaceship Earth, we need to be concerned about one man whose vegetable cart was taken away unjustly
(not to mention he got slapped by a female inspector in a Muslim society).
To him, death by immolation was better than death by humiliation.
And one man’s death sowed the seed of discontent that sprung up to become what we now coined the Arab Spring. To him, immolation equals cremation.