Life · Travel

Ring of Rire

Maris Rhamdani

There was this cute couple in Savannah, GA. She was a hairdresser at one of the best salons in town. He worked as a PR person for the same salon. He was 20 years older than her. He had gray white hair that slicked back stylishly. She had her hair colored in a beautiful chestnut brown. They had a beautiful, gigantic, old home with a pool in the back.

During the summer, they took long walks along the beach and feasted on oysters at the local shop nearby. She would pick up some hippy looking necklace from a vendor on the beach walk. They opened their backyard with the pool for some BBQ parties, the truth Southern style, lots of laugh, food and beer. She made gumbo like no others. He loved drinking chocolate milk. At night, he would drink a beer while she poured herself a glass of wine and they would curl up on their couch watching some old-school cheesy romantic movies. When I was with them, they poured me a glass of wine and we watched Sleepless in Seattle.

She said she was happy that they finally left Los Angeles to come back to Georgia, her home. Her dad didn’t like him at first. It was hard to blame Dad, he was only a few years younger than Dad. Of course Dad would feel weird. She was not comfortable with him either, for the age issue. They met when she was working as a hairdresser in LA. He was working for a PR firm. She was a young girl with dreams of big cities. He was born there, wearing floral shorts and waves surfing whenever the waves looked good. He saw her one day and was smitten. He came to her shop to woo her so often. She liked him. They started dating, but she was still reluctant. She wasn’t sure about a serious relationship with a guy that was 20 years older than her, then she would have to stop the dream she just started for a family.

Then she fell sick out of the blue. Very sick. She was admitted to a hospital and had to stay in there for close to two months. She was alone in LA. Sick, sad, tired and lonely. And the only person was there for her almost everyday for those two months was him. Then she thought about her life. If living her dream meant when she was down, sick and tired, she had nobody there for her, was it worth it?

She got well slowly. He was there for her. She was fully recovered. And she decided to take the relationship with him seriously. They were in LA for a little more then they both moved to Georgia and got married. And in GA, they had that old big house with a pool in the back. She told me, on their wedding rings, the carving said “Ring of Fire”, like the Johnny Cash’s song. Once it started, you couldn’t stop love.

I left Georgia remembering the taste of fresh oysters on the beach, the warm homemade gumbo, and the Ring of Fire love story. I thought of the beauty of a simple and happy life in the town of Forrest Gump.

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Then years later, when I came across his Facebook post of him, the caption said “spending a great day with my love.” The woman in the picture was not her. And I knew. The fire has burned out.









Life

Ms.Pond, remember the day Osama bin Laden was killed?

Dear Ms.Pond,

Last time I saw you was 2012, at graduation. You were there as my dorm parent. It has been a long time. I always wanted to come back to visit. But to be honest, East Machias was really an out of the way spot. And after waiting for too long, all the people I wanted to see were no longer in East Machias, so I gave up. It has always been my regret for not being able to visit Maine again. It was always so beautiful up there.

From Maine, I have gone on to many places and done plenty of different things. I have gone to college and even graduate school afterwards. I have learned to enjoy life and dealt with stress. So much stress. The more I grew up, the more I understood the stress in my life. When I was in high school, I didn’t really know I could be stressed. I knew people that were stressed with everything a teenager had to deal with. But me, I was never, at least not until my junior year. Could you believe it? I traveled across the globe on my own, during a time that 3G was not a thing and I had no cellphone, to a little town all the way up in Maine when I was 15, but I was never stressed until my junior year. I had no idea how.

It was for the AP US History exam. I had attended a US high school for barely a year before I had to take the exam. I struggled through that class everyday because I decided to take AP history while barely speaking the language well. But it was my choice so I fought diligently to stay as an A student. I had worked hard throughout the whole year so I really wanted a big finish with the AP exam in May. Thus in April, as soon as we came back from Spring break, I immediately dived into preparing for the exam. I studied all day and then worried all night. There was always this feeling of burden on my mind that I couldn’t really explain.

One day, I was taking a quick study break to get some water. When I passed by the living room, you were there with some other teachers and one or two students. Everyone was watching the news with full on attention. Curious, I stopped. When teenagers watched the news at 7pm, there must be something important going on. With the water pitcher was still on my left hand, I sat down on the end of a couch. I asked you what was going on. They killed Osama Bin Laden. You answered while still staring at the screen. Oh shit. I swore then immediately caught myself because I remembered you were a dorm parent. You quickly glanced at me then didn’t say a thing. I knew you let that swearing slide.

The anchor guy kept talking about how this would be the news not only the US but the whole world was waiting for. They showed on TV footage of a bunch of troops climbing out a dark tunnel, or cave, or might be an alley. It was too dark for me to see clearly and that might be their intention: showing off their achievements while not displaying too much information.

You talked to the room but looked at nobody in particular. Wow. This would really relieve the stress for the US in the Iraq battlefield – you said.

Right at that moment, it hit me. Stress! That was it. The uneasy, worrying, heavy feelings I had been experiencing was stress. I was just stressed over studying. That was good to know. I was afraid something was wrong with me. It’s kind of funny now, thinking back, that was my first reaction to such a big international news. “Ah, I figured out I was stressed.”

I had all the information I needed from the TV. Osama bin Laden was dead. I couldn’t really care less who got the job done. It could be the US, UK, Sweden, whoever. So I stood up to leave. You called after me to remind me that study hall hours would be in half an hour.

While back in my room, noting down a list all the wars that the US involved in, I thought of Iraq. You remember how back then the US decided to invade Iraq because of 9/11 and the Al Queda? Isn’t it hypocrite that after we killed Bin Laden, we were still there even till today? I didn’t know that the US wouldn’t pull the troops out back then of course. All I thought of was how glad I was not having to study an extra war for the exam. But at the same time, I wondered what excuse the US would use to explain to the young kids who later have to study US History why they involved in Iraq. Just like how they used some excuses to justify why they were in Vietnam years ago. “To stop the spreading of communism” – so vague, so ambiguous, and so selfish. Many of my Vietnamese people died for that of an excuse. Sorry, I shouldn’t go into that. That’s too heavy and political for this letter. My last letter to you can’t be a political discussion.

All that aside, I have been rambling non-stop about many random things. I just wanted to say I missed you. Really much. I said not being able to come back to Maine was one of my big regrets, because I missed the chance to see you for one last time. Ms.Pond, you were the first person I ever met in the US ten years ago. You welcomed me with open arms and I would never forget that. Next time I’ll come to Maine, I’ll bring this letter with me and burn it by the little stream next to our dorm.

If there’s an after life, you will deserve the best one.

So long Ms.Pond,

Love

Life

When Vietnam was joining WTO

In 2004, Vietnam was listed in the Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) for systematic violations of religious freedom by the United States. Since the official establishment as a communist state in 1976, Vietnam practiced one of the core ideologies of Karl Marx and Lenin on the abolition of religion. The government actively repressed many forms of religious activities and practices, including Vietnam’s traditional Buddhism and the popular minority’s Catholic Christianity. Later, recognized the repression of religion as an obstacle to world wide trading, Vietnam government made efforts to increase the rights to religious freedom. In 2006, the United States removed Vietnam from the list of Countries of Particular Concern. Perceiving Vietnam’s efforts in increasing religion freedom and trading, in 2007, World Trade Organization (WTO) inducted Vietnam as its 150th member.

Everyone was interested in the news about how Vietnam was going to be a member of WTO. Even the people in my Southern city who were stereotypically not often interested in politics, followed the news like hawks. Every negotiation, every discussion, every meeting regarding this issue was broadcast on national television. Every class at school had some sort of assignments relating to this. I was a 14 years old who was forced to learn the news. My Ethnics teacher, who ironically looked like a lanky cocaine addict, made a speech about how this deal would finally put Vietnam out of the economic isolation that our old enemy – the U.S. placed upon us for beating them at the war. And he assigned us an essay about the significance of this deal to our life and our families.

I had no idea. I was 14. So I asked everyone in my family instead.

My aunt told me stories about the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. How the lady was a descendant of our last Emperor. How she was talented and firm in a country that valued men’s opinions. How she was an excellent diplomat that did all the negotiations to make Vietnam desirable as a potential member. I remembered watching her on TV. Everyone knew her name. I knew her name. And I didn’t even know the name of our then current prime minister. My aunt also kept telling these stories to my uncle every time he fed their two-year old daughter. He stopped complaining about how all his children were girls for a while.

My uncle was relieved about the religious restrictions that were being loosened up. Marrying into my family, he was the only Catholic. He was what we called an “original Christian”. That was a person who was baptized as an infant, grew up learning and practicing all Catholic ideologies and ceremonies, and living within a Catholic Christian community. My aunt converted when marrying him, but she would never be an “original”. He always believed that he was the only one in the family that truly believed in the teachings of Catholicism. And he wasn’t wrong. Our family never cared much for religion. So when the WTO deal was hitting the news, he checked on his Christian relatives, his old Christian neighborhood neighbors to see if they were able to go to church freely every Sunday. He was wondering whether this WTO membership would allow Christianity to expand and missionaries from other country could come to Vietnam to enlighten everyone on the grace of God. More ceremonies and Catholic celebrations would happen across the country. I was not a Christian and never really cared for organized religion so I figured I would not be able to truly understand his enthusiasm. I noted down his opinions without asking many questions. Though I wondered what would be the change for him then. He married my aunt in a church. He has always been going to church freely on Sundays. And it wasn’t like he was participating in any dramatic Catholic ceremony besides Sunday masses.

My mother was an economist. She worked in banks her whole life. Her point of view was purely economics. She said this would open Vietnam up for more trading opportunities all over the world. We would be able to export our valuable agricultural products to many places further than our little South East Asian corner of the world. There would be more import on products we couldn’t make. The deal would attract foreign investors into a raising young economy. All those big economic words that people said during a discussion on TV. I noted down all the technical words she said to make my essay sounded smart later. In the end, she also said who knew, this might be a chance to increase in education access as well. That when I was a bit older, I might have more choices for studying abroad than just Russia and the ex Soviet Union countries. May be more of a Western experience. Doors were opened, for everyone.

I recalled struggling to put together all those ideas into my essay. The essay was informative but probably one of the worst essays I have ever written. The paragraphs had no transition from one to another. The only things those notes I took shared in common was the coming WTO deal and nothing else. I finally gave up and wrote those notes down as if they were stand alone paragraphs that were put together into an essay.