Monday, May 26, 2008

A new arrival!

Big Ben Currie (weighing in at 8 1/2 pounds at arrival on Friday night) is home with big brother Jake, big sister Samantha, dad Jeff and mom Kerry, my cousin:

Everyone is doing fine. Mom and Ben came home yesterday, and today they were emailing photos. Can't wait to see them in person!

It was great to have some good news this weekend, especially since my grandma isn't doing well.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Go Penguins!

The Pittsburgh Penguins (our National Hockey League team here in Pittsburgh) is going to the Stanley Cup Finals! To celebrate, I made this miniature Stanley Cup trophy for the tiny toy dinosaur who lives on my desk:

If you are unfamiliar with ice hockey, imagine soccer, but played on ice, on a smaller playing field, with fewer players. And the Stanley Cup is like the World Series--a best-of-seven series, won by the first team to win seven games. Ice hockey has Canadian origins, but it's pretty popular here in this part of the U.S. Both Pittsburgh and Detroit are fairly close to Canada, only you can get to Canada from Detroit in about two minutes. From Pittsburgh, it's about a four-hour drive to go by car, although it only takes about half that time to get to the shores of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes forming the border between the U.S. and Canada.

I doubt that many people in Vietnam have ever heard of hockey, or Detroit, or Pittsburgh. I was often asked, "US?" or "what country?", and then was asked "which state?" and when I would reply "Pennsylvania," the person asking me would look confused. I eventually figured out that it was easiest to say I wasn't far from New York or Washington, except not on the ocean. And after answering yes to "Does it snow there?" I'd be asked, "Which months?"After hearing me recite, '"November, December, January, February, March, sometimes April," I know the person would be wondering how anybody lives there. I wonder that myself. Ice hockey--at the professional level--is played indoors, and we haven't had snow since April

I'll be watching the Stanley Cup Finals somewhere, on a television. I have no idea if the Stanley Cup Finals will make it onto any television sets in Vietnam outside of the ones in the hotels which have some American networks (like ESPN, which, as far as I know, is not carrying the games). There were plenty of soccer games on television in Vietnam--at least in our hotel rooms. Soccer is huge in Vietnam.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another Grandma update

My grandma was admitted this morning to a hospital (thankfully, a different one this time). I was there this evening and made sure she was resting comfortably in bed before I headed home. She's going to have at least one test tomorrow, and she's still on her IV antibiotics and is wearing a device that's keeping an eye on her heart function. And while I was there she told the nurse and the nursing assistant that I'm her granddaughter and I've been to Vietnam twice, and I go with a group who does good deeds there.

She asked me tonight, "Is the food really that good there?" and I told her yes, it is.

Enter to win trip to Vietnam!

I was just at Jimmy and Celia's, and we saw a promo on the Travel Channel where you can go online to enter to win a trip to Vietnam. The promotion runs through the end of May. Sign up--and if you win, take me with you!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Grandma update

A quick update on my grandmother: she's now back to the skilled nursing facility where she's lived for the past year. She's much happier there. And I'm much happier now that she's no longer in the hospital.
I've been working on printing photos from my trip so that I can take them with me when I go to visit. My grandma was constantly talking about my trip before I left, and I'm sure there are many people there who are curious about how the trip was. (And kudos for Father Augustine for telling her that there is no safe place in this world and that I'd be fine.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Interview with Stephane Gauger

The other day I read an interview with "Owl and the Sparrow" director Stephane Gauger. It discusses the film, Gauger's own story and Vietnamese society.

Gauger was born in Vietnam and came to the U.S. with his family when he was five years old. His mother is Vietnamese and his father was American.

I point that out because people have asked me, did you see any American babies over there? I always want to tell people that you can't define "American" by race or appearance, and two, they must be thinking of babies born to American soldiers and Vietnamese women during the war. In which case they'd be around my age, and I'm approaching 40.

So it's that level of a lack of understanding of present-day Vietnam that would make this film a completely different thing for most Americans than it would for me (an non-Vietnamese American who has traveled to Vietnam twice), and different still for Vietnamese Americans, and even more different for the Vietnamese in Vietnam.

But that could be what's brilliant about centering this film on characters who are children. They're much easier to relate to than adults are. There is also an elephant in the film, and he seems to me to be very easy to understand--his body language is just like that of the elephants who live at the Pittsburgh Zoo. (And yes, I talk to animals just like the people in the film do.)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Owl and the Sparrow

If you know me well, then you know I can't stand most movies and don't bother watching them. I get bored with them. The stories are too predictable, usually, and as a writer and a visual person I end up cringing and wanting to redo everything I'm watching and hearing.

Today I saw a movie I loved: Owl and the Sparrow. It was in Vietnamese with English subtitles, and it was easy to understand without having to read much (that's a tribute to the acting and the cinematography). And it captured Saigon at night beautifully, in ways I never could with my little digital still/movie camera that I had with me in Vietnam.

The bad news: Owl and the Sparrow was only showing here for one day as part of the Silk Screen Film Festival. The good news: You can watch the trailer here.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Silk Screen Film Festival

If you're in the Pittsburgh area, you might be interested in the Silk Screen Film Festival, which opened last night. It showcases films from several Asian countries. Tomorrow (Mother's Day), a film from Vietnam, Owl and the Sparrow, is showing at 3pm at the Regent Square Theater on South Braddock Avenue. I'll be there with a few friends, promoting Friends of Danang and Roger Costello's book, Faces and Places: Vietnam, in the lobby before the showing of the film.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Bridges and donors

I probably think about death more than the average person. Part of that may be because I lost my dad when I was an infant. Part of it also may be because my job involves organ transplants, and knowing that when someone dies they can save another person's life. (Or save many lives, depending on the circumstances.)

I've had the organ donor designation on my driver's license as long as I can remember--probably since I first got my license when I was 16. At that time my mom worked in the labs that ran the tests on the drugs that allow organ transplants to work. In a way, those drugs, called immunosuppressants, are the bridge between an organ donor and the recipient.

For a lot of reasons I thought it was appropriate to work on raising the money to build the Hoi Yen Bridge. Bridges are great connectors of people and of places and carry so much symbolism. I knew this bridge would make the walk to school both shorter and safer for the children in the area. But I don't think I realized until I got there that they would seem so happy about it!

It was really great to meet them and to know that I've been able to make a positive impact in their lives...the bridge is really just the mechanism put into place to allow all sorts of good things to happen for them. (I'm hoping.)

And if I died tomorrow, I know I wouldn't die feeling like I hadn't accomplished anything. I'd just want to tell people to keep contributing to causes like this--because it feels great, and children (and all people) matter.

Remembering Scott Fertig

I woke up this morning and checked the news, as I always do, and was shocked to find a news obituary on Scott Fertig, someone I knew in high school. He was (it's so strange using the word "was", so past tense) one of the most talented, hard working, sweetest people I've ever known. We met in the ninth grade at a Saturday art class at the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History in Pittsburgh. Then for the following three years, we were both enrolled in the Saturday Pre-College Art Program at Carnegie Mellon. I probably learned as much from studying his work as I did from any of my professors. Scott had such focus and attention to detail and this fascination with things, and what was great was that he shared that. He used to point out things, teaching me how to see with an artist's eyes.
I'd often wondered what happened to him after high school. I haven't seen him since seeing him back in the College of Fine Arts building at Carnegie Mellon in 1985. But a few years ago I found he had a web site, and I just went back to look at that. Then I found his blogs.
I never knew until looking at his web site that he created the mural in the Strip District near the 16th Street Bridge. I've always loved that mural, and I'm finding some comfort in knowing it's there.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


I haven't been able to find much time (or time to think) over the past two and a half weeks. My grandmother (an 84-year-old with a complicated medical history which includes the removal of her thyroid, one kidney and her gallbladder, the replacement of a hip, and the addition of a shunt in her skull to drain fluid into her abdomen, and congestive heart failure) has been a patient at local hospital here in Pittsburgh.

She was admitted with shortness of breath, and even though the swelling of her abdomen was enough to look like she was in the last trimester of a pregnancy, tests weren't run on her abdomen until several days later. And what they thought was the cause of that problem now might not be--since that was resolved, and her abdomen is swelling again. She's seen doctors from her primary care practice, a cardiologist, an infectious disease specialist (because now she has a blood infection), and (we think) a hematologist/medical oncologist.

This is very frustrating for me because I work in a hospital, in administration in a surgery department, and when I talk to my work friends they seem frustrated about this, too...mostly for the lack of figuring out what's wrong and anything being done to treat it. Although they work in a specialty that wouldn't be beneficial to my grandmother at this point, they do serve patients who are very complicated medically (and surgically), and from observing them I have a good idea about how things should work..only in this case they're not working so well.

And I'm looking at the clock and I should be at the hospital, and I need to take out the trash.