"We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by lovingkindness -- make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it." The Buddha

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Can you solve this math problem?


Do I have a treat for you today! Can you solve this fun math problem above? Give your answer by commenting below. I'll tell you if you're correct or not.

Hint: You'll have to pay close attention. The math works out. It'll make sense once you figure it out, so don't give up too soon if you don't get it right the first time. Good luck!

I want you to give it the good old college try, but after you tried and if you want to know the answer, email me at cuong@cuong.com and I'll explain it to you. 

UPDATE! I want to recognize those who got the answer correct so far:

Nick Engelen (you're #1!)
Tony (dictionary has your photo under persistence)
Jessie Nguyen (you're so smart, Con!)
Maaz
Miss Koopman
Kelsea
Eric Johnson (extra credit for being so tenacious!)
Shreyas
Emma from Australia
Hoa Le Nguyen (you're extra special to me, Hoa!)
Fady El Khoury 
Mormor 
Ranjeet 
Nabin Devkota (you made it because you didn't give up!)
BystanderM
Umesh 
Gifted_12 (yes you are!)
Andrea
Joker (where's Batman?)
Bob
EXPLEMBUOIU0LUe (kudos for not giving up!)
Dra
Neo (your persistence paid off!)
Mon :) (irie, mon)
Atraiu Pradhan (thanks for reaching out, Atraiu!)
Priceless
Rayun
Sreemoyee Gupta 
Hannah (yes, it's you, the only Hannah!)
Shubham Singh
Sky
Aiden (well done, Aiden!)
Priyam
Yahoo! Christine
Toyotaku86
Rorschach (you didn't give up!)
Yoink (you didn't give in!)
Richo (you neither gave up nor gave in!)
Arcogx
Coyote
Nhung Hong Nguyen (you're so smart, Nhung!)
Kavitha Latha
Junechen
Mary Joy Apepe (you were determined to get it right and so you did!)
Anupama Davuluri (you kept trying and you got it!)
Marilyn Sarita
Miss Tawau Lorghhh (you made it!)
Lyn Isabel
MK
Shashwat Bajpai
Bhoomi
Shyaam Ganesh
Judith F
CGT
Celal Malkoç (thanks for showing your work!)
Anupama Davuluri (I'm glad you didn't give up!)
Ugg
Sailaja Konety
Killz 
J. Anilkumar 
NesaLE
Zacurnia Tate
Isabella Stevens (you gave the most comprehensive answer I ever saw!)

Congratulations! I'll continually update this list once more individuals solve the problem correctly. If you know the answer, simply comment below, and you'll be recognized as well. Also, if you want to be included in the list, be sure to answer with a name because I can't give you credit anonymously. πŸ’›

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Six-year-old Miumiu playing "I'm Alright" by Neil Zaza


Can we get enough of six-year-old Miumiu playing the guitar? No, we can't.

Here she is this time with an electric guitar playing the rock classic instrumental song "I'm Alright" by Neil Zaza. So sweet.

Look at her little fingers go! You go, Miumiu! πŸ’›

Saturday, March 28, 2020

My Message to Young People

Credit: Forbes

This article is dedicated to five special Vietnamese university students who I have the honor of sponsoring. You know who you are. You all have such bright futures ahead of you. Let your dreams be big.

The reason why I'm writing this article is because my friend Nhung, who is really smart, suggested I write it for young people to assist them during these difficult times. I don't give advice unless someone asks, and given who would benefit, I am eager to share what I know. I've made enough mistakes so others don't have to. What you will read below is something I would advise myself if I were young or to my own son or daughter. As always, it is written with much love.

There are four areas I will discuss today: family, friends, school, and work.

Before I go through each of them in detail, I want to highlight the most important and fundamental principle of success that applies across all four of those areas: managing your emotions.

Do not underestimate your emotions. The moment you believe you can control your emotions is the moment they take over. Treat your emotions like formidable enemies. You must actively seek to understand how you feel at all times and what that emotion is making you do, especially toward acts that you don't want to do.

At the same time, there is nothing wrong about feeling a certain way. As human beings, what you feel is perfectly natural. You cannot deny how you feel inside. However, it is how you respond and act on the outside that's relevant. Therefore, the best way to combat a negative emotion is to be aware of it. Pinpoint the moment you feel hurt, angry, or sad. By being constantly self-aware, it is like wearing a protective armor in battle. You might feel the stress and pressure of battle, but at your core you remain intact because you haven't done anything harmful to yourself or to others.

"Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot exist again, the dead cannot be brought back to life." Sun Tzu

When you say or do the wrong thing because of a negative emotion, it is difficult to repair the damage. There are times it is practically impossible to remedy a situation. I hope by now you can see that much human grief can be tied to our own actions, not necessarily the evil actions of others. Many people worry too much about what others do. That's a futile exercise. It causes anxiety based on things outside of your control. Your worry never goes away if you let such an unhealthy habit fester. Instead, focus more on your own actions. Fortunately, that worry isn't too bad because at least you can control how you act.

Just about the only emotion that hasn't led me astray has been love. With love, even when I'm wrong initially, I am invariably right in the end. I often have regrets whenever I act with hate or selfishness. In contrast, I never have any regrets whenever I act with love. A few people have called me naive but I smile and continue being who I want to be. What they don't know is there are other people who side with me and feel the same way I feel. Those people are immensely kind, and not surprisingly, they are also very successful. They think big and aren't petty. Ironically, the more they give, the more is given to them. Yet they give not because they expect benefits for themselves in return. They give because giving is the benefit. That's why you'll see me express love in many places here at Cuong.com. Love is a mark of strength. When you have love in your heart, you are in a strong position. Love is the foundation of who I am, and who I strive to remain in the future.

Indeed, I do understand the tremendous hurt you feel when people yell or laugh at you. I understand how angry you feel when someone takes advantage of you. I understand how sad and lonely you feel when nobody seems to support you. I understand the feeling of lashing out and giving up. I understand all these feelings because I have felt them in my life, and sometimes I still do. But I don't act on my strong emotions, since I know strong feelings rarely reflect reality.

For example, whenever I feel angry, I refuse to immediately decide or act. I know my emotion has taken over and I am behaving irrationally. I tell myself I can be angry later! If even the great philosopher Plato couldn't control himself during a fit of rage, thereby delegating decisions to his friend Speusippus, what makes us mere mortals more capable? I know all too well my limitations. Instead, I behave based on my goals, where I want to go, how I want to shape my world. That takes clear thinking and deliberate strategy, i.e., making the most of what I have, even if it's very little. Few beneficial things happen by luck, or at least we shouldn't depend on it. Only gamblers rely on luck. The casinos rely on their business strategies. Guess who wins in the end? If I want clean dishes, I cannot depend on them to be washed by a promising politician or some fortuitous cosmic event. I will have to roll up my sleeves and wash them myself with perhaps others joining in later.

You can do the same thing as I do, too, since I will tell you something crucial that is 100 percent true. You are already special. You were born special. It's inherent in you. No matter where you are in comparison to others -- what you look like, how much you own, who you know -- you are here on this earth for a reason. Fate brought you here. From your ancestors since the beginning of time to you at the present moment. Thousands upon thousands of years of being tested and surviving have brought you here. It's incredible, really. A few people can try, but they can't take away your immeasurable value as a human being. To me, you are much too important to think small and negative. You deserve only big thoughts because you can decide right now to make a more positive impact on your life.

Have you decided? Are you ready to act? Let's go through the positive actions below that you can make in the four areas of your life: family, friends, school, and work. They are sensible ideas that had helped me considerably in the real world. They have given me leverage, advantage, and strength. Consider them not as all-encompassing but rather starting points. Think and ponder on how they relate to your life. Pick and choose what are most useful to you.

FAMILY

Unlike many things in life, you can't choose your biological family. Sadly or happily, you're stuck with them.

There are essentially three types of parents. First, there are cruel parents. Second, there are supportive parents. Third, there are mediocre parents, which range between cruelty and support.

If you have cruel parents, you are not alone. I've spoken with many young people who experienced physical and/or psychological abuse. Understand you have tremendous worth. You deserve the same respect and consideration as anyone else. If possible, seek help from a reputable organization that could assist not only you but also your abusive parents. They need help as much as you do. No matter how your cruel parents frame the situation, the abuse you experience isn't your fault. They are the adults. They should know better. As a parent myself, I can tell you they have no excuse for hurting you. They can have financial problems. They can have drinking problems. They can have gambling problems. They can have drug addiction problems. It doesn't matter. Nothing justifies their behavior. Them abusing you doesn't make their situation any better. Unfortunately abusive parents were likely abused themselves when they were young. They think abuse is normal. It is not normal.

If you have supportive parents, listen to them. You don't have to agree with everything they say, but simply listen. Reserve judgment and truly consider what they have to offer. Older people certainly don't have all the answers, but for those who are experienced and truly care about you and your well-being, they deserve your attention. I remember when I was young, I thought I knew everything. I never really thought myself as a child. I always saw myself as an adult. But I had blind spots. I couldn't see the full picture in many situations. If you have parents who love you, they are trying to protect you from harm they might have experienced themselves when they were young. Perhaps if you feel strongly about something, you may want to move forward, but always be cognizant of what your caring parents said while you are trying to make your way in the world. With time and prudence, you might discover the benefits of their advice, saving you from much grief along your life's path.

If you have mediocre parents, separate what is useful and what is not. Mediocre parents aren't bad but they're not good either. Seek the good in them and ignore the bad, as long as it's not abusive. What most mediocre parents need is your love. They are on the cusp of being supportive parents. They simply need a little push to see the importance of their job as parents.

The above applies to your guardian or older siblings as well.

FRIENDS

This matter is tricky. It's tricky because I know what I was like when I was young when it comes to friends. It's hard being alone. As social beings, we long for friends. But sometimes, the friends we accidentally meet are friends who aren't healthy for us, yet we continue to meet up with them because we don't want to be loners. So what I will say below will require you to have faith in me, and hopefully you will see why my suggestions make sense.

Imagine you are going shopping for shoes. Do you go to any shoe store, pick out the pair of shoes that looks good, and buy it immediately? No. You first have to request the right size from the store clerk. Then even when you have your hands on the right size, you need to try on those shoes to make sure they're comfortable. You're smart so you will put on both shoes and walk around for a little bit before finally purchasing the shoes.

Friends are like shoes. Certainly, you need friends like you need shoes. But not all friends fit you well, and many don't fit you at all. Be as selective with your friends as you are your shoes, if not more so, because friends affect your mood and motivations. They can affect how you view life itself.

Strangely enough, the "cool" kids aren't normally the kind of friends you want. Being cool is being aloof; it's the opposite of caring. A person who doesn't care is someone you don't want as your friend, no matter how popular they seem to be. To me, popularity and $5 will only get you a cup of coffee.

Therefore, if someone doesn't seem right for you, then continue to seek for someone who does. When you can't find the shoes that fit you, you don't stop, do you? In our modern world, there are millions of people within your reach. The odds work in your favor! So have patience. As you are trying to find one good pair of shoes, you are trying to find one or just a few good friends. Seek quality over quantity. You're not trying to find perfection, simply individuals who truly understand you and you understand them.

Interestingly, good marriages are comprised of good friends. Romance comes and goes, but love and friendship are forever. In short, friends support each other, and more specifically, each other's life goals. If they cannot, then they are mere acquaintances. On the internet, what social media calls your "friends" aren't all your friends. They are mostly acquaintances. They are not going to support you when the relationship doesn't benefit them. You don't have to get rid of your acquaintances, just keep them at arm's length.  Acquaintances are part of life, but they are not like friends, who are much rarer, and will be there for you even when you cannot return the favor. It's not that acquaintances can't eventually become friends later -- much like how mediocre parents can become supportive parents later -- but for the time being, they are more like colleagues and associates, not friends. Friends love and promote you on a personal level, and you feel the same way about them.

SCHOOL

School can be enjoyable if you look at it from the point of view of fine educational institutions: a place of exploration and learning.

The wrinkle is that the intention doesn't always translate during implementation. What they say isn't always what they do. There might be incompetent teachers who are difficult to understand. The books might not be very good. In those cases, my first step would be to change how I view the situation. What good can I still get from this? If there is little good, then if possible, change the class. But I caution that you don't give up so easily and try it out for a sufficient period of time. Only then would you have a better assessment of a seemingly bad situation.

At one of the universities I graduated from, the graduation rate was about 50 percent. Half of my classmates who started out with me failed. That statistic is deceiving, because from what I witnessed, most students who dropped out were smart -- we all had to pass difficult tests and had excellent grades in high school to be admitted into the university -- but they partied and wasted their time instead of trying and studying. They failed not because they weren't capable. They failed because they quit. Don't do what they did. By persevering through hardship and graduating, you will have more life options in the future. Having more options is a good thing. By graduating college, it doesn't only demonstrate you learned the subjects you studied but also your tenacity and strength to overcome adversity even when others had quit.

When I was in school, I excelled. But I had a secret. I had a superpower. No, my superpower wasn't that I'm smarter than everyone else. Rather, I employed the element of time. I had more time than all of my classmates because I prepared more than all of my classmates. I read chapters before they were assigned, studied for tests earlier, and started on projects months before they were due.  As a result, I understood what the teachers were talking about in lectures, and did exceptional well in projects and tests. It's not that complicated. I didn't do much more work than my classmates did. I simply did them earlier and over a longer period of time. While some of my classmates struggled because they didn't plan ahead, I sailed through my classes.

For example, most classes have syllabuses that go into great detail on what is required throughout the quarter or semester. Don't ignore that document. The teacher spent a lot of time on that syllabus, so you can bet he or she will use it. Read it carefully. Prepare and plan your path of excellence in this class. That preparation and planning mean the following:

1) Read all required materials as assigned in a timely manner. I know students who can do well in a class or two without reading but I have never met anyone who can do well in all classes without reading. It's impossible. Don't believe anyone who says he or she could. Why put yourself at a disadvantage? Read. Don't skimp on it or delay. Do yourself a favor and always read the book pages assigned.

2) When you know there is a project coming up, work on your project weeks in advance. If you know there is a test coming up, study for your test weeks in advance. That's right. Work on your project weeks before it is due. Study for your test weeks before it happens. As you gain new knowledge and review it constantly, that knowledge will be ingrained in you. Much of learning is repetition. The quality of your project will be noticeably better than others. The score of your test will be noticeably better than others. You are using the element of time to your advantage. Time is your superpower.

3) Memorization is inevitable in school. The trick I use is simple. Study it the first time. Do something completely different, like watching TV or playing soccer. Then study it again. Then do something else, like helping your mom wash the dishes. Afterwards, you study it yet again. You repeat this process as much as possible over several days. If you want to do well in your test, you can't do this enough. Hopefully you can see how this method helps your memory. But it requires that you strategically plan ahead. It's ineffective to use this method if you try to cram everything in the day before the test. Again, use the element of time to your advantage.

4) In the rare case you are still having problems understanding the lessons, don't be afraid to ask for your teacher's help after class. Ask for help as early as possible so that your lack of understanding can be resolved quickly. Be courteous and listen a lot more than you talk. Demonstrate consistently that you are trying your hardest to study and learn. Even in the absolute worst-case scenario where you fail all your tests, I have never heard of a teacher flunking a student trying his or her best.

5) Sleep before 10 o'clock at night. I did this throughout my college life. Study hard during the day, but no matter what fun you might have by staying past 10 p.m. with your family or friends, you will miss out on the incredible energy you would feel by sleeping earlier. You can drink coffee but don't think it is a good solution. I didn't drink coffee until many years after I graduated with my master's degree. I didn't need coffee. I had sufficient sleep. My alarm clock was a reminder, not an alarm. Because you have abundant energy from a good night's rest, you pay better attention to the teacher, understand better when reading the textbooks, and perform significantly better in tests. The gain is a lot more than the cost of having to go to bed earlier. Those one or two extra hours of sleep make a huge difference.

WORK

Unlike school, if you think about it, work is a place where they pay you to learn! It doesn't matter what you are doing at work, you are learning. When I was young making very little money cleaning windows, I learned.

One particular day when I rushed and sloppily cleaned the windows, my supervisor pulled me aside to tell me I was doing it all wrong.

"It's not a race," he said. "Clean them well."

He made me re-clean all the windows. Although I was initially upset about being reprimanded, I learned a valuable lesson that day. A job worth doing is a job worth doing well. Do it so well that people are impressed by your dedication. Do it so well that it impresses you! From big to small matters, you show pride in everything you do. The work you complete exudes excellence. You help a coworker in need even though it's not part of your job. You personally handwrite "thank you" cards to coworkers and outside associates whenever they help you. You brush your teeth after lunch. Don't think nobody notices because they do. Whether or not you literally wrote down your signature, your name is on everything you do at work. When superior quality is your standard, you will stand out from the rest. You will never be out of work no matter how bad the economy. Good people are always in high demand, especially during hard times. There will be a point in your career where your reputation precedes you, and that's a great place to be.

When you start out in your career, understand your place in the organization. Even though you try to do your best as an individual, you are nonetheless part of a team. Do your part to express what you know and educate other team members on what you know, but the final decision is up to your supervisor. Unless he or she is telling you to do something immoral or illegal, simply go along with it because the company has tasked him or her with that responsibility. Don't feel hurt. It's not personal. There might be constraints you are not aware of. Because you're part of a team, contribute where you can and leave the rest for others to do their parts as well.

All the while, learn. Learn everything there is to know about your job. Look for the best performers and those who command respect from many coworkers, not because of their title but because of their skill. Observe them, ask them questions, and listen to them. You might have better ideas later, but at this time, consider their ideas first. Later on, once you feel comfortable about your job performance, seek to understand the ins and outs of the company and how it conducts its business. Learn about the various processes and functions. How does the company go from customer order to final service or shipment? Keep updated on your company's industry news and understand how your company fits in that industry.

Like graduating from your school, there will be a point where you feel you can graduate from your company. You either move on to another company that offers you a better opportunity or you strike out on your own to form your own company. Either way, you will have a firm foundation and a bedrock of knowledge on how to succeed wherever your career takes you. By the way you talk and by the way you conduct yourself, others will clearly see you are different. They can see how you can help propel their company to a higher level. You are destined for bigger opportunities, but first you must humble yourself and learn the details of your job, including reading manuals and proper procedures. You cannot be a good leader unless you understand what it's like being a good follower.

This paragraph is something even some experts and professionals forget. But they forget it to their detriment. The purpose of business is to improve society. A company's purpose is to improve society. You're helping to make people's lives better. Everything else is secondary. As such, when you are in a company, you strive to do what's right for the company. That means taking care of employees and machinery that take care of customers. Profits will naturally follow. Don't let people pressure you into doing something immoral or illegal because even if you were to acquiesce to them, you won't get their respect anyway. They know what they're doing is wrong. In the past, there had been companies that tried to subvert the system and create short-term profit at the harm of society. But inevitably they are found out and quickly eliminated. These companies never last. The people in these companies who did things immorally and illegally didn't last either. Therefore, while you do things right (competency), also do the right things (integrity). You can always find another job, but you can't always find your soul once it's lost. Maybe not immediately, but with time, you will see the wisdom of your decision to do what's right.

Ultimately, I believe that whatever happens in your career is for the best. If a company fires you because you act with integrity, why do you want to stay and help that company? Only a good company with good people would have the wisdom to keep a good employee like you. That is the kind of company you want to work for and help grow. And once you are good enough, it is the kind of company you would create in the future.

CONCLUSION

So there you have it. Manage the family you're given. Manage your friendships. Manage your schoolwork. Manage your workplace. And most of all, manage your emotions. When you aren't managing your own life, someone else will, and often your interests aren't his or her top concern. There will be times when you wonder whether or not you will be successful. No need to worry about that. If you are reading these words, I assure you that you're already a success. And since you're already a success, what would a successful person like yourself do next? Hopefully what I discussed today provides you the first stepping stones. Future stepping stones are up to you. I have no doubt you will go far, because you inherently have what it takes to go far, as far as your heart desires. Big dreams belong to those with big hearts. πŸ’›

Friday, March 27, 2020

"I Wish You Love" song by Miumiu


If you need something that makes you smile and fills your heart with love, you are in luck! Above is a video of Miumiu, a six year old girl singing a classic song, "I Wish You Love." She sang it so sweetly that I just have to share it with you all. Below are the lyrics to her song:

I wish you bluebirds in the spring
To give your heart a song to sing
And then a kiss, but more than this
I wish you love
And in July a lemonade
To cool you in some leafy glade
I wish you health, and more than wealth,
I wish you love
My breaking heart and I agree
That you and I could never be
So, with my best, my very best
I set you free
I wish you shelter from the storm
A cozy fire to keep you warm
But most of all, when snowflakes fall
I wish you love 
When snowflakes fall
I wish you loveπŸ’›

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Why Love is Strength Aplenty



"Those skilled in warfare cultivate the Way, and preserve the Law; therefore, they govern victory and defeat." Sun Tzu

Today, let's go on an intellectual exploration, beyond Vietnamese-American issues.

When I was young, I used to think that strength is a matter of physical power that culminates to the use of military power. Whoever has the most lead (and gold) wins. In many respects, this isn't wrong, except in the one respect that matters most: longevity. The point of view I was missing was time. Time is the ultimate power and equalizer, not military might.

Throughout history, military might seemed to rule. But that's only half the story. The other half is how many military powers ruled. Numerous. Dead leaves piled upon dead leaves. There is no constancy. Hated rulers invariably experienced bad endings for themselves. Yet ruthless individuals vied for power as if they could live forever. They couldn't. For those ruthless individuals, power usually starts no earlier than when they are 40 years old. How many more years can they live, even if I were generous enough to give them the benefit of hanging onto power -- despite their enemies -- until their miserable death? Another 40 years? Considering the stress they're continuously under, I would say less. This is like rulers who started their reign in 1980 but now are out of power and forgotten by 2020. The world could handle them, and certainly the natural world could handle them. They represent a thin sliver, barely visible, along the wide grand spectrum of time.

In contrast, what is relatively constant and what lives on since the dawn of recorded time is civilization, the outcome of civilizing, from acts of outstanding wisdom, refinement, and effectiveness such that they produce more than the daily necessities. Civilization is the social and cultural advancement of a nation, people, planet. We aren't completely there yet but we will get there eventually. Civilization is the product of the human brain, what it is aptly evolved to accomplish. Our minds are wired for teamwork and organization that are formidable against any other species on earth, even within ourselves. Evil individuals can try to do their best to thwart its progress but it would be like them trying to "catch the deluge in a paper cup." Good leadership is no guarantee of success, and far less likely in scenarios of bad leadership. Therefore, no matter how bleak the current situation seems to be, the mission of human beings has always been to advance our will, which is the desire for a better tomorrow, such as for our children. Some generations might be unsuccessful temporarily, but that doesn't mean our natural human inclination and effort had ever stopped.

Nature, i.e., the natural world, is breathtakingly beautiful. It can also be terrifyingly heartless. More relevantly, nature is mysterious, tricky, even deceiving. It is coy and evasive when it comes to revealing its inner workings. Nature demands every living being to do things right, or else it unfeelingly doesn't return a positive result, or worse. In short, nature is one huge game of competition, where the ones who survive and thrive are the ones who figured out the game the best. But when those ones feel dominant about their place in the current environment, nature changes it up again. Who was first is now last, and who was last is now first. Astronomers look far and wide to see if there are other life forms in the universe. So far it has been a futile search. A variable that we must take into consideration is the element of time, a facet that is wider than any galaxy. It's a possibility other life forms had come and gone long before we evolved into who we are. And it's a possibility that other life forms will come into existence long after we are all gone. The instrument of change that nature uses is time. Without time, nothing changes, and that is actually a bad thing.

For the time being, we human beings have our own instrument that leverages our skill to discover new solutions to existing problems: our creative minds that cooperate with each other through communication. The significance of each additional person isn't a simple plus one, but each person added has a multiplier effect due to the sharing and building onto old ideas. Thus, a few individuals might not find the answer but the likelihood of resolving a tough problem -- name any problem -- when a million people are involved is actually quite good. I wouldn't bet against them.

It's interesting to note the definition of the English word "resolve." Resolve has two main meanings. The first meaning is to find an answer to a problem. The second meaning is perseverance and determination, presumably to find an answer to a problem. In essence, if at first you can't figure out something, throw more people, resources, and creativity into it. Keep on doing it until there is success. Would you wager against them? I wouldn't.

The reason I wouldn't bet against success is because possibilities exist. To illustrate, in the game of chess, even with pieces limited to their specific moves, the possible number of games played only after three moves is 121 million. Now if you're curious on what the total number of games would be after all the moves are made, that number is so large that it would dwarf the number of all the atoms in the known universe (which is 10^81, or 10 to the power of 81). But human beings aren't constrained chess pieces on a board with 64 squares. Our moves, as are our ability to effect desired results when multiple people are involved, are practically limitless.

So to not employ everyone as much as possible isn't only unwise but also weak. Seek wisdom and strength, and avoid ignorance and weakness. I once observed a man questioned a woman, "Why can't you be more like a woman?" She promptly replied, "Why can't you be more like a man?" As a man, I can only speak on being a man. I cannot speak on what it's like being a women. As such, there is no such thing as a strong or a weak man. It's like differentiating between a striped or a non-striped tiger. He is either a man or he's not. A man is automatically strong -- strong enough to make sound decisions based on reality, not ego, because he is strong enough to care more about others than himself.

The reason why a man has the strength to go about his business taking care of others is because he has love in his heart. He has the energy to follow through because his purpose is clear. He resolved to himself that his last act wouldn't be to save himself but to save another. Ironically, he would live on past his lifetime in another's heart. So in business, a man understands that the fundamental belief of economics in self-interest is fundamentally flawed. Power doesn't reside in one self but in multiple selves. The purpose of business is to improve society. Everything else is secondary. This contradicts self-interest, which is an idea based on cynicism. Cynicism is a position of fear and weakness. Nobody strong chooses it, much less make it the core principle of an entire discipline. For once, I would like to see economists predict a market crash. They can't. Because the tool they use doesn't accurately measure society and its true motivations. Too many companies are fooled by self-interest as well. A company can be one thing inside and another outside -- weak and fearful, trying to preserve itself -- but the pretty covering it wraps itself around is figuratively flimsy and can be torn away easily. Don't be cynical and go down that pointless path, no matter how many people swear to its validity. Rather, kick away the ladder and bravely move forward. Build a strong foundation based on substance, apart from a facade. Be patient and build each piece while focused on increasing strength, even if slow, such that the sands of time cannot sweep it away.

Self-interest prevents personal refinement in other ways. Too many people are concerned about what others do instead of what they themselves do. Recently I mentioned to a group of Asian Americans that I am helping out Italy with medical supplies, as I did for China when they were in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. On two different occasions, about half of Asian Americans disagreed with me. They reminded me about racist Italians blaming and attacking Asians. They said people would laugh at me for being so naive. I immediately left that cynical Asian group. I was disappointed in them. First of all, people laughing at me for being myself doesn't affect me one iota. I know my true worth. My goal is to help those in need. If being laughed at is part of it, then so be it. Second, love is unconditional. It transcends race, gender, income, etc. If we Asians only protect and promote ourselves, how are we better than the racists? We would not be better. And third, being selfish and petty is a position of fear and weakness. How can I call myself a man if I think small and act with fear and weakness? Personally, I gain renewed energy when I support others. I walk with more vigor, purpose, determination. Few things make me happier and more satisfied than to know what I did helped others in some way. I love the feeling! When it comes to other people and the unknown, I move with confidence and strength. But when it comes to myself, I move with caution, prudence, and deliberateness. I want to ensure my actions are of benefit. I don't want to do more harm than good. I want to act with plenty of love because that is how I know I am in a position of strength.

Therefore, in lieu of choosing fear, weakness, and self-interest, shape your world with great effectiveness by choosing love. Our inherent motivation to cooperate with other people is love. Working hard and being useful are acts of love. Civilization is the culmination of love. When love ends, so too our society as we know it. See Sir Isaac Newton's first three laws of physics in his book, Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis, published in 1687. I believe from a social and cultural perspective, the first mover was an act of love. Someone was strong and fearless. He or she decided to plant the seed of civilization.

But we don't stop at the first brilliant move. We must think several moves ahead. To perpetuate what we want to happen past our lifetimes depends on whether our descendants will take up the mantle. That would depend on their own desires and motivations, even when we're not around. That would, in turn, mean love has to pervade in our approach teaching and leading people. The political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli admitted that although fear is a pragmatic and at times necessary means of leadership, love is always the preferred goal. He apparently understood that when the source of that fear is gone, then people will tend to do the opposite. In fact, Machiavelli expounded that the worst position to be in is to be hated. As a leader, be anything, Machiavelli warned, but be hated.

What is the opposite of hate? Love. So why be lazy and use fear? Instead, be patient and wise and think bigger. Strive for love, my friends. You will find tremendous strength surrounding yourself with love, both internally and externally. Let others discover for themselves your true self. The more they dig, the more they reveal the authentic foundation of your strength. Imagine them discovering what's really hidden in your closet: more love. For in the world you are truly a light that cannot be hidden. If the world becomes darker, your light shines even brighter! You can sleep well at night. You can smile during the day. Extraordinary strength and achievement, even in the martial arts, can be found in the principles of Sun Tzu, the enlightened military general who is still widely read to this day, 2500 years later. He is immortal and timeless. Sun Tzu said, "The greatest skill isn't to win 100 times in 100 battles, but to win without fighting at all." Because this magnanimous accomplishment went beyond the ordinary victories often obnoxiously touted by military might, it takes more than mere strategic acumen. It requires a deep well of wisdom that can only be filled by a big heart. And to have a big heart requires neither talent nor training, only the decision to fortify and strengthen a heart with much love each and every day. πŸ’›

Sunday, March 15, 2020

What it's like being a Vietnamese-American man

The Buddha

"Irrigators channel waters; fletchers straighten arrows; carpenters shape wood; the wise master themselves." The Buddha

Being a man is much like being a parent -- there is no formal training, some emulation is involved, and a series of mistakes are made before a man becomes comfortable with who he is. And being a Vietnamese-American man adds another dimension to the role, albeit not as complex as you might expect. So today I will be discussing what it is like being a Vietnamese-American man based on my humble experience. Of course I have to remind you this is from only one man's life. Yours may vary. Although I think my discussion will be useful for men, it wouldn't hurt for women to read this to understand men better.

As my quote above from Gautama Buddha (The Buddha, or as he called himself, Tathagata) implies, I am not a man until I am refined. I would be a boy mentally in a man's body physically. This is relevant no matter a person's age. There are individuals in their 70s who still act like they're children. Personal refinement is analogous to playing a violin. Playing the violin well requires much deliberateness, concentration, and control, otherwise it doesn't sound sweet. Without practice, I can produce mediocre sounds from a violin but it is far from its potential. This is how I see how some males behave. They behave like how wild animals behave -- some obnoxiously even brag about it -- but they haven't yet realized what separates human beings from other animals: our extraordinary ability to think beyond our impulses in order to shape our world. Self-discipline. Self-control. I strive to master myself because I want to shape my world.

Because a man masters himself, he firmly knows his true worth internally. How he views himself doesn't depend on the praises or criticisms of others. At the same time, his focus is aimed externally such that he forgets himself. This focus is special because its foundation is love. Therefore, a man cultivates love.

Love is a word that is often expressed but I believe few people spend enough time contemplating on it to fully understand its meaning. When some people say they love someone, it is about their desire, not necessarily the desire of the source of their feeling. I call it fake love. It is a love that is selfish with little concern about how the other person feels. When that person doesn't reciprocate then this love quickly evaporates and turns into resentment, perhaps even hate. This happens because it's actually not love, hence my use of the adjective fake.

Then what is real love? Real love starts with a similar strong feeling, but the focus is on the well-being of the source of that love. Whether the feeling is reciprocated doesn't matter. The love remains. The saying "If you love someone, set them free" is right on the mark. If I truly love someone, why would I force that person to love me back and make her unhappy? Her happiness is my concern because I indeed love her. If she returns my love, good. If she doesn't, that's good too. My value as a person remains the same regardless. The same can be applied to children and other loved ones. You love them not because they make you happy. You make them happy because you love them. This is love.

One of the most beautiful words in the Vietnamese language is nhường. It means to yield. It takes great strength to yield. When I see a person decides on this path in the world, it's simply beautiful. Nhường, like Cường (my name, which means strong), can also be a man's name. In fact, my grandfather's name is Nhường. A common Vietnamese phrase is "Anh nhường em." This is a man yielding to a woman. This is an older brother yielding to his younger siblings. Nhường is an act aiming for peace. It is an act aiming for happiness. It is an act of love.

With love, a man decides to be in many interesting scenarios:

* A man doesn't seek ease or luxury. That isn't his goal. Instead he seeks to make himself more useful to others.

* A man understands hardship isn't an evil but part of life. He was born to be able to take on the problems he'll encounter.

* A man empathizes with those who are hurt or harmed. He speaks for those who should have a voice. Such concern for causing harm and putting oneself in other people's shoes makes it improbable for a man to be cruel.

* A man's words are a contract. They are like steel -- difficult to break.

* A man decides to be kind and benevolent. Unlike being tough on himself, being tough on others isn't tough at all.

* A man runs toward danger, not run away from it. He wants to determine whether the danger is real. And if it is real, then it is up to him to figure out how to mitigate that danger by himself or with other people's assistance.

* A man is unaffected by promises of reward or threats of punishment. His only concern is for the interests of those under his care.

All the scenarios above are actions of love that promotes the well-being and interests of others. The last scenario came from Sun Tzu's Art of War, written 2500 years ago. Thus, the scenarios I listed are known to many men throughout history.

In ancient Rome, there were two individuals with two completely different outlook, despite subscribing to the same philosophy. One was Seneca, who was an adviser to Nero, a corrupt Roman emperor. The other is Musonius who Roman emperors respected (like Vespasian and Titus). Seneca enriched himself through the confiscation of other people's properties, all the while expounding fine philosophical concepts. Those who knew Seneca personally made it known through their writings he was a hypocrite. In contrast, Musonius gave encouragement to others around him even in harsh environments. His work ethic, resourcefulness, and confidence literally produced fresh water where it was widely thought that Gyaros, in the island of Cyclades, was barren. He taught a slave named Epictetus, who future Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius admired, explicitly written in Meditations. Musonius promoted higher education for women in Rome, at the same level as men's, at a time when that practice wasn't universally accepted. Although none of Musonius's personal writings exists today, the writings by other people who admired him and wrote down what he taught did. How reminiscent of Socrates and Plato! Musonius's contemporaries respected him due to his example, which added undeniable substance and gravitas to his words.

Musonius was a man who exemplify the important principle of valuing the person, not the production -- the tree, not the fruit. Nowadays, too many people are drawn to the wrong things. Instead of seeing the inherent significance of a person, they covet the material wealth behind that person. Sometimes even the person gets fooled by the idea. When that wealth is diminished, he or she somehow feels diminished as well. But this is nonsense. A man knows he isn't only self-sufficient but has the capacity to produce abundance. Instead of being a frightened, petty complainer of not having enough, through his heart and hard work, he has the confidence to share what he has. He doesn't think small. He thinks big. He has all he needs. Thus, a man's fear isn't whether he can survive but whether others are happy. This is love.

The great irony is that while a man tries to forget himself, others who benefit from his existence try all the more to remember and retain him.

Let's not forget to discuss what it's like being a Vietnamese-American man. My discussion will be succinct, yet sufficient, for now. If a Vietnamese-American man is refined, he is all of what I wrote above, except with the awareness he is Vietnamese American. He looks different. Virtually everything he does reflects on all his fellow Vietnamese. He is a sample of an entire population of 2.1 million Vietnamese Americans. He can choose to display the best of what's Vietnamese or he can choose to display what's base. The temptation to see racism on matters of fairness is understandable. However, understand the error of comparing yourself with base Western characters to make your argument. I only compare myself with the finest Western examples, because that is, at least, my standard. Why would I accept anything less?

This is the responsibility that I, Cuong, believe I have as a Vietnamese-American man. It's not a heavy burden. Unlike the sacrifices of my Vietnamese grandfather and father and countless similar Vietnamese men before me, whatever I am faced with every day is a privilege. They are like Elijah, who ascended to heaven, and I am merely Elisha who took up their mantle left behind. I also inherited their heart and thus their love. What more can a Vietnamese-American man ask for? I have all I need. πŸ’›

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Why I love all things Vietnamese

My sister and me

One talented IT manager I hired who later became my friend said something to me that I will never forget. He said he doesn't like to date black women. I was shocked. He is a black man. My theory on why he feels that way is simple, which I shared with him: his past experiences with black women were negative, whether they were with his black mother, sister, or female friends. He didn't deny it. But he's wrong. The black women who he and I both know are dignified, stylish, and compelling. They brighten my day. I feel sorry for him and his warped view on half of the black population.

Unfortunately, he's not the only one. Jia Tolentino recently wrote in The New Yorker a review of poet Cathy Park Hong’s book, Minor Feelings:

Not enough has been said, Hong thinks, about the self-hatred that Asian Americans experience. It becomes “a comfort,” she writes, “to peck yourself to death. You don’t like how you look, how you sound. You think your Asian features are undefined, like God started pinching out your features and then abandoned you. You hate that there are so many Asians in the room. Who let in all the Asians? you rant in your head.”

I was confused when I initially read this. Then it broke my heart. Hong had a troubled childhood. Her Korean mother beat her sister and her with "a fury intended for her father," who apparently was an alcoholic. Parenting is the most important job in the world. Too many people are bad at raising children, but there isn't any required formal training. Instead, some people refer to their own poor upbringing when they become parents, and that's a bad idea.

In contrast, my past experiences with my Vietnamese grandmother, mother, sister, and female friends were positive. Growing up, I can't help but remember that my earliest feelings of love in its various forms were with them.

My grandmother was a devout Buddhist who was refined and had an air of elegance about her. She took me, a mere boy, regularly to the Vietnamese opera in Saigon. Since Saigon was always hot, the best seats weren't in the front but under the ceiling fans. I reveled in the dramatic sights and sounds of the opera. On most mornings, my grandmother cradled me where she hugged and kissed me with generous affection.

My caring mother single-handedly took the family to America safely after my father died in a communist Vietnamese re-education camp. Upon further reflection, I realized how eerily similar both my parents were. A Vietnamese man cannot be put in a cage. He would rather die than to live in a cage. As a Vietnamese woman, my mother was the same way. After the fall of Saigon, she had enough money to live comfortably for the rest of our lives in Vietnam. But we all would have lived comfortably in a cage under an oppressive government. My mother decided to sell the house and belongings and leave for America for her children's future. In America, we didn't have much in material wealth but my mother ensured we always had food on the table and a stable environment to excel in school. She never did remarry.

My younger sister and I were best buddies. She was always honest and sweet, and I often saw her as an angel sent from heaven. In our bunk beds, we bounced ideas off of each other and discussed about countless topics. She later graduated from Stanford with her doctorate.

The female friends in my youth were special. Today, I will share my experiences with a couple of them. Notice I didn't say Vietnamese girlfriends. Growing up, I was never intimate with any of them, although I was certainly attracted to them in varying degrees. Some of them were attracted to me in varying degrees. But my sole focus and attention were on my academic achievement. There was nothing of greater importance to me at the time. I will discuss this interesting dynamic later.

No doubt my Vietnamese grandmother, mother, sister, and female friends influenced how I currently view Vietnamese women. The joke I sometimes tell people is I like my women like I like my coffee: strong and Vietnamese. All Vietnamese women are strong and beautiful to me.

Now, below are two of my childhood Vietnamese female friends who personified the qualities of strength and beauty.

First, Vietnamese strength can be found in a Vietnamese girl named Nga. She was a neighbor of mine during my early teenage years. Although we were of the same age, she was petite, while I was stocky. Her brothers would hang out with me almost every day. Nga seemed like a typical Vietnamese girl. She liked to go shopping at the local mall with her female friends. I paid her little attention. Until one day she kicked my butt.

On that day, it started with her brothers and I talking about leg wrestling. We learned about it at school during PE (Physical Education) class. We challenged each other to leg wrestling. Stronger than most Vietnamese males, I defeated them with ease. I excelled in academics but I also excelled in physical activities. Nga soon came into this scene of testosterone carnage and challenged me to a match. I nearly died laughing. Her brothers immediately warned me she was pretty good. I should have listened, because she took me down in less than two seconds. I was embarrassed. Believing I might have gone too easy on her the first time, I asked for a rematch. Same result. Except this time I wasn't embarrassed but was highly impressed. I later learned nobody at school could beat Nga either. Even back then I understood Nga's strength resided not in her physical attributes but in her incredible mental concentration and sheer determination. I was in love.

From that point on, I made every excuse to talk with Nga and be next to her. I even let her borrow my prized bicycle, something I never let anyone else get close to. It was a sad day when her family moved away to another side of town. When my mother couldn't take me, I'd bike to her house. The round trip was an hour long. But it was worth seeing a Vietnamese girl I thoroughly admired.

Nhi

Second, Vietnamese beauty exudes in a Vietnamese girl named Nhi. I first met Nhi in elementary school. Her beauty was such that practically all the boys liked her. She was in the fourth grade, while I was in the third grade. She was a year older than I was. Of course fate dictated that I would skip the fourth grade due to my academic performance, and so we both ended up in the same fifth grade class together the next year. As usual, I quickly secured myself as the top student in the class. Showing off in the gaudiest of ways, I tried to help her with her schoolwork. It was ridiculous because she didn't need any help. But she was much too sweet and kind to tell me to buzz off.

Fast forward to high school. Nhi's beauty only increased with time. The boys, now with hormones, were still chasing after her. And my focus was still on my studies. She and I sat next to each other in some of our classes. I enjoyed every minute of it. It was around this time when I fell in love with Nhi. Yet besides her letting me play with her gorgeous hair when I sat behind her, nothing intimate transpired. So let's step back here for a moment. I was in love with a Vietnamese girl. But my full attention was on my academics. This, my friends, describes the clash between my natural tendency to be responsible even as a Vietnamese boy, and my emotional want to tell someone I love her. It would be another 20 years until I finally told Nhi how I truly felt about her. She said I was always smiling and happy. Truth is, she had a large part in my happiness.

The nostalgia from my Vietnamese experiences is so strong that they permeate into my love of all things Vietnamese -- the food, the language, the people. My love for the Vietnamese people goes beyond what I can currently see. Tall skyscrapers? Booming economics? Cutting-edge technologies? Meh. My love for the Vietnamese people is only enhanced by my heartfelt past shaped by the female persuasion. Vietnamese women exemplify what's best about the Vietnamese people: their strength and their beauty. The rest pales in comparison. Perhaps only another Vietnamese man could fully understand and appreciate what I am saying here. For if you want a Vietnamese man to do something worthwhile and extraordinary -- "to go for the sky" -- there is no need for promises of fame, guarantees of financial rewards, or threats of punishment. None of that will work on him. All a Vietnamese man needs is a Vietnamese woman to tell him to do so. πŸ’› #WomensHistoryMonth #WomensDay

Nhi's note to me

Me

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

All my heart εΏƒπŸ’› goes out to the Chinese people


To the Chinese people, I dedicate Small Town Story ε°εŸŽζ•…δΊ‹, one of my favorite songs sang by Teresa Teng 邓丽君, one of my favorite singers of all time.

Her other name is Teresa Deng. Many Chinese nicknamed her "Little Deng," because she had the same family name as the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. They would say "Deng the leader ruled by day, but Deng the singer ruled by night."

​All my heart εΏƒπŸ’› goes out to the Chinese people. Medical supplies had been sent and more are being sent. Stay strong during these difficult times and you will bounce back stronger than ever. I love you! ζˆ‘ηˆ±δ½ ! πŸ’›

Thursday, February 20, 2020

My Favorite Fountain Pen

My Namiki Emperor Chinkin Tiger fountain pen on blank pages, ready for ink

Although I write professionally with a keyboard on the computer, I love to write with a fountain pen whenever I can.

I have been collecting fountain pens since 1996. Initially I collected all sorts of fountain pens, but my collection has been refined to practically one daily workhorse: my Namiki Emperor Chinkin Tiger. Namiki is the manufacturer. Emperor is the model. Chinkin is the art style. Tiger is the design.

You can learn more about the incredible chinkin artistic process used on my fountain pen here:


Fountain pen manufacturers come out with new models all the time but I have yet come across a pen I like more than my Namiki Emperor fountain pen, regardless of price range. I have been writing with this pen for over 10 years. That is why I think it's safe to say it is my favorite fountain pen, and probably always will be.

The ink I use is the Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-ryoku. Pilot is the manufacturer. Iroshizuku is the line of ink. Shin-ryoku is the color (forest green). I use this dark green ink to make my words stand out, but in a subtle way. The Pilot ink works seamlessly with my Namiki pen because they are both made by the same company, the Pilot Corporation.

Written with Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-ryoku ink and with much love

If I need to use black ink -- which is rare -- I use Aurora Black, which is among the deepest black inks you'll find. Aurora is the manufacturer.

Some people think fountain pens are outdated. In fact, fountain pens are the latest technology for what they aim to do: non-stop writing. A ballpoint pen or pencil will give you sore hands if you write too long. A roller ball pen cannot be reused and thus is wasteful. Only a fountain pen can glide through a piece of paper effortlessly. When I run out of ink, I simply refill the barrel instead of throwing the entire pen away.

My second favorite fountain pen is the Waterman Serenite Tiger. It's curved like a samurai sword. The design is so different and innovative. Below is a photo of my Serenite pen with some natural tarnish from lack of use because I mainly use my Emperor pen:

My Waterman Serenite fountain pen on a Go board to highlight its curve

Of course I can use any fountain pen that works but I want to write with something that I personally can appreciate. I take pride in my writing. My Namiki Emperor Chinkin Tiger is essentially a functional work of art. It is a beautiful writing tool that inspires me to express what's in my heart. πŸ’›

Tiger, tiger burning bright. My top two favorite fountain pens together.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Ken Jennings of Jeopardy perpetuates misinformation of Vietnamese history

Thich Quang Duc

In its 36th season, the television game show Jeopardy is the most popular quiz show in America. Numerous contestants have competed in over the 8,000 episodes of Jeopardy. It's simply a matter of time when people start asking who is the greatest contestant of all time?

On January 14, 2020, Ken Jennings won a special contest called "Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time" by defeating two other Jeopardy greats, Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer. Jennings not only holds Jeopardy's longest winning streak of 74 wins, but with his victory in "Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time" last month, he is also officially the undisputed and greatest champion of Jeopardy.

But if you ask me, Ken Jennings isn't great at all. Of course I owe you an explanation on why I feel this way.

It all started this Tuesday when I read a post by Michael Sullivan (@regularmike) on Twitter that Jennings made an error on his weekly Tuesday quiz. The quiz is conducted via email when you sign up on Ken Jennings's website for "Ken's legendary Tuesday Trivia quiz."

My exchange with Mike Sullivan on Twitter

As you can see above, the great Ken Jennings was corrected by regular Mike Sullivan. Sullivan isn't Vietnamese but he knows a basic fact about the iconic photograph. What Jennings wrote is a common mistake. That common mistake can be found on question #5 on the quiz:

5.  What did a monk named Thich Quang Duc do on June 11, 1963 that made headlines worldwide? He set himself on fire on a Saigon street corner to protest the Vietnam War, immediately becoming one of the most iconic photographic images of the 20th century.

If you know the history of the Vietnam War, you'd know that Thich Quang Duc, the monk who set himself on fire on June 11, 1963, in Saigon didn't do so to protest the Vietnam War. Instead he was protesting against the South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, who was in power since 1955 at that time. A Catholic, Diem persecuted Vietnamese Buddhists who made up 80 percent of the population in South Vietnam.

As a Vietnamese Buddhist born in Saigon, I was very upset about this error. If it was an anonymous netizen posting wrong information, I wouldn't bother, but it came from the greatest Jeopardy champion of all time, someone who countless people look up to as a reliable source of information. If he can't get the Vietnam War right, then what are the chances of most Americans getting it right?

So immediately I responded to Mr. Jennings to put out a correction, because too many Americans are already confused about the Vietnam War. Furthermore, the obvious misinformation belittles the sacrifice of the monk and the important message he was trying to send to the world.

Even after 50 years later Americans are still getting the Vietnam War wrong. It's no wonder Americans are still confused about the war. Like Ken Jennings, they are still looking at the conflict through their Western eyes and their own narrow interests. It's not always about the Americans! Sometimes it's only about the Vietnamese. Thich Quang Duc didn't do it for America. He did it for his fellow Vietnamese.

Unfortunately despite my pleas for Ken Jennings to respond, he ignored my requests. He didn't respond to Mike Sullivan either. Because the mistake is common, it's probable Jennings has received feedback from other people as well. But he doesn't seem to care about getting an important historical event right. He perpetuates a falsehood. Does he realize that the history behind the Vietnam War is much more significant to get correct than, for example, Potent Potables? After all, those who don't understand history are at risk to repeat it.

So instead of acknowledging the mistake, Jennings seems content to not correct his bad error. Ken Jennings is famous for knowing many things. Even he gets the war wrong, but the real mistake is not correcting it. His apathy is glaring. In addition, his lack of response represents well the indifference of many Westerners during the Vietnam War, involving themselves in something with little knowledge and understanding.

Am I being too harsh on Jennings? I don't think so. If I choose to write about, for example, an Afghanistan event, I'm going to do proper research and then educate others on what I learned. If an everyday American corrects me on it, then I probably didn't do my research sufficiently. And if an Afghan corrects me, I wouldn't ignore her.

To clarify, the problem wasn't that Jennings made a mistake. We are all human. The problem was his apathy about correcting a serious historical error when told about it. Vietnamese history is important, especially in a war that took so many lives. Therefore, I propose that individuals like Ken Jennings leave matters that are Vietnamese to the Vietnamese, and if not, then at least fact check before publishing. Given Vietnam's grave history, those matters are certainly not trivial to the Vietnamese. πŸ’›

UPDATE on February 13, 2020, at 1pm. Ken Jennings posted the following message on Twitter, two days after sending out his last Tuesday Trivia:



Monday, February 3, 2020

Too many blue eyes in Ken Burns's Vietnam War documentary

Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap

Originally aired on PBS in 2017, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's The Vietnam War documentary is now widely available on Netflix. The documentary has 10 episodes that last a total of over 17 hours. It took more than 10 years and $30 million to produce. Despite its claims of being different, the documentary is arguably similar to another PBS documentary, Vietnam: A Television History, which first aired in 1983 with 13 episodes lasting a total of 13 hours. The claim was that unlike Vietnam:  A Television History where the interviews were with notable historians and dignitaries (both Vietnamese and Americans), The Vietnam War aimed to interview everyday Vietnamese and Americans about their experiences. It seemed like a good start.

But my article's title is provocative for a reason. I wanted to underline The Vietnam War's striking shortcoming. The documentary failed to achieve an essential objective on why a new Vietnam War documentary is even needed: a cogent explanation of the rectitude of the war, if any. The reason why it failed was the film missed the opportunity to focus on a key set of people: the South Vietnamese. More South Vietnamese perspectives would definitively fulfill that objective. The Vietnam War isn't the only Vietnam War film that fell short; it is simply a continuation of the failure of film directors and producers to fill in a crucial missing piece by thoroughly examining the thoughts of the South Vietnamese. Those thoughts can illuminate unanswered questions that remain about the war for many Americans. Disappointingly, the documentary spent over 80 percent of the time bogged down in battle details involving Americans, the deliberations of White House leaders, and American sentiment for and against the war. Their perspectives were needed, of course, but let's not label it The Vietnam War if it doesn't highlight the Vietnamese. Given the content, a more accurate title for the documentary is The American War in Vietnam. Therefore, without a full presentation of South Vietnamese beliefs and experiences, we cannot possibly understand the crux of the Vietnam War, since the main reason why the war started in the first place and why we continued to fight it was hinged on the South Vietnamese. 

However, there were two notable bright spots in the documentary, both interviewees.

The first bright spot was Tran Ngoc Toan, a South Vietnamese Marine, who graduated from the Military Academy of Vietnam, Vietnam's equivalent of West Point. Mr. Tran told us that during the demoralizing battle of Binh Gia against the Viet Cong (southern communist fighters), American helicopters refused to help the South Vietnamese recover their dead despite those choppers picking up dead bodies of the Americans. In contrast, the Viet Cong didn't leave one dead body on the battlefield. The event symbolizes well how little some Americans value the views and lives of the South Vietnamese. Tran impressed me by his continued bravery during and after the war. He suffered several wounds to his body during his 13-year fight against the communists and suffered further through nine years of re-education camp (i.e., prison), much like my own father.

The second bright spot was Duong Van Mai Elliott, an American author who was born in north Vietnam. Her experience was pivotal to the documentary because it gave a balanced perspective of both northern and southern political views. At least one of her relatives joined the communist forces (Viet Minh). Ms. Elliott has a similar history as my family's: a north Vietnamese whose family migrated to the south during the land reforms of the 1950s, although unlike her family, we stayed in Saigon like Tran Ngoc Toan did and experienced the aftermath of the communist invasion. Like Mr. Tran, we felt we could not leave our country simply because of fear, and only left Vietnam when we observed firsthand that our very own Vietnamese people were every bit as oppressive as the French who they themselves complained about before they rose to power. Both Tran and Elliott's insightful South Vietnamese accounts were credits to The Vietnam War, and I'm glad the documentary presented their perspectives.

As some of you know, I'm a student of Chinese philosophy, especially Sun Tzu's Art of War, an immensely influential book on strategy and leadership. The Art of War is applied in the modern military, politics, business, and sports all around the world. Sun Tzu said the best accomplishment of a general isn't to win 100 battles, but to win without fighting at all. There is much loss and destruction in war, even if you manage to win it. In addition, a leader can only be famous by fighting in great battles, not by preventing them -- how can you be praised for events that never happened? -- so the best leaders of history are often unknown to historians. They did their jobs effectively and effortlessly without the need for shallow fanfare. In contrast, the Vietnam War was a sad display of such poor strategy and leadership that there were many famous people from the war.

If more leaders fully understood how a typical South Vietnamese think, they could have prevented many problems experienced during the Vietnam War. For instance, they would immediately understand the problem with individuals like Ngo Dinh Diem, the corrupt and autocratic South Vietnamese president. They would also have discerned the problem with accepting terms in the 1954 Geneva Conference for a nationwide election in Vietnam after two years when clearly most educated South Vietnamese wanted nothing to do with communism. Few Americans know that during the 1950s, close to a million north Vietnamese migrated to the south to get away from communism and its cruel policies. To leave your roots and home that your family has known for generations isn't a flippant decision. I know because my family did exactly that. It required the communists taking our family's property by force and my grandfather (along with 13,500 other farm owners) fighting and dying that caused his widow (my grandmother) and their daughter (my mother) to migrate south. These land grabs and killings took place for more than two years in north Vietnam. Despite such a consequential event, The Vietnam War documentary discussed it for less than one minute in the entire 17-hour series. This equates to less than one-tenth of one percent of the series! As a South Vietnamese, I could have personally told the documentary's directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick of their egregious error. Many South Vietnamese intuitively understand that liberty and private property are paramount for happiness and prosperity. Those core principles are easily understood by many Americans who believe in free enterprise, to be able to keep what they earn.

We South Vietnamese wanted to determine our own independent path, much like the Americans did during the Revolutionary War. Did the Minutemen have doubts on whether their fight against the British monarchy was worth it? Patrick Henry didn't doubt it when he said, "Give me liberty or give me death!" Thus, like our fellow colonialists (Vietnam was a colony of France), we South Vietnamese detested oppressive systems, regardless of whether they were foreign or domestic. Although the north and south consisted of the same Vietnamese people, the south didn't want to unite with the north because of their vastly different way of governance. The north had adopted the ways of the Chinese and Russians. The south wanted to be left alone to implement a truly independent Vietnamese government, free from outside influence. Only a few American leaders, such as US President John F. Kennedy, understood that. Sadly, Kennedy was assassinated only 18 days after the coup d'Γ©tat to oust Diem and his ruthless brother Nhu.

Therefore, nothing short of a negotiated agreement for a division along the 17th parallel in Vietnam but without any promise of a nationwide election -- more like the Korean Armistice Agreement -- would be necessary to prevent the Vietnam War from happening as we know it today. There would have probably been continued conflict and battles with the north, but the length of time and level of atrocities and suffering would have been much less, similar to Korea's situation. Expectations from Ho Chi Minh and his war monger co-leader Le Duan would have been tempered. If the Americans, French, and English understood and were aligned with South Vietnamese determination, then north Vietnam would have no choice but be satisfied with a divided Vietnam. The north Vietnamese government's fear of Americans being involved was quite conspicuous even after all regular American soldiers left Vietnam in 1973. They cautiously took another two years to finally invade a significantly weakened South Vietnam. As I mentioned in a previous article, I debated with an American college professor who claimed Diem was South Vietnam's best hope for survival. In his narrow-minded Western-centric view, he didn't realize South Vietnam has survived for centuries, even through oppressive Chinese, French, and north Vietnamese communist rule. We are still living history. The Vietnamese people are surviving. The Vietnamese will outlast any tyrannical system. If a college professor couldn't comprehend that, what are the chances of an average American comprehending it?

The Vietnam War documentary mostly presented non-South Vietnamese who tried to explain the whys of the Vietnam War -- its necessity, complexity, and rectitude. Not surprisingly they seemed confused on why they fought and whether it was worth it. And they remained perplexed throughout the 17-hour series. They were confused, because like the college professor, they hadn't firmly grasped how South Vietnamese think. But to the South Vietnamese, the answer was obvious and natural. We were the Vietnamese version of the Minutemen and Patrick Henry who found tyranny unacceptable despite the risk of being attacked and invaded for not acquiescing. If The Vietnam War documentary focused more on the mindset of the South Vietnamese, it could have accomplished something that no previous Vietnam War documentary had accomplished before: explain fully and convincingly why the Vietnam War was inevitable and why it continued for so long. Unfortunately, the documentary blew by more than 100 years (1858–1961) of Vietnamese history and context in only an hour and a half, but took over 14 hours going through only a dozen years (1961-1973) mostly detailing battle deliberations and results. The film directors fell into the same trap of explaining the whats and not enough about the whys, which can only be deciphered from the Vietnamese psyche. From that psyche, the moral question can be clearly and directly addressed, specifically in that the South Vietnamese would never accept a communist takeover. To educated South Vietnamese, the north Vietnamese government's totalitarian policies were repulsive, which are still evident to this very day, further proof that the fight wasn't at all in vain. Except for the elite few, the voice of the Vietnamese people in Vietnam has been silenced for over 45 years. America, of all nations, can understand the importance of free speech. Freedom of speech isn't free, and all Americans understand the price we need to pay to ensure that right. So it should make perfect sense the logic and righteousness of those fighting in the Vietnam War. The reason spoken was we didn't like the idea of the spread of communism -- the Domino Effect -- but in reality and in practice, the fight and sacrifice were for something much more tangible: basic inalienable rights.

It irks me greatly when people praise how courageous and tenacious the Viet Cong and northern Vietnamese soldiers were. What they failed to realize is how much more courageous and tenacious the South Vietnamese soldiers were in comparison. The South Vietnamese were outnumbered and disadvantaged in almost every major category and were literally formed from scratch, decades behind an already entrenched and established communist military force. The South Vietnamese were further hampered by a long string of corrupt and incompetent South Vietnamese leaders. Add on top of that ignorant American advice, war crimes, and eventual abandonment in 1973, I can't help but be amazed that the South Vietnamese army lasted as long as it did, ending with the fall of Saigon in 1975. While the north Vietnamese army had consistent material and troop support from two major allies (China and Russia), the south Vietnamese army ended up with no major allies. Even general Washington's ragtag Continental Army had France as an ally.

Of course the perspectives of north Vietnamese communists were also important. But there was little new information watching this documentary. Like the Vietnam War documentary Vietnam: A Television History of 1983, the The Vietnam War documentary of 2017 interviewed several north Vietnamese. But I question whether everything the north Vietnamese truly believed in was conveyed in the documentary. I must remind you that all Vietnamese who are living in Vietnam right now can receive a minimum sentence of six years in prison simply by criticizing the Vietnamese government. Such criticisms can be in the form of protesting in the town center of Saigon -or- simply sharing an anti-communist Facebook post. It happens regularly. In fact, two north Vietnamese interviewed in The Vietnam War, journalist Huy Duc and author-soldier Bao Ninh, endured interrogations and censorship by their own Vietnamese government. The only opinions of Vietnamese that can be reliably candid are from Vietnamese living outside of Vietnam, like Tran Ngoc Toan, who currently lives in Houston, Texas, USA, and Duong Van Mai Elliott, who is an American citizen.

Another failure of The Vietnam War was although it spent a large portion of the last episode discussing how Americans and the communist Vietnamese reconciled after the war, virtually nothing was discussed about the South Vietnamese diaspora. How can that possibly be overlooked? I often argue that the only real Vietnamese culture that is being practiced freely today is mostly found in Western nations. The Vietnamese in Vietnam are stifled by their own autocratic government, all the while the much improved Vietnamese economy benefits only a small percentage of factory owners and governmental officials. How ironic this is happening in a communist system.

When I was in Saigon, nobody was happy with the communist government but nobody complained. They couldn't unless they were willing to accept the penalties that would result from them speaking out. People hung pictures of Ho Chi Minh in their homes even if they didn't like him to appease government officials who can legally enter your house at any time for any reason. Sometimes petty neighbors would inform the authorities on those not supportive of the government, simply to receive a small gain or favor from the communists. Even today, the struggles of the average Vietnamese are evident, from the recent tragedy of 39 native Vietnamese found dead inside a truck container in England to 133,000 Vietnamese women being married to foreigners between 2005 and 2010 (according to the UN's International Organization for Migration) and its related human trafficking problem. The litmus test is to ask whether Vietnamese in Vietnam would rather stay in Vietnam or be in another country if they had a choice. According to the Henley Passport Index, Vietnam is ranked 95th in terms of travel freedom out of 109 total nations ranked. Rwanda, Cuba, and Algeria have more travel freedom. The official motto of Vietnam is "Independence, Freedom, and Happiness." Ho Chi Minh, as witnessed by American advisers on September 2, 1945, gave a speech that repeated verbatim the famous second paragraph of Thomas Jefferson's 1776 Declaration of Independence:

"All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

Describing a Vietnamese as free is redundant. There are certain beings in nature who cannot live in captivity. No Vietnamese who embodies the Vietnamese spirit would accept living if it meant living in a cage. My grandfather and father possessed that spirit. They refused to be victims and instead fought back in spite of the risk of death. That's why we fought against the Chinese. That's why we fought against the French. That's why we fought against even our own Vietnamese people. They were all forces that would have us live in cages. Perhaps those cages provide safety but they certainly don't provide freedom, something we South Vietnamese cherish.

Therefore, I can confidently conclude that the best path for the Vietnamese people is to realize the vision that even Ho Chi Minh shared: the path of freedom, which we all can agree is the path to happiness. The Vietnamese currently walking in that path is the South Vietnamese diaspora. So The Vietnam War documentary could have benefited greatly in educating its viewers by emphasizing the one true objective of the Vietnam War: it was a fight for freedom. More specifically, that fight wasn't at all for the Americans, which the documentary focused on, but rather, solely for the South Vietnamese, and ultimately, by the South Vietnamese. Although the series was made for a largely non-Vietnamese audience, that doesn't necessarily mean the majority of the contributors need be non-Vietnamese. It might be more comforting to see familiar faces with blue eyes but it wouldn't be more educational and enlightening. In the words of Sun Tzu, "One who does not use local guides cannot take advantage of the ground." Thus, Ken Burns's Vietnam War didn't break much new ground. Like the many Americans engaged in the Vietnam War before them, the directors of the Vietnam War documentary largely neglected to turn to the South Vietnamese for guidance to understand with depth the Vietnam War -- a war that took place on Vietnamese soil and involved primarily Vietnamese people -- but instead focused more on themselves as if the series was really called The American War in Vietnam. πŸ’›

"Irrigators channel waters; fletchers straighten arrows; carpenters shape wood; the wise master themselves." The Buddha