Monday, July 31, 2006

Dragonflies and good eats

Dragonflies keep buzzing around my car while I'm at stop signs or traffic lights. It started happening around Northway Mall a couple of weeks ago. There's some nice landscaping around the McKnight/Babcock intersection, which is where the buzzing started. Next I experienced it at the stop sign near Value City in the mall parking lot. And I've had a few such sightings around the intersection of Ingomar Road and the part of Blazier Drive that goes over Pine Creek.

That makes sense: a creek, down the road from North Park. But in the asphalt jungle?

I've now had dragonflies buzz my car further down on McKnight Road (near Wendy's) and on Baum Boulevard on the east side of the intersection with South Millvale.

I saw the dragonfly on Baum fly to the right over South Millvale, towards Bloomfield, so I decided to turn in that direction. I was out looking for food to pick up for me and my grandmother for dinner. And once in Bloomfield, I decided to go to Donatelli's, an Italian grocery store.

I picked up a fish sandwich and a meatball and provolone sandwich for a grand total of just under $6. And grandma and I enjoyed it. But the coolest thing at Donatelli's was the prepared food: they have stuffed cabbages, a classic fire hall wedding reception food! I'll definitely go back there to try them.

Yesterday I went to the South Side Arts Fair on 21st Street and had just started on a combo plate of Filipino food my mom's friend Carmen and her friends were selling. Then the clouds let loose, and for what seemed an eternity but was closer to 20 minutes, we stood helpless under the food tent, standing in a torrent of rain water that covered our feet. Once the wind kicked up and the lightning and thunder moved in, I got scared--I was sure we were in the middle of a storm capable of spawning a tornado.

Eventually, the storm passed, but not before I was dripping wet from head to toe. I drove home without any dragonfly incidents.

It's supposed to be hot here in Pittsburgh for the next few days (no surprise), and so I decided to check the weather in Vietnam to see how much hotter it is there. You can check here.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Losing my traditions

My friend Dennis Roddy wrote a Saturday Diary piece today called Fancy weddings would be nicer in a fire hall with a polka band. I couldn't agree more. I miss those wedding receptions! When I was out with some friends last week, Bill, who is from Vietnam but lived in Warsaw, laughed at the old Polish traditions I knew, like Dyngus Day. Dyngus Day is the day after Easter, when boys traditionally douse girls with water. Supposedly the day after that, the girls get to beat the boys with pussy willow branches, but I never saw that part of it happen.

"Young people don't do that anymore," Bill said, "That's something just the old people do."

I thought, okay, that's just how things are in Poland. But I remember Ariana, my former neighbor, say that after she went shopping in the Strip District.

"People tell me they have Italian food there," Ariana said, "but it's all food from Southern Italy and food we don't eat anymore."

I remember asking her, "You don't do the Feast of Seven Fishes on Christmas Even? You don't make bakala?" My Italian-American friend Melissa was always trying to get me to try bakala, some sort of dried fish, but I was afraid of it.

"Making bakala is too much work. And that's traditional, old," Ariana said.

It seems like the Old Country traditions are disappearing in the Old Countries. That makes sense. But it also seems like we're losing parts of our immmigrant culture here in the States, or maybe it's more like a regional American culture, or maybe it's a little of both. What's Western Pennsylvania without fire hall wedding rceptions, chiggy/piggy/riggy buffets, polka bands (or at least a live band of some sort), and the Cookie Table?

Maybe I'm just worried that every twenty-something all over the States and around the world is becoming part of some generic culture, all listening to the same music, eating the same food and in the process missing out on a whole lot of cultural variety and quirkiness and fun. I worried a lot about this in Vietnam. Hue still has its own food. Better get there before it's gone.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

an Iraqi boy and a Vietnamese boy

At dinner last night, one of my friends mentioned the Iraqi boy who's returning home with his father. They've been in Pittsburgh since February, where the boy has had several reconstructive surgeries on the left side of his face and has been fitted with a prosthetic left eye. The family says the boy was wounded in 2004 in a U.S. air strike near his Fallujah home.

My friends and I were wondering last night how many other children in Iraq might also need such treatment right now. And I wonder how many Iraqi children will need medical care 35 years from now, when the unexploded bombs and other weapons of this current war will still be there.

Here's a 2004 story by my friend Scott Beveridge about a Vietnamese boy who was wounded by unexploded ordnance while he was playing.

Monday, July 24, 2006

I don't remember

That's a photo of my dad, working with some detonation cord, while his buddy Les McCorkle stood guard. The photo was taken in March or April of 1969, somewhere in the Ashau Valley, which is west of the city of Hue in Vietnam, not far from what was the DMZ between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. McCorkle was killed by a sniper on May 14, 1969; my dad was killed less than two months later.

Freddy asked me for a copy of the photo, which ran in an Army newspaper, and this is the best version of it I can find at the moment. Rod Green, who'd also served with my dad and Freddy, gave us a copy of it years ago, and it stayed hidden in some box in the attic.

My friend Phuong, who is from Hanoi, said in her recent article that she was born after the war and doesn't remember it, but that the young people like her in Vietnam "sense and feel the war's legacy every day."

So do I, in that, I don't have any clear memories of the war. Somewhere in my childhood mind I have the images of presidential buildings and helicopter evacuations, but I can't recall if that's about Nixon's resignation or about the fall of Saigon. One of my earliest memories is of riding in the passenger seat of our blue VW Beetle, my mom at the wheel, driving on Canal Street on the North Side, listening to the news on the way to Allegheny Center Mall. It was a staticky AM station, and we were listening to news about Watergate, Nixon, something. I was six when Saigon fell, but the Vietnam War had been over for six years in my family

I also don't remember my dad but am aware of his absence every day. More on that later.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Grandma's back home

My grandma's back home from the hospital. She lives on Polish Hill, where she grew up, as did my parents. I grew up there, too. I only knew one family of Polish immigrants when I was growing up, and they were older. The one immigrant family who did have children around my age was a family from Vietnam.

I've always been fascinated by what their experience was like, not to be surrounded by other immigrant families from Vietnam. When the Polish immigrants settled on Polish Hill, there were many of them, and from what I understand many came from the same area of Poland--almost as if they picked up their old town and relocated it here.

I know the Polish immigrants tried to keep up the language and the traditions, but I think they got stuck in time at the point when they left Poland. And from what I understand, that's not unique to the Poles. But in a hundred years or so in the U.S. on the Polish side of my family, I only carry with me a few words, some songs and some recipes--and that's from living in the neighborhood. Had I grown up elsewhere, I wouldn't even have that.

I'd better go visit my grandma before it gets too late in the evening.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Grandma's in the hospital

My grandma, Laura Bartczak, was admitted to UPMC Shadyside on Wednesday, 7/19. She's in Room 411. I just found UPMC Get Well E-cards. If you've got the time and/or inclination, please send my grandma a card. Thanks!

Polish Day at Kennywood Park

Polish Day at Kennywood Park is Tuesday, August 1st. I'll try to find out the schedule. Hopefully there will be enough going on in the evening for it to be worth going after work.

I'm feeling fat

Last night, I was out with a group of friends at Dave & Andy's Ice Cream, eating a (very large) single-scoop Kahlua and Cream in a waffle cone, when Phuong said, "I'm getting fat."

Though I don't see it on Phuong, I've been feeling fat for the past week or so. And that Dave & Andy's cone made me feel fatter.

Phuong and I went out to dinner at My Thai in Shadyside with some friends on Wednesday night. On Thursday, I went to lunch with my new friend Thuy to Il Valetto near the Carnegie Mellon campus. Last night Phuong and Thuy were both meeting with a group at Saigon Tokyo in Oakland. I got there an hour late (I had an appointment to take my car in for inspection), but I had time to order some shrimp dumplings and green tea.

After Saigon Tokyo, we went to Dave & Andy's, and then walked down Forbes to Schenley Plaza and sat outside and talked. We had great weather for it--perfect night baseball weather, and we couldn't have been more than a football field's length from the long-time home of the Pirates, Forbes Field.

I'm having such a great time meeting all of the people I've been meeting--I just have to try to watch what I eat!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Vietnam, then and now

Phuong's op-ed piece about Vietnam, then and now is in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Phuong and I had some long conversations about things she's touched on in this piece. I think that most of us Americans are so unaware of the normalization of relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam, especially regarding trade. It's not just that you can walk into Target and buy slippers or pajamas made in Vietnam. It's also that so many U.S. products are available in Vietnam. I think what worries me about that is the "Americanization" of their culture--like the fact that Britney Spears in popular in Vietnam. Now that's scary to me. But it's good that they have California wine, because the wine I had that was made in Dalat, Vietnam was not very good (at least I didn't think it was).

I think to a huge extent it's our technology (Phuong touches on that with mentioning Microsoft and Bill Gates) that will allow the Vietnamese to catch up with more developed countries.

We so take technology for granted here in the U.S. that it's hard to believe there are places where hotel reservations are written into ledger books, but I remember that was the case in at least one of our hotels in Vietnam.

The hotels themselves were modern in spite of that. I remember someone asking me, "Are you going to sleep in a hut?", when I told them I was going to Vietnam. Maybe I'll try to do that the next time I'm there.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A firetruck family tradition

My cousin Kerry's husband has a tradition of bringing a firetruck to their annual Fourth of July party. Here's the scene from last weekend.

My mom (on the left) and Aunt Janet climb onto the back,

Uncle Mike checks out the controls,

Matthew climbs aboard and peeks inside,

Jake straps himself in,

and Phuong gets behind the wheel.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Power struggles

Since Monday, I've been without my central air conditioning in my apartment. It's not as bad as it could be, considering my apartment maintenance crew installed a unit air conditioner in my bedroom. But the humidity in Pittsburgh has been horrendous over the past several days, and it's getting awfully stuffy in here.

We had a major power outage in the part of town where I work. Backup generators were powering the building I work, but there was no way I was taking an elevator from the ground floor to seven, where I work. (The area is so steep that seven is the ground floor on the far side of the building.) I hoofed it up that hill through the outside on my way back from my lunch break. I made the mistake of wearing a long-sleeve t-shirt and khakis today--the weather forecast was for a high of 78 degrees--but it had to have been more like 86 with a dewpoint of 72.

Still, none of that was like the heat and humidity in Vietnam--when I was out in it. Most of the time I was in Vietnam, I was in air conditioning.

I saw this story the other day about the possibility of Vietnam facing a power shortage in a few years. It's a good thing they're not as addicted to air conditioning as we are in this country.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Vietnamese dinner

Josh, Thanh, Tony and George at yesterday's Vietnamese dinner.

For all of you who attended: thank you!

For all of you who didn't: I hope you can make it next year.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Sunday's Dinner Details

I won't be around a computer much over the weekend--I'll be spending time with family and getting things together for the Friends of Danang benefit dinner on Sunday. The menu is not spicy-hot, but it is flavorful:

Shrimp Sautee
Grilled Pork with Lemongrass
Lemon-Papaya-Carrot Salad
Coconut Rice
Homemade Egg Roll
Fresh Fruit

Here are the details on the dinner:

Please join The Friends of Danang for a benefit dinner to support the "Let Them Walk Again" project.
Date: Sunday, July 9, 2006
Time: 3:00-6:30pm
Place: Bethel Park Community Center, 5151 Park Ave., Bethel Park, PA 15102
You can map the above address, but for a general idea of the area, it's very near the Route 88/Corrigan Drive entrance into South Park.

Takeout Available
Tickets are $25 per person. Children 12 and under: free hot dogs, pizza and drinks.

There will be other items available ala carte (coffee, fresh spring rolls) and there will be handcrafted Vietnamese items for sale.

For more info: Call George D'Angelo at 412-849-3600.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Freedom of speech

On Sunday evening, I was driving on Liberty Avenue heading towards the Bloomfield shopping district. I was in the left lane at the Bloomfield Bridge intersection, stopped at a red light, when I saw a man sitting on the sloping cement at the end of the bridge, next to the right lane.

He held a cardboard sign with letters in black marker that said:


I looked away, and then looked back. I was trying very hard not to laugh, but I needed to try to figure out if this was just some joke or if this man was dangerous. He looked to be in his mid- to late-20s, green t-shirt, jeans--nothing distinguishing that would help me pick him out in a police lineup.

The man looked down and away. I didn't see anyone give him money. And the light turned green. Off I went.

I think it was a lovely example of freedom of speech. Here's another, which I saw on the South Side on Saturday:

Monday, July 03, 2006

Foreign Affairs Visit

I was Googling for Friends of Danang earlier today, and came across this on the Danang Foreign Affairs Office's web site.

I took the liberty of lifting the photo:

since I wasn't able to take any photos myself while I was in that room. We were all sitting in big fancy chairs with coffee tables and bottles of water between us, and I had a seat near the speakers. This photo was taken from the opposite end of the room.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A day at the beach

Thirty-seven years ago this weekend, my dad's company had a standdown at Chu Lai Beach. We stayed about an hour's drive north of there, at the Furama on China Beach, when we were in Danang. Here's a photo of Chris Moore (center) with his buddies he served with--Boone (left) and Perry (right) shortly after we arrived at the hotel.

Behind them on the other side of those windows was a bar, and that night, I saw Asian women in white dresses swaying to the instrumental part of "Light My Fire" by the Doors. It was one of the most surreal moments of the trip for me.