Sunday, December 28, 2014

BUS STORY # 425 (Portrait # 26: Vietnamese)

The Finest Vietnamese Cuisine by busboy4
The Finest Vietnamese Cuisine, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

When the bus stops, the driver puts the bus in the kneeling position. I watch a walker emerge through the doorway, followed by an older Asian man.

He has trouble maneuvering the walker, and ends up pushing it against the first row of forward facing seats -- empty -- on the door side, then sitting down on the bench seat.

He looks around at the rest of us. It’s hard to read his expression, but it is not blank.

I decide pretty quickly he’s Vietnamese.

I began acquiring the habit of guessing Asian nationalities from the time my kids told me Asians do not see themselves as “Asian.”

What do they see themselves as, I asked.

They replied, they see themselves -- and other Asians -- as Chinese or Japanese or Vietnamese or Thai or Korean or Laotian or Hmong or...

I keep in mind that they were in high school at the time. American society doesn’t get much more balkanized than in high school.

Still, I began making the effort afterwards. Knowing the Asian nationalities of many of my co-workers has helped me form a rudimentary template which functions much the same way as my sense of whether a bird of a certain size and backlit on a wire or branch is a Robin or a Thrasher or a Kingbird. You gain confidence with practice over time, but, of course, you never really know.

I’m better at it with the birds.

So I’m looking at a man who I am thinking is Vietnamese, a man who is younger than me but debilitated to the point of using a walker, and who is regarding the rest of us with an expression that I cannot read.

If he’s Vietnamese, he’s probably here as a consequence of our involvement in the War in Vietnam.

I find myself wondering what he might be thinking.

He could be feeling old before his time and broken down and looking around and thinking this is not his home and we are not his people and wondering if his decision to come here was the right one after all.

Or he could be looking around and thinking how he and his family are still together in America, which used to be some sort of Disneyland fantasy back in Vietnam, but is now this place, this Albuquerque, New Mexico.

He could be looking around and thinking how wonderfully different the bus service is here and how much room there always is compared to back home.

Or he could be thinking back home, his daughter or daughter-in-law would never have gone to work and left him to take the bus to wherever he’s going...

I am, of course, trying to imagine being a stranger in a strange land.

I did not really learn my world was not The World until I went to high school, where I encountered city kids and town kids and farm kids and rich kids and not-rich kids and white kids who were German or Czech and Mexican kids and a few Lebanese kids...and a lot of them had funny ideas about my world.

We were balkanized in my high school, too.

We come to his stop. He gets up, takes some time getting the walker in the right position to exit, and turns to leave.

That’s when I see the back of his black T-shirt for the first time, and I am pleased with myself. The name of one of the many Vietnamese restaurants in town is written across the back.

He’s slow to exit the bus, and that gives me enough time to wonder if he and his family were in the restaurant business back home, or if this was a matter of finding a way to survive. And I wonder how different the food they make today is from the food he knew as a teenager back home, and if he’s old enough to know the differences between how his family got their supplies then, and how they get them here in the States.

I’m wondering what he thinks was gained, and what was lost, and if he thinks the trade was worth it.

And while all of us know there is no better place a human being could live than right here in America, I’ve been perplexed by multiple surveys* purporting to measure national happiness in which we, ourselves, have reported ourselves not happy enough to make anyone’s Top Ten list.

We’re way ahead of Vietnam, though.


*Although this is far afield from bus stories or public transportation, here are some links to some of those recent surveys of “national happiness.”

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s report on life satisfaction in the developed world.

New Economics Foundation’s report on the Happy Planet Index.

Earth Institute’s report on world happiness.

The UN/Gallup Polls’s report on the happiest countries.

Buthans’ Happiness Index report on the happiest countries.


Two weeks ago, I posted a story about the changes to ABQ RIDE’s “Plan Your Ride” webpage feature. You can read it here.  Earlier this week, ABQ RIDE announced its move to Google Maps. You can read that here.  Note that, in fact, the old Plan Your Trip is once again (or perhaps still) accessible, but not from the Trip Planning menu! From the ABQ RIDE website: Bus Routes & Schedules - HTML Format > Plan your ride.


Blogger Heather said...

The women who run my local nail shop are from Vietnam, and during my last visit the owner talked about how awful it was to be homeless in Vietnam. She said there was no government assistance there, no where to find help. We may not be perfect, but we are spoiled.

Residents of Western Washington have a unique talent. We can generally distinguish between all of the Asian nationalities quite easily, and we all know the difference between Chinese food, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, etc. etc. We love our Asian cuisines.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Happy New Year, Heather. Thank you for your discerning observations.

You are surely correct about residents of Western Washington. My kids grew up mostly in Seattle; as you can see in the story, I profited from their knowledge and experience.

We have good Vietnamese and Thai food here, fortunately, but I can attest to being blown away by places like The Wasabi Grill and Japonessa in Seattle, and Pok-Pok in Portland. We’re not in the same league down here!

One not-bus story: Mrs. B and I went to a restaurant here we’d heard served “authentic” Chinese food. When Mrs. B ordered her dish, the waitress asked her “Are you sure? It’s very Chinese.”

7:14 AM  

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